The long weekend’s almost here and you still don’t have any plans? Fret not, we’ve got itineraries for a spontaneous trip. Grab your car keys, cross your fingers and pick from our list of weekend getaways.
Go here for: The coffee estates. Trek to Mullayanagiri, the highest peak (1,930m above sea level) in the state. Look out for the small caves just below the peak, and for the Shiva temple at the top. On a clear day, the peak offers panoramic views of the Western Ghats. Alternatively, head to the Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary, a protected tiger reserve where you can also spot a range of snakes and birds. Visit Sakleshpur for adventurous treks and lovely coffee plantations.
Go here for: The Dubare Elephant Camp for elephant rides and treks. You can even lend a hand in the daily grooming of these mammals if you book a package – but check for availability before you get your hopes up. Another option is a day trip to Namdroling Monastery. For real tourist downtime, head to Raja’s Seat – where a bygone era of Coorgi kings watched the sun set – and the Madikeri Fort, which was rebuilt in its granite form by Tipu Sultan. You can also trek up to Pushpagiri, Coorg’s highest peak.
Go here for: Treks, bird-watching and butterfly-spotting. Check the Bandipur Safari Lodge for packages that include accommodation, meals, a safari into the tiger reserve and guided nature walks. But if there’s no room at the lodge, hike up to Himavad Gopalswamy Betta, one of the highest peaks in the park. Don’t pitch your camp without the forest range officer’s permission though.
Go here for: A waterfall trail; pack a picnic for the Kempty Falls. Visit Christ Church – said to be the oldest church in the Himalayas (built in 1836) – for its Gothic roof and stained-glass windows. Look out for the giant deodar tree in the churchyard – it was planted about a century ago by the Princess of Wales. Pack woollens if you’re heading to the town in winter. Hop over to Landour for a day and try your luck meeting Ruskin Bond.
Go here for: Museums and monasteries. Make a pit stop at the Forest Research Institute Museum, not only because most of India’s forest officers are trained here but because of the building itself. A stunning remnant of the British Raj, the institute sprawls over 1,235 acres and is apparently larger than Buckingham Palace. Visit the Mindrolling Monastery in Clement Town for the world’s tallest stupa (Great Stupa, around 60m tall).
Go here for: Bird-watching. The Keoladeo National Park, formerly known as the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, known for its migratory waterfowl that drop in to breed. Keep an eye out for the world’s tallest flying birds, the Sarus Cranes (that sound like this). There’s also the Lohagarh Fort that withstood repeated attacks from British forces, compelling them to strike a compromise with the Bharatpur ruler. It’s known to be one of the strongest forts in Indian history.
Go here for: Paragliding. Try Nirvana Adventures to share the skies with eagles and vultures over villages and hills. Go tandem paragliding or choose a package that lets you learn the ropes. Buddhist caves that date back to the second century B.C. can also be found in the area. Go to the Karla, Bhaja and Bhedsa cave temples to view erstwhile monasteries, ancient inscriptions and elaborate carvings.
Go here for: Bird-watching. To spy the Malabar Whistling Thrush and the Paradise Flycatcher, head to the Karnala Bird Sanctuary. A trek to the Karnala fort is in order for a quick Mughal history lesson. What’s known as the Karnala fort is actually two forts, one higher than the other. Right in the centre of the higher fort is a 125ft-high basalt pillar that once served as a watchtower, but is now ruined. Don’t miss the Marathi and Persian inscriptions on the lower and upper gates respectively.
Go here for: The Malabar Giant Squirrel. To spot the little furry creature, go to the Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary. The area’s biodiversity is protected as a sacred grove by nine tribal villages. The town is most known for the Bhimashankar Temple. Pilgrims flock to this ancient shrine as it is one of the 12 jyothirlingas of Shiva (places where Shiva is said to have appeared as a fiery column of light, denoted by lingams).
Go here for: The monolithic temples. Head to the Mumu Surf Shop for surf lessons against a backdrop of the town’s magnificent rock-cut temples. Don’t miss the Trimurti Cave Temple. It pays tribute to the Hindu trinity: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The Five Rathas consist of temples carved out of a single rock, which were hidden under sand until around 200 years ago. The sea-facing Shore Temple is a symbol of prime Pallava architecture. It dates back to 8th-century A.D. and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Pro tip: Ask a local sculptor for a stone-carving class.
Go here for: Surfing. Choose a package at The Kallialay Surf School (also on Facebook). Visit INTACH Pondicherry for a heritage walk around the French Quarter, or wander around your own. Go to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram to see the samadhi of Aurobindo and the Mother. A group meditation takes place at the samadhi from 7.25-7.50pm, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and is open to all.
Go here for: Terracotta temples. Built during the 17th and 18th centuries, these temples feature intricate carvings commissioned by the Malla kings. The Shyam Rai Temple, for instance, has carvings that illustrate various scenes from Krishna’s life. While in the area, pick up Baluchari saris – silk saris with scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata illustrated across their pallus – that now have a Geographical Indication tag.
Go here for: The Sajnekhali Watchtower. Since it’s too late to go on a safari in the Sundarbans, do the next best thing. Get a panoramic view of the the Sundarbans at one of the most popular watchtowers. Look out for deer and tigers. Visit the Sajnekhali Bird Sanctuary for a rare chance to spot the migratory Asian Dowitcher.
With inputs from Manu Kashyap.
This article has been updated in November 2015.
If you’re looking to get out of the country during the Diwali break, there are a few destinations that you can visit without denting your wallet too much.
Phuket in Thailand is great for a quick getaway, with some of the world’s most gorgeous beaches, and a vibrant nightlife.
Looking for something more city-based? Head to Dubai in the UAE for world-class restaurants, extravagant shopping malls and entertainment options, not to mention those mesmerising dunes.
Visit Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, where Malay, Chinese and Indian influences coalesce to create a melting pot of cuisines and cultures.
Yangon‘s ancient pagodas and temples make the former capital of Myanmar a history buff’s dream.
Closer to home, try Colombo in Sri Lanka, with a leisurely pace of life that will have you relaxed and enjoying your holiday.
Fabiola Monteiro was formerly a member of National Geographic Traveller India's digital team. Since then, her words have featured in The Hindu, Mint Lounge, Roads & Kingdoms, The Goya Journal, and Condé Nast Traveller India. She tweets as @thefabmonteiro and is on Instagram @fabiolamonteiro.