One summer, despite the heat, a few of us decided to take a weekend hike to a hilltop at Kodachadri in the Western Ghats in Karnataka. Though the temperatures were soaring, the views were terrific. Late in the afternoon, we stopped for lunch in a dense bamboo forest. The dry bamboo stalks rubbed against each other in the wind to create eerie noises: the sound of a plank being tapped or a door opening slowly. Sweat trickled from our foreheads as we bit into our food but we knew the situation would change once we got out of the forest and reached the ridge.
When we got there, the afternoon heat was quickly pushed away by the evening breeze. The strong gusts brought with them a cold fog that engulfed us completely as we scrambled to find our way on the narrow ridge. Carefully, we made our way to a viewing point just as the sun was about to set. We were here to see the grand show that the dense, tropical forests of the Western Ghats put up every year. Low-lying clouds drift into the forested valleys, making everything look beautiful. There is something inexplicably magical and mysterious about this white wonder that comes and goes. We watched in awe as the setting sun cast a pink hue on the clouds.
In the moonlit night, we walked up the wide path to the peak. The moon sat gently above the clouds. The clouds stayed as we cooked, ate, and camped. In the early morning, they were still there, nestled between pockets of the mountains. We watched wistfully as they slowly disappeared when the sun came up. They were gone but those memories remain etched like a midsummer night’s dream.
Early summer is the best time to view these cloud-filled valleys. Kodachadri (1,343 m high, in Shimoga district) and Narasimha Parvatha (826 m high, near Sringeri in Chikmagalur; requires forest office permission) are known for views like these.
I spent the summer of 2012 drinking. Drinking copious amounts of the warm, saline water from the Bay of Bengal.
Face down on a nine-foot surfboard, I spent five days in the ocean learning how to surf, but mostly developing a tan to rival lobsters, sprouting mini-biceps that lasted a month, and sporting that cool, humidity-induced hairdo popularly known as the Afro.
Of Pondicherry’s many surprises, the Kallialay Surf School is among its best.
Set up in 2009 by Juan and Samai Reboul, two brothers from Auroville, the school is on the shores of a little fishing village called Tandryankupam. a discreet dirt track veers off the main road between Pondicherry (officially Puducherry) and Auroville, opening out onto Bodhi Beach— a tumble of colourful fishing boats, bright green nets, and little shanties.
The Kallialay Surf School is located on Pondicherrt’s Bodhi Beach. Photo: Chirodeep Chaudhuri
I arrived for my five-day course on a warm afternoon, the smell of sea salt thick in the air, a happy babble of English, Tamil, and French all around. People of various nationalities and age groups were getting into surfing gear and enjoying a laid-back afternoon at the school.
I was promptly handed a rash vest and board, and hustled out to my first session. “Almost 95 per cent of our students manage to stand up and ride a wave during their first lesson,” Juan told me as I practiced pop-ups and a proper stance on the sand. Half an hour later, I was cruising in the water, upright, arms stretched out, knees bent, and feeling cool as I precariously rode my first wave towards the golden shore.
With humble beginnings, Kallialay has progressed to a full-fledged surf school, drawing a mix of locals, travellers, and Aurovilleans every day. They offer courses for both beginners and advanced surfers, and provide boards of varying sizes. The surf break between the two piers on Bodhi Beach creates perfect small and medium-sized waves, ideal for beginners to learn. “Surfing is for everyone—we’ve had six-year-olds and 62-year-olds surf with us over the years,” the Reboul brothers said. On my last afternoon, I found myself under the blazing coastal sun in a patch of ocean crammed with surfers of all ages. It was a Saturday, and the pros had come out to play. We were divided into groups and set free in open water to test our new skills.
Clubbed in a group with two fearless four-year-old Koreans, I paddled out into the choppy water. As the unyielding waves knocked us about, the little pros jumped on and off their boards with great gurgles of joy, demonstrating an agility possessed only by those under the ripe age of ten. The waves were their play-things while I flailed about most ungrace- fully in the water.
In the end, I’d spent a good many hours in the summer afternoon sun, fried to a crisp with a belly full of salt water. My muscles had that lovely ache that comes from pushing yourself to the limits of your physical capacity. I would do it again in a heartbeat, just to feel the thrill of rising on a swell of water and hurtling toward the shoreline. I would definitely do it again just to get some abs.
(94429 92874; www.surfschoolindia.com; single group session of 1.5 hrs ₹1,000; single private session ₹1,500; five-day course ₹4,800; ten-day course ₹9,500.)
It took pleading, promising, and persuading caretakers and colleagues to run away with the girlfriends to Coonoor. The families left behind, far from looking tearful, seemed happier about us leaving than we were. Every hairpin bend had the temperature dropping and our excitement rising a notch. We scuttled into Ooty en route to pick up survival necessities—bread, eggs, tea, milk—and chocolate.
In Coonoor, mile upon mile of terraced tea garden dwarfed the town centre with its huddle of stores selling spices, woollens, honey, coffee, and the omnipresent hill town eucalyptus oil. Winding roads snaked through the tea gardens, occasionally unveiling a single-storeyed school, where smiling schoolgirls with flowers in their hair and anklets around their socks, waved to us.
Driving through Coonoor’s terraced plantations makes for a relaxing weekend escape. Photo: Dinodia
Our holiday house sat on a pretty slope and the next morning at dawn, the cold tinged with the scent of pine urged us to attempt a jog up Elk’s hill nearby. The road slanted unforgivingly uphill, and soon our legs and lungs protested at such bravado. Unwilling to admit we weren’t mountain-fit, we used any excuse to halt on the way. Ah, a quaint chai stall with an old woman brewing Coonoor tea in an old cone burner with a six-foot chimney—let’s halt! Look, a tree growing out of a rock, halt! A stone or a chameleon? Halt for a picture! A shrine on a peak far away, with the ring of temple bells echoing through the vales, halt for a video! We did make it, gasping, to the top, and the view from there took our breath away. Coonoor boasts of a number of peaks with views like this, hills rolling to the horizon dotted with tiny hamlets.
Topping our Coonoor must-see checklist was Sim’s Park which, with its 1,000 species of flora, is a mecca for nature lovers. The green warrior among us muttered animatedly: “Quercus Aracaria Turpextine”, which sounded rather like a Potter spell. Next, we rode the toy train to Ooty, 17 km away, on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway. As we chugged along the narrow gauge, valleys dropped away below cloaked in pine groves, and green hills rose skyward. The only intrusion upon the storybook lyricism was the large sack of vegetables with which I shared my seat, the railway line being a daily commute for locals. The woman carrying the vegetables imperiously indicated I squeeze in to allow her sack a little more space. After all, I would be gone soon, whereas her sack had a season ticket!
When girlfriends who’ve shared a childhood get back together, there are years to catch up on. We talked, and we talked, in the misty mornings and in the blanket-cuddled nights. After all, who needs sleep when there’s chocolate? We let down our hair and put up our feet. And genteel Coonoor, unlike manically popular Ooty next door, granted us perfect privacy. Its residents are charming and shy. The next morning, we’d just stepped out with our steaming mugs to walk barefoot in the dewy garden grass, when we discovered we had visitors. A herd of gaur grazing nearby, stopped, looked benignly on, and then moved away. Live and let live. Chomp and let chomp.
Summer in the misty hills is soul-cleansing. Three days with the besties bestowed on me a Buddha-esque calm which not even the city’s clogged traffic and bust pipes could dent. Besides, I brought back chocolate.
The hill station of Coonoor lies 285 km/6 hours south of Bengaluru.
–Jane De Suza
Ranthambhore is hot and dusty in the month of May. I sat in the back of the open-air Gypsy with the tripod tied firmly to the car floor and the camera ready. We had heard sambar calls just a few minutes earlier and were sure that a tigress was hiding in the tall grass. She had made a kill after many days and we were hoping she would soon walk out towards the big lake for a drink.
Nobody in their right mind goes to Rajasthan in the summer. Unless, you’re on the tiger chase. It is easy to forget the heat and dust when you know you might see the big cat at any moment. Guided by alarm calls of sambar and langur, trackers try and find where the tiger might be. The wait and anticipation makes you tune into the forest and if you’re alert you will notice that the forest is alive and throbbing. I love this wait. It is a great time to look out for other action on the forest floor and in the tree canopy. The forest is after all not just about the tiger but also about the countless number of birds, insects, crocodiles, and the rarely seen sloth bear.
A tiger sighting in the wild makes afternoons spent in Rajasthan’s searing summers worth the trouble. Photo: Aditya ‘Dicky’ Singh
Near the lake, paradise flycatchers danced from one branch to the other. Towards the far end, a couple of crocodiles swam across and the sambar waited for them to cross before warily picking their way to a small island in the middle of the lake. Closer to me, a tiny painted snipe with her chicks in tow, tried walking past a much larger lapwing. The lapwing approached the mother and her chicks and before I knew it, the painted snipe fluffed its feathers to look bigger and spread its wings to create an umbrella. The chicks hid under their mothers’ wings and only came out once the lapwing was a safe distance away.
Another morning, driver and tracker Shameembhai and I were driving slowly around a smaller lake in the park. One of the tigresses was ready to mate and the resident dominant males were on a lookout for her. We were looking for the tigress but not seeing her, we were just about to leave. Then I heard the sounds of snapping jaws and splashing water. I was surprised to see the dramatic beginnings of a feeding frenzy. The water in the small lake had dried considerably so the fish were more easily available to the crocodiles and painted storks. As I watched, the crocodiles splashed the water and made the fish jump out. They snapped their jaws and caught scores at a time. The storks walked across the lake in a coordinated performance, picking on the jumping fish.
For an hour I watched the orchestra of hundreds of dancing storks, tens of splashing crocodiles, and thousands of fearful siver fish that glittered in the hot midday sun as they jumped out of the water.
Not one moment can be replicated. This is truest in the forest. You only have to be alert and keep watching. The countless dramas that reveal themselves while you wait under a burning sun for the tiger makes a visit to Ranthambhore in summer a unique experience. The dhok trees lose their leaves and stand starkly against the burning sky giving no shade or refuge. The amaltas on the other hand, explodes in a riot of yellow blooms. Later in summer, as the dhok flowers, the forest is dabbed in a splash of red.
Back at the big lake, we were still waiting for the tigress with her kill. She finally walked out of the tall grass. She had been feeding on her kill all afternoon and now desperately needed a drink. I filmed spellbound as she walked across the open ground, each muscle in her body moving sinuously under her skin. She was a truly powerful animal that we were fortunate to observe in her pristine, natural habitat. After spending a successful morning in the forest on a summer day, the satisfaction of a cool drink back at the hotel is irreplaceable.
Ranthambhore is 180 km/4 hours southeast of Jaipur; during the summer, safaris take place at 6-10.30 a.m. and 3-7.00 p.m.; the park is closed in the monsoon from July to Sep; Visitors need to book an official jeep or canter safari with an approved guide and driver. It’s best to book these in advance through your hotel.
For luxury, stay at Khem Villas which offers farm-grown vegetarian food and cool hotel rooms (0941-4030262;khemvillas.com; doubles between ₹11,000 and ₹24,000, depending on the season). Ranthambhore Bagh, which is a hub for tiger lovers and a very comfortable stay is more affordable (82391 66777; ranthambhore.com; doubles between ₹3,500 and ₹6,300, depending on season)
Indulge in a thoroughly satisfying mudbath at Arambol. Photo: INC/Shutterstock
Arambol in north Goa is a beach bum’s dream. The waters are calm, the sand is fine, and the shacks are laden with seafood fresh off the boat. But the beach’s biggest draw is Vagkolam, or simply “sweet lake” as most locals and sandy tourists call it. The freshwater body has a clutch of shacks on its banks, and on most days, a few chillum-toting babas under a banyan tree nearby with hallucinogenic stories to entertain crowds. But the real charms of Vagkolam are much simpler—and don’t require you to part with any cash. Grab a fist-sized stone and scratch away at the soft red rocks around the lake until your hands are filled with mud. Slather it onto your skin, and repeat until all exposed parts of your body are caked with soil. Proceed to bake under the sun until you can barely move. Jump into the lake for a rigorous scrub and leave with skin that’s mudbath fresh.
Arambol is in northern Goa, 36 km/1 hour north of Panjim.
From where I sat, the water’s surface looked glassy, reflecting the blue of the sky. There was hardly a ripple, and I could have happily drifted for hours with a book for company. But all of a sudden I was shaken out of my complacency as the world began spinning, slowly at first, then quickly gaining momentum. The sky and water were mixed in one grand whirl, while the hills and the forest in the distance seemed to move in the opposite direction. Sitting in a flimsy bamboo coracle in the midst of the Honnemaradu reservoir in Karnataka’s Shimoga district, I thought I would tip over into the water. But before I got dizzy, all was calm again. Only the rush from the spinning stayed.
Corracle rides are the best way to enjoy the serene waters of Honnemaradu. Photo: Dinodia
The boatman and I drifted silently, enjoying the serenity. The quiet was occasionally broken by a jungle call in the distance or an egret flapping down to water’s surface. Soon the sun sank and the water became appropriately gilded: In Kannada, Honnemaradu means golden lake. A swift breeze rose as the evening shadows grew long, and it was time to head back. The gentle lapping of the water was quite deceptive and the current had carried us quite a distance from the shore. As we began paddling back, I lent a hand and realised that the easy, graceful motion of the boatman was actually pretty tough. After a couple of minutes, my arms began aching. Thankfully, we reached the bank soon. As we stepped ashore, dragging the coracle with us, muscles I didn’t even know existed were vehemently making their presence felt. The experience left me strangely recharged. Though it was not my first time in a coracle, the experience of riding one in a reservoir was very different.
On a previous occasion in Hampi, I’d crossed the river Tungabhadra in a coracle. The river flowed briskly and the vessel spun this way and that as it hit eddies or when the oarsman veered to avoid rocks. The crossing was short, just a matter of minutes, but the sensation of cutting across rushing water was exhilarating.
Coracle rides at Honnemaradu are part of a two-day eco-adventure conducted by The Adventurers (94484 85508/94490 04748; ₹4,000 per person for the entire programme, which includes camping, trekking and other activities; minimum group size of 12.)
Rides across the Tungabhadra in Hampi and places such as Talakadu, Balamuri, and Hogenakkal cost approx about₹20 per person. Besides crossing the Tungabhadra, resorts like Kabini River Lodge (080-40554055; www.junglelodges.com; doubles from ₹6,960, price varies with season), and Orange County in Coorg and Kabini (080-4191 1170/71; www.orangecounty.in; doubles from ₹22,500, price varies with season) also offer their guests coracle rides.
–Anita Rao Kashi
Thangkas are made on silk or canvas. Photo: Opis Zagreb
There are many modes of meditation, and the Buddhist art of thangka painting is a fine way to connect with a higher plane.
Artists use silk or cotton as a canvas to make a scroll-like painting filled with intricate depictions of Buddha, mandalas, and other religious symbols. The style’s use of vibrant colour and delicate brushstrokes is legendary.
Like in many labour-intensive traditional arts, the numbers of thangka artisans is dwindling. In an attempt to revive interest, the Thangde Gatsal Thangka Art Studio conducts one-day and weekend workshops for skilled artists and inexperienced visitors.
Thangka painting takes a lifetime of training—a minimum of 30 years is required to be a master—but the focus of these courses is on using the art as a spiritual exercise (94186 55401; starting from ₹1,500 per day).
Near clear skies await stargazers just a few jours outside Mumbai. Photo: Sriharsha Ganjam
I am not the biggest fan of astronomy, so when a friend suggested that we spend a Saturday staring at the sky in Vangani, a village on the outskirts of Mumbai, it wasn’t exactly my idea of a night out. That changed once we reached our destination where Khagol Mandal, a Mumbai-based association for amateur astronomers, conducts stargazing programmes. Within minutes, I found myself queuing up to get a closer look at Venus, Saturn, and craters on the moon. Almost everyone seemed unable to find words to describe what they were seeing. Instead, they resorted to gasps and sighs after witnessing the spectacle.
After peering into each telescope for much longer than I should have, much to the annoyance of the people behind me, I was hooked. I spent the rest of the night lying on my back as astronomers pointed their lasers far into the sky and highlighted constellations and celestial objects I had never noticed before. I learnt to find the north star in case I was ever lost in the wilderness and also to point out zodiac signs so that I could show off back in the city. I was quite delighted to discover a spot so close to Mumbai, where the sky was full of sparkle. The members of Khagol Mandal say that the only prerequisite for their programme is that you have an interest in astronomy. But even without that, you’ll come back star-struck.
Vangani is 64 km/1.5 hours east of Mumbai; Mumbai’s Central Railway trains stop at Vangani Station, the journey takes 1.5 hours; details of upcoming overnight programmes available at facebook.com/khagolmandal; charges from ₹200 per head.
Explore the stunning Nubra Valley while riding a Bactrian camel. Photo: Athit Perawongmetha/Flickr/Getty Images
For centuries, Bactrian camels, also known as two-humped camels, were the mainstay of the Silk Route trade in India, carrying men and goods through the high-altitude desert of ladakh. But their service came to an abrupt halt in the late 1940s as India and China became independent nations and the silk route was closed. Most of these camels were let back into the wild, but over the last few decades some of them have been domesticated again.
One of the best ways of exploring the Nubra Valley and surrounding areas is to go on a camel safari. Adept at handling the tricky ladakhi terrain, these gentle giants allow for a leisurely march through some of the most stark and beautiful landscapes in the country. Travellers can go on short, two-to three-hour safaris near Hunder, which is a little over a hundred kilometres north of Leh. Those looking to explore the landscape and culture of Ladakh, while also going on a camel joyride, can sign up for nine-day camel safari packages; these include a mix of trekking, driving, and riding on camels.
(94191 78197; www.dreamladakh.com/camel-safari-ladakh.htm; the nine-day, all-inclusive tour costs appox ₹40,000 per person.)
A group of friends and I were on a road trip to Sangla in eastern Himachal Pradesh, when an unexpected rainstorm and the threat of landslides forced us to change our plans. That’s how we fortuitously found ourselves in the gorgeous Tirthan valley on the outskirts of the Great Himalayan National Park. While exploring the area and its many lovely little villages, we gave a few local women a lift to Saneri village. They thanked us with a fistful of just-plucked apricots and a tip to spend the sunny day fishing for trout on the bubbling Tirthan River.
The Himalayan Trout House in Nagini village is the ideal place to do that. The owner, Christopher Mitra, quickly set us up with a guide, a couple of rods, tackle, hooks, and a bucket of bait. Soon we were standing by a lazy bend in the river, learning from the guide to hook earthworms as bait. He then began to concentrate on the river for a bit, almost as if he was reading it, and led us over a series of small rocks to a large one.
Whatever he read was spot on. Within a minute of casting our lines, the trout were biting merrily. Within half an hour, we had four in the bucket. By the time we were done drinking a couple of chilled beers, we’d caught eight trout between the five of us.
The villages of Nagini and Gushaini have several outfits that rent out angling gear. Photo: Rishad Saam Mehta
Back at the Trout House, the staff took charge of the catch, fried some of the fish with butter and served it with chips and vegetables. It was delicious.
Tirthan is one of the last rivers in Himachal Pradesh that has not been harnessed by a hydro-electric project. Its ice-cold water is green and clear, and it’s a lovely place to relax with a book or a fishing line. The two best spots for fishing on the Tirthan are the village of Nagini and Gushaini. Both have little homestays that will rent out fishing rods, arrange a fishing guide, and permits. You can opt to keep it easy or hike to the best spots to find the big fish.
Himalayan Trout House at Nagini is aimed at the serious angler, and Christopher Mitra conducts fly-fishing classes (Nagini Village is 26 km from a turn off just before Larji Tunnel on the Kullu-Manali road; 94181 28383; www.mountainhighs.com; from ₹1,500-3,000 for lessons depending on number of students; equipment and licences₹700; ₹2,600 onwards for accommodation only). If you’re looking for something less technical, try Raju’s Cottage in Gushaini, 6 km away. This is a family stay with a range of activities available. Day licences and fishing gear on rent (₹700) are available, and you can while away the hours by the river (Raju’s Cottage; Gushaini; 94598 33124; doubles from ₹1,600). Trout fishing season is from Mar to October (himachaltourism.gov.in/angling.php).
–Rishad Saam Mehta
In summer, managing the mangoes that flood my home by the crate, becomes a full-time occupation. When I was a child, the mango deluge was even more intense. But the grown-ups welcomed the invasion. Not content with cooling themselves with the wet spray of air-coolers, grannies, mothers and aunts would stir themselves into a flurry of activity with the arrival of every fresh peti. The versatile mango took centre stage and could be turned into a variety of preparations which are best made in summer. Mangoes featured in every conversation, and all human activity seemed to revolve around them.
The women would bustle around looking important, pre-occupied with some mango-related task and already planning the next. The mangoes had to be washed, cut, dried, crushed, boiled, pickled—tasks that were elaborate, time consuming, and simply couldn’t be conducted in the presence of small children. To our regret, my cousins and I were shooed away from all these interesting activities.
The smell of syrupy sweet mango pickle bubbling on the stove would invade our nostrils but we were banned from the kitchen lest we got burnt by boiled fruit waiting to be mashed into aam panna. We could not play on the roof when sliced raw mangoes were set to dry on muslin saris. The store room was out of bounds when it housed the bell-shaped ceramic vats in which freshly pickled mango was swimming in oil.
Mangoes are also the easiest way to entertain cranky children. I can remember countless afternoons spent sitting in a newspaper-covered courtyard surrounded by other toddlers and mangoes cooling in water-filled buckets. We were not allowed any clothes save for a white, linen slip that would turn sticky yellow by evening. Here, we learnt our slow lessons in how to eat mangoes and not feed all parts of our bodies. Over time, to keep things interesting, we would have competitions to see who could eat the fastest, or the most, or who could lick the seed the cleanest. For the more evolved amongst us who chose only to compete against themselves, each mango devoured was a step closer to perfection (and loose bowels). We learned how to knead the small desi mangoes with our fingertips, remove the tiny stem, squeeze the sap and juice from the top and then slurp it up, all the while taking care not to tear the thin skin. Every time this high-precision ritual was accomplished, it felt like a thrilling conquest.
The highlight of summer was the annual trip to the mango farms in neighbouring Malihabad. There were large orchards of trees laden with fruit and we would shriek with delight if one of us managed to pluck a mango. Otherwise, our ill-aimed stones would bear no fruit until some farmhand took part and joined the fray.
It’s been a long journey from the days when we would frantically lick our arms to arrest the rapid flow of mango juice. Now we have air-conditioned cars and air-con-
ditioned lives and we wouldn’t dream of being held hostage by the weather. Nor would our grannies, mothers, and aunts want to continue that all-consuming summer affair with mangoes. They might remember it with wistful longing, but ready-to-eat, packaged goods are undeniably attractive.
You can buy everything from mango burfi to mango lassi while shopping for Alphonsos in an air-conditioned supermarket. The ceramic vats are empty, the sarota that was used to slice raw mangoes has rusted, the muslin saris are nowhere to be found. Now when I pick at a crystal plate of mango diced in perfect cubes, I know those first days of wonder and delight remain alive only in memory. But mangoes in summer, ageless as ever, continue to be fun.
Juicy mangoes are one of the highlights of summer. Photo: Danita/ Indiapicture
Majhya Mamacha Gaon project, a village-tourism initiative in Boisar offers day-long and special weekend packages for families to pick ripe mangoes from their orchards. It can get crowded in peak season (96198 78500;www.mamachagav.com; day visits ₹550 per adult; ₹450 per child; doubles from ₹1,200).
Ganesh Agro Tourism between Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg, allows visitors to pick mangoes for free, and pay for the fruit they keep (92263 40546; doubles ₹3,000 including all meals). O’nest homestay, 40 km from Ratnagiri, has a mango orchard and a few rooms (99708 41837; www.onesthomestay.com; doubles from ₹1,200). Culture Aangan offers homestay experiences at Nandan Rarms in Sindhudurg (www.cultureaangan.com; doubles ₹5,000 per night including meals). They also organise Rutotsav, a mango festival (5-day package tours from ₹24,740 per head for 4 nights; including stay, meals, activities and pick up and drop facilities to Dabolim airport or the nearest train station).
From the bank, the river seemed neither ferocious nor deep. The water flowed briskly, twinkling in the noon sun. A steady breeze blew across, with a bit of a nip even though it was early April. It was refreshing, not uncomfortable. I strapped on a fluorescent life jacket and gingerly stepped into the dark blue raft.
It wobbled a little, giving me a scare, but stabilised once I settled down. With a shove, the raft moved away from the bank, scraping along the rocky riverbed, and slowly drifted to the centre of the river. Within seconds, it caught the current and suddenly we were rushing along. For a few anxious moments, my heart was in my mouth and I nervously held on to the ropes by the sides of the raft. Soon I began to enjoy the experience of rafting on the Jia Bhoreli River near Bhalukpong in northern Assam. It flows on the border of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, where it is called Kameng, and originates in a glacial lake near Tawang, eventually joining the Brahmaputra. I trailed my fingers in the water, it was freezing even at noon.
The course of the Jia Bhoreli is rather smooth and straight, making it ideal for beginners. I quickly found my confidence, as the raft tripped and jumped over the occasional rapid. Except for the muted sound of flowing water and the occasional chirp of a bird, there was a pleasant silence. There was a gentle and calming rhythm to the experience.
The Jia Bhoreli is ideal for those wanting to try river rafting for the first time. Photo: Anita Rao Kashi
The riverbank was a narrow sandy pebble-filled strip, beyond which there were the thick forests of Nameri National Park. I kept my eyes peeled but the animals escaped me until we rounded a bend in the river and chanced upon an elephant in a clearing on the bank, contentedly stripping branches from a tree. It looked up for a moment to watch us glide by and then went back to chewing.
A short while later, the river broadened to accommodate a large sand bank and we stopped here for a few minutes. The sand was dark near the water and had striations as the river had ebbed and flowed. Thousands of pebbles in astonishing colours—orange, yellow, purple, grey, brown—were scattered around. they were in many shapes and sizes, their edges rounded by the water. Five little boys stood in a few feet of water near the bank. they had rigged up rough bamboo contraptions for fishing and were waiting for the fish to bite while they splashed merrily in the water and waved out to us. An hour later, having rafted downriver for nearly 15 km, I stepped off the raft feeling both invigorated and rested.>
Bhalukpong is in northern Assam, 55 km north of Tezpur and 220 km northeast of Guwahati. Nameri Eco Camp (98540 19932; nameri.co.in; doubles from ₹1,800) organises rafting for ₹1,550 for a two-seater boat and ₹2,100 for a four-seater for 2.5 hours. Jia Bhoreli Wild Resort (94351 05391; doubles from₹3,500) organises rafting for 4 people for₹3,500 for 1.5 hours.
Make your own souvenir in Andretta. Photo: Shutterstock
Get your hands dirty for your very own artistic endeavour this summer. Head over to Andretta Village in Palampur. Set in the Himalayan foothills, this artists’ village is home to the Andretta Pottery and Crafts Societys, one of the most prominent centres of pottery in the region. Run by the eccentric Mansimran Singh, the centre offers three-month-long pottery courses for those looking to immerse themselves in the craft. It also offers daily courses for visitors who wish to try their hand at pottery.
Students are offered boarding and lodging for both long- and short-term courses. Schedules at the centre are flexible and students have the option of taking time off for other activities like treks and picnics. Owing to the diversity of students visiting the centre—both Indian and foreign—this is also a great place to meet a range of people from all over the world.
(01894-254248, www.andrettapottery.com; costs from approx ₹1,500 per day; book ahead)
My heart is racing. This kite is enormous, the size of a watermelon compared to the lime I have been practicing with for the last few days. I remember how the training kite had lifted me off the ground for a step or two. This one, I realise, could easily sweep me off my feet. I dig my toes into the sand, bracing myself for what is to come.
I’m at a beach in Tamil Nadu simply called “secret location #42”, learning kitesurfing. I had recently heard about the water sport, which combines surfing with paragliding, and wanted to try it immediately. What’s not to love about a getaway at pristine beaches? Add to that the prospect of rushing through the ocean on a board propelled by the power of wind. My imagination soared.
So I set off to Uchipuli, in southeastern Tamil Nadu, filled with visions of arcing through the air, flying in the wind, a kite billowing above me. I spent a day getting used to the kite, learning to harness the power of the wind, balancing on the board, and observing the weather. Then, I was scooted off to beach #42 (kitesurfers are possessive of their beach spots), a long, curved bay with an island a short distance away.
Tamil Nadu’s breezy beaches are great for a spot of kitesurfing. Photo: Rammohan Paranjape
As the kite rises with the wind, I hear my heart thumping in my chest. My instructor Jehan shows me how to manoeuvre the kite. He makes it look easy, but the moment I tug at it, the kite veers left and I feel its immense power. Soon, I am on my rear in the sand. I spend most of that day and the next falling.
At “secret location #27”, with a 400-year-old Portuguese church and two placid lagoons, I learn a new term: getting “oceaned”, which is a sensation similar to a facepalm. Eventually, after too many falls to count, I enjoy a ten-second ride from one end of the lagoon to the other—and get a taste of that indescribable feeling everyone has been talking about. When you’re flying over the water, your mind is free. There is complete bliss. Like love, it is something that has to be experienced.
Pirappan Valasai is 140 km/3 hours southwest of Madurai; 09820367412; www.thekitesurfingholiday.com; a 6-hour class to learn kitesurfing basics costs ₹16,500 for one-on-one, and between ₹13,500-20,000 for shared lessons over a longer duration of time; the team can help arrange accommodation, transport, and permits for kitesurfing spots located along the coast from Pirapanvalasai to Manapad.
Appeared in the March 2014 issue as “Here Comes The Sun”.
Also in this series:
Summer Fun: 4 Adventures to Beat The Heat In Thailand, Vietnam & Nepal
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