Best of 2021: The Most-Read Features of the Year

Despite a devastating second wave of the pandemic and fluctuating restrictions, readers loved narratives about local explorations and bubbling hope for travel abroad gaining momentum.

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A look back at National Geographic Traveller India’s best reads of 2021, as chosen by our readers.

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In the decisive second year of the pandemic, a catastrophic second wave rocked India, air travel continued to limp and the world accepted the projected workarounds for travel to survive. With governments ramping up vaccination and global stakeholders pre-empting the future of the contagion, closer-home explorations continued in the meanwhile alongside some fascinating experiments with food, not to mention local movements gaining steam. Our most popular stories dealt with the steady and mindful revival of travel and offbeat experiences.

 

1. Riverside Romp at Karjat

Riverside Romp at Karjat

The forest cabins at Moonstone Hammock offer additional luxuries like an air conditioner and an attached bathroom. Photo Courtesy: Moonstone Hammock

“Three stations before Karjat on Mumbai’s Central Line lies Shelu, the kind of village where two SUVs cannot run next to each other. Ours definitely did not, and my friend and I had to back down to make room for a loaded truck before making it across the village to Moonstone Hammock, a secluded luxury campsite parked right next to the river Ulhas—our den for the weekend. Ask Athang, my partner-in-crime, and he’ll vouch that trekking and camping in the hills around Nashik has been our quick-fix stress-buster these past few months, ever since the pandemic put a lock on most pubs and restaurants.”

How a writer rediscovered the outdoors experience sans our tired limbs, cold packed meals, and the mildly disappointing campfires he had grown accustomed to.

 

2. Why Swimming Became a Pandemic-Favourite Pastime in This Irish Town

In Salthill, Sea's The Word

Until the pandemic, only Salthill’s hardy swimmers broached the freezing waters of the Atlantic in the winter months. Photo by: 4H4 Photography/Shutterstock

“Anyone who’s ever ‘gotten down’ for a swim anywhere in the global north knows that the water never really fully warms up. When winter water temperatures fall to single digits, the fair-weather swimmers run off, leaving sometimes calm but mostly windswept beaches to only the hardiest of all-year rounders. Not so this year. Blackrock in November was busier than ever. Around the same time, the Irish media started putting the exponential rise in winter swimmers and the pandemic together and came up with ‘the new banana bread’ as a descriptor.”

Read about how the hardy swimmers of Salthill, a little town on Ireland’s west coast, turned open water swimming into the coolest trend next only to banana bread baking.

 

3. Gokarna: Secret Stories by the Sea

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Made up of whimsical stories and artful objects of the past, Kahani Paradise stands, enchanting, by the Arabian Sea. Photo courtesy: Kahani Paradise

“It was against a pristine backdrop that we made our way from Goa airport to Gokarna, driving down the winding roads of the Western Ghats, past a naval base in Karwar, crossing the river Gangavalli and even a colourful village market enroute. Our destination was Kahani Paradise—a luxury boutique villa perched atop a cliff overlooking the milky-white Paradise beach, a hug and a cuddle away from the raging Arabian Sea.”

Here’s what to expect at the serene gateway on Karnataka’s western coast.

 

4. Countries Open to Travel, Changing Protocols and Flight Resumptions

Sri Lanka for the Automatic

Sri Lanka is one of the first neighbouring nations that opened up their borders to India. Photo By: Aleksandar Todorovic/Shutterstock

Despite the ebb and flow of the pandemic, hope springs eternal. With travel bubbles becoming regular and air travel opening up gingerly, Indian travellers began to dream up future vacations overseas. Towards the end of the year, after nearly two years of the suspension of regular air travel following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ministry of civil aviation decided to resume scheduled international flights. The ruling, initially supposed to come in effect December 15 onwards, has been delayed with an anticipated rise in infection with the Omicron strain (B.1.1.529).

Here is a list of all the countries that are open to Indian tourists currently—with details of the travel and safety protocols that are in place, the kind of visas required and where to apply for the same.

Here is our updated explainer on the resumption of scheduled flights and all the questions popping in your head about travel protocols and vaccine and quarantine requirements.

 

5. Inside Mangalore’s Sistine Chapel

Inside Mangalore’s Sistine Chapel 1

The stories across the chapel were painted by Italian Jesuit priest Antonio Moscheni. Photo By: Pritham Denzil Dsouza

“On a recent visit home, I decided to see St Aloysius Chapel with new eyes, in ways I hadn’t quite looked at it as a child, a college-going teen, and later a mother taking her daughter there for the first time. I picked up the guidebook instead of joining the free guided tour, and took my time at each painting. Out of habit, I gazed up at the pillars and arches flanking the central nave. Something was different this time—what I had believed to be marble all these years was, in fact, pillars painted to mimic stone.”

Read about how St Aloysius Chapel’s 136-year-old frescoes and oil paintings were created to resemble Vatican City’s Renaissance masterpiece.

 

6. Food Guide: Many A Delight Hidden In Nashik’s Tastes

Best of 2021: The Most-Read Features of the Year 3

Relish a classic misal pav platter in any corner of Nashik which is famous for being an in-house invention. Photo by: Vaibhav S Veer/ Shutterstock

“Nashik residents are spoilt for choice when it comes to the misal pav—the city’s undisputable signature snack and will feverishly defend their personal favourite. An outsider might be hard pressed to pinpoint the difference between two misals in the city, but the city’s seasoned critics can wax eloquent about finer distinctions. Part of the snobbery and pride stems from the belief that misal was invented in Nashik.” But when a writer set out to experience Khandeshi flavours of Maharashtra and hearty Mughlai favourites across the pilgrim town-slash-wine country—he discovered mutton bhakri at Divtya Budhlya Waada, shawarmas and kebabs at Al-Arabian Express, hearty breakfast platters in the old quarters and inventive local beverages.

Our Nashik food guide is up here.

 

7. 42 Women on the Freedom of Travelling Alone

Best of 2021: The Most-Read Features of the Year 4

Laos. Photo by: saravutpics/Shutterstock

“As I was based in India during these years, it was a different experience to fly straight to Laos, a country where I felt safest not only in the bigger bustling cities but also in the remotest of towns and villages. Laos does not encourage a culture of open stares, so people, (including men), get on with their daily business without paying you the slightest attention. As a woman travelling alone, I did have to make sure that I asserted myself in all situations: at bus stops asking for route advice, at eateries asking for the details of dishes and demand that cockroaches be removed from my room!” recounts Cyprus-based Charlotte Kay.

On International Women’s Day, our female solo travellers shared their tales filled with equal parts thrill, bravado and solitude. Take a dip into their trips across the globe, from Tel Aviv, Northern Siberia and Laos to Yercaud, Bhutan, Meghalaya and Gujarat.

 

8. This Ancient Town in Uttar Pradesh Is the Perfume Capital of India

Best of 2021: The Most-Read Features of the Year 5

Although Damask roses are cultivated in other parts of India, the varietal favors Ganges alluvial soils surrounding the town of Kannauj. For more than 400 years, the highly fragrant roses from Kannauj have gone into the creation of rose attar using the world’s oldest known perfume-making process. Photo by: Tuul and Bruno Morandi

“Attar speaks to the soul. All the fire and smoke in a small space can seem apocalyptic, but it’s also authentic and beautiful,” says Jahnvi Lâkhòta Nandan, native Lucknowi and perhaps attar’s most prominent global ambassador today. “You cannot recreate this in a lab in Europe.”

Although attars fell out of fashion in the 20th century, Kannauj perfumers continue to ply their craft the same old-fashioned way—recently awakening a new generation, at home and abroad, to its sensual, compelling fragrance.

Kannauj has been concocting attar (also known as ittr) for over 400 years—more than two centuries before Grasse, in France’s Provence region, emerged as a perfume juggernaut. Known locally in Hindi as degh-bhapka, the artisanal method uses copper stills fueled by wood and cow dung. From a hallowed history to its present-day resurgence, follow the many layers of attar-making in Kannauj, in this story from February.

 

9. Vanderlust: 9 Coolest Campervan Circuits in India Right Now

Vanderlust: 9 Coolest Campervan Circuits in India Right Now 4

The Manali-Leh route is wildly popular among road travellers all over India, but a campervan trip is an altogether different prospect. Photo Courtesy: Himanshu Jangid/Carvaa Travelers

“In India, caravan travel has been practised only sparsely, owing to inconsistent road conditions, licensing problems and the absence of trailer parks or campsites dedicated to campervans. Caravanning, for the most part, has existed in the popular imagination as eccentric travellers overlanding in old RVs or trailers hitched to the back of a 4X4.”

“The allure of taking a road trip in a recreation vehicle outfitted with one’s preferred conveniences has perhaps never been greater, but the ancillaries on the identified circuits, continue to fall short. However, with a road network spanning five-million kilometres, spectacular vistas strewn across its landmass, and a great diversity of landscape, India promises trails for all kinds of adventure-seekers. We reached out to camping aficionados, travel, entrepreneurs, tour operators and avid road trippers in our search for the coolest circuits in the country you can cover in your camper vehicle.”

Check out our list of the nine of the most rewarding trails.

 

10. A Guide to 10 Chutneys with Chutzpah

10 Chutneys with Chutzpah 3

Clockwise from top left: Sambharo from Gujarat, karuvadu takaali from Puducherry; yetti chutney from Karnataka; Molagai Podi from Tamil Nadu are representative of the country’s regional culinary diversity. Photos by: Rithwick Pravin/Shutterstock (Lady); Coolpixgirl/Shutterstock (Molagai podi); Pablo.garcia/Shutterstock (Prawns); Rainbow_dazzle/Shutterstock (Sambharo)

Gujarat has the sambharo, Goa its horvem, and Tamil Nadu molagai podi—the relishes, sauces, and chutneys eaten across India aren’t mere accompaniments to dishes; they’re often the stars that bring the chutzpah, elevating everyday meals with flavour and texture. “There is no ingredient that cannot find a place in chutney. It’s a zero-waste dish by itself,” says Chef Velton Saldanha, founder of Chutney Collective, a Mumbai-based startup that bottles regional variations of the condiment. “On my summer trips to visit my grandmother in Mangalore, I noticed that even the skin of the palm fruit was used in cooking,” he remembers. Field workers would often eat the pulp for lunch, and save the peel for breakfast the next morning, which was then ground to a make a spicy chutney and savoured with dosa.

Saldanha picks his 10 favourite chutneys, made from mild flowers, seafood, fiery red ants, and a host of other ingredients.

 

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