Stepping out of the beaten tracks
A look at some of the off-beat travel destinations that should be in your bucket list for 2019
Be local... live authentic! This has always been my mantra, when I travel. When I was in school, I went on a holiday to Switzerland, and to my surprise, I noticed vada pav being sold in the backdrop of snow-capped mountains, and posters of famous Bollywood stars here and there. Yes, I love India, its mouthwatering cuisine and multilingual films, but only when I’m in the country. However, when I travel, I love exploring the local flavour, visiting places that are more local to the country instead of sticking to tourist spots.
So, for the New Year, I have here, with help from like-minded fellow travellers, a list of Top 10 "offbeat/unexplored destinations," spread across India and the rest of the world. These are not your run-of-the-mill tourist spots, marketed and sold. But they will provide a glimpse into the actual country and provide an authentic feel.
“We are a full-time working couple, but our passion is travelling," say Saakshi and Vivek, who have a blog with the name Seatback Upright: The travel tales of a dentist and banker. Due to work pressure, they look for places that are weekend getaways. One such weekend getaway is Valparai, a breathtakingly beautiful hill station located in the hills of Coimbatore. The usual hill station attractions like waterfalls, dams, nature walks and temples are all around there. But what makes Valparai unique is the place’s British history. And there’s more. It is a great spot for wildlife photography. While touring the Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park, the couple spotted as many as 40 bisons! Another highlight of their getaway trip was a visit to a tea estate, where people can learn about tea processing and tasting.
“Did You know that turtles, after they grow up, manage to come back to the very same beach they were born in? If turtles colonised planet earth, they would shut down Google Maps,” says Kartik Kannan, who has a travel blog: katchutravels. Kartik learnt about this fact when he attended the The Velas Turtle Festival in coastal Maharashtra earlier this year. It is one of India’s premier destinations (apart from Orissa) for viewing the Olive Ridley Turtles hatch and head to the sea. The conducive environment created on the beach helps the female turtles to leave their eggs on this beach for hatching. The turtle conservation programme also helps as everyone in this area is being aligned to preserving and conserving turtles. It’s also India’s first formal programme where people can live with local dwellers and watch the turtles head out to the sea from the observatory. Kartik took his six-year-old son to experience local village living, staying in a big house with 30 other people, and connecting to the vibes of a small coastal village. The local village community of around 30 houses hosts people during the January to April season over weekends to come and view turtle hatchlings. The villagers have been hosting the festival since 2002. This has given the villagers sustainable employment and bettered their living conditions. Kartik strongly recommends this place if you are looking for a clean beach holiday without any crowd. It’s a four-km-long beach, with very few people to share it with.
“I stumbled upon this treasure trove of terracotta architecture, finest fabric craftmanship in the form of Baluchari sarees and some mouthwatering sweetmeat in a paradise called Bishnupur," says Shrawanti, a passionate road-tripping solo traveller who has a blog named Dusty Roads Beckon. Have you heard of terracotta jewellery, statuettes and pots? For the benefit of the uninitiated, terracotta is a type of fired clay, typically of a brownish-red colour and unglazed, used to make statuette, ornaments, show pieces etc. By now, you would have visualised the vibrant brown, coarse earthen wares! What if you were told, that there is an entire quaint township consisting of temples and massive structures entirely made of terracotta? Bishnupur, a town in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal, lies 140 km to the northwest of Kolkata. This Diwali, when Shrawanti set out for a road trip, she came across this marvellous place. The Malla kings, who ruled here for about 1,000 years, starting from seventh century AD, were major patrons of art and architecture. Being worshippers of Lord Krishna, the Kingdom witnessed construction of a lot of terracotta temples. Jor Bangla Temple, Raas Mancha, Shyam Rai Temple are a few among the whole lot of ornately-carved terracotta Hindu temples constructed in the 16-17th century. Both the exterior and interior walls, along with the ceiling of the temples, depict exquisite and elaborate terracotta ornamentation. The terracotta panels on the walls narrate scenes from different epics, the Krishna Lila, contemporary social life, hunting scenes and much more..
And now, let’s seek out some jewels beyond our shores.
“There’s more to Mexico then just its beaches,” says Raina Keswani, a student from Stanford who did a semester on Human Psychology in Mexico.
During her stay, she reserved her weekends to wander around the country and explore the lesser-known spots of Mexico. She highly recommends the “Bajío” region where three really beautiful cities - Guanajuato, Querétaro, and San Miguel de Allende - are located. This is known to be a paradise for history buffs, as it is the place where the Mexican Revolution against the colonial rule of Spain started. One of her favourite spot out here was La Cuna de la Indepencia, or the Cradle of Independence, the place from where it all began. You can feel the charm, histories and old relics that fill the city centres of this particular region. The region of Zacatecas takes you back to the medival times. A memorable tour that was thoroughly enjoyed is the Leyendas, in which the locals are dressed as historical characters to showcase Mexican stories from the past. This region is also known for bullfighting, a popular sport that came from Spain but is now banned in the European country.
Tequila in Jalisco, the birth place of the famed drink, is only a four-hour drive from the Bajio region. It’s a must-visit place for every tippler.
BRNO (CZECH REPUBLIC)
"Czech Republic's second largest city of Brno, the capital of Moravia, is a city that preserves its legends and stories of yore," says Joanna Lobo, an independent journalist. In the centre of the town square is a phallus-shaped structure that drops globes (‘balls’) when the clock chimes 11. Apparently hilarious, this is actually a granite monument that commemorates an event that saved the city from the Swedish Army during the Thirty Years War. It’s a story that’s part history, part legend, like so many others. There’s the disgruntled sculptor who twisted the middle spire of the entrance to Old Town Hall or the angel on St. James church, flashing its bare back at St Peter and Paul Cathedral. The city is home to many underground secrets. Go down under and discover old torture devices, the crypt of the Capuchin monks, a former village market and an ossuary of bones. The adventurous can choose to live in a nuclear bunker built during the Second World War. Brno has the trappings of a big city but manages to retain its old-world charm. The student town’s best travel feature is its connectivity to nearby European capitals. Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna and Prague are just a few hours drive away.
ULURU, OR AYERS ROCK (AUSTRALIA)
Australia has emerged as one of the favourite honeymoon destinations for Indians. I, myself, am in Australia right now, and when I visited the Great Ocean Road, a popular tourist attraction, it literally reminded me of the Kumbh. I am certain that they will start selling the appetizing samosas and the delicious cutting chai in the near future. "However, in the northwestern territory of the country lies a very calm and peaceful place," Ryan and Amber, a couple from Chicago, who had just spent three days there, tell me. It only receives about 2,00,000 tourists a year. The massive sandstone monolith rock is located in the middle of absolutely nowhere. This formation lies within the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, which showcases many red rock dome-like structures. The couple says that whoever lives in that area is, in some way, associated with the park. This place is a lot like the Grand Canyon, but a lot less touristy and commercial in comparison. So, it’s an ideal spot to take some of those Instagram-worthy pictures.
The next time I visit Kangaroo land, I’m definitely visiting Ayers Rock.
DRAKENSBERG (SOUTH AFRICA)
“The mountains are calling me,” says Maneck Nicholson, an ophthalmologist on weekdays and traveller on weekends. Drakensberg is one of the most picturesque parts of South Africa where you could just sit back, relax and stretch those limbs.
This mountain range includes the highest peaks in South Africa, thus earning them the moniker Dragon Mountains. The weather is just perfect, making it an ideal spot for outdoor activities like hiking, biking and horse-riding. For the more adventurous, there are canopying, cave hiking and ice-climbing. If you love the mountains, look out for this place.
“Arizona is my favourite part of the United States, and no, I’m not saying it because of the Grand Canyon,” says Victoria, a blogger at Simply Christian, who hails from North Carolina. The interesting part of this state is Sedona and the hike up the Bell Rock. This is located near the city of Flagstaff and is red-rock country with buttes, steep canyon walls and pine forests all around. Her favourite place is the Slide Rock State Park. The name comes from the natural springs where one can swim and slide down the small rapids. Hiking through the park is the best way to soak in all the beauty. Victoria says, “This is a place she loves, and hopes to visit someday again”.
While I have shared eight places which are recommended by fellow travellers, here are a couple of personal recommendations.
DUNEDIN (NEW ZEALAND)
This is a city where Scotland meets San Francisco. I say this consciously. Famous poet Robert Burns moved from Edinburgh to Dunedin, and has left a huge influence on the city. I say San Francisco because the whole city lies on the slopes, the views are just the same, and just like there’s the world’s crooked-est street in SFO, there is the Baldwin street, the world’s steepest street in Dunedin. This city did send shivers down my spine, when we toured the Lanarch Castle, famous for its ghosts. While you walk through the passageways, there is an eerie feeling that goes through the body. One of my favourite meals in the country was at Craft Beer Kitchen, in the Octagon. Most cities have a central square, while Dunedin has an octagonal centre. The best highlight of Dunedin the little blue penguin, found in the Albatross Center. Dunedin is also famous for its fantastic street art. We drove around the city to find some very creative wall paintings. I absolutely loved the splash of vibrancy and colour that Dunedin offers to visitors.
SANTA BARBARA (USA)
I don’t know, if you remember that famous soap opera, Santa Barbara, that was filmed in this very beautiful location. I actually ventured and drove on many weekends while I lived in Los Angeles in 2013. It’s one of the most picturesque towns that I have ever seen. What I will never forget about this place is the fact that I learnt to Segway here. You must visit this place in the weekends. The Sunday fair is something one cannot afford to miss. Just a 30-minute drive from here is Lompoc, one of the best spots to skydive in the world. Yes I did it! With crystal blue skies, teal waters and gigantic mountains. While such a list is endless, for 2019, we, at National Herald, recommend to you these spots and wish you a happy, healthy and globetrotting 2019!
(Karishma Kirpalani is a travel and food blogger and Instagrammer@Globejamun)