Where to Go in 2019: For Urban Haunts

Cycle trails in Odisha and Chandigarh, earthy tales in West Bengal, there's more to Indian cities than what meets the eye.

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Photo Courtesy: Bhubaneswar Nature Walk

Odisha, Bhubaneswar

Why Go Now: Nature and heritage tour on two wheels

While in the temple city, all you need is a smartphone and internet connection to explore nature trails and heritage sites. Last month, the Dot Fest held during the 2018 Men’s Hockey World Cup pedal-started a government-led Public Bicycle Sharing project called Mo Cycle—mo means “my” in Oriya.

The cycling trails take riders through Nandankanan Zoological ParkChandaka-Dampara Wildlife Sanctuary, and the old town of Ekamra, dotted with temples from the fifth to the 16th centuries. The sanctuary offers a 14-kilometre-long, bamboo-and-teak-covered route. Unlike its uphill stretches, the path around the heritage area of Ekamra Kshetra near Bindusagar Tank is flat and easy to navigate. Make your way past multiple shrines along the route, stop at Ananta Basudev Temple for their prasad and gawk at Traffic Mahadev.

Docking stations around the city offer bikes from three vendors—Hexi, Yaana and Yulu—that come as cheap as Rs5 for a 30-minute ride. (Hexi cycles are quite woman-friendly.) You can opt for a guided tour or go off on your own. The company apps point you to the nearest dock station. An online deposit of Rs100, and a scan of the QR code on the cycle unlock the ride. (www.bhubaneswarnaturewalk.com and www.ekamrawalks.com offer guided tours; Hexi, Mo Cycle, Yaana and Yulu apps are available on Google Play Store or iOS App Store.)

—Phorum Dalal


Delhi, Sanjay Van

Why Go Now:  Picnic in an urban birding paradise

It is easy to imagine why people once thought Sanjay Van was haunted. In the light of dawn, the spindly branches of acacias look like a witch’s fingers, pointing to something deep into the forest. Add to that a stray bird call, sounds of unseen scurrying creatures or shuffling in the dry leaves and it’s the perfect setting for a ghost story. However, the rumoured ghosts of the Sanjay Van have probably been driven into hiding by the scores of Delhiites who now come here for their regular morning stroll.

Over 700 acres in the middle of the capital at the edge of the Aravalli hills (entrance points lie in Vasant Kunj and Mehrauli), this is one of the last spaces of refuge for people who want to escape Delhi’s cacophony and polluted air. As sunlight filters through the foliage of kikar and amaltas trees, velvety green paths lead to various nooks, some on a hilltop and others by the network of interconnected waterbodies within the park.

Thanks to the joint effort of the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) and a citizens’ group, Sanjay Van has, in the last couple of years, become home to a variety of birds. Woodshrikes, babblers, peacocks, orioles, sunbirds, lapwings, buzzards and more nestle in the trees. At the water’s edge, there are spot-billed ducks, kingfishers and egrets. The entire day can be spent in the company of birdsong, especially in a quiet spot under a tree—perfect for a picnic lunch. Remember to wear good walking shoes, full pants and sleeves, pack binoculars and take your litter back with you.

—Kalyani Prasher



Why Go Now: For the love of bicycle diaries

Where to Go in 2019: Cities 1

The Rock Garden of Chandigarh, also known as Nek Chand’s Rock Garden features artsy sculptures. Photo by: Paul Prudence/Getty Images

Where to Go in 2019: Cities 2

There is also a waterfall at the site. Photo by: Exotica/Exotica/Dinodia Photo Library


Think Chandigarh, and the mind is flooded with a flurry of fresh images— clean, green roads, gardens radiant with roses or Buddha statues, chilly waters of a reservoir nestled at the foot of the Himalayas. Dominating the montage are powerful structures by architect Le Corbusier for what was one of the most meticulously planned cities in post-independence India.

Thanks to its buttery roads, a breezy way—quite literally—to explore the city is on bicycles. Chandigarh byCycle, a cyclists’ crew helmed by city-bred history and architecture enthusiast Aman Sood, ensures that the city unravels in startling new ways. On a three- to four-hour jaunt, Sood would teach you to watch out for the unique, progressive layout of the roads, unmatched by other Indian cities. For instance, they are all straight lines intersecting at right angles, giving the city its grid-like, linear structure.

As you begin to enjoy the steady company of foliage tailing your trail, Sood would rev things up with the history behind the design, conceived as early as the 1950s. You’d learn that Chandigarh’s architecture channels a post-modernist ethos, where, after the devastation of the World Wars, the focus was on the quality of living—manifested in the form of ‘garden cities’ of it’s like. This is why every house in the city is privy to a predetermined patch of greenery or open space. You’ll encounter the brilliance of the Chandigarh Capitol Complex, Corbusier’s brainchild; Leisure Valley; the Open Hand Monument, a pedestrian-only plaza; and a continuous interaction of city life with a slew of gardens, lakes, and even the Kansal and Nepli forests (chandigarhbycycle.com; Rs1,600 per person).

—Sohini Das Gupta


West Bengal, Hooghly

Why Go Now: Meet pehelwans in the City of Joy

Where to Go in 2019: Cities 3

The banks of the Hooghly are hallowed for their spectacular sunrise and sunset. They hold other secrets too, like these rustic akharas that keep the tradition alive. Photo by: Manjit Singh Hoonjan

A few months ago, when Kaushik Chatterjee, our guide for the Kolkata morning walk suggested that my husband and I visit an akhara, we were intrigued. The school is situated by the Mallik Ghats on the Hooghly, near the flower market. A yellow board declares it to be the Siyaram Akhara Bayam Samity under the aegis of National wrestler Guru Jwala Tiwari. Behind the akhara is a decrepit old building with peeling walls and stained windows. Beside the akhara are steps leading to the ghats, a small makeshift temple with a clutch of idols where devotees place offerings of milk, oil and flowers. The rest of the ghats seem caught up in the early morning bustle, but the akhara is calm.

Read more here.

—Nirupama Subramanian





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