Big Bash for Small Bucks

Welcome the new year in style by foregoing the frumpy parties for these offbeat destinations in India and abroad. Cheaper than the crowded hotspots, they also offer unique sensory experiences.


Namrata Dadwal        Print Edition: November 2010

PALACE HOTELS

Nilambag Palace, Bhavnagar, Gujarat
(www.nilambagpalace.com)
Price: Rs 3,500 per night onwards for a double room

The luxurious Nilambag Palace, with its period furniture and Romanesque swimming pool, will make you feel like royalty. Built in 1859, the heritage hotel has 20 rooms. If you like sunset walks on a beach, stay at the Gopnath bungalow, the seashore retreat of the royal family, for Rs 1,900 per night onwards.

Schloss Halbturn, Austria (www.schlosshotels.co.at)
Price: €90 per night for a double room (Rs 5,600)
A stunning example of baroque architecture, Schloss Halbturn is set amid beautifully landscaped gardens. The castle is only a 30-minute drive from Vienna and plays host to various concerts and exhibitions. Wine afficionados will enjoy a walk through the castle's vineyards and tour of the cellars.

SAFARIS

Jungle Lodges, Karnataka
(www.junglelodges.com)
Price: Upwards of Rs 2,300 per person for one night (includes all meals)
Karnataka's 16 prominent ecological zones are teeming with wildlife. So you can spot tigers, leopards, black panthers, sloth bears and more than 250 endemic birds. One of the best ways to appreciate these is to stay at the state-owned jungle lodges. These are comfortable and reasonably priced. The cost includes a jeep safari to the nearest reserve area and some lodges also arrange fishing trips.

Namibia Classic Safari, Namibia
(www.safari.gateway-africa.com)
Price: N$9,500 (Rs 61,700) for a 10-day safari
Travel from the Namib desert, the oldest in the world, to Etosha National Park to see the African wildlife, before touching the edge of the Atlantic ocean at Swakopmund. On the way, meet cheetahs being rehabilitated by the Africat Foundation. All inland transportation, meals, camping equipment and fees are included in the price.


TRAIN JOURNEYS

Exotic Sikkim by Train
(www.railtourismindia.com)
Price: Rs 12,550 onwards (9 nights/10 days)
Feast on the snow-laden peaks of Sikkim from the cosy comfort of a rail carriage. Chug along to picturesque Gangtok, Lachung, Pelling and the ice-covered Tsomgo lake. The package also includes a trip to Yumthang valley (or the Valley of Flowers) and the Seven Sisters waterfall. However, these will be more appealing if you travel during February or March.

13-day Trans-Mongolian Express
(www.trans-sputnik.com)
Price: €889 per person on twin-sharing basis (Rs 55,500)
The train trundles along from Moscow to Beijing, taking you through the colourful landscape of Mongolia, with stop-overs at Irkutsk, Listvjanka, Irkoetsk and Ulan-Bator. You can spend nights at homestays, hostels and the traditional Gher tent. You can also choose from other itineraries and activities, such as dog-sledding at Baikal lake.


RIVER CRUISES

5-day Serenity Cruise aboard the RV Jayavarman, Cambodia
(www.mekongdeltatrips.com)
Price: $1,027 per person (Rs 45,200, including all meals)
Sail through Cambodia this winter and soak in the rich culture of Angkor Wat, Kampong Chhang, where you can travel through floating villages, and the capital Phnom Penh. This particular cruise starts on fixed dates, but the company has many more that you can choose from.

6-day Yangtze River Cruise Upstream Tour, China
(www.absolutechinatours.com)
Price: $796 per person on twin-sharing basis (Rs 35,100)
Start with a day trip to Shanghai, then board the vessel for a cruise on the mighty Yangtze and sail through the stunning Three Gorges area. For those who love to be spooked out, there are trips to see coffins hanging on cliffsides and a visit to the Fengdu ghost city.


FLOATING HOTELS

Floatel, Kolkata
(www.floatelhotel.com)
Price: Rs 6,000 per night for a double room (including breakfast)
Celebrate New Year's eve watching the lights sparkle on the Hooghly river. Stay at the only floating eco-hotel in India, aptly named Floatel, which has 49 comfortable cabins. Enjoy lazy days at the multi-cuisine restaurant even as you admire boats sailing by or relax with a massage and sauna. The hotel can also arrange fishing trips and boat rides on the river.

Botel Albatross, Prague
(www.botelalbatros.cz)
Price: €40 (Rs 2,500) per night for a double room (including breakfast)
The floating hotel in this romantic city is a 10-minute walk from the Old Town Square and Prague Castle. The Botel Albatross has 83 cabins and three apartments, all encased enchantingly in wood. Enjoy a drink at the botel's bar or restaurant as the city's lights twinkle in the Vlatava river. If you're travelling with your family, rent an apartment, which costs upwards of €52 (Rs 3,250).

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