We’ve made it easy, so you know where to go for the view, wild and ultimate adventure all the way from India to New Zealand. Read on for where to smell the wildflowers, listen to the stomp of wildebeest and how to jump off an aircraft so you can hurtle earthwards at 200 kmph.
Pure, cold, thin air. Ladakh has always made travellers pant for breath and for more, more views of its stark elemental landscape made up of mountains, desert, rivers and gorges coloured with red lichens, white-gold sands and copper streaks in its exposed strata. Shunning adornment, spirituality is pared down here, like a makeshift temple of yak horns piled on a rock and prayer flags before its high passes. Ladakh’s forbiddingness fades briefly in the summer, when the frozen desert thaws, permitting passage into a dramatic universe. “Two new areas have opened for Indian tourists this year, Turtuk, along the Shyock River and Suru Valley and Nyoma that leads into Tibetan Plateau and Mansarover,” says Chewang Motup, founder of Rimo Expeditions, which specialises in Himalayan journeys. Overland, Manali-Leh and Srinagar-Leh are well-known routes. Go beyond, by taking the new road along the fabled Nubra Valley, along the Shyock River en route to Khardungla Pass to Pangong Tso, the highest saltwater lake in the world, jointly policed by India and China. Pangong’s sapphire waters hypnotise travellers. When the spell breaks, drive on to Nyoma to get entranced by the light on the northern plains and stop at Hanle monastery, which was off limits till this year.
Access: Major domestic airlines, including low cost carrier Kingfisher Red, fly to Leh from Delhi.
Travel Tip: Mild persistent headaches and hallucinations can be part of the experience. If planning to visit Nyoma and Turtuk, apply to the deputy commissioner for permission.
DENALI, ALASKA, US
There are parts of Alaska that can be rightfully called Palin country, but definitely not Denali. Straddling six million acres of untamed land and alpine tundra, Denali National Park, made of ice, water, rock and sky remains America’s last wild frontier. Modernity hasn’t dared to set foot here, except for the 150 km single road that runs through it with a 135 km bus service for tourists that operates from the end of May. Denali, the ‘High One’, is the name Athabascan native people gave the massive peak that crowns the 965-km-long Alaska Range. Also known as Mount McKinley, at 6,194 m, this peak is the roof of North America and its vertical relief is greater than Mt Everest. “Denali’s spectacular landscape, starts high where glaciers flow and melt into silt-laden-rivers that run through grasslands habited by caribou, moose and wolves,” says Toby Sinclair, vice-president of the Eco Tourism Society of India. “With the large expanse of the tundra that is covered with wildflowers in May and June when the snows retreat, this is the time to visit.”
Access: Most major American airlines fly to Anchorage.
Travel Tip: Coordinate with park authorities for the shuttle bus service, your life line in Denali. And carry mosquito repellents.
SANGLA, HIMACHAL PRADESH
Let the golden vistas of Kinner Kailash guide you as you drive by the Baspa River to enter Sangla. Summers are the best time to visit this Himalayan hamlet, nestled deep within the Kinnaur Valley, as fresh apple blossoms infuse the air with their fragrance. Located at 2,860 m, the valley is a paradise for adventure enthusiasts with its range of exploratory treks and nature walks. “Whether it is long walks to discover the rich flora and fauna of the region, treks to view snow-clad Himalayan peaks, angling for snow trout or climbing rugged rocks, Sangla offers something for everyone,” says Kavita Goel of Banjara Camps, a group that operates retreats across Himachal. You can retrace the romance of the Old Hindustan Tibet Road by walking down to Chitkul, 20 km away from Sangla town. To rachet this up, go for a medium-level trek to Rakcham where the terrain changes every few minutes, as grassy meadows give way to huge rocks, tiny glaciers, icy cold streams, clumps of black cumin and leh berry trees. Pass by the local devta temple, meet the lady who still uses a 108-year old lock to secure her home and just follow a handsome Bhutia dog uphill.
Access: Though one can take a train from Delhi to Kalka and proceed to Sangla by car, to get the best of the panoramic views, travel by car the entire way.
Travel Tip: Carry woollens if visiting between May and June. Though the days are pleasant, nights are chilly, temperatures drop to 4º C.
QUEENSTOWN, NEW ZEALAND
Other capitals might ask you how you like your steak. In Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world, they ask, how’d you like your thrill? Extreme or tame? In this town set on the glacial lake of Wakatipu on the South Island, you can hang by your feet and bungy down 43–134 m, in daylight or in the dark, jump out of an aircraft from 4,600 m, plummeting towards the earth at 200 kmph or swing 400 m above the town with 3G force. It’s enough to displace vital organs and implant foreign bodies, as many people attest to ‘heart in the mouth syndrome’ and a ‘stomachful of butterflies’. Abhik Dutta, director of The Wanderers, a New Zealand Tourism-approved travel outfit, says, “New Zealand is an absolutely safe country and relatively affordable.” The lakes, mountains and even the skies are crammed with every adventure sport you can think of, from abseiling to zorbing. Dutta recommends a two-week stay and a day-long tour, which includes a jet boat wilderness safari on the Dart River and a journey in four-wheel drives to locales where The Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed. Experience it all, weapons, costumes and the chance to re-enact the battle in which the mighty Sauron is defeated by a hobbit.
Access: Fly to Christchurch, spend time in Mount Cook, then hire a car or fly into Queenstown. Singapore Airlines offers daily departures from Mumbai and Delhi.
Travel Tip: End June, if you’re planning to visit the Milford Sound glacier, check with the Queenstown office. If it is snowing, get chains for your car.
KANGRA, HIMACHAL PRADESH
Far from the madding crowds of Manali, there’s such serenity in the Kangra Valley that everything including the living traditions are imbued with quietude. Train into Pathankot or drive up from Dalhousie and you can wander into sacred spaces like the monolithic rock-cut temple of Masroor, the relatively more modern Tibetan monastery, or contemplate the art legacy of the ethereal Chamba rumal. To partake of heritage in Kangra is to feel the earth curving wetly under your palms, when the potter’s wheel spins in Andretta Artist’s Village and to view scenes of the Krishna-Leela amidst lush gardens as depicted by Kangra artists. Or just sit back and sip on green tea, harvested from heirloom bushes that were originally brought here by the British from China. “Kangra is a relatively un-touristed part of Himachal. Unlike Manali and Dharamshala, it holds out ancient temples and scenic beauty,” says Reet Hazarika of Quo Vadis Travels. For those who want to hover above these high grounds, nearby Billing offers aerosports and the chance to slow-fly over the valleys. And if you want to roll down the hills without your body touching the ground, go zorbing, by strapping yourself inside a transparent plastic ball. Khajjiar near Dalhousie offers this zany sport.
Access: The convenient railhead is Pathankot. Or drive in via Dalhousie.
Travel Tip: The Andretta Pottery and Craft Society is the best source for information about walks, treks, birding and of course traditional earthenware.
A trip to Turkey is nothing short of pilgrimage for Homer enthusiasts. The journey ideally begins from palm-lined Izmir, believed to be the residence of Homer, and goes on to the coastal town of Troy, immortalised by the poet in his Iliad and Odyssey. The undulating landscape, dotted by pine-clad Taurus Mountains, wildflower-laden highlands and irregular coves sweeping down to the Aegean Sea, whisper of ancient tales of heroism and conquests. This is the land where King Midas discovered his golden touch, where Alexander cut the Gordian knot and where St Paul paved the way for Christianity into Asia. “Visit Pammukale, Goreme, Cappadocia and Troy to understand how Turkey’s cultural heritage has been influenced by the Hittites, Greeks, Romans and Ottomans,” says Sumitra Senapaty, founder of Wow (Women on Wanderlust) Club. Wander into the past and present in the centuries-old, white travertine formations of Pammukale, the towering chimneys of Goreme and the underground ancient cities and coves of Cappadocia.
Access: Turkish Airlines and Emirates operate daily flights between New Delhi and Istanbul.
Travel Tip: Dress modestly and carry comfortable shoes as itineraries usually include long walks at heritage sites.
Nothing is quite as romantic as Kerala, when the rains lash this coast, the perfect time for a break with your partner or even a quiet holiday by yourself. Just carry a good book, some candles of your own (electricity gets even more erratic in the monsoon) and an incense stick to deal with the dankness. “Monsoons in Kerala are the liveliest part of the year. This is the time that the bigger animals hide away and the smaller ones come out to play. Frogs and snakes love this time, so be prepared for crawlies around your room. They have as much right to enjoy the rains as we do,” says Simrit Malhi, content editor with traveltocare.com, a responsible tourism consultancy. Look beyond the usual Kumarakom and Alleppey to discover the unexplored vistas of Wayanad in the northeastern parts of Kerala. Home to legends, ancient ruins, mountain caves and jungle trails, this virgin locale is untouched by rail and air traffic, so far. Sans the toxic traffic fumes, you can inhale the scents from the nearby coffee and vanilla plantations.
Access: The closest airport is Kozhikode, which is two-and-a-half hours away from Wayanad.
Travel Tip: Carry fast-drying clothes and shoes that can withstand the rain, along with water resistant luggage.
Beyond the towering skyscrapers and swanky shopping complexes of Kuala Lumpur lies the mystical land of Borneo. Its twin cities of Sabah and Sarawak, with their dense tropical forests and mighty river systems, acquire an unearthly beauty during the rains. “This summer, while most tourists will be heading to the beaches of Bali, the discerning traveller will be enjoying the beauty of nature in the rainforests of Malaysia,” says Ashish Kishore, head of hotels and retail business with yatra.com. Separated from the main peninsula by 650 km of sea in east Malaysia, Borneo is one of the world’s oldest rainforests. Though Sabah and Sarawak receive an average of 300 cm of rainfall annually, most of it is concentrated in the months of November and April. Summer months, May–June, are breezy with the twin cities donning an emerald green cover. In Sabah, visit Poring Hot Springs at the base of the Mount Kinabalu, where open-air natural health spas offer therapies to soothe your body while you watch the rains. Sarawak, with its lush waterfalls and coves, is also another must-see. Or just take shelter in Clearwater Cave, home to the world’s longest underground rivers.
Access: Malaysia Airlines flies daily to Kuala Lumpur, which is well connected to Sarawak’s Kutching International Airport.
Travel Tip: Plan ahead, otherwise permit restrictions issued by national park authorities and booked beds might spoil your trip!
With trekking, rappelling and river crossings, Uttarakhand is like a thrill-pill for stir-crazy kids in the summer. Route Purple, an eco-tourism travel company, runs camps here. These eight-day long camps, located adjacent to the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary, offer outdoor and creative outlets for 10–13 year-olds. “All our activities, be it theatre or puppetry, are built around nature. The ideas and resources come from the land of Uttarakhand,” says Parvez Imam, maverick trekker, skier and founder of Route Purple. Yet another great place for easy treks is the Himalayan Alpine meadow of Bedni Bugyal. Located at a majestic height of 3,354 m, Bedni lies on the way to the haunting Roopkund Lake, where human skeletons and remains of horses from the Paleolithic Age are still strewn around its banks. “Wildrift runs a lovely camp in Syat Village where kids can interact with the locals and learn about the indigenous traditions and culture,” says Minakshi Suri, an avid traveller and founder of Camp Forktail Creek in Corbett.
Access: Smooth roads and great connectivity make Uttarakhand a delight to travel by road.
Travel Tip: Carry loose cotton shirts and shorts for the day and light woollens for the night. Also, be armed with a Swiss knife, torch and wildlife guidebooks.
LANTAU, HONG KONG
While Hong Kong might be an exciting shopping destination for adults, the city has appeal for juniors as well, with its ferry rides, museums, sandy beaches, water-sports and Mickey Mouse. A cruise to Lantau Island to spot the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins is a must. These endangered beings, which inhabit the Pearl River Delta, coloured bright pink for some inexplicable reason, are a great favourite with kids. After this, take a thrilling ride in the Ngong Ping 360 cable car. Its glass-floored crystal cabin cars offer a bird’s eye view of the lush green countryside. And then, head to Disneyland, which opened at Lantau in 2005. The theme park got a fair share of criticism for being too small, but over the years it’s become the fun-zone for kids in the age group 5–12. “Every kid dreams of going to Disneyland, it’s more economical to fly to Hong Kong than all the way down to Orlando,” says Piya Bose of the Girls On The Go Club. If you happen to visit this unique archipelago in July, then you are just in time for the Festival Hong Kong 2010 and the Dragon Boat Carnival in the scenic Victoria Harbour.
Access: Air India and Cathay Pacific operate daily flights from New Delhi to Hong Kong.
Travel Tip: Buy an Octopus payment card, which can be used on all public transportation, vending machines, restaurants and convenience stores.
Just when most Indian national parks dis-invite travellers by buttoning down everything including their tent flaps, the high meadows of Dachigam National Park in Jammu & Kashmir, unreachable during winters, roll out a carpet of blue poppies and alpine blooms in shades of crimson, pink and gold. Mind-spinningly scenic and comfortingly cool Dachigam is the place to put your boots and haversack down when you want to see Himalayan flora and fauna spring to life after the winter freeze. This is the time when the black bear comes out of hibernation. Venture here in May and enter the home of the wild hangul, one of the most endangered species of red deer in the world. You’ll also hear the high pitched whistle of marmots echoing within these Himalayan ridges and see skies blur into scarlet when minivet birds take flight. “Hanguls drop their young in May, there’s edelweiss in bloom and the wild cherry trees will be in flower,” says Toby Sinclair, vice president of the Ecotourism Society of India. Rising to 4,270 m above sea level, there’s no better place in Kashmir to stand in the shadows of the silver birches, digging in your heels, taking in views of the snow-licked ranges as wild India gambols before your eyes.
Access: Most domestic airlines, including low cost carriers, operate flights to Srinagar.
Travel Tip: Upper Dachigam is approachable by foot. Coordinate with the park authorities to best plan your expedition.
MASAI MARA, KENYA
May and June are the build-up to the season of stomp in the great Serengeti, which stretches from Tanzania across Kenya. July is when the great migration takes place when millions of wildebeest, zebra and Thomson’s gazelle traverse the open Savanna, trailed by lions and hyenas, making the earth thunder under their heels and hooves. Await their arrival in Masai Mara National Reserve, the largest and best-known game reserve in Kenya where these primal sights and the rhythm of life plays out before your senses. Views of the great cat families, hippos and lurking crocodile mulching in the Mara River, and wildlife in multitudes are what this reserve holds out under its big sky. Coupling this experience with white water adventure, this year the Delhi-based Aqua Terra Adventures, a National Geographic well-rated adventure travel outfit, is offering an African adventure trip that takes you to Victoria Falls, rafting on the Zambezi and a chance to view the migration at Masai Mara.
Travel Tip: If you were planning to invest in telephoto equipment, this is the time. Also, arm yourself with powerful binoculars with magnification of at least 10 x 42.