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December 2009
Top 8 Year End Hotspots
New and exotic destinations away from the hustle-bustle of touristy spots have emerged in recent years. They are holding out an irresistible appeal for an out-of-the-ordinary travel experience. A look at the 8 best places in the country for your year-end vacation

Prayer Flags in the Clouds The picture-postcard beauty of this much-in-the-news hill station in Arunachal Pradesh will simply take your breath away. The scenery is alpine and the Himalayan ranges are lush with oak and rhododendron forests. There is also abundant growth of bamboo, which is the favourite food of the red panda found in these parts of northeast India. Located 3400 metres (approx. 10,000 ft) above sea level, Tawang is the second oldest monastery in Asia. It overlooks the valley and is surrounded by mountains that tower around it like watchful guards.

Leh: Land of the Purple Moon

One of the enduring memories of Leh that you will carry back with you is the fairy castle like monasteries perched precariously on rocky crags. They are, in fact, the main point of interest in Leh where people follow the Tibetan form of Buddhism. In the past, Leh had been a hub in the caravan routes, playing host to traders from Yarkhand, Kashgar, Lhasa, Amritsar, Khotan and Persia. Tourists have replaced the caravans now. Standing atop a Gompa (monastery), the landscape is truly stunning - there is certainly magic all around this place.

Atop the Ship of the Desert in Jaisalmer

Nothing can really prepare you for the sheer magic of Jaisalmer. The desert city of Rajasthan seems to rise out of the dunes. A camel safari here is an exhilarating experience. As you meander through the sand dunes, you will go past havelis in the setting sun, magnificent temples, Rajasthani women in colourful attire and men in resplendent turbans and stretched out moustaches. There are also the stepwells, sandstorms, desert foxes and antelopes: picture postcard exotica that holds an endless fascination for the footloose traveller.

Rishikesh: Shooting the Rapids
This is where you can ride the white water rapids - and then relax, floating through the fertile countryside of the Indo Gangetic plains, watching eagles perch on the trees along the river bank waiting for the salmons and trout. The Ganges is a perfect rafting experience and is certain to make you a river enthusiast. Make no mistake: the rollercoaster waves make this river a thriller. But the rapids are peppered with calm stretches as well, where nature just frolics past. When rafting in winter, bundle up against the chill and enjoy the uniqueness of floating in water, viewing the flora and fauna in their natural environment.

Karmik Break in Kumaon Lake Region
Take a deep breath and step out into the lap of nature. No, not to the usual touristy spots, but a trek around Nainital. A place where emerald taals (lakes) shimmer in the sunshine, and lush green forests are surrounded by high mountain ranges as a backdrop… Khurpataal, Bhimtaal, Naukuchiyataal and Sattaal. Nothing prepares you for such wonders of nature. Nothing ever can…

Corbet: Call of the Wild
It is an altogether indefinable feeling to be in a wildlife sanctuary named after one of the greatest conservationists. Every year, Jim Corbett National Park is awash with activity, playing host to over 50,000 visitors - almost a quarter of them foreigners. The lush green surroundings of the sanctuary are a visitor's delight. There exists a large variety of fauna which includes over 580 species of birds, 50 mammal and 25 reptile species. The park is also home to tigers, elephants, leopards, sloth and black bears, crocodiles, chitals, langoors, boars, deer and even pythons.

Auroville's Sounds of Silence
Legend associates ancient Puducherry with the great Hindu sage Agastya. Today there are over 350 churches, temples and mosques making it a virtual Mecca for the devout of different religions. The focal point is the striking and universally famous Aurobindo Ashram founded by poet philosopher Sri Aurobindo in 1926. Pay homage to the saint and then head for Auroville— the City of Dawn — on the Chennai- Puducherry highway. This is an abode of peace, where meditation and yoga are a way of life. Soak in the sounds of silence as you commune with God.

Coorg: Dreamland in the Woods
Fog-swept hills, rolling countryside with pristine valleys and gushing waterfalls: Coorg the coffee-mug of India, is what dreams are made of. Just 250 kms from Bangalore, this thickly forested region in the Western Ghats offers such bewitching sights that comparisons with Scotland are simply unavoidable.

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