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Escape the heat

There’s only one way to survive summer in the metros and that’s to get the hell out. Run for the hills! Where the air is clean and the breeze is crisp and the snow crunches underfoot. Over the next few pages, we show you where to go, where to stay and what to do when you get there. From the spectacular Himalayan states of India to farther jaunts like Bhutan, Sweden and even South Africa. It’s time to get out of town!

Bibek Bhattacharya        Print Edition: May 3, 2009

Ladakh

Ladakh gives you a completely different view of the Himalayas. The name means “The Land of the High Passes”, and it indeed is so, wedged between the peaks of the Western Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau. The land is characterised by stunning moonscape aridity, impossibly picturesque Gompas or Buddhist monasteries that crown the peaks of the mountains, and the region’s rich Buddhist heritage. And the skies—you’ve never seen them this blue and this big!

What to do:
There’s plenty to see in Ladakh, and a good place to start is the Shey Palace and Monastery, the 15th Century summer palace and monastery that belonged to the erstwhile royal family of Leh. Situated 15 km southeast of Leh town, you’ll find the Thangka collection, an old library, and, of course, the 12-metre Sakyamuni Buddha statue, made of gold-plated copper. 17 km south of Leh is the beautiful Thiksey Gompa which houses a two-storey statue of Maitreya Buddha. It also has some excellent artwork. Further south is the most famous Gompa of them all—Hemis Gompa, famed for some very well-preserved old frescoes and a four-storey-high Thangka which is unfurled once every 12 years. To get to these Gompas, you have to climb, so be well-prepared.

Next, drive down to Pangong Lake, 135 km from Leh. The five-hour journey is spectacular in itself, as you drive through the 5,300-metre high Changla Pass. Pangong is a natural wonder, a crystal clear lake some 140 km in length and 10 km in width. Half of it lies in Tibet.

Where to stay:
Hotel Shambhala

Located 2 km from Leh town in a poplar grove. Tariffs range from Rs 3,800 plus taxes for a regular double room to Rs 7,000 plus taxes for a penthouse.
Contact: www.hotelshambhala.com (+91)-0124-4286665

How to get there: Leh is well connected to New Delhi through regular flights. If you want to drive to Leh, you could take the overland route from Manali, or drive through Kashmir.

Check Out: Cox & Kings 6 days/ 5 nights round trip tour of Leh for Rs 13,781 per person plus taxes. Includes, accommodation, sightseeing and meals. Contact: www.coxandkings.co.in

Kashmir

Of course, Kashmir. The Mughal Emperor Jahangir called it ‘heaven on earth’ and built the Shalimar Gardens to commemorate its beauty. The capital Srinagar was a popular retreat during the British Raj, and along with nearby Gulmarg, it is still one of the prettiest places in the country. For hundreds of years, the vast and verdant Kashmir valley has been a draw for travellers— and for good reason. If you’ve been here, you’ll go again. If not, then it’s time. It’s magnificent.

What to do: If you have a week to spend, the first thing you must do is check out the jewel of Srinagar—the Dal Lake. Spread over an area of 18 sq. km, and surrounded by orchards and gardens, it is divided by causeways into four basins and dotted with carpets of floating flowers through which the locals go about their business on charming little boats. Srinagar itself has a history going back at least two thousand years, and this has resulted in a plethora of overlapping cultures. The Mughal Gardens are compulsory, the first being the magnificent Shalimar Gardens, built by Emperor Jahangir. Sonmarg (or the meadow of gold) is a three-hour drive of about 90 km. The meadow near the Thajiwas Glacier is a great draw in summer, as is the trout and mahseer fishing.

Gulmarg, a 52-km drive out of Srinagar, is a must. The road runs through groves of poplar and willow trees and through lush green meadows. While the summer months are ideal for walking through the profusion of flowers or testing your handicap at the world’s highest golf course, in winter Gulmarg transforms into the country’s biggest ski resort.

If you have time, definitely pay a visit to Pahalgaum for stunning views.

Where to stay:

Srinagar
Centaur Lake View Hotel

This 5-star wins hands down in terms of location. Tariffs range from Rs 5,500 plus taxes for a double room to Rs 15,000 plus taxes for the Presidential Suite.
Contact: http://www.nivalink.com/centaurlakeview/index.html (+91) 022-24042211

Meena Houseboats
Tariffs range from Rs 4,500 plus taxes for the Double Super Deluxe houseboats to Rs 10,500 plus taxes for the Maharaja Suite.
Contact: www.meenahouseboats.com (+91) 011-32026904

How to get there: Srinagar has a major airport with regular flights from all the main metros.

Check Out: Cox & Kings 8 days/ 7 nights round trip tour of Kashmir Valley for Rs 18,995 plus taxes per person. Includes accommodation, sightseeing and meals.) www.coxandkings.co.in

The cool factor: The ultimate romantic getaway.

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