How many times have you heard the cliché’ – India is a land of many colours etc etc – and rolled your eyes in boredom? I know I have done that many times. And immediately after that, planned my trip abroad. And like a repentant lover, looked back with yearning eyes at India – at the gems, so many of them, some hidden, some done to death, but still gems that India has in abundance. And I realised, the cliché’ is true.
The mistake we, the Indian travelers (that includes me), were making was that we were looking at the obvious – Shimla is mall road, Kerala is backwaters, Rajasthan is forts and desert and Kashmir is the Dal Lake. In the process, we skipped the process of being surprised, delighted by unique and distinct experiences each place had to offer. Shimla is also chhaa ghost, a curd mutton specialty of the region.
Kerala is also hills and churches, Rajasthan is a rich flora and fauna and Kashmir is the bread being baked at the market square.
So I decided to colour correct my vision, and start my India love affair afresh. I wasn’t disappointed. Below are a few places that surprised me with what they had to offer. Thereon, travel with these new glasses later, I now have a few favorites:
I dig – Orchha – A mellow town, surrounded by forests and situated on the banks of the seven tributaries of the river Betwa. Orchha is a land lost in time, or more accurately, a land frozen in time.
Founded in the 16th century by a Bundela Rajput chief, it’s green and blue is dotted with stone forts, cenotaphs and temples – that remain as true to the original as monuments today can be. Little villages dot the road that leads to Jhansi and the market square is the place the whole of Orchha seems to frequent, some for daily chores, and others, like the many inbound tourists flock here at the many cafes serving continental and Italian.
You can hire bicycles and go birding by the Betwa, or go rafting. It is best during the rains, when the town comes to life. The Raja Ram Complex forms the backdrop to every picture, like in a painting. It personifies another cliche’ – there is romance in the air.
Sariska: The Sariska National Park has been in the news for its tigers and then no tigers, and now again for its tigers. Irrespective, most of us have visited it for its the spectacular wildlife reserve.
But a large part of Sariska’s personality is its local culture and heritage and the many ruins that dot the area. A visit to a Gujjar settlement, many have been relocated from inside the forest, gives a glimpse into their culture, their daily life and impeccable, clean homes. One can do a walk through and also sample some of their local fare.
Not known to many, Sariska has a splendid repository of heritage. Located some 16 km from the resort is the stunning Neelkantheshwar Temple complex (or simply Neelkanth Temple). On a small plateau, it offers stunning views, and is a treat when the sun goes down in the evening. While the main temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva, there are several smaller shrines outside.
There’s also the Bhangarh Fort and the fascinating legends behind it. Built by Man Singh I for his grandson in the 17th century, the fort is associated with a lot of ‘ghostly’ tales in the popular imagination.
Another intriguing, though slightly inaccessible place in the heart of the sanctuary is the Kankwari Fort. It is here that Mughal emperor Aurangzeb jailed his brother, Dara Shikoh, who was later executed.
V Resorts Sariska
Mhaismal: For years, the hill stations in Maharashtra were synonymous with Panchgani, Mahabaleshwar and Lonala. I had heard Bollywood stars and their holiday retreat stories, I had read of authors retreating to these hamlets for inspiration, I had heard friends taking weekend breaks to them. And then I discovered Mhaismal. An initial struggle with the tongue-twister name later, I completely fell in love with this little hill station with a mixed bag experience.
Mhaismal is an eco-tourism destination which, during the monsoons, turns into dark shades of green. Called the Botanical workshop, hundreds throng it during the season. It’s also just 9km from the Ellora caves, the finest example of rock-cut architecture in India.
There’s also various temples, Aurangzeb’s tomb, and Prince Azam Shah’s mausoleum. A drive to Aurangabad, mere 39km away, one can sample a rich legacy of street food inspired by the Mughals’ eating traditions. Think, Chandni Chowk.