The post-pandemic travel season calls for customised experiences, paired with unique properties that specialise in tailoring their offerings to your needs. India, fortunately, has plenty of both. Text by Sushmita Srivastav, Rashima Nagpal & Shrimayee Thakur. Illustrations by Meghna Patwal
1. TREK TO CHOPTA WITH YOUR DOG
Thanks to start-ups such as Collar Folk, holidaying with your pet is no longer a complex proposition. Among a range of outdoor experiences, they offer a four-day trek to Chopta, a picturesque valley in Uttarakhand famous for its meadows and evergreen forests and easy access to trekking trails. Think end-to-end services with adequate safety gear and enviable Himalayan views throughout the experience. Besides the trek, the experience also includes overnight camping by the Lake Devariyatal.
2. SAVOUR A BLIND MEAL IN BIKANER
Among the many regal heritage properties of Bikaner, Narendra Bhawan is the crown jewel. The boutique hotel serves up extraordinary experiences that give you a taste of the bygone era—but with a modern twist. Take, for example, the blindfolded dinner at P&C, a timeless and elegant dining room in the hotel. At a private dining table, you are blindfolded and served an indulgent five-course meal, which must be relished with all your senses but one. The concept takes mindful eating to a whole new level.
3. TAKE A PRIVATE HELICOPTER TOUR OF AMRITSAR
Fancy a private chopper ride over the Golden City of India? The Oberoi Sukhvilas Spa Resort, New Chandigarh offers just that. A full-day flight for five would mean shelling out INR 6,95,000 but the breathtaking aerial tour is worth every penny. A deluxe chauffeured car takes you to the Chandigarh Airport, where you step into a private chopper that takes you on a flight over Amritsar. As you soar high amid clouds, the Golden Temple appears to float in the Amrit Sarovar, the crowded lanes of the city look like a delightful maze, and prominent sites like the Wagah-Attari Border are explored with the help of an expert guide.
4. TOUR PUDUCHERRY ON AN E-BIKE
Lined with colonial-style townhouses and cute little cafes, the streets of Puducherry are best explored without leaving behind a big carbon footprint. The boutique property Maison Perumal offers the E-Bike Tour that lets you navigate the colourful French Quarter, past charming yellow buildings, and bougainvillaea-lined streets, on a smart and eco-friendly bike. Visit heritage sites, get souvenirs from local antique shops, and drop by a cafe for some fresh bakes on the fun-filled and guilt-free ride. What’s more, your stay at the 130-year-old Chettiar mansion, a CGH Earth experience, will be a heritage exploration in itself.
5. LEARN TO MAKE LADAKHI MOMOS
This culinary experience at The Grand Dragon Ladakh has been named ‘The Momo Story’ as it goes beyond the rudiments of the routine cooking class. It involves learning the history of the local recipe, procuring the ingredients, learning the art, and making the dish from scratch. Your experience starts with a trip to the local market with the chefs, handpicking the best home-grown ingredients. Later, you go back to the hotel’s kitchen where culinary secrets are spilt and you don the apron and hat. Once it’s all done, you get to have a taste of your own dish, served piping hot.
6. SPEND A GREEN WEEKEND IN MAHARASHTRA
A 50-kilometre drive from Mumbai, Nirvana Organic Farmhouse in Khadavli is a 2.5-acre riverside property with a three-bedroom villa nestled within it. Featuring a huge verandah, organic farms, a lawn dedicated to outdoor sports, and horse-riding facilities, it makes for the perfect weekend getaway from India’s Maximum City, especially if you’re travelling with your family. There’s also a private wooden jetty by the River Bhatsa for serene views.
7. SLEEP UNDER THE STARS IN THAR
While a trip to the expansive Thar Desert is an adventure in itself, here’s an idea to make it even more exciting. Begin your evening with a sunset safari, tuck into a delectable Rajasthani meal, and spend the night in the middle of the dunes with a tour operator such as Mystic Jaisalmer. When dusk falls and you’re surrounded by nothing but the vastness of the desert, the starry night makes for a surreal rooftop.
8. FIND BUDDHA IN BIHAR
If you’re fascinated by Buddhism and those who practise it, spend your vacation tracing the origins of the religion on a trail that links all the significant sites in Bihar. Begin with the temple complex at Bodh Gaya where Prince Siddhartha attained enlightenment to become Buddha under the sacred fig tree called the Bodhi. Drive to the scenic hill town of Rajgir where monasteries built by Japanese devotees still stand, and continue towards the ruins of Nalanda, once the largest site of Buddhist teachings. Before winding up in Patna, visit the stupa at Vaishali, built in honour of Buddha’s last sermon delivered here. Base yourself at the luxurious Hotel Maurya Patna.
9. WITNESS RIVER HOOGHLY IN ALL ITS GLORY
Winding steps, intricate columns, rooms replete with sophisticated luxury, and the old-world charm of a former zamindar’s home, the 300-year-old Rajbari Bawali looks straight out of a Satyajit Ray movie. While living in this two-floored Bengali mansion is an experience in itself, a sunset boat ride on River Hooghly offered by the property adds a different dimension to your Kolkata trip. Later, attend the famous Sandhya Aarti on the banks, with Sanskrit chants, incense smoke, and ritualistic beating of drums creating a transcendental experience.
10. EXPERIENCE SUSEGAD IN GOA
If you want to go beyond beachside hedonism in Goa, visit Divar Island to live in an antique Indo-Portuguese house far away from rave parties and family picnics. Island House offers respite in a colonial structure and inspires you to live like Goan aristocracy. Explore Old Goa, catch your dinner with local fishermen in River Mandovi, go birding in the nearby mangroves, and spend your evenings appreciating Bob Dylan’s works with the owners, Jay and Susan, and other guests, over a dram of Scotch.
11. INDULGE IN TRADITIONAL KHASI THERAPIES
Set against the backdrop of the Khasi Hills and locked in by the pristine Lake Umiam, Ri Kynjai near Shillong in Meghalaya gets its inspiration from the surrounds and the indigenous community. Even its Khem Janai Spa, equipped with state-of-the-art amenities, specialises in traditional herbal cures and Khasi hydrotherapies. Pick their Khasi bath, a water massage for ultimate rejuvenation, or opt for the Khem Tynrai treatment to improve blood circulation and relieve knots.
12. EXPLORE THE FLIP SIDE OF HAVELOCK
The tropical paradise of Andaman and Nicobar Islands is known for pristine white beaches and incredible dive spots. But there’s more to this famous archipelago. Jalakara Private Villa Hotel encourages its guests to discover the rustic hinterlands of Havelock Island. Hop on a bike and visit the colourful local market just 15 minutes away, join a ranger on a nature trek into Havelock’s rainforests, dive deep into the turquoise water, try your luck in angling, or navigate mangrove channels on a kayak.
13. LIVE ON THE EDGE OF THE ARAVALlI HILLS
Situated next to an eponymous lake, Lakshman Sagar is an enchanting 12-cottage boutique hotel located two hours from Jodhpur. While its remote location is its most attractive feature, the way of life here makes it ideal for a slow vacation. Inspired by village houses, the cottages are built of mud and stone and are minimally done up with colourful knick-knacks that exhibit local influences. While each accommodation comes with a private splash pool that looks out to the lake, the hotel’s single-rock-cut infinity pool is a marvel. Custom activities such as local liquor tasting, goat herding, nature walks, horse trailing, kite flying, etc. can fill up your days here.
14. STAY IN A VINEYARD NEAR NASHIK
With its stunning location between Igatpuri and Nashik and scenic views of the Mukhne Dam, Vallonne Vineyards is the perfect place for a weekend of lazing around. But the boutique resort is more than just a pretty stay. Sign up for its ‘Grape to Glass’ wine appreciation session and go on a tour of the winery, visit the underground barrel cellar, and taste five premium wines of your choice. Later, sit back at its restaurant, Malaka Spice, and let the in-house sommelier pair delicious wines with each course of your indulgent meal.
15. ENJOY THE URBAN-ROYAL LIFE IN PALI
The camping experience offered by RAAS Chhatrasagar is the epitome of offbeat luxury in Rajasthan. Midway between the princely cities of Jaipur and Udaipur, the camp—reminiscent of the royal Rajput lifestyle—is set over a 100-year-old dam on the edge of a lake. It is surrounded by a nature reserve where over 200 species of birds are found. The site features a swimming pool, spa facilities, and an ornate dining venue. Activities include strolling by the lake and drives through the grasslands and visiting nearby farms, villages, and temples.
16. HERD FLOCKS WITH RABARIS IN JAWAI
Nothing familiarises you with land like exploring it with the locals. The Rabari Walk experience, offered by SUJÁN Jawai, gives you just that. A guided walking safari with the Rabari locals and their animal herds takes you through the wilderness of Jawai in Rajasthan. Track shy leopards and spot flamingoes with nomadic tribesmen who know this dramatic landscape better than anyone else. They also take you to nearby temples and villages if you’re up for a longer walk.
17. EXPLORE THAR ON HORSEBACK
Beautifully raised and carefully schooled in one of the finest stables in the country, the Marwari horses at Mihir Garh make their Equestrian Program a delightful expedition for any discerning traveller looking for a unique vacation. Experience the Thar wilderness astride one of these legendary stallions as you tread the semi-arid Rohet region, spotting antelopes and chinkaras, riding through small villages, and familiarising yourself with the warmth and hospitality of the locals.
18. SPEND A MAGICAL EVENING ON RIVER NARMADA
If a getaway to the 18th-century Ahilya Fort Hotel, which sits in the quietude of Maheshwar, isn’t enough to uplift your spirits, you can also book the Moonlight River Promenade offered by the heritage property. Imagine floating in a calm Narmada under millions of stars, on a traditional hand-poled boat, slowly making your way through hundreds of flickering lamps. Get serenaded by local musicians and enjoy hors d’oeuvres as you let the river lull you into blissful silence.
19. EXPLORE THE HERITAGE OF TRIPURA
Bordered on three sides by Bangladesh, the hilly state of Tripura lies at the crossroads of cultures. Base yourself in Agartala and take a tour to uncover its rich history and royal heritage with Rustik Travel’s Tripura Sojourn experience. From the huge ancient rock carvings in Unakoti and Debatamura to the preserved opulence of the Indo-Saracenic-style Ujjayanta Palace, which holds an impressive collection of royal artefacts, to the fairy-tale mansion of Neermahal built in the middle of the Lake Rudrasagar, the 500-year-old Sundari Temple, and the ruins of the forlorn Govinda Manikya Palace, there’s a lot to be explored in this northeastern state.
20. STAY IN A TREEHOUSE AMID COFFEE & SPICES IN KERALA
For anyone who has ever dreamed of living in a treehouse, Pepper Trail’s heritage plantation retreat in Kerala’s Wayanad is the place to go. Elevated walkways through coffee trees lead to treehouses that are set 12 metres above the ground in jackfruit trees, with a breathtaking view of the spice and coffee plantations. The Pavilion restaurant also set high up in the trees, offers an equally unique dining experience with an unparalleled view. Make your way over to the spa for a relaxing Ayurveda massage, or learn traditional methods of cultivating coffee, tea, and pepper.
21. TASTE THE DANISH LIFE IN TAMIL NADU
Even when the Danes changed its name to Tranquebar four centuries ago, Tharangambadi suited the then prosperous trading port of Tamil Nadu better. For the name (which is again in use today) translates to ‘the land of singing waves’. Visit the tiny coastal town for simple indulgences like curling up on a hammock under a swaying palm on a beach, visiting the peach-hued 17th-century Dansborg Fort, meandering through lanes lined with Danish ruins, colourful homes, and bougainvillaea-sprouting gardens, and staying in one of the quaint villas of The Bungalow on the Beach.
22. GO ON A SUFI TRAIL IN SRINAGAR
One of the lesser-known aspects of Srinagar is the city’s Sufi heritage, which lives on in its old quarters. The mohallas along the River Jhelum house plenty of heritage sites. From Zero Bridge right up to Safa Kadal, the neighbourhood is dotted with shrines. On your next trip to Srinagar, stay at Nadis Hotel, a RARE India property that curates a mesmerising Sufi trail. The experience takes you through the khanqah (spiritual retreat) of Shah-e-Hamadan at Zaina Kadal, the shrine of Naqshband Sahib at Khanyar, the Jamia Masjid at Nowhatta, and the hilltop shrine of Makhdoom Sahib on Hari Parbat.
23. TOUR SAMBHAR’S SALT LAKE IN A VINTAGE BUGGY
Come winter, India’s largest inland salt lake in Sambhar, Rajasthan, turns into a cluster of wetlands that are flocked by thousands of Siberian flamingoes. If you wish to see how the region’s famous pink salt is produced, visit the Sambhar Heritage Resort when the lake is baked into a huge pink dust bowl under the summer sun and hitch a ride in the resort’s vintage flamingo-coloured train carrier to the production site. Get a first-hand experience of salt harvesting, meet the villagers working on the grounds, and enjoy a wine-and-cheese session in the middle of the moonscape on your way back! The 18th-century circuit house turned resort makes for a stay ripe with historical anecdotes.
24. GO ON AN ARTISTIC SOJOURN IN KUMAON
The sleepy little town of Dhanachuli in Uttarakhand, perched at an altitude of 2,300 metres, is home to a unique museum of rare vintage graphics from India, from the 19th and 20th centuries. The vast but intimate collection of artist Sumant Batra takes you on an intriguing journey into Indian mainstream pop culture at Chitrashala, a museum-like section of his dreamy boutique hotel called Te Aroha, which retains its original colonial-era summer-house vibe. The filmy portal to the past is surrounded by mountains that can be trekked or explored on a bike, or simply stared at from the comfortable environs of a tea lounge at the property.
25. BATTLE THE RAPIDS OF SIANG
Imagine yourself on an inflatable raft getting hammered by rapids of Class IV and above. Abor Country Travels organises the annual Siang Rush adventure, which also includes a stay in their luxury eco-lodge, Abor Country River Camp. Wild rapids like Big Drops, Pulsating Palsi, and Toothfairy lie in wait to ambush your boat, but the expedition in Arunachal Pradesh also comes with sweeping views of the olive-hued river flanked by thick murky woods, which are said to be home to ferocious tribes. Kayakers and rafters tell and retell tales of battling the mighty Siang for years once they have conquered this
26. NAVIGATE AN ACCIDENTAL CAVE NETWORK IN DIU
The coastal town of Diu was a Portuguese colony until 1961. Apart from their intended architectural contributions dotting the city, the Portuguese created a network of underground caves while digging for rocks. Today, the Naida Caves make for a beautiful secluded attraction on the outskirts of town. With numerous openings in the roof, sunbeams find their way into these caverns during the day, creating an ethereal glow. What’s more, you don’t need any special skill to navigate the caves on foot. Just the basic level of fitness is enough. Stay at the Azzaro Resort & Spa for a memorable time on this isle of serenity.
27. VISIT THE LAKES AROUND BHAP
In a country as vast as India, many experiences don’t come with the label of a big city. These are the kinds of places we tend to drive past. In an unassuming location between Jaisalmer and Bikaner, the village of Bhap is one such place. Stay at the Hotel Barsingha Villa, which organises a tour of the waterbodies in the region. The swamps and lakes here host a variety of birds. Nearby, Khichan (35 km) is a natural sanctuary to the demoiselle crane, a migratory bird from Southwestern Europe, Black Sea, Poland, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, North and South Africa, and Mongolia.
28. MEET THE ROYAL BENGAL TIGER IN MADHYA PRADESH
Run by a passionate bunch of wildlife and hospitality professionals and supported by a network of over 300 naturalists, nature guides, mahouts, boatmen, and forest rangers, Pugdundee Safaris goes all out to offer incredible wildlife experiences across India. So, when it comes to navigating the deep woods and tracking the big cats in a sturdy 4×4, trusting them with the job is a wise choice at Bandhavgarh National Park. Pick one of the five snug treehouses at their forest lodge, Tree House Hideaways, as your base. The property has its own 21 acres of wilderness, which is home to a variety of reptiles and rare birds.
29. GO ON A MARATHI FOOD TRAIL IN MUMBAI
From the 130-year-old Dabbawala lunch delivery network to over 50,000 vada pav stalls spread across the city, there are enough testaments to Mumbai’s passion for food. Turn your love for Maharashtrian cuisine into a delicious trail by signing up for ITC Maratha’s Food Sherpa Trail. Visit the Maximum City’s most famous street food stalls, drop by age-old restaurants for authentic Marathi and coastal recipes, drive to the quaint hamlet of Khotachiwadi in Girgaum for East Indian cuisine, and get a taste of Parsi and Bohri food cultures in South Mumbai. To round up your epic culinary journey, try some local favourites at the hotel’s restaurant, Peshwa Pavilion.
30. GO OVERLAND CAMPING IN THE NORTHEAST
Camping Co. offers the road trip of a lifetime through Northeast India and Bhutan, in off-road vehicles equipped with a rooftop tent that allows you to set up camp anywhere you, please. For instance, the Meghalaya circuit starts from Shillong and includes camping by the tea and strawberry farms of a kayak park. Camping Co. has also partnered with local properties that allow you to use their amenities, such as restaurants and bathrooms, or even offer activities before you get back on the road.
31. KNOW THE LADAKHI WAY OF LIFE
Get an authentic Ladakh village experience with Shakti Himalaya’s village walks, where local porters and guides help you traverse remote villages in hilly terrain. You can immerse yourself in the local culture with visits to schools, monasteries, and markets while staying in traditional village houses that have been renovated to be comfortable without losing their authenticity. For the more outdoorsy souls, the village walk can be combined with treks to altitudes over 4,200 metres. The itinerary for each journey can be customised according to individual requirements.
32. GO ON A CULINARY JOURNEY IN PALAMPUR
Step into the open kitchen at Rakkh Resort in Palampur for an unforgettable culinary experience, where local women prepare the famous Himachali Dham, a no-onion and no-garlic, slow-cooked feast. You can also participate in the preparation of the food, and once night falls, enjoy a traditional Himachali feast with your family, sitting around the hearth, while old tunes crackle on the radio. Or dance along with the Pahari Nati—folk dancers and singers—to Kangra music.
33. DISCONNECT FROM THE WORLD IN COIMBATORE
If the current crisis has made you yearn for a simpler time, you might want to look at Sinna Dorai’s bungalow in Valparai. Located amid acres of organic tea fields and bereft of Wi-Fi, television, and other technological crutches, the bungalow allows you to disconnect from the world. The property is situated in the Anaimalai Hills (literally, Elephant Hills), a mountain range that spans the border of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Go for a walk in the serene tea plantations, savour authentic plantation fare, meet conservation experts from the Nature Conservation Foundation and visit their expansive information centre nearby to understand the natural diversity in the Elephant Hills, and check out nearby attractions such as Monkey Falls, Sholayar Dam, and Grass Hills.
34. LISTEN TO THE TALES WEAVED INTO KANCHIPURAM SARIS
Delve into the history of Kanchipuram saris, made of the finest mulberry silk, for a unique immersive experience in Tamil Nadu. Famous for their high quality and intricate embroidery, these saris have a history spanning four centuries. The Kanchipuram Silk & Temple Tour, offered by 5 Senses Tours, is a day trip starting in Chennai that lets you meet the weavers and witness their craft. The tour also takes you to two ancient Pallava temples built in 600 AD, Ekambareswarar and Kailasanathar, which are renowned for their exquisite architecture.
35. LIVE THE SLOW LIFE BY THE ARABIAN SEA IN GOKARNA
Located on the famous Om Beach in Gokarna, SwaSwara by CGH Earth prides itself on being neither a spa nor an ashram, but a sanctuary for prakruti, the innermost nature of an individual. With a vast array of programmes designed to pamper and rejuvenate you—from Ayurvedic healing, which is its specialisation, to yoga, to healing through art forms like pottery, origami, and painting—SwaSwara offers an experience that is unique and profound and is meant to help you find your inner voice. To fully appreciate its beautiful surroundings, take the guided birdwatching walks that are on offer every Wednesday, or take a boat to see the historic Mirjan Fort.
36. HONE YOUR SPIDEY SENSE IN KARNATAKA
If you are done chasing big cats and if being surrounded by arachnids in the woods sounds like your kind of adventure, go on a tailor-made night trail while staying at Evolve Back, Kabini. With the onset of monsoon, arachnids thrive in forests that grow along the River Kabini. Trained naturalists of the resort help you discover a whole new world of nocturnal life and explore the nests of giant wood spider, crab spider, scorpion spider, two-tailed spider, and other eight-legged wonders that lurk in these woods. When you’re done brushing cobwebs off your elbows, take a coracle ride in the river for a dreamy finish to an unusual expedition.
37. LEARN THE ART OF KUTCH’S HANDICRAFTS
The Living and Learning Design Centre by the Shrujan Trust in Ajrakhpur is an ode to the culture and craftspeople of Kutch. Not only does it house a museum dedicated to traditional crafts, with three galleries and a library along with an art studio for artisans, it is also a resource centre that trains people, helping them earn a living while keeping their crafts alive. Visitors can try their hand at embroidery, weaving, lacquering, working with mud and leather, or creating their very own block printed textile. Stay at The Bhuj House, a traditional Parsi heritage homestay built in the 1800s, to experience the life of a local.
38. GET A CRASH COURSE IN GOAN CUISINE
Learn to cook some of Goa’s most delicious recipes with Rita’s Gourmet Goa. Started by acclaimed chef Rita Shinde in the charming village of Dabolim, the culinary venture offers crash courses in not only Goan classics, but also Italian, Portuguese, Mediterranean, and Oriental cuisines. Transform yourself into a bona fide chef with these classes, which were featured on Fox Life in an episode of Twist of Taste, hosted by Chef Vikas Khanna. While in Goa, stay in Panjim Inn, the state’s first heritage hotel set in a 19th-century mansion.
39. GO ON A SPIRITUAL SOJOURN IN VARANASI
Many come here to wash off their sins in the River Ganga, others to find the meaning of life. One of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Varanasi holds a different allure to everyone. Tree of Life Resort & Spa, Varanasi, can arrange a four-hour spiritual sojourn (named Temples, Ghats and Mystic) through the city’s old lanes, starting at the ancient silk and ceremonial-item market of Dal Mandi, weaving its way through the ghats where rituals of life and death are performed, exploring hidden alleys where mosques and temples co-exist, visiting the world’s biggest crematorium and the city’s oldest silk market. The tour concludes at the Dashashwamedh Ghat with the famous Ganga aarti.
40. VENTURE OFF THE MAP IN HIMACHAL
Situated on the banks of a river, the Lost Escape Homestay, by NotOnMap, is a traditional four-room Himachali mud cottage in Jibhi. Accessible only on foot, it offers guests a tranquil atmosphere miles away from any other settlements—apt for those who want to get away from city lights. The cottage is near Banjar, popularly known as the ‘Valley of God’. The picturesque Shoja village with ruins of the Raghupur Fort also lies here. Soak in stunning views of snow-capped Himalayan peaks, sample food made from fresh local produce, or witness local wildlife at the Great Himalayan National Park.