Learn to centre lumps of clay—and yourself—at Andretta, an artists’ colony nestled in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh. Start the day with a bracing walk through its forests, spend the day at the pottery wheel, and the evenings sipping whiskey sours around a bonfire. The Andretta Pottery and Craft Society offers day-long workshops as well as intensive three-month courses for those who want to learn the craft seriously. Details here.
We’re all for active holidays, especially those that include quality time with animals. To learn the ropes of horse riding, spend time at the Japalouppe Equestrian farm near Pune. Set up by mother-son duo Lorraine and Rohan More, Japalouppe offers lessons for adults through the year—generally over long weekends—and camps for kids that are scheduled during school vacations. There are riding sessions in the morning and evening, but guests are also encouraged to bond with the horses by feeding and grooming them. The farm is a charming place, with simple cottages and dorms, and lots of open space and trees. Staying on site is encouraged for an immersive experience. Check the website for details.
Dream of mozzarella? Bonkers over Brie? Try your hand at making them at Acres Wild in Coonoor or Cinnabar Farms in Kodaikanal. Both B&Bs have enthusiastic owners, organic farms, and cheese-making sessions that range between a few hours and a few days. Acres Wild offers a two-day course where guests are taught how to pasteurize milk, develop rinds, and cook curds to make feta and Gouda. (Don’t worry, there’s a tasting session too.) At Cinnabar Farms, participants get a more wholesome food experience. Their three-day course involves cheese making, baking bread, and harvesting organic vegetables. More on Acres Wild here. More on Cinnabar here.
Scuba diving opens up a whole new world for travellers. Take the plunge in Pondicherry or the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, where the waters are clear and home to colourful coral reef. Both locations have a number of dive shops that offer courses for newbie and advanced divers. Beginner courses generally last about 4 days, although higher levels can take up to a month. If you’re unsure about committing to an entire course, try a Discover Scuba session, where beginners go a tandem dive with an instructor. Andaman Bubbles and Dive India are both recommended options in the Andaman Islands. In Pondicherry, try Temple Adventures. More on planning your first dive holiday here.
There are many ways to take a food holiday, and learning a cuisine tops the list. To score the secrets of Konkan cooking, sign up for a road trip along the Maharashtra coast that includes visits to seaside fish markets, harvesting kokum, drinking tumblers of sol kadi, and learning to make the perfect crab curry from mummies that have been doing it for decades. You’ll have a full belly, a gorgeous tan, and a clutch of timeless recipes when you’re back. Plus, unlimited rawa-fried prawns and fish curry. More here.
Souvenirs are more meaningful when they’re handmade—by you. In Udaipur, learn to create a miniature Mughal painting—one of the city’s most popular tourist items. Begin by picking a pattern you’d like to replicate, and the surface you’d like to paint on (cloth, wood, or glass). Classes generally stretch over two days and include lessons on how to draw, mix paints, and finish a piece. It does require a bit of patience, but it’s well worth the squinting, and a lovely way to appreciate the delicate havelis and intricate art of Rajasthan. More here.
The quality of snow in Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh is so fine, that it draws skiers from across the world (even Switzerland!). But that doesn’t mean first-timers aren’t welcome. Auli in Uttarakhand is popular with beginner skiers, while Narkanda, and Manali in Himachal Pradesh attract skiers of all levels. The Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation runs week-long skiing sessions on the gentle slopes of Narkanda with beautiful views of snow-covered orchards in the valley below. For other adventures in the mountains, including ice hockey camps and biking trips, go here. All snow excursions are best succeeded by mugs of hot adrak chai and plates of pakodas.
Momos are synonymous with McLeod Ganj, second only to its mountain views. Learning to make the steamed dumplings are a great way to ensure you’re never left craving some—and a delicious introduction to the Tibetan way of life. The town’s Tibetan community is proud of its gastronomic heritage, and more than willing to share a recipe or two. Learn to whip up thenthuk, a soup of vegetables, meat, and noodles, bhalek, a stuffed bread, and momos over a three-day course. Often, the hosts talk about their lives in erstwhile Tibet, and share stories about how their food has been shaped by their struggle to find a new home. It’s the kind of meal that lingers long after the plates are cleared. More here.
Spend the day soaking in the sun and learning to fish for trout in Himachal Pradesh’s glacial streams. Stays in places like Barot, Banjar, and the Tirthan Valley offer short angling classes for beginners and day-long fishing expeditions for those with more experience. Fishing in the state is regulated, and a permit is required before casting your line, but tour guides and operators can help with the formalities. Many of the smaller villages along the Tirthan River are just opening up to tourists, and may not have many modern amenities but that’s part of their charm. Fair warning: Trout fishing often involves a long wait for a bite, but there are uninterrupted views of mountains all around and the heady fragrance of pine in the air.
India’s waters are warm and welcoming, and there are many ways to enjoy the sea. Increasingly popular among these options is surfing, thanks to clubs along the eastern and western coast that help newbies find their feet in the water. Most surf schools offer packages that also include accommodation in beach shacks with views of the ocean shimmering in the sun. Spend the mornings on the water and afternoons napping or exploring hidden coves—few know the shores as well as the local surf instructors. Mantra Surf Club in Mangalore, Soul and Surf in Varkala, and Kallialay Surf School in Pondicherry are good places to start. More Kallialay Surf School.
For a learning holiday that tests the mind and body, sign up for a mountaineering course in the Himalayas. The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling, the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering in Uttarakhandand the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports in Manali offer month-long certified courses for beginners and seasoned mountaineers. Participants need to be physically fit and capable of trekking long routes with heavy (approx 15kg) backpacks. Sessions include altitude acclimatization, lectures on ropes and knots, rock climbing, and map reading. Spectacular views guaranteed.
Capturing nature is no easy task, which is why having a practised hand and expert eye like Kalyan Varma nearby is always helpful. The ace wildlife photographer and naturalist conducts learning holidays in India and abroad to help amateurs with the craft and ethics of shooting in the wild. Varma, who is also an acclaimed filmmaker, brings his expertise from fieldwork with National Geographic and the BBC with him. His previous group photography tours have been to Borneo, Ethiopia, and Namibia. More here.
Being filmi can be incredibly fun, as these Bollywood dance classes in Mumbai testify. Learn the proper way to jhatka and thumka from renowned choreographers Shiamak Davar and Saroj Khan, both of whom have danced with the stars and who conduct classes for beginners. It’s an entertaining way to work up a sweat, and ensure you do more than “twist the bulb, and pet the dog” the next time you’re out dancing. A few lessons and you’ll be shaking it like Shah Rukh.