Tripping On India: Five Short Breaks For Long Weekends
In one respect, 2017 is already an improvement on the generally disastrous 2016 – the number of long weekends throughout the year. In the first six months itself, there are several holidays, some of which can be extended into long weekends by taking a day off. There’s Republic Day (Thursday, January 26 to Sunday, January 29), Mahashivratri (Friday, February 24 to Sunday, February 26), Holi (Saturday, March 11 to Monday, March 13), Ram Navami (Saturday, April 1 to Tuesday, April 4), May Day (Saturday, April 29 to Monday, May 1) and Eid (Saturday, June 24 to Monday, June 26). So plan your next few short breaks and apply for leave this week itself. Here are five places you could visit.
The Republic Day weekend is an apt time to travel to Bodhgaya, the most important pilgrimage spot for Buddhists. Thousands of Tibetan monks are already there right now for the ongoing Kalachakra festival and many will stay on. As a result, a sea of red covers the tiny town, which is dotted with several monasteries and temples built by various countries in their national styles. The most significant of these is the Mahabodhi Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site that houses the Mahabodhi tree under which the Buddha is said to have gained enlightenment. Though the temple, which is surrounded by gardens, is likely to be fairly crowded around this time, the experience of being there with monks in such large numbers is special.
We recommend engaging them in interesting discussions and signing up for one of the many classes on Buddhism, philosophy and spiritual discourses offered at the monasteries and temples. Visit the Bodhgaya Archaeological Museum, home to several relics and rare sculptures and statues dating back to 1 B.C, including the original granite and sandstone railings that once surrounded the original Mahabodhi temple. Stay at one of the several small guesthouses around and check out the many eateries serving Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese and Thai cuisine. Our picks include Siam Thai, the al fresco restaurant in the Thai Temple Complex, and the Be Happy Cafe, which offers great desert and coffee.
Getting there: Bodhgaya is a three-hour drive from Patna, which is well connected to Mumbai and other major cities by air.
Located a couple of hours away from Aurangabad, the Lonar crater, which is believed to be at least 50,000 years old, was created when a meteorite travelling at over 80,000kms per hour slammed into fields in the little town of Lonar, creating the only hyper impact crater in basalt rock anywhere in the world. There are four reasons why you must visit Lonar. First, it’s incredibly beautiful; the entire crater, which is 1.8kms in diameter, is a thick forest with a blue-green lake. Second, the lake is surrounded by ruins of intricately carved twelfth-century temples built in the form of an irregular star. Third, it’s filled with wildlife such as wild boars, hyenas, monitor lizards, gazelles and snakes as well as birds like blue jays, minivets, swallows and spot-billed ducks. Fourth, the town of Lonar with its old carved, wooden homes and the Daitya Sudan Temple, built by the Chalukya dynasty, is great for a few hours of site seeing. The best place to stay is the MTDC Resort.
Getting there: Lonar is a 140kms, approximately three-hour drive from Aurangabad, which is well connected to Mumbai by air, road and rail. Buses also travel from Aurangabad to Lonar.
The city of nawabs is home to great food in tiny roadside stalls, historic bazaars, stunning monuments and plenty of nooks and crannies full of stories. Spend your time in Lucknow taking in the spectacular Indo-Islamic architecture; several monuments are built in the Persian style with no European influences. A lovely way to spend a few hours is by exploring the staggering Bara Immambara, which contains the beautiful Asifi Masjid, the Shahi Bauli stepwell and the famous labyrinth with 1,000 interconnected passageways. Hire one of Lucknow’s cycle rickshaws and tour sites such as the Chota Immambara, the Rumi Durwaza and the old British Residency that still bears the scars of the 1857 revolt. Wander the markets and by-lanes where you can see intricately designed mansions and kothis, shop Luknowi chikan fabric and gorge on some of the best biryani you will ever have at the tiny Idris and melting kebabs at Tundey Kababi.
Getting there: Lucknow can easily be accessed from Mumbai and other major metros by air.
As the harvest season draws near and Punjab gears up to celebrate Baisakhi in April, head to the heart of the state to see fields lush with carpets of yellow and green. A great place to say at is The Kothi, a traditional farm and estate owned by a family which has been living in Nawanpind Sardaran village in Gurdaspur district for five generations. Their sprawling house, which has four guest rooms, is a mix of colonial and traditional Indian architectural styles and co-managed by the friendly matriarch, who loves sharing stories and anecdotes. A highlight is the homemade fare made from fresh farm produce including parathas, vegetables, chicken, creamy white butter and lassi. Walk or cycle along the old canal road and around the village. Before you head back, visit the Golden Temple in Amritsar and take in the flag ceremony at the Wagah Border, to which you can book a a taxi or take an hour-long bus ride from Amritsar.
Getting there: The Kothi is an hour-long drive from Amritsar, which is well connected to Mumbai by air.
While the North East is admittedly far from Mumbai, there are a few a places that are quicker to reach than others such as, for instance, Nagaland’s capital Kohima. Perched atop a series of hills and ridges, Kohima boasts fascinating food markets and a historic connection with World War II (Nagaland and in particular Kohima was the site of several battles between British and Japanese forces). Trek up the surreal Dzukou Valley, which has rolling sand dune-like green hills and eerie black stumped trees. Feast on local meals of pork, duck and other dishes cooked in bamboo and made fiery by Naga chillis and walk around the food bazaars teeming with local staples like fried eel, worms, bee larvae, snakes and snails. Visit the World War II Cemetery to learn about a part of India’s history that many have forgotten. We suggest adding an extra day to a three-day weekend for a more relaxed holiday.
Getting there: Kohima is a two-and-a-half hour drive from Dimapur, which is connected to Mumbai by air.
Tripping On India is a monthly column about the travels of writer Ambika Vishwanath and photographer Hoshner Reporter, the team behind The reDiscovery Project. Follow their journey here.