Weekend Getaways: Bhuj, Madurai, Manali, Shantiniketan

We pick great destinations from every corner of the country. | By NGT Staff  
Shantiniketan Upansana Griha
Shantiniketan’s Upasana Griha or prayer hall is also known as the Glass House, because of its many coloured-glass windows. Photo: Suman Roychoudhury

Baroque palaces on the White Rann, mystical Shantiniketan, a plush man cave in Manali and four ways to dig in to Madurai’s culture – pick a nook to explore on a long weekend.


White Rann Bhuj

During the monsoon, the salty marsh of the White Rann is several feet under water. The seawater dries in winter, leaving behind the distinctive white carpet. Photo: Omrita Nandi

I found the expanse of the White Rann, extending over 7,500 sq km, a little frightening. It was uniformly barren, with no markers to delineate boundaries. The desert, covered in layers of salt of varying thickness, appeared to be a snow-covered landscape. The salt crunched delicately under my feet, like thin glass. Even before the sun had set, an almost-full moon rose gracefully, leaving the landscape awash in an ethereal light. I was hypnotised by the surreal whiteness around me and the odd romance of the moment. Sitting on the ground, I tried to soak in as much as I could before the temperature fell, and it was time to leave. -Anita Rao Kashi

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Appeared in the September 2014 issue as “Across The Salt Desert”.


Mythological Deities Meenakshi Amman Temple Madurai

Every inch of the towering gopurams (pyramidal gates) of Madurai’s Meenakshi Amman Temple, is covered with colourful stucco figures of Hindu mythological deities and celestial beings. Photo: Hal Beral/ Encyclopedia/ Corbis/ Imagelibrary

In the old days, life revolved around the temple, so the city’s streets were built in concentric circles around it. Even today this area is a thriving hotbed of activity, but there is a lot to experience within and beyond Madurai. Elephant Hill, for instance, is located on the city’s outskirts (25 km northeast of the temple). The 10-minute trek to the top affords a spellbinding view of the holy city, and the beautiful, ancient Jain inscriptions at a cave there offer a glimpse into its syncretic past. -Kamala Thiagarajan

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Appeared in the October 2014 issue as “Guided by the Goddess”.

The Himalayan in Manali

Stone Mansion Himalayan

The stone mansion is far away from the chaos of old Manali’s hippie hangouts and the new town’s mayhem. Photo: Milan Moudgill

The Himalayan is every boy’s dream castle. The stone mansion, which took a decade to build and was completed three years ago, has battlements, buttresses, and a plush but medieval feel. Stride past the pointed archway of the vestibule and you’ll find yourself in a cavernous dining room with heavy wooden furniture. By the cast-iron fireplace is a Hogwarts-style vertical banner bearing The Himalayan’s mascot: the mythical (and rather solemn-looking) heraldic ibex, two hooves in the air and goatee billowing in the breeze. Underground, below the conservatory, is the Dungeon, a bar-cum-sports room with a pool table in prime condition. Instead of chairs, the Dungeon has church-like pews. -Neha Sumitran

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Appeared in the September 2014 issue as “Mountain Manor”.


Tagore’s father Debendranath, who was known as Maharshi, built an ashram in the town in 1863. But Shantiniketan’s real fame came in 1901, when Rabindranath started his famous experimental school, Patha Bhavana. The school hoped to tear down barriers between students and teachers and worked on the assumption that education must go beyond the confines of the classroom. Patha Bhavana grew into the Visva Bharati University in 1921, attracting some of the most creative minds in the country. -Divya Dugar

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Appeared in the June 2014 issue as “Shantiniketan by the Book”.

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