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Travel
December 23, 2019

Escape Artistes

Illustrations by Rohan Dahotre

A cluster of deep thinkers articulates the necessity of getting away from their immediate surroundings and discloses the energising destinations nearby that restore their motivations to keep going

LUDHIANA TO KASAULI
Jasleen Royal, Singer and Songwriter

For me, the perfect place to unwind always has been Kasauli. The scenic beauty is what makes me want to visit again and again. I used to go there a lot as a child, with my family, and that’s why the place has a special place in my heart. It is also not very far from my home in Ludhiana, so it is the perfect weekend getaway.

The timber trail is something that no one should miss out on. You get a view of the mesmerising gorges and the mountain ranges from there. And if you like trekking, Kasauli is perfect!

We tend to get very busy with our day-to-day lives in the city, so I feel like small trips and getaways are a necessity to rejuvenate and take a break from the hustle and bustle. I think it’s essential to be surrounded by the people you love, whether it’s friends or family. With great company, every experience becomes memorable.

Kasauli has a totally different vibe, and you can attain a certain peace of mind when you go there. So it’s ideal if you want to break away. Sitting by the bonfire, having a cup of hot chocolate and watching the stars are some of the things that I look forward to while there.

KOLKATA TO IMPHAL
Kallol Datta, Designer

Don’t go for the hotel option — do a farmstay. The Giving Tree at Sangaiprou, on the outskirts of the city, is a great choice. The cafe culture has boomed in the past couple of years. Forage, at KokSamLai Tower, bakes really good sourdough bread and brews their own kombucha. You can also take a trip to Ukhrul, either alone or with a group of friends, for a day picnic or visit the Kangla Palace or Mary Kom’s boxing centre.

I visited Imphal for the first time to attend a wedding. It’s a convenient 45-minute flight from Kolkata, and I get to travel there at least twice a year. I go to get some peace and quiet from the city and for a change of scene. I really like the people — I now know more folk in Manipur than in Kolkata.

One reason to visit Imphal is its accessibility…. and by way of that, a big portion of Indians can unlearn their biases against Manipur by simply visiting the state.

A surprising discovery in Imphal was the talent. Not that it was unexpected, but to meet fresh, young start-ups — people running ad agencies, graphic designers, artists and craft centres…. To relax, I usually read. I carry a lot of books while travelling. Also, my journal to write and doodle in. Imphal has really good restaurants — Luxmi Kitchen with its community dining and Char-Koal at Moirangkhom — so I’m also assured of brilliant meals.

CHENNAI TO THIRUVANNAMALAI
K Benitha Perciyal, Artist

Thiruvannamalai is my hometown. There’s a beautiful mountain behind our house; it’s called Mount Arunachala. When I see it, I feel infinitesimal…. Sometimes these feelings are difficult to describe in words, but I always feel special when I’m there. What I like are these kinds of elements — the aura and vibrations of the land which invite you; it’s very difficult to sense this everywhere.

It’s a sacred land, so people often go for the full moon day to walk around the mountain, but I wouldn’t recommend visiting then to experience Thiruvannamalai for the first time. There’s also a beautiful Arunachala temple, and it’s one of the element temples — fire belongs to Thiruvannamalai. There is also the Ramana Maharshi ashram.

Whenever a piece of work leaves from the studio, I feel like that’s the saddest day for me. I feel very empty when that happens. But when I am home, I don’t feel that emptiness…. Just being at home and walking around the mountain or going to the ashram and seeing unknown people is enough. In fact, I have very few friends in Thiruvannamalai. We live in the foothills of the mountain, and whenever I go up to the terrace, I can see it. So, you come back to the city with that emptiness fulfilled, and then the entire sense and mood and everything shifts.

BENGALURU TO THE NILGIRIS
Manasa Prithvi, Founder – Ira Studio

The mountains offer me a place to rejuvenate. It’s a home away from home because the places and people are familiar, yet the slow pace of everything makes the Nilgiris a lovely getaway. They are a combination of rolling lands and greenery, where the people are kind and warm, the food is sumptuous and the population sparse. No wonder that the British made it their home for half the year! We almost always drive to the Nilgiris — it takes us seven to eight hours with plenty of breaks, and a slow drive through the lush jungles. It is an annual trip for us. Once every year is the bare minimum.

I like to catch up on my reading, go on picnics and really just relax. This break from regular city life helps me re-energise, and I feel a new sense of creative energy. Though after about two to three weeks, I miss the company of friends, close ones, work and routine. If I had to give one reason to visit, it would be the pollution-free, crisp mountain air, away from fast-paced city living. And to be with nature. It is important to have these places of retreat, to rejuvenate and maintain sanity.

Assuming that one chooses to drive to the Nilgiris — I would recommend finding accommodation in establishments that are away from the commercial centres.

From around Ooty, I suggest driving to Masinagudi while looking at the beautiful flora and fauna on the way. Rent a cabin and go on a safari to catch glimpses of wildlife in the area. If you are lucky, you might spot the big cats like tigers and leopards or sloth bears, elephants, deer — sambar and spotted — and hundreds of different bird species. From Kotagiri, one can drive towards Kodanad View Point to see the mountains rising from the plains and giving birth to rivers like the Moyar. Find delicious meals in the town and head for a trail walk in the thickly wooded area of the Longwood Shola Reserve Forest.

From Coonoor — the options are many. One can spend a whole day learning about how local cheese is made at the Acres Wild farmstay and drive to the picturesque Dolphin Nose View Point, or drive downhill to Kurumba Village Resort and unwind in the lap of nature. Beautiful tribal silver jewellery and the fascinating motifs of the Todas are some other things that I chanced upon there. And the warmth of the people.

JAIPUR TO DEOGARH
Mita Kapur, Author, Founder —Siyahi Jaipur

One time, during the drive to Deogarh, I found a woman from the village sitting on the top of a hill and she was kuto-ing (grinding) some sukha red berries into a chutney with lal mirch and other masalas…. The taste of that chutney does not leave my mouth.

If you go to different places — that are on tune with the kind of person you are — you become one with nature and yourself, quieten down or just switch off.

I’ve been going there for over a decade now. The Deogarh Mahal is steeped in history; it has the Deogarh School of paintings, which are beautifully preserved. Initially, we stayed at the Mahal itself, in the main suite, because it just transports you into the grandeur of another period and how life was then. More recently, however, I’ve been staying at Dev Shree, a new boutique hotel owned by Shatrunjai Singh Chundawat and his wife, Bhavna. Now a part of the Relais & Châteaux luxury hotel chain, the kind of love and attention to detail that the couple runs it with, it has that typical old-world feel – rooted in our traditions and heritage but not in a touristy manner. The Mahal is surrounded by lakes that fill up during the monsoons, and if you’re there during that time, you don’t feel like you’re in India. I’ve seen a 100-metre waterfall and trekked up there too. There’s also a quaint train journey that you can take, which crosses over very deep ravines, and you can feed monkeys along the way! Shatrunjai is a raconteur and can make you go breathless over tales spanning across natural history to the legends that old temples in the region boast of, to treating you to the most scrumptious meals made by villagers in a farmland! I can go back to Deogarh every year, it never bores me.

HYDERABAD TO HAMPI’S BOULDERS RESORT
Aparna Roddam, Brand Management/Marketing Consultant

If you have a love of the outdoors; or simply seek some quiet away from the city, then the raw, untouched surroundings, the flowing rhythm of the river, vibrant bird song and wildlife, at Hampi’s Boulders Resort is perfect for nature seekers from Hyderabad to visit regularly.

Situated along the banks of the Tungabhadra, as it weaves and carves its way around, the resort is nestled, amongst the boulders and natural rock formations where crocodiles sunbathe. I like visiting any place that is a creative hub or a centre that has history. Often you come away awed by what the human mind and imagination can do. A trip that connects you with nature is a reminder of something vaster, it is a reconnection perhaps to our own innate nature.

A first timer should consider the island treks through the forest and rocks, a walk to the spectacular waterfalls, a visit around the lake – for bird watching, the bamboo bridges that take you to the stunning boulder formations — everything in the resort centres around exploration and discovery. About a half-hour away is the UNESCO world heritage site of Hampi. The centre of the Vijayanagara Empire in the 14th century, Hampi’s historical forts, temples, sculptures and monuments should not be missed.

MUMBAI TO PURUSHWADI
Sonali Kulkarni, Actor

In the last two years, I haven’t been too happy with being in an AC atmosphere all the time, and I have to go out and breathe fresh air. So last year, my husband, daughter and I, with Grassroutes Journeys, went to Purushwadi, which is located very close to Mumbai and Pune. It’s a beautiful place, and you can stay in five-star tents….

A first-time traveller will definitely be welcomed with a variety of pleasant shocks. Purushwadi has the lowest cell network. So you better be ready to entertain yourself with something called ‘nature’! The guide comes to take you after dinner, and you might wonder how much could the place have changed since the morning? But what you get to see is totally outside of your imagination! The trees in the valley are filled with fireflies, but it is not like the entire valley is full of them. For some reason, the fireflies choose trees. So a nice pocket of shining stars — will alternate with a tree that is completely blank, dark; then another one shining, and the next one dark, so it creates a very interesting pattern. The fireflies landed on mine and my daughter’s palms, so we were very excited. You actually observe your breath — you don’t want the firefly to fly away because you exhaled. The night was unforgettable! The area is blessed with a dam, the river Kurkundi, a valley and beautiful tents. And I didn’t even know that we have fireflies in India!

This is a poetic thought, but I like to believe in it: you don’t have to join the race, you can have your own pace and be comfortable in the jungle that you create for yourself.

At Purushwadi, your lunch and dinner are always at one of the local families’ houses. So, you have to eat whatever they cook, and you get to experience their hospitality. One day, we were with one family, the second day, another…. You pay for your trip, but don’t pay the local families anything for the food that they are serving. You see the landlady planning the meals, and if she notices that you found the food spicy, for the next meal, she will plan accordingly. But you can’t dictate the menu, you have to eat what they have cooked – it’s a very humbling experience.

Getting away definitely opens up your horizons, it gives a different point of view to your own bonds…you get an overview of yourself. It is fun taking a risk and going on the road less travelled, otherwise things will become monotonous. With such temporary escapes, you’re in for surprises. I think that they connect you with the land and yourself and tell you that life is simple and beautiful. You don’t have to have so much fear about earning money or material possessions. Whatever you do, if you’re doing it with the goodness that you have in your heart, it is enough.

KOHIMA TO THUVOPISU
Tetseo Sisters, Folk Artistes

Kohima itself is a beautiful destination, but being the avid travellers that we are, we often yearn to head out to wilder, remoter places to be closer to nature or just to get away from the stresses of city life. One of our favourite trips from Kohima is to our native village of Thuvopisu in the Phek district of Nagaland. There, we’re off to a beautiful retreat called Kiwi Farm which is in the middle of nowhere yet so homey with all the basic comforts. The farm is spread out over about 200 acres of natural woods and is home to patches of farm land, a fish pond, animals like chickens and goats with a full-time staff who grow wholesome organic produce for your meals.

We would recommend a weekend stay between October and December. If you can brave the cold, January and February are also great. On the way to the farm, you pass beautiful rice fields ready for harvest, and waterfalls and winding roads with clouds floating around as you follow the mountain paths. On the farm itself, you can go for walks — a trek to a beautiful mystical lake; visit the village and enjoy the local cuisine; spend an evening enjoying the music of the locals; watch them weave a basket or accompany them to their fields and back. Head out for a fishing trip or an angling experience or just enjoy the fresh air and sounds of nature with organic produce straight from the farm.

We all need a place and time to take a break, unwind, find ourselves and rejuvenate so that we can face whatever it is that stresses us out. And getting to do so in the midst of nature, not too far from civilisation, is a dream come true.

An unexpected discovery was finding ourselves in the middle of history. The village of Thuvopisu holds much history of the people of Nagaland’s struggles for independence from the ’40s to the ’70s, and it also witnessed the Japanese arriving in this part of the world during World Wars I and II. A storytelling session can be arranged in the village with a translator who will be happy to regale you with true tales. Another exciting find was running into Mithuns, (bos frontalis) — the state animal, a mountain bison unique to Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. They are shy creatures and would hide away from humans, but you can call out to them and offer salt – to which they respond positively by licking it off your hands. Do not attempt this without a guide though!

The remoteness of the place and the beauty of being in the heart of nature offer a sense of timelessness. Your problems and stresses become meaningless and insignificant in the midst of the raw beauty of this place. It is also the birth village of our parents, and so it holds special significance for us.

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