In India, summer saunters in like an immodest house guest. But it also peddles the seduction of mango groves and splashing waterfronts. Our summer list roots for an active pursuit of the season. Hop on a mountain bike if you want to trade the jaded crowds of Shimla for its cool, green fringes. Kayak in Kochi’s backwaters, marvel at stalagmites in Meghalaya’s caves, or live like a local on an apple orchard in Himachal. Our route takes you past the common irks of summer and into its playful arms.
Fly for unbeatable views of the reserve and the Brahmaputra
Imagine a hawk’s-eye view of the wilderness of Assam’s Kaziranga National Park along with the blues of the Brahmaputra. This summer, sign up for powered paragliding—a flying machine which consists of an engine, a propeller in a cage, and a harness with a twin seat. Organised by Cross Country Flying Club in Camp Nikori, this is the only campsite of its kind near Kaziranga. Take off in a field in tandem with a trainer, as the next half an hour becomes a nature’s split screen from 3,000 feet in the air. On one side lies the lush Kaziranga, farmlands, and Mishing village’s stilt houses; on the other is the confluence of the rivers Dhansiri and Brahmaputra. A lucky few might catch glimpses of the rhino, wild buffalo, deer and even fly alongside a flock of cranes.
Jorhat Airport lies 70 km away from Camp Nikori, which offers on-site tented accommodations at an additional cost; www.campnikori.com, tandem paragliding from Rs3,000 per person).
– By Dhritiman Mukherjee
This intense Ladakhi tournament brings courage and skill to the summer season
The Brits may have ‘civilised’ polo with their many rules, but in the high-altitude reaches of Ladakh the game is played in its original no holds barred version. Players respect each other and their mounts, yet are driven by one goal in mind—swatting the ball between the opponent’s posts. As a result, what unfolds on the playing field of these mountain highlands is a non-stop, freewheeling spectacle of snorting horses and thundering hooves as riders bear down on the ball, jostling opponents (termed riding off) and hooking sticks (ensnaring an opponent’s polo mallet).
The only times there are breaks in the action are when a goal is scored and teams switch ends of the field, and a 10 minute break in between chukkers, two 20 minute halves (this style of play differs from international competitions). Though the ponies here are relatively small, they are hardy, and take the altitude of 11,500 feet in their stride. Unlike most turf playing fields, in Ladakh the game is played on smaller barren fields that churn up clouds of dust.
Each summer, the week-long Ladakh Polo Festival—July 11-17 2020—is held at Shagaran, Chushot Gongma. The home ground of the Indus Chushot Polo Club lies 13 kilometres south of Leh. Here, teams from across the newly minted Union Territory play a round-robin tournament (a competition where every team faces each other) before a cheering audience. After the sound of galloping hooves fade, Ladakhi folk music waft through the air. Gorgeously costumed dancers and archers take centre stage while, nearby, stalls glow with local handicrafts and culinary delights lure hungry onlookers.
Entry is free.
– By Jeroo & Gustasp Irani
Experience the true tranquility of Kochi’s backwaters
The pencil-thin, two-seater kayak was far more stable than it seemed at first as it sliced down the backwaters of Kochi. When we lifted our oars out of the water, the backwaters were enveloped in a deep quiet, only to be occasionally punctured by the screech of an eagle circling overhead or the soothing tolling of church bells. The reflection of giant spider-like webs of Chinese fishing nets that lined the palm-fringed shoreline crinkled in the ripples of our craft as we paddled by.
A fisherman cast his net from a dugout canoe and reeled in a rich piscine harvest, scales shimmering under the Southern sun; a heron, wading in the shallows, stabbed the waters for its dinner; a church on a far bank offered its crucifix to the heavens. Time slowed, and colours grew more vibrant along the tranquil Keralan waters. Our kayak then nosed into a narrow inlet bordered by village homes, where a clutch of elders interrupted their gossip session to wave to us.
“Snap your hands like a kung fu fighter and roll your wrists when the paddle hits the water,” our pre- kayaking instructions were second nature by then. The sun had started to slide off the frame of the sky and its rays filtered through patches of mangroves that lined the banks. It was time to return to the floating pier at Olam on the Lake, in Cheppanam, on the backwaters of Kochi. Later, we sat in a gazebo overlooking the backwaters, munching on banana fritters and nursing tall drinks. We then toast a flaming sunset.
A 30-min kayaking trip costs Rs360 per person at Olam On The Lake; www.olam.co.in.
– By Jeroo & Gustasp Irani