Plan the perfect road trip
We round-up India's most scenic routes, and mark the best pit stops
Kochi – Megamalai – Madurai – Rameshwaram
Total distance: 481km
This lesser-known hill station, popularly called Highwavys, is best kept a secret once you’ve found it. Sat in the Western Ghats in Tamil Nadu, the ‘cloud mountain’ is always doused in mist, with topography that is varied yet uniformly beautiful. Amble in lush tea and spice gardens, or go looking for the rare Indian hornbill or the even rarer Salim Ali’s fruit bat in the many evergreen forests — Megamalai shares a boundary with the Periyar Reserve. Or indulge in a luxury stay at the lovely Briar Tea Bungalows (Rs 10,000 onwards). Note: The area is restricted due to encroachment and a delicate ecosystem. Book lodges (Megamalai Travellers Bungalow, Tel: +91 98421 14647; Rs 3,598 onwards) and permits ahead.
This temple town is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Hit all the usual suspects — the Meenakshi Amman Temple, Thirumalai Nayak Palace and Kazimar Big Mosque. Try a tall glass of the indigenous falooda-ice cream hybrid, Jigarthanda, pick up some traditional cotton Sungudi saris for your granny or yourself at the popular Puthu Mandapam arcade, and be on your way.
Lord Shiva is said to have built a bridge from this pilgrim town on Rameswaram island (also called Pamban island, separated from the mainland by a strip of sea) to Sri Lanka. But for most roadtrippers, the fun is in the journey along the century-old cantilever Pamban bridge which spans the Palk Strait. You might gulp when you’re atop the narrow bridge with the Bay of Bengal yawning out on either side for as far as you can see. Once you get to the island, put your feet up at Dhanushkodi beach or head to the Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park for a glimpse of its fauna through a glass-bottomed boat.
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If you trust the movies, road trips can be life-changing. They can mend a relationship, clear 9-to-5 wrinkles and sprout a whole new world view. Here, we've planned three scenic road journeys (safely steering clear of NH10) that you can take in India – just tighten your seat belts for unexpected detours.
Chandigarh – Keylong – Batal – Kaza – Tabo
Total distance travelled: 660km
Usually eclipsed by the popular horseshoe-shaped Rohtang Pass on the Manali-Leh highway, the centre of Lahaul and Spiti valley deserves some love. After the lengthy drive (425km from Chandigarh), the indolent town with refreshing views of the Bhagha Valley is the gateway to the elusive and quickly-vanishing Chadar trail and also the home of the majestic Khardong Monastery which houses the largest number of monks in the region. Kick back with a beer at the scenic Adventure Camp Sarchu (Rs 4,400 onwards) where you can doze off to the shifting shapes of the surrounding mountains.
The village near Solang valley benefits from the dramatic backdrop of the Chandrabhaga ranges and glaciers. If you have time to spare and energy to expend, set up camp at the crescent-shaped Chandra Taal lake, flanked by scree mountains and vast meadows. Or retire to the simple, clean quarters of the Neovedic resort (Rs 1,700 onwards).
Cross the picturesque Kunzum mountain pass which links Kullu and Lahaul valleys and arrive in Kaza, which sits on a flood plain and is not unlike Ladakh or Tibet in its geographical make-up, culture and food. Kibber at 4,205m has the distinction of being the highest permanently inhabited village of the region. Spend the night in a tent at the Sangla Valley campsite (Rs 8,000 onwards).
Just a little ahead of Kaza, this ancient village is built around ‘The Ajanta of the Himalayas’, the Tabo Monastery. Renowned for its intricate murals and life-size stucco statues, it was founded in 996 AD, and is said to be a personal favourite of the Dalai Lama. Don’t miss a chance to stay at the adjoining guest house (Tel: 01906 2233 15; Rs 400 onwards) and partake in the early morning puja which takes on a deep sanctity against the backdrop of craggy mountains and deep caves as the wind blows by your ears.
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