Five top holidays in 2018 that have been made possible by changes in Indian tourism
As part of the UDAN scheme, a direct, twice-weekly New Delhi-Imphal flight is set to launch in January. Improved connectivity to the capital of Manipur will provide a much-needed shot in the arm to tourism in the state. Visit one of India’s most stunning natural phenomena: the Keibul Lamjao National Park. Circular patches of green, called phumdis, float on Loktak Lake, and on one such floating, marshy island sits the national park. The rare and endangered sangai deer, endemic to these parts, inhabits the park. Take a boat ride on the lake to access some of the phumdis. Back in Imphal, don’t miss the women-run Mother’s Market or Ima Keithel, where thousands of women sell spices, shawls and food items.
With Pakyong Airport near Gangtok nearly ready to begin operations in early 2018, the direct air link to Sikkim will facilitate easier explorations of the Himalayan state. Get your bearings in the cosmopolitan capital Gangtok, sampling a blend of Tibetan, Nepali and Sikkimese flavours at the many restaurants. Explore Rumtek, among the state’s largest monasteries, before heading deep into West Sikkim. The mighty Kanchenjunga dominates this region. On a clear day, its icy peak looms above roads winding through hills lined with cherry trees and tea plantations. During Losar, the Tibetan New Year in February, grand mountaintop monasteries, including Pemayangtse, come alive with colourful masked dances called chaam.
With an increasing number of reliable adventure operators in the country, almost every season and region in India offers a chance to experience a destination through its outdoors. Gulmarg is slowly establishing itself on the global ski map, drawing experienced and newbie skiers from India and around the world. The Gulmarg Gondola is one of the highest operating cable cars in the world, going up just below the summit of the 4,200-metre Mt Apharwat. Every winter, the slopes are covered in metres of fresh snow, and instructors are on hand for beginner skiing lessons.
In the first effort of its kind in India, Rajasthan launched Project Leopard – an initiative to protect the spotted cat by conserving its habitat and improving its prey base. Go on a leopard safari in the Jhalana Forest Reserve in Jaipur, where a healthy population of 20 cats roam the 24-square-kilometre area. With such a high concentration of leopards, chances of spotting this shy, elusive cat is high. Until recently, Jhalana was not a protected reserve and people wandered in freely. Now, access is limited, with organised jeep safaris offering a chance to spot jackals, neelgai and hyenas, apart from the leopard, within the foliage of low hills and valleys.
Explore Uttarakhand through its homestays
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The UN General Assembly declared 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism. In a sector defined by its high carbon footprint, one way to travel responsibly, while also having a wholesome holiday, is to opt for smaller homestays rather than large hotel chains. Uttarakhand has a scattering of cosy family-run establishments in the beautiful regions of Kumaon and Garhwal, offering guests an intimate experience. Stay in traditional mud-and-stone houses or colonial-era bungalows; potter about in kitchen gardens and eat farm-fresh food; go on long walking trails in the mountains with views of glistening peaks. In the evening, gather around a bonfire or a fireplace with hosts, trading tales of life in the mountains and the illustrious travellers from around the world, who once frequented Uttarakhand’s mountain villages.