Varkala is now being called the ‘New Goa,’ a popular spot with backpackers and tourists. The vast expanse of clear blue sea and soft sandy beach is broken by a straight, level cliff that overlooks the lip of the sea. Restaurants dot the edge so you can enjoy the lovely expanse of the beach and the sea while enjoying some fresh seafood. Varkala is a pristine and relatively untouched spot that makes you think of what Goa would have been like before the throngs descended in the 70s.
There are numerous natural springs in Varkala, and the spa industry has blossomed around them. Enjoy various ayurvedic treatments and massages at this health haven, and start 2012 with a rejuvenated mind and body! On your visit, be sure to visit the 2000-year-old Vishnu temple, Jarandana Swami, and the final resting place of the Hindu reformer Narayana Guru at Sivagiri Mutt. The visible ruins of the Anjengo Fort speak of the power struggle that took place here between the British, Portuguese and the Dutch to get a foothold into Kerela 400 years ago. One can also go boating to the pristine Kappil Lake, about 4 km from Varkala town, before the dense and peaceful backwaters of the estuary join the Arabian Sea.
Getting there: Varkala is located about 50 km from Thiruvananthapuram, and is well-connected to the city.
What a way to start the New Year! Bathe in the soft morning sun at one of the holiest places of India — Pushkar. One of the oldest cities in the world, Pushkar is steeped in mythology and a legend that associates itself to the creator of the world, Lord Brahma, who performed penance here for 60,000 years. The Brahma temple at Pushkar is the only temple for this deity in the world. Pushkar is among the five Dhams (pilgrimages) that any devout Hindu should undertake once in their lives.
Even if you’re not into mythology, Pushkar is just a beautiful place to spend some peaceful Zen time in. The picturesque city is surrounded by hills on three sides and sand dunes on the other. And if that’s not enough, the majestic Pushkar lake, with 52 ghats, where pilgrims descend to bathe will certainly grab your camera’s focus.
Pushkar is great for budget travellers all year through, but December is particularly enjoyable with warm days and cool nights. The market is great for browsing and bargain deals for a good variety of jewellery, clothes, books and artefacts. The mint tea is an exotic must-try, especially after an arduous camel safari through the nearby villages. In the evening, enjoy a rooftop candlelight dinner at one of the many restaurants with a view of the lake.
Pushkar is a sacred town, so consumption of liquor or meat is prohibited. However, bhang and cannabis are sold in authorised shops. Beware the bhang lassi hangover!
Getting there: The closest airport to Pushkar is at Jaipur. It is well connected by road and trains.
Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh
An early morning jeep ride on a crispy winter morning where temperatures range around 100C seems completely worth it as you spot the ever-elusive, awe-inspiring Royal Bengal Tiger. Bandhavgarh promises you this and many other images from its rich biodiversity that will endure in your memory for years to come. Known for its verdant forests of Sal, the topography varies between steep ridges, undulating forests and open meadows. This national park has the highest density of Bengal tigers known in the world. Though the tiger is at the peak of the food chain, this bountiful enclave also contains 37 species of mammals, more than 250 species of birds, about 70 species of butterflies and a number of reptiles thrown in for good measure.
Nature lovers are sure to enjoy this gorgeous forest. Get a bunch of your friends together and camp out in the beautiful outdoors! If you are extremely lucky, you might even sight the ethereal white tiger which was last spotted at Bandhavgarh over fifty years ago.
Getting there: The nearest airport from the park is Khajuraho. From there, it is a 7-hour drive to Tala park entrance at Bandhavgarh.
Volume 1 Issue 5