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Holiday ideas with a difference

Life today is veering round to the dictum, `Work hard, and play hard'. Happiness is a moot concept, but there is no doubt that seeing and experiencing nature is good for us. Better still, doing something different like trekking in the wild or cruising past glaciers triggers changes in our mental state that can be positively beneficial in day-to-day life. Moreover it is the season to do something jolly, so here are some ideas to tempt you off the beaten track, says SUMITRA SENAPATY.


Wild Kabini

HEAD for the Kabini River Lodge, a picturesque estate full of cashew and gulmohar trees originally owned by the Maharajas of Mysore. Today, the colonial structures stand restored, enhanced by two contemporary replicas of the original architecture where the rooms are located. You could spend months up here and never feel the loss of urban civilisation.

All said and done, it's a weird life, safari .... supposedly rugged and close to nature, but meanwhile staying in a great ambience, with a calibre of service you'd be hard put to find in any five star hotel. At dawn you can experience the coracle ride on the river. A circular bamboo boat lined with buffalo hide, the coracle is a common means of transport on the Kabini and Kaveri rivers. A naturalist points out the unique water birds and the wildlife that thrive nearby. Suddenly, you notice a large Indian bison (gaur) with an entire herd, a little distance away.

T.L. PRABHAKAR

They stare at you, before running for cover in the dense jungle. Further up, a lone tusker trumpets and executes a mock charge. In the memorabilia of the Kabini Lodge are photographs of the Russian Grand Dukes on an outdoor picnic. There is also a photograph of the Prince of Wales, accompanied by Lord Mountbatten. Lord Minto we are told, also stayed at the Lodge. A more recent visitor was Hollywood actress Goldie Hawn. Time stands still here. Flying foxes, the gentle murmur of the river, the rustle of the leaves in the wind, the bracing, unpolluted air. Unwinding in the wilderness, the world comes to Nagarhole, to seek nirvana.

If you go:

Getting there: Bangalore is the convenient starting point to reach Nagarhole (240 km) via Mysore.

Driving time: Five hours.

Accommodation: 14 colonial-style twin-bedded rooms, six twin-bedded riverside cottages and five comfortable tents, overlooking the Kabini, with attached modern baths.

Season: Year round.

Activities at Kabini: Jeep safaris, coracle ride, elephant safari, nature walks and motorboat cruise.

More information at jungle@giasbg01.vsnl.net.in

Kiwi adventure

IF a friend asks you to jump off a cliff, would you? You probably would if you were in New Zealand. From bungee jumping to sky diving, white water rafting to rock climbing, heli-skiing to caving, you can explore New Zealand from the top of mountain peaks, the doldrums of the underworld, and everywhere in between. This tiny island country has given birth to or adopted a cornucopia of adventure activities, for those wanting an adrenalin rush or simply the opportunity to discover the spirit of the land.

Nothing you have experienced will have prepared you for the excitement of Queenstown's Shotover Jet ride — speeding past rocky outcrops with only inches to spare, twisting through narrow canyons, and a major highlight — the famous "Shotover Jet" turn, where your boat spins through a full 360 in its own length!

More information at: www.shotoverjet.com

The adventure centre of the North Island is Lake Taupo, which has the world's largest sky diving operation.

Exiting the plane between 6,000 feet to 15,000 feet, skydivers have the opportunity to experience the incomparable exhilaration of freefalling with a spectacular parachute ride over the stunning lake and snow-capped volcanoes. Visit: www.tts.net.nz

Waitomo means the place where water (wa) disappears into a hole in the ground (tomo). Waitomo Adventures operates a range of REAL adventures for people wanting safe, quality fun in some of New Zealand's most special wild places. Tumu Tumu Toobing, a ripper of a trip, combines the best elements of cave rafting with walking, swimming, climbing through distinctive and spectacular cave sections. More information at: www.waitomo.co.nz

If you go:

Getting there — the best way is to fly Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong and then take the connecting CX flight to Auckland. In New Zealand, the two international airports are Auckland (North Island) and Christchurch (South Island). Travel time from India is approximately 20 hours. An airport departure tax of $NZ 22 is payable on leaving the country. A visa is required.

It is recommended that you plan a minimum of three weeks to see both islands at a leisurely pace. New Zealand is a year-round destination. Just remember that during the Indian summer, it is winter down there and during our winter months, Kiwis have spring and summer.

For Indian food, visit the "Little India" signs. There are eight of these restaurants in New Zealand.

Sangla sojourn


NOT everyone wants to go on a whistle-stop tour, getting up at dawn, packing and unpacking everyday. More in tune with the way we live now is choosing a small corner of our country and getting to know that place more intimately. Himachal Pradesh is waiting to be rediscovered by urban weary people. We tend to neglect many pockets of the country and sometimes very interesting places are eclipsed by their better-known neighbours. For example, pristine Sangla Valley is quite different from tourist-rich honeypots, Shimla and Kulu Manali, and makes for a terrific bolthole.

Situated at an elevation of about 10,000 feet, this is the place where Himachal greets Tibet. Forbidden territory virtually from Independence till 1992 because of its close proximity to the Chinese border (30 km away), the sleepy inner line valley is still largely populated by tribals and the occasional jawan of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police. But you are unlikely to stumble upon either at the "Banjara Camps", a tented resort that nestles on the banks of a river in the backdrop of some dramatic peaks.

The campsite has been picked carefully, and the thoughtfulness of the facilities, indeed take you by surprise. The snug, spacious 12 feet by 12 feet well-furnished Swiss Cottage tents even have uninterrupted power supply and roll-up meshed windows to let in light. Meals are always served outdoors, with a generous helping of sunlight, or by the side of a roaring bonfire, to keep you snug and warm.

Climb the meadows at Sangla to melt the stress and enjoy breathtaking views of the Himalayas. Long walks are perfect for discovering the valley that bursts with an amazing variety of flora and fauna. All of Kinnaur is dotted with apple orchards and the region boasts the best cider in the land.

If you go:

Delhi-Chail-Sangla is 589 km. En-route to Sangla: Kufri, Narkhanda, Rampur and Sarahan.

Transportation: self-drive or "Banjara Camps" can arrange for transportation, with an overnight break at Chail (near Shimla). If driving, essential spares and extra fuel are recommended. A jeep is a must for the mountain roads.

Season: Between April and early November. For more information contact "Banjara Camps" at banjara@vsnl.com

Cruise Alaska


THE best way to see things like glaciers and wildlife is by ship and the Radiance of the Seas cruise up the inside passage of Alaska seems the perfect fit. It's an unforgettable experience to open the door to one's balcony the first thing in the morning to see huge and little icebergs floating by.

If you don't think size matters, you've never seen Hubbard Glacier. Truthfully, the bigger the glacier, the better the view. Hubbard Glacier is the largest tidewater glacier in North America. This giant, six-mile wide, 300-foot tall slab of ice at the edge of Yakutat Bay is 75 miles long! Hubbard Glacier is the one that cruise ships visit on the seven-day sailings between Anchorage and Vancouver. You may hear the rumble and see the monumental splash as the glacier breaks off in great ice chunks, a process known as calving. As the Radiance sails along its looming mass, you'll notice the deep ice caves that glow with a lovely blue light.

Before or after your Glacier Cruise, the Royal Celebrity CruiseTour can take you deep into the land of the midnight sun, from Anchorage to as far north as Fairbanks. You will travel onboard glass dome train cars through the wild Alaska interior, to experience Nature at its best. The journey takes you to Denali, travelling deep into the natural habitat of bears, moose, caribou and wolves. Feel the frontier spirit of the gold rush town of Skagway, where the adventurous may still pan for gold. Spend a day in Ketchikan, the gateway to the stunning Misty Fjords, with its crystalline lakes and plunging waterfalls. Sitka and Juneau are other stunning ports of call on the Radiance cruise. (If in the mood for yet more activity, Radiance of the Sea has a rock-climbing wall.)

If you go:

Seven nights Hubbard Glacier cruise departs Vancouver (Canada) on Radiance of the Seas.

Sailing dates from May 24 onwards to September 13. Seven nights Gulf of Alaska cruise departs Vancouver & Seward on Legend of the Seas. Sailing dates from May 30 to September 12. Apart from shore excursions, Alaska offers you activities like glacier trekking, dog sledging, sea kayaking and white water rafting. You can combine your cruise with an escorted land tour, deep into the heart of Alaska, in case time and budget permits.

For more information, contact Royal Caribbean International at cruise@tirun.com

Driving through England

PACK a camera and a hefty supply of films, as a driving tour in England will prove irresistible. One tip is to be sure if you're the photographer, that you have a companion to do all the driving! You will want to be free to look, to turn your head and shout, as a startling new vista looms into view: "Quick, pull over, I just have to get this shot!" The best way to explore Britain is to take the car, travel the back roads and plunge into rural countryside. You drive into the world of sun-dappled byways and hedgerows, which has so besotted writers and poets. Not a lot seems to have changed since yesteryear. The cute lanes still thread their way through the most picturesque counties of England, the cottages still have roses round the door and luckily the traffic is mostly back there on the motorway. "You can't get there from here," a country boy is reported as saying to a tourist in a hurry. But luckily, we know that you can get anywhere with the car and an A to Z map. Keep left and keep going. Enjoy a traffic-free highway, gorgeous country, pretty villages, and room to roam and relax, in places where they clock 50 cars a day rather than 50,000.



Get ready for the countryside.

On the map it's a kind of no-man's land where the borders of Oxfordshire, Warwickshire and Gloucestershire are knotted together, but on the ground it's a succession of quiet delights: old manor houses, ancient churches, beautiful views, changing weather and the kind of pubs it's difficult to pass — the heart of the Cotswolds, that golden triangle of countryside enclosed by the M4, M5 and M40.

After a day of traipsing through the enchanting Cotswolds, a great place to spend the night or, several is the Moretons Farmhouse at Bredon near Tewkesbury. These self-catering cottages dating back to the early 1800s are equipped down to a needle and thread, complete with central heating, a fully equipped kitchen, washing machine and dryer, a heated indoor swimming pool, the complete works of Shakespeare — even a grand piano, in case you are so inclined. London is expensive, so it sure makes sense to hire a car, stay in the Cotswolds and occasionally drive up to catch a show or two. Besides, a car gives absolute freedom of movement and opens up a host of opportunities to visit places that are otherwise not easily accessible, and the British motorways offer a totally different experience; something inconceivable on Indian roads.

If you go:

Some useful contacts:

Classic Car Hire — 01789 470142

Budget Rent a Car — 01442 276000

Hertz Rent a Car — 0990 996699

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