Madikeri is an oldie but goodie. For decades, the Coorgi town has soothed city-weary Bangaloreans with misty views, mugs of tall beer, and bowls of pandi (pork) curry. While away the day exploring the little market, taking long walks, and stocking up on packets of coffee: the plantation town prides itself on its Arabica and Robusta beans. For a more active break, hike up Pushpagiri, the second-highest peak in the district of Coorg, a bracing 10-km trek from Madikeri town. The forest, especially in the monsoon, echoes with birds and insect call. Keep an eye out for elephants in the evening. Read more about the picturesque trek here.
Madikeri is approx. 260km/5.5hr by road from Bengaluru.
To see the Mysore Palace in all its glory, stop by on Sundays or public holidays between 7 and 7.30p.m. when the lights come on. Photo: Ashwin Kumar/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
Karnataka’s third-largest city has a culture as rich as its famous Mysore pak. For this, Mysore (officially called Mysuru) has its former Wodeyar rulers to thank. The kings were keen patrons of the arts and the handsome palaces, parks, temples, and church they built are worth still visiting. But there are also century-old markets to explore and ghee-drenched masala dosas to devour. Take a tour of the Government Silk Factory to see how the GI-tagged Mysore silk is produced. For real Mysore sandalwood, walk around the divine-smelling Government Sandalwood Factory. And for the best Mysore pak in town, queue up at the iconic Guru Sweets, located at the corner of the 150-year-old Devaraja market. For more ideas, check our guide to 48 hours in Mysore (complete with the spots to score the best Mysore masala dosa) and look up the city’s quirky people here.
Mysore is approx. 150km/3.5hr by road from Bengaluru; trains from Bengaluru to Mysore take approx. 3hr.
Nagarhole National Park is hallowed ground for wildlife lovers—and is known to yield once-in-a-lifetime leopard sightings like this one. Photo: Shaaz Jung/The Bison Resort
Situated between the Mysore plateau in Karnataka and the Nilgiri hills in Tamil Nadu, Nagarhole is open year-round and is prime leopard country. The national park is also inhabited by tigers and other animal life that vary with the season. In the winters, flocks of migratory birds arrive and herds of elephants can be spotted in the mud near the backwaters of the dried-up Kabini Dam in the summer. Visitors can explore the reserve on a jeep safari or a coracle ride down the river with a naturalist. Nagarhole has a number of fine lodges, like the Kabini River Lodge, and The Bison Resort, a luxury camp with tents and elevated machans.
Nagarhole National Park is approx. 240km/5.5hr by road from Bengaluru.
The ornate Golden Temple in the Namdroling Monastery in Bylakuppe is home to three enormous gold-plated statues. Photo: Rahul Nair/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
Skip the coffee in Coorg for salted butter tea at Bylakuppe’s monasteries, an hour’s drive from Madikeri. The town is the second-largest Tibetan settlement in India after Dharamsala. The main monastery is a spectacular structure, but there are also smaller where novice monks live and study. As writer Aliyeh Rizvi puts it, “Even though there isn’t a single yak or fur-clad shepherd in sight, the streetscape is distinctly Tibetan. Monks in the small cafés drink lemon tea, eat momos, and dig into steaming bowls of thukpa while Tibetan pop music and Buddhist chants float over our heads.” Read her piece here, and don’t miss the guide at the end for handy tips and accommodation options.
Bylakuppe is approx. 240km/5hr by road from Bengaluru.
Wind down after a long day hiking in Shiroor with a gentle coracle ride down the river. Photo: Neelima Vallangi
Take a flight to Mangalore and then make your way to Shiroor and Gerusoppa for a weekend in the forest. Book a cottage at the Wild Woods Spa Resort for a relaxing break, complete with Ayurvedic massages, delicious Mangalorean fare, and coracle rides down the stream that runs through the property. Nestled in the Western Ghats, the forests around the resort has major trekking potential, riddled with trails that are home to shiny spider webs, spiky palm fronds, and colourful bugs. For a jungle experience of a different kind, find your way to Gerusoppa, about two hours from Shiroor. It is not very easy to find (it’s Gersoppa on Google Maps), but worth the trouble for the moss-covered Jain temple ruins hidden within. More here.
Shiroor is approx 130km/3hr by road from Mangalore. Mangalore is approx an hour away by flight from Bengaluru.
Maison Perumal, a cosy heritage hotel close to Pondicherry’s bustling MG Road, offers Tamil and Continental dishes, such as spicy fish curries or lightly flavoured grilled fish, at its courtyard restaurant. Guests can get a cooking class too. Photo courtesy Maison Perumal
Reboot with a quiet getaway to this beach city. Cycle through the French Quarter, stopping for cups of coffee, to buy handmade paper, or to shop for organic cotton clothing from Auroville closeby. For a closer peek into how Pondicherry’s architectural heritage has been conserved, go on a guided walk of the area with INTACH Pondicherry. Book a room at heritage hotels like Maison Perumal in the city’s Tamil Quarter or Hotel de l’Orient in the French Quarter. Both serve delectable meals. Try Maison Perumal’s spicy meen kuzambhu (fish curry) and their homemade coconut ice cream, or the Creole dishes at Carte Blanche, Hotel de l’Orient’s courtyard restaurant. Zuka on Mission Street has delicious chocolate sandwiches and chocolate cups of hot cocoa. Burn off the calories with a surfing lesson at the Kallialay Surf School or go scuba diving with Temple Adventures. More on where to shop, eat and sightsee here.
Pondicherry is approx. 375km/6.5hr by road from Bengaluru.
For a century during the Hoysala rule, hundreds of sculptors worked extensively to create over 4,000 intricate slate stone carvings at the Chennakesava temple in Belur. Photo: Premnath Thirumalaisamy/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
Get your heritage fix at the twin towns of Belur and Halebid. The temples here are stellar examples of the intricate workmanship typical of Hoysala architecture. The Hoysala kings were keen patrons of the arts and erected 1,500 shrines and monuments from the 12th century onwards. Today, only 92 of these shrines remain. Spend your break wandering through the star-shaped Chennakesava temple in Belur and the more-elaborate Hoysaleswara temple in Halebid, which has tales from the Ramayana and Mahabharata carved into the walls. About an hour and a half away is Shravanabelagola, the Jain pilgrimage centre known for its 60-foot-tall statue of Gomateshwara. The majestic monolith has been carved from a single block of granite.
Belur and Halebid are approx. 220km/4hr by road from Bengaluru.
The waves in Kerala are best suited for beginners between November and March, when the waters are relatively calm. Photo: techbreeze/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
For a beach break, head down south to sandy Kovalam. The town was once little more than a fishing village but today, its beaches are lined with rows of shops, restaurants, and hotels. Climb 157-odd steps to the observation deck of the candy-striped lighthouse at the southern end of Lighthouse Beach for panoramic ocean views. For more of an adrenaline rush, book a surfing lesson at the Kovalam Surf Club or go scuba diving. Geek alert: the first headquarters of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) are at Thumba, a 40-min drive away (read more here). Time your visit right and you could view the launch of a sounding rocket, which takes place on the third Wednesday of every month. For where to eat while you’re in Kovalam, go here.
Kovalam is approx 18km/40min by road from Thiruvananthapuram. Thiruvananthapuram is approx an hour away by flight from Bengaluru.
Hire a guide when visiting the Vitthala Temple in Hampi to reveal its many architectural secrets—musical pillars, detailed narratives along the walls, and this intricately carved stone chariot. Photo: Hardeep Asrani/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
The gorgeous palace and temple ruins at Hampi are a mark of the legendary Vijayanagara Empire, and were constructed between the 14th and 16th centuries. The village, situated along the banks of River Tungabhadra, has many accommodation options but a ferry ride across will get you to Virupapur Gaddi, the quirkier, more laidback part of Hampi. Rise early to climb the 570 steep steps to the whitewashed Hanuman Temple, which affords views of the sun rising over Hampi’s stoic boulders and endless paddy fields. After a day of temple-exploring in Hampi, head over to Sunset Point for downtime with stilling views. For wildlife lovers, there’s also the Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary half an hour away. Opt for cosy comfort by checking into a cosy cottage at Uramma Heritage Homes in Anegundi, but for a more convenient base from which to explore, try The Goan Corner in Virupapur Guddi.
Hampi is approx. 340km/6hr by road from Bengaluru.
Green tree snakes and king cobras are a part of the diverse ecosystem of mammals, birds and reptiles in Agumbe’s rainforests. Photo: Rohit Varma/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
The tiny village of Agumbe was where the 1980s TV adaptation of R.K. Narayan’s Malgudi Days was shot. Stop by Dodda Mane, which is one of the landmark structures in the village and one of the central locations of the shoot. The upper floors of the manor are open to travellers as a kind of pay-as-you-wish homestay and the owner Kasturi Akka is happy to share tales filled with trivia about the house. Agumbe is also a hotspot for plant and animal life as the village is skirted by dense rainforest. Set aside time for a trek up to the top of Onake Abbi Falls—best to engage a guide, as the nearly year-round rainfall washes away trails—and a visit to the Agumbe Rainforest Research Station (ARRS). The facility tracks king cobras and flying lizards, while also studying forest ecology and climatic change. More here.
Agumbe is approx. 350km/7hr by road from Bengaluru.
Hiking through these hills affords glorious views of tea plantations for miles on end. Ask your homestay to arrange for a guide to show you the way. Photo: Satheeshkumar K/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
The lush tea estates in the Nilgiris are perfect for a quick getaway from the city. Stay in a colonial bungalow-turned-homestay like Lymond House in Ooty and La Maison in Kotagiri. In Ooty, see how tea is made on a guided tour of the Doddabetta Tea Factory and Museum or explore the botanical gardens that were established in 1848 and shelter a 20-million-year-old fossilised tree. Kotagiri is less touristy, and has wonderful hiking trails. Sullivan Memorial or Pethakal Bungalow provides insights into the events of 17th- and early 18th-century colonial rule and how the hills became a possession of the British East India Company. More here.
Ooty and Kotagiri are approx. 270km/6hr by road from Bengaluru.
The graceful classical dance form, Kuchipudi, was originally performed only by male members from Brahmin families, but over the years, the dance form has expanded beyond caste and gender. Photo: P Das Arayil/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
Visit Kuchipudi, the village behind the eponymous dance form, for a masterclass in art and culture. Its dance college, Sri Siddhendra Yogi Kuchipudi Kala Peetham, is well known across the country and open to visitors. Nearby there is a temple dedicated to Shiva and his consort Balatripura Sundari with an extended platform that serves as a stage for open-air performances on religious festivals. An annual dance festival takes place in March, and the contemporary dancers who still live here are always up for a chat with those genuinely interested. Near Kuchipudi are other culturally rich villages too. Ghantasala (13km away) is an important part of south India’s Buddhist circuit, Mangalagiri (62 km away) has lovely handloom textiles and Hamsaladeevi, 40km to Kuchipudi’s south, is where the River Krishna merges with the Bay of Bengal. The beach is clean, and if you’re lucky, you could spot dolphins in the early morning or late evening. More here.
Kuchipudi is approx 50km/1hr by road from Vijayawada. Vijayawada is approx an hour away by flight from Bengaluru.
The dense hills of Sakleshpur accommodate Arabica and Robusta coffee varieties, cinnamon trees, and rolling meadows. Photo: Arvind Krishnan/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
Located between Coorg and Chikmagalur, Sakleshpur has coffee plantations and easy hiking trails. Start the morning with tumblers of filter kaapi, spend the day ambling past little streams and gorgeous waterfalls, or coop up with a novel and a thermos. En route to Sakleshpur, halt at the Holy Rosary Church in the Gorur Dam at Shettihalli (about 1 hr away). The church gets partially submerged when the dam swells in the monsoon, turning it into a surreal monument. Better still, find a local fisherman to take you on a coracle ride through the crumbling ruins. Read more about where to eat and stay in Sakleshpur here.
Sakleshpur is approx. 230km/4hr by road from Bengaluru.
The ramparts of Vellore Fort served as an English garrison in 1760, consequently playing an important part in the fight against Tipu Sultan. Photo: Soham Banerjee/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
There’s an old-world allure to Vellore. Visit Vellore Fort, which was built in the 16th century to soak in its past; it has a mosque, church and temple within its walls. There’s also the Amirthi Forest and Wildlife Sanctuary—ideal for a peaceful nature walk. The Sripuram Temple, a recent addition to the city and one of Tamil Nadu’s biggest shrines, is worth a visit for its ornate ceilings and crystal chandeliers. It took 500 masons seven years to complete construction of the temple. Make the trip to Ambur, an hour from Vellore, for its fragrant biryani which uses “a special, stubby rice called seeraga samba, a traditional variety grown in Tamil Nadu and is known for its chewy texture.” Star Biryani serves up the best in town. More here.
Vellore is approx. 200km/4hr by road from Bengaluru.
Look out for leopards and langurs on early morning safaris through Bandipur National Park. Photo: Sarath Kuchi/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
Before it was christened a national park, Bandipur was the hunting reserve of the Maharaja of Mysore. The park is now part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve and is inhabited by sambar, langur, leopards, tigers, and sloth bears. Spend mornings on safari (they take place in the evenings too), afternoons napping, and evenings swapping notes with other wildlife enthusiasts at resorts like The Serai and The Windflower Resorts Spa. The latter does a fine full-body massage, performed by two therapists in tandem.
Bandipur National Park is approx. 230km/5hr by road from Bengaluru.
Hire Benakal is home to prehistoric cave paintings and these stone structures that date back around 2,000-3,000 years. Photo: Ravibhalli/Wikimedia Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)
For a weekend break with a difference, visit one of India’s largest necropolises, near the village of Hire Benakal. Moryar Gudda is a megalithic site that appears to be a “cluster of small stone houses”, but might actually be funerary monuments from the Iron Age, according to archaeologists. The rock shelters have prehistoric art panels too. Stay at Hospet, which is the nearest big town with decent accommodation, or at Gangawati which is closer to Hire Benakal. Hire a car to drive out to the village and when you’re there, ask for a guide to take you to Moryar Gudda. More here.
Hire Benakal is approx. 360km/6.5hr by road from Bengaluru. Ask a guide in the village to take you to Moryar Gudda.
was formerly a member of National Geographic Traveller India's web team. She loves beaches, blue skies, and baking, and is most centred while trying a new cake recipe. She tweets as @thefabmonteiro.
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