Off the beaten track

Off the beaten track

Off The Beaten Track. The best part about being in India is that the country is surrounded by mountains.

The best part about being in India is that the country is surrounded by mountains. Whether it’s Himalayas in the north, Sahyadri in the west (which runs till the south), The Eastern Ghats or Vindhya ranges in centre, the mesmerising landscapes of our country can serve anyone a quick getaway no matter, which part of India they’re located in Today’s feature is specially for those who have become tired of going to the routine hill stations of Shimla, Mussoorie and Nainital and shelling out big bucks for a small holiday. Especially, during the peak season of May and June, these regular hill stations become so overtly crowded and costly (due to the demand supply situation) that they really pinch your pocket. So, we have identified the following destinations that are cool, off beat and affordable even during peak summers as they don’t get the high voltage money splashing crowds.

Top 5 offbeat cool places this summer

Chopta (Uttarakhand)

The mountains and valleys of Uttarakhand never fail to spring surprises on the traveler in search of the picturesque. Chopta—a tiny hamlet in Uttarakhand, which is yet unexplored by many travelers offers the most splendid view of the imposing Himalayan range including Trishul, Nanda Devi and Chaukhamba. Located at an elevation of 2,680 m above sea level, this enchanting place is draped in high altitude vegetations and an amazing array of orchids.

Chopta also serves as a base for trekking to Tungnath, (third of the Panch Kedars), which is at a distance of 3.5 km from Chopta. During summers, the weather in Chopta remains calm and pleasant. The feel of cool breeze and the view of Himalayan peaks, make the journey to this place worth a visit not just once, but many times.

Typical accommodation costs: 500- 2,000 per night. Magpie Eco resort offers two nights’ accommodation in Chopta @ Rs 800 per person

Chikhaldara, (Maharashtra)

This summer give the ever popular and always crowded Mahabaleshwar or Matheran a miss and travel to Chikhaldara instead for its wildlife, viewpoints, lakes and waterfalls. It’s also the only coffee-growing area in Maharashtra, so don't forget to carry your favorite mug.

Featured in the epic, the Mahabharata, this is the place where the valiant Bheema killed the villainous Keechaka in a herculean bout and then threw him into the valley. It thus came to be known as Keechakadara – from which the name got corrupted to Chikhaldara with time. But there's more to the place. It abounds in wildlife – panthers, sloth bears, sambar, wild boar, and even the rarely seen wild dogs. Close by is the famous Melghat Tiger Project, which has huge number of tigers. The scenic beauty of Chikhaldara is replete with captivating precipices and highpoints offering a panoramic view of the serene surroundings.

Typical accommodation costs: 900- 1800 per night.

McLeod Ganj (Himachal)

McLeod Ganj is also known as a little Lhasa as majority of the shops sells ‘Fre Atibet’ badges and stickers and the local theaters play Che Guevara’s ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’.

Home to the Dalai Lama and Tibetan government in exile, the place is the starting point for some exhilarating treks into the high Himalayas. McLeod Ganj is undoubtedly one of Himachal’s most irresistible destinations. Spread across wooded ridges beneath the stark rock faces of the Dhauladhar Range, the town originally a British hill station, has been transformed by the influx of Tibetan refugees fleeing Chinese oppression in their homeland. McLeod Ganj today is a place of pilgrimage that attracts Buddhists and interested parties from all over the world, including Hollywood celebrities such as Richard Gere and Uma Thurman. The Little Tibet in Himachal Pradesh is where you can catch a glimpse of numerous monks in red and lines of prayer flags fluttering against the backdrop of beautiful monasteries.

Typical accommodation costs: 400- 5,800 per night. There a lot of options to choose from for all pockets.

Mopungchuket, (Nagaland)

North-East India, a lesser explored part of India, is also one of the most stunningly beautiful regions in the country. Mopungchuket in Nagaland will introduce the visitor to some unusual elements that you can’t find anywhere else in India. It takes around eight hours to reach this place from Kohima, the capital of Nagaland. The place is the home of the ‘Ao Naga’ tribe. Although the entire community of this region follows Christianity, yet they have not given up their traditional practices.

At 4am in Mopungchuket, when even the roosters are yet to stir, the village begins to awake. The silence is broken by a loud blast of hymns from a store nearby and as if on cue, the cock-a-doodle-doo chorus begins punctuated with the noisy grunting of pigs. For a city-bred traveler, the unexpected early morning rumpus is an experience in itself and is enough to shake him/her out of bed.

Mopungchuket, is perhaps the best kept village in Nagaland. Often referred to as Ao heartland, you can absorb yourself in tribal culture here. Every house opens onto a well tended garden, and the people are accustomed to visitors and welcome a chat. The tourism department has also overhauled the tourist accommodations in the village, and there are now a number of cottages built to resemble a morung (traditional communal house). Each house in the village looks out on to an unending lush chain of hills, which change colour with the rising sun.

Typical ccommodation costs: 600 - 800 per person per night with breakfast. Some of the homes in the village have also been converted into home stays. Meals are served in their kitchen, where in the fireplace, there is always salted pork hanging above the fire, getting smoked and cured and a huge kettle of water boiling for a very light, local green tea.

Yercaud (Tamil Nadu)

Yercaud, situated in the Shevaroy Hills is a less explored hill resort of southern India. A serene little hill town, Yercaud is located on the Eastern Ghats and promises a unique experience because of its unusual topography. While the rest of this region is more or less dry, Yercaud stands out in welcome contrast with its cool climate and temperatures that never rises above 30ºC. Its low profile makes it a less expensive destination than its popular counterparts in south India like Ooty and Kodaikkanal. Yercaud's pretty landscape mostly comprises coffee plantations and thickly forested slopes. It offers good trekking and boating opportunities. It is believed that these hills were part of the ancient megalith-builders' domain, which stretched from Cornwall through Brittany and Iberia to India. Legend has it that Yercaud's visitors predate recorded history.

Typical accommodation costs: 800-2500 per night. The government run Hotel Tamil Nadu is one of the preferred ones because of its scenic location, though the facilities and maintenance leave a lot to be desired.

Sriparna Saha

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