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Weekend hideways

Take a weekend off for a short, laidback family vacation close to the city you live in. Find out how to go and what to do in these five amazing weekend getaways, from someone who has been there to chill out.

Anil Mulchandani | Print Edition: April 6, 2008

Rinchenpong, Sikkim
Abode of the monks

Rinchenpong in Sikkim
Rinchenpong offers stunning views
Rinchenpong is almost as much fun as the name suggests. To get there, we flew from Kolkata to Bagdogra, where we hired an SUV and drove through tea plantations and past the Teesta River before taking the NH-31 to Gangtok, capital of Sikkim. Once across the suspension bridge dividing West Bengal and Sikkim, the road ran more or less level along the Rangeet River on our right and through pine and rhododendron forests.

Soon after, we reached Rinchenpong and visited the Yangsum farm in the evening. Dinner at the semi-open dining area of the Bliss Resort (where we were staying) was heavenly. The meal of Thogba (traditional Sikkimese millet beer, served in a wooden pot with brass rings, drunk using bamboo reeds as straws) and thukpa (noodle soup), momos, ningro churpi, phing (glass noodles) and sisnu dal (nettle curry) was luxurious.

The next morning, we woke up to a stunning view of the Kanchenjunga. After breakfast, we walked around the property to look at the orchids and other flora. As we hiked to a trail above the forestcovered hills, we enjoyed great views of mountain peaks.

Waterfalls abound in vicinity of hilly town
Waterfalls abound in Rinchenpong
There is a lot to see nearby as well. The Pemayangste Monastery is flanked by old wooden and stone houses where the monks live. Also visit the Varshey Rhododendron Sanctuary, which is a beautiful forest area with excellent trekking, birding and flower-spotting opportunities.

One can also visit the numerous waterfalls that abound in the vicinity of this hilly town.

How to get there

Fly to Bagdogra in North Bengal and hire a jeep, which will take you to Rinchenpong in a little under four hours.

What to do

Watch birds in the woodlands around Rinchenpong and Pemayangste.

Visit the Rinchenpong Monastery.

Where to stay

1. Bliss Resort Contact: 09832066626 / 09434046891
Tariff: Rs 3,000 for a cottage per night

Wayanad, Kerala
In elephant country

Wayanad
There is lots to look for in Wayanad
The hill district of Wayanad is one of the most beautiful regions in south India. On a recent trip to Bangalore, we decided to spend a weekend there. Starting out from Bangalore, we drove past Mysore and caught the highway to Kozhikode through the Bandipur National Park before crossing the Kerala border and coming to Muthanga’s Wildlife Sanctuary entrance.

Having paid our entry fees and hired one of the jeeps, we entered the Wayanad Sanctuary and drove down a pathway that was extraordinarily welllaid— it had withstood the heavy rain we had experienced the previous night, and was none the worse off for it.

As the road curved through the forest, we suddenly saw a huge tusker —one of the most robust elephants I have seen in my life.

Continuing on the road, we came to Sulthan’s Bathery. There are no signs now of Tipu Sultan’s fort that the British destroyed but there is a Jain temple in the town that probably dates back to the 12th century. There is a lot to see in Wayanad. The Soochipara Falls can be reached by walking through rolling grasslands.

Nearby are the Edakkal Caves—one of south India’s most famous prehistoric sites. Stone age etchings, dating back to about 10,000 BC, are the main draw here.

How to get there

Wayanad is approximately 280 km from Bangalore—less than six hours drive away. One can also go from Thiruvananthapuram.

What to do

Wayanad is a delightful area for trekking and has a number of coffee and spice plantations. It’s also known as elephant country.

Where to stay

Vythri Resort
Contact: 080-41911044
Tariff: Rs 6,000 for a cottage

Gushaini, Himachal Pradesh
A walk in the clouds

Gushaini in Himachal Pradesh
Soak in the beauty of Gushaini
In the heart of the Western Himalayas, the Tirthan and Sainj Valleys have some of the prettiest forests in Himachal Pradesh. In these valleys is Gushaini, off the Shimla-Manali road—a wonderfully scenic village at the entrance to the Great Himalayan National Park.

Looking for an off-beat break from Delhi, we set off on the road to Manali and turned off at Aut for Shoja, about 20 km from Gushaini, where we checked in at the Banjara Retreat. It’s about 8,000 ft above sea level, and offers delightful views of the mountains.

The next morning, the retreat had arranged for a tour to Gushaini. The trek in the Great Himalayan National Park took us past wooded slopes along a river. Trying to spot birds in this dense habitat was not easy but we did succeed in spotting one of the Himalayan cuckoos, lots of thrushes, greenfinches and minivets.

Returning to Gushaini, we visited the trout farm. Tirthan is a good place for anglers to fish for trout and other fish, and the trout farm has breeding stocks.

How to get there

Gushaini is 550 km from Delhi. It is a 15-hour drive. Alternatively, take the short flight to Kullu and then drive 80 km to Gushaini.

What to do

Go for a hike in the Great Himalayan National Park. Try your hand at angling. Visit some of the orchards. The owners may allow you to pluck apples, apricots, pear, etc.

Where to stay

Banjara Retreat, Shoja
Contact: 022-24042211
E-mail: banjara-shoja@nivalink.com
Tariff: Rs 6,000 for a suite per night

Ponmudi, Kerala
A spicy vacation

Ponmudi in Kerala
A lake in Ponmudi
Looking for a hill destination away from the crowded hill resorts of the Western Ghats, we heard about Ponmudi, which can be reached by driving down or taking a short train ride/flight from Chennai. We decided to fly from Chennai to Thiruvananthapuram, and then hired a car for the drive to Ponmudi. The road took us through rich spice, nut and fruit plantations, and past the Kallar River (from where you can trek to a small waterfall).

After crossing the river, the drive was even more scenic as it took hairpin bends through black rock formations and teakwood forests. As we closed in on Ponmudi, a habitation about 3,500 ft above sea level, tea estate- and cardamom-covered hills came into view all around. There is little to do here but take pleasant walks and enjoy views of high peaks. Avoid Sundays as day trippers gather here with their picnic lunches and beer bottles.

The Peppera Sanctuary near Ponmudi has a long checklist of mammals and birds but is not easy to visit this place. After lunch at Ponmudi, we set off for the Neyyar Sanctuary. A 9 sq. km reservoir is the centrepiece of the 128 sq. km sanctuary, which has evergreen forests covering the western slopes of the Western Ghats.

The sanctuary has elephants, bears, gaur, deer, wild boars, lion-tailed macaques, Nilgiri langurs, bonnet monkeys, scaly anteaters and slender lorises. We hired a speed boat for a tour of the lake within the sanctuary. It was exciting as the boatman steered expertly through narrow channels, past islands and along woodlands. We saw greyheaded fish eagle hovering over the water, kingfishers, egrets and herons.

We spent a couple of days here and after tucking into traditional Malayali meals at the KTDC Agastya tourist bungalow, which offered panoramic views of the lake and its surrounding hills, we headed back to Thiruvananthapuram, happy that we had chosen to come here for a break.

How to get there

Approximately 750 km from Chennai (take an overnight train or a short flight from Chennai to Thiruvananthapuram and then drive down the 61 km to Ponmudi).

What to do

Tour the tea estates and other plantations around Ponmudi. Take a boat ride at Neyyar Dam. If you are travelling with children, you can also take them on a mini bus tour of a lion enclosure.

Where to stay

Duke’s Forest Lodge, Anapura, is an upscale property near Ponmudi with poolside villas. It boasts of in-house Ayurveda and yoga centres and also hosts regular performances in the evenings.
Contact: 0472-2859273
Tariff: Rs 7,500 for a pool villa per night

Chikhaldara, Maharashtra
Away from the hustle

If you have had enough of the overcrowded hill resorts of Mahabaleshwar, Panchgani, Lonawala and Matheran in western Maharashtra, head east to the Vidarbha region where Chikhaldara is situated at around 1,200 metre above from the sea level in the Gawilgarh Hills of the Satpura Range.

We flew from Mumbai to Nagpur and then took the road to Amrawati and on to Chikhaldara, which was developed in the 1800s by the British as a hill station for officers of the Central Provinces. We spent the afternoon at the forest department’s garden, which was once the `Company Bagh’, admiring the variety of exotic and indigenous flora, the butterflies and the variety of birds.

All visitors are forewarned against venturing out alone after dark because of the high concentration of sloth bears on the plateau of Chikhaldara. The next morning, we set off for Melghat. The 25-km road to Semadoh took us through some fine forests, and we spotted grey hornbills noisily feeding among the trees about 6 km outside Chikhaldara.

From Semadoh, we booked the Project Tiger Bus tour of the Melghat Sanctuary nearby. The luxury bus took us through deciduous forests and we saw Indian bison, spotted deer, sambar deer, wild boar, black-naped hare, jungle fowl, spurfowl, francolin, quails and a variety of birds. Alas, we didn’t see any tigers.

There are other things to see here. One can visit Bhim Kund, associated with the legend of Bhima, and the numerous small waterfalls that abound the place.

How to get there

The best way to get to Chikhaldara is to take the short flight from Mumbai to Nagpur and then drive down to Chikhaldara, 230 km away.

What to do

The densely vegetated surrounds of Chikhaldara are very good for hiking. Carry binoculars with you and try to spot birds like white-naped woodpecker, green avadavat, hornbill, barbets, etc.

Where to stay
Satpura Resort
Contact: (07220) 230471/230507.
Tariff: Rs 2,250 for a club room per night

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