Go for: Idyllic explorations of the hinterland
Post monsoon, travellers make a beeline for the Kaas Plateau to see the valley of flowers, and move onwards, missing out on the diversity of Satara. At the foot of the Ajinkyatara fort, hemmed in by seven hills, Satara city is ideal for unrushed self-drive trips with pit stops for gavti chaha (lemongrass tea) and homespun mutton thalis or zunka bhakar.
One such stretch is the expanse of Chalkewadi windmill farms, heaving with windcatchers. The whirring of the blades against undulating hills channels the meditative rhythm of a dervish. Look for the recently identified, vibrantly coloured fan-throated lizard, Sarada superba. A short hike from the Kaas road leads to the viewing deck of the three-tiered Bhambavli Vajrai falls, plunging from a height of 1,840 feet. The Kumudini lake, draped in lilies, is evocative of Monet’s paintings. Come winter, freshly plucked jowar (hurda) is roasted on dry cow dung and served al fresco in farms with garlic or groundnut chutneys and spicy green chilly kharda. Farmers call these winter harvest celebrations hurda parties.
How to go:
From Mumbai, buses ply regularly to Satara (255 km/5.5 hr). From here, hire a taxi to Thoseghar Road. The windmill farms are 29 km/1 hr from Satara bus station. The driver generally doubles as a guide and introduces travellers to the best kept secrets of Satara. Hurda parties are day-long affairs held from December to March, and are a part of many agro-tourism ventures.
Go for: A birding paradise deep in the Western Ghats
Few hours from Bengaluru, deep in the Western Ghats, offbeat travellers will find a tranquil river island framed by thousands of river tern birds and a sprawling wildlife sanctuary in the Chikmagalur and Shimoga districts of Karnataka. If this sounds too good to be true, drive down to the Bhadra Tiger Reserve and witness the state’s bountiful wilderness, often wrongly credited to Bandipur alone.
This lush haven is a veritable paradise for birders keen on spotting the majestic flocks of river tern that visit the little island next to the river Bhadra, making morning and evening boat rides an absolute treat. As the sun sets, these porcelain-white birds, with black swooshes that cover their heads like Zorro masks, swoop down and perch on the bows of boats, unafraid of dipping their butterscotch-toned beaks into one’s palm for a snack. And the area has no shortage of other winged wonders. More than 200 different species of birds, including the Malabar parakeet, grey junglefowl, and red spurfowl populate the region, so remember to bring your binoculars. A great option for wildlife lovers is an evening jeep safari through the dense and diverse foliage of the Western Ghats. Knowledgeable guides can help facilitate sightings of wild animals such as leopards, deer, wild boar, gaurs, elephants, and crocodiles. Water sports enthusiasts have many options here including sailing and kayaking in the Bhadra river.
How to go:
Bhadra Tiger Reserve is a 280 km/5.5 hr from Bengaluru by road. You can hire a taxi or take a KSRTC bus to reach the sanctuary.
Go for: The historic town that played muse to a painter
The ancient capital of the Kullu kingdom, Naggar sits like a daydream at the left bank of the Beas river, on the upper reaches of the Kullu valley. Climbing up the snaky road to the Naggar castle, the seat of the Kullu rajas for centuries, instantly transports a visitor to the town’s historic past. The castle’s exquisitely carved wooden arches and open areas offer regal vistas of the Pir Panjal range.
Built by Raja Sidh Singh more than 500 years ago, the castle—like all of Naggar’s heritage buildings—is an excellent example of the local Kath Kuni style of architecture. It combines stone and wood to make the building earthquake safe; it indeed survived the tremors that shook Naggar in 1905. A few hundred metres ahead is another elegant representation of local architecture that blends in with the historical landscape: Tripura Sundari Temple. The wooden pagoda-style temple with many intricate carvings has a conical shikhara atop a double slanted roof. An easy trek just past Tripura Sundari, following a mountain brook upstream, amidst fruit orchards, leads visitors to the beautiful hilltop Murlidhar Krishna temple, one of the oldest in the region.
Naggar’s biggest draw are the stories of its most famous resident, the Russian painter and explorer, Nicholas Roerich, who made this charming Himalayan town home in the early 20th century. Stunning views of the Himalayas and the vivid paintings they inspired can be enjoyed at the art galleries in Roerich Estate (his two-floor house) and the Urusvati Himalayan Folk Art Institute.
How to go:
Naggar lies 525 km/12 hr north of Delhi. Take a bus to Manali and alight at Patli Kuhal, a 5-km taxi ride away from Naggar.
Go for: A legendary lake and its curious floating island
A small circular patch—nay, island—bobbing on Himachal Pradesh’s Prashar Lake lends it a fairy-tale air, especially when you learn that it changes position seasonally. At 8,960 feet, the beautiful, oval-shaped waterbody is nestled amidst enchanting meadows, deep gorges and panoramic views of the snow-clad ranges of the Dhauladhar. The lake freezes over in the winter, transforming even further in sight and spectacle. Prashar Lake derives its name from the temple along its bank, built circa 14th century and dedicated to sage Prashar. According to local legend, the three-storeyed pagoda-style structure was built with the wood of just one deodar tree. Even today, it blends in perfectly with the mythical landscape. A motorable dirt track leads to the lake, but visitors can also trek the last seven kilometres. The easy-to-moderate day trek that starts on a river bed next to Bagi village is a gradual but steep upward climb through a deep forest.
How to go:
Prashar Lake lies 500 km/12 hr north of Delhi—an easy, yet completely transportive weekend destination. Take a night bus to Mandi that lies 67 km/3 hr south of the lake. One government-run bus leaves Mandi for Prashar Lake at 7.45 a.m. daily. Trekkers can get off at Bagi village, the base point of the hike. It is advisable to hire a local guide for the trek, as the lack of signage makes it tough to find one’s way up to the lake.
Go for: Terracotta temples and a traditional barowari Durga Puja outside of Kolkata
On the banks of the Hooghly in West Bengal lies a sleepy village called Guptipara that finds mention in Tagore’s Shahaj Path. Yet don’t let its quiet demeanour deceive you, Guptipara is steeped in history and culture. In the 1760s, a group of men who were stopped from entering the zamindar household puja of the Sens’ revolted and established the first Barowari (public) Durga Puja in Bengal. Incidentally, the Sens still live here in their palatial home, Abasar.
The Durga Puja at the Sen household is a tradition well over 400 years old. An interesting facet here is that the idol of Lokkhi (goddess of wealth), doesn’t have a statue of the goddess’ favourite bird (as is the norm). The owl sitting behind the statue is a real household pet.
Guptipara is also home to one of Bengal’s biggest performance poet-singers, Bhola Moira, depicted in films like Antony Firingee (1967). The terracotta temple architecture here is fascinating, with detailed depictions of Mahishasur Mardini (destruction of demons by the goddess Durga). Special mention must be made of the Brindaban Chandra temple and the Ramchandra temple, which have inspired Jamdani saree weaves through their design. Moreover, the Rath celebration in Guptipara is the fourth largest in India and is a massive event.
How to go:
Guptipara is about 87 km/2.5 hr from Howrah station and can be reached from Kolkata via train and buses as well.