Beat The Heat: Go For Cool Summer Getaways

Updated: Apr 27 2003, 05:30am hrs
April has not even ended and the hottest months are just round the corner. Yet the sweltering and searing heat is already getting to everyone as the mercury continues to soar. With mangoes and cold drinks colouring stalls, what is better is to escape this heat... but not before hitching on to the best possible holiday package deal. Hotels, beach resorts, tour operators and the various tourism departments have put up an interesting array of goodies this summer that are waiting to be picked up!

This year, going abroad seems to be out of the question especially in the case of the usual summer hotspots Singapore, Hong Kong and Bangkok (heaven for the shopaholic) given the fact that the SARS scare has put off quite a few people and many are reluctant to tempt fate. So, we have lined up a number of hot spots in the country and all you have to do is take your pick and go on that rejuvenating break!

Well-known tour operators like The Taj Hotels, Resorts & Palaces, Thomas Cook, SOTC, Sita Travels, Orbit Tours and Travel Corporation of India (TCI), among the numerous others including the various state tourism departments, have put together several impressive packages that cater not only for the elite but also for the middle-class who often prefer to travel by Rail.

Summer packages from TCI start from as little as Rs 9,480 for an eight-day package to about Rs 21,650 for a seven-day package to Darjeeling, Sikkim and Kalimpong. There is a special discount of 10 per cent for those who book before April 28.

Thomas Cook has put together some very affordable group summer tours which are inclusive of rail travel, food and stay and is aimed at the middle class. Taj offers Premium and Spa holidays this summer and ensures that your holiday will be a truly memorable one in a five-star comfort. Sita Holidays offers a number of different packages right from Soft Adventures, Beach, Classic, Wellness, Hill Stations & Quick Getaways, Wildlife and Spiritual Retreats. These packages start from Rs 7,145 to as high as Rs 38,215 and promise to offer total luxury. But perhaps if you are looking for economy and basic accommodation that the tourism departments offer, there are varied packages at very ordinary prices which are designed to suit your pocket. Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) offers good packages especially for Matheran, Mahabaleshwar and the other scenic tourist spots that dot the state. There are several online travel sites too that one can visit and book a tour though it is safer to go to the registered ones only.

Lets have a look at a few states in the country which are attractive for tourists during summer and will help beat the heat:

Bountiful Kerala
While planning a holiday, perhaps, what springs to mind first is the Gods Own Country which has by far been one of the top surefire destinations in summer. You can take a relaxing backwater travel ride, a tour of the wide sandy beaches, visit the lush green tea gardens or wildlife sanctuaries and rediscover bountiful Kerala.

You could also indulge in some of the Keralas renowned natural therapy treatments and rejuvenate yourself. The climate of the state is tropical and the summer starts from April and continues for the next four months. Kerala is well-connected by air, has a good train network and is equally accessible by the various bus services right from government-controlled to privately-owned ones. The Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC) has attractive packages to suit everybody and there are interesting tours lined up by the five-star hotels too along with independent tour operators.

Breezy Goa
Goa has it all -- sun, sand and sea. It has been a well-known and very popular destination for holiday-makers since time immemorial. It is also a steady favourite with Europeans and other foreign tourists. The culture, cuisine, the people, nature and the modern facilities in the form of 400 full-fledged hotels ranging from 14 five-star hotels whose tariff goes as high as Rs 60,000 per day and a Rs 50 per day in a modest paying guest accommodation whose number staggers at 1,400 in the season. Packages for Goa are available through Konkan Railway, air travel, five-star holiday hotel tours like the Taj Hotels, Resorts & Palaces packages, tour operators like Thomas Cook, Coxs & Kings, SOTC, the MTDC and the Goa Tourism Corporation (GTDC) and other independent tour operators who offer a range of services to suit every budget. Goa is well-connected to the rest of the country by rail, road and air.

Plentiful Tamil Nadu
Ooty: Ootacamund or Ooty is a hill resort standing at 7,349 feet above the sea level and is spread over 36 square miles. Places to visit are plentiful with Ooty Lake, Botanical Gardens, Charing Cross and Ootacamund Club leading the list. The best time to visit is April to September. Ooty can be reached by air via Coimbatore, the Nilgiri Express and the Nilgiri Passenger by train or by road where there are bus services from Bangalore, Mysore, Coimbatore, Calicut and Kochi. There are many hotels in the area, and the best should be booked in advance especially during the season.

Kodaikanal: Tucked away among the Palani Hills is Kodaikanal which in Tamil means gift of the forest. This is a quaint unspoilt little hill station, where such breathtaking scenery can be found. Some areas of interest are Kodaikanal Lake, Kodaikanal School, Lutheran Church and King Church, Colonial structure, Bryants Park etc. Kodaikanal has a bracing climate where temperature do not vary much from summer to winter. The best time to visit the place is from April to June and September and October. It is accessible by rail, and buses on almost a daily basis.

Scenic Uttaranchal
Nainital: It is known for its soothing climate and scenic beauty and is a popular health resort. Some of the tourist attractions are the famous Lake Naini to which Nainital owes its name and the mall, which is known as GB Pant. Ponies are available for rides and excursions. The best time of visit is in summer and autumn. Nainital is accessible by rail and buses (private as well as state-owned).

Mussoorie and Dehra Dun: Usually both these places are clubbed together as a package by most tour operators. They offer the much-needed relief from the daily problems of big cities. This town is also the gateway for visits to Haridwar and Rishikesh. Summer and autumn are the main tourist seasons. Mussoorie is a convenient base. Roads from here lead to Gangotri and Yamunotri and Black Peak area, Har-Ki-Doon and other treks in the Garhwal Himalayas and to nearby Himachal Pradesh. Both towns are well-connected and there are various rail and bus services available from Delhi. Taxis to Dehra Dun from Delhi are also available.

Serene Himachal Pradesh
Shimla: Shimla is a pleasant town set among the hills and presents glimpses of fading colonial charm. A visit to the Mall brings you to the centre of activity sights of the landscape around. There are many interesting sights including a number of falls, and the area is good for trekking. There are a number of hotels right from five star facilities and budget hotels and lodges. Most of the places to stay in Shimla are strategically located in the tourist centres.

Manali: This little town is an idyllic place for honeymooners as well as individuals who come here in quest of tranquillity. Places of interest are the Hadimba Devi temple, the Buddhist monastery complex containing sacred Buddhist relics, the Club House and the two Van Vihars (parks maintained by the municipality and the forest department). The nearest railheads are Chandigarh, Shimla, Jogindernagar and the nearest airport is Bhuntar. There is a motorable road from Kullu to Manali. There are numerous ordinary and deluxe buses plying between Delhi and Manali via Chandigarh and Kullu. Hotel accommodation from five-star, luxury to low-budget ones are available.

Idyllic West Bengal
Darjeeling is perhaps the most well-known among the hill stations which owes its grandeur to its natural beauty, its clean fresh mountain air and the smiling resilient people for whom it is a home. Some areas of interest are the Ghoom monastry, Tiger Hill, the Observatory Hill, the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute. Darjeeling is well-linked by air, road and rail network. There are flights from Calcutta to Bagdogra. The nearest railhead is Siliguri. There is also the famous Toy train that runs from New Jalpaiguri/Siliguri. There are a variety of lodges, luxury hotels and cheap accommodation available for tourists.

Charming Maharashtra
Maharashtra meaning the great state is a travellers paradise. The state boasts of an almost 2,200-year old legacy and there are a number of caves, beaches, forts and festivities. But perhaps, the most famous are Matheran, Lonavla, Khandala and Mahableshwar. The MTDC offers a number of very attractive schemes and packages in summer every year and this time various tour operators are offering many combined packages for these places.

Matheran, which is known for its beautiful scenery and old-fashioned beauty, is an ideal getaway from the humdrum of city life. Mahableshwar is cool and refreshing during the sweltering summer though during peak season time it gets very crowded.

Lonavala and Khandala are the other popular options which attract not only tourists but also people from Mumbai who want to get away from the city life for a few hours.

All these places are well-linked and travel is fairly easy. Yet another beautiful serene spot is Sindhudurg which is located on a low island which is a short distance from the sea.

This is one of the most beautiful beaches that Maharashtra can offer. Other beaches are Ganapatipule, Shriwardhan, Harihareshwar and Velneshwar. If history is your interest, then the forts at Janjira, Vijaydurg, Sindhudurg and Bhawani will surely captivate your interest and keep you spellbound. Take your pick from charming hill stations to places of historical interest to beaches Maharashtra offers you a variety of choices.

So what are you waiting for Just pack your bags and press the escape button. But not before you have driven a hard bargain from your tour operator.