Sooner or later, we will travel again. While international borders may take some time to reopen, there are plenty of offbeat destinations that make for great drives from major Indian cities and lend their open spaces to social distancing. Here are 10 road-trip ideas to kick-start your post-pandemic travel plans. By Rashima Nagpal & Sushmita Srivastav
1. Pune To Malshej Ghat
Driving to Malshej Ghat through the Sahyadri range that runs along the Konkan Coast, and lingering in this sylvan valley might just be the holiday you need after months of lockdown. Around 120 kilometres from Pune, this mountain pass has an abundance of wildlife and waterfalls. Come August, moderate showers make the valley and the four-hour drive from Pune even more alluring. Spend the day visiting the Malshej Falls, climbing up to the sixth-century Harishchandragad Fort, trekking to Darkoba Peak, or simply trying to identify the varied bird calls. Stay at Saj By The Lake—doubles from INR 13,000; sajresort.com.
2. Bhopal To Orchha
True to its name, which means ‘hidden palace’, Orchha is a gem waiting to be explored. Shadowed by the glory of its neighbouring tourist destinations, it houses some of the country’s best-preserved medieval Bundelkhandi architecture. A road trip from Bhopal, well under 400 kilometres, lets you revel in the earthy essence of Madhya Pradesh, particularly during the monsoon. Take the route via Eran, and spend some time in this ancient town that is home to monuments dating back to the fifth century. You’ll know you’re in Orchha when the grand Orchha Fort complex looms in the distance. With a laid-back atmosphere and options of walking, cycling, and rafting, this destination delights nature enthusiasts and history buffs. Stay at Orchha Palace—doubles from INR 7,400; orchhapalace.com.
3. Chandigarh To Pampore
Kashmir is famous for its superior quality saffron. But not many know of Pampore, a small town roughly 17 kilometres from Srinagar that grows most of the region’s cash crop. Pampore falls on the way to Srinagar—take the standard route via Pathankot, Udhampur, Patnitop, and Anantnag. Although the production of saffron has declined over the last decade, it’s still worth the drive (over 500 kilometres from Chandigarh), especially during October and November. The farms are blanketed in bright purple saffron flowers, and you can witness the harvesting of the red gold. Stay at The LaLiT Grand Palace Srinagar—doubles from INR 16,000; thelalit.com.
4. Visakhapatnam To Lambasingi
The world hardly spared a glance for Lambasingi until it witnessed snowfall for the first time in 2012. Although the hamlet doesn’t exactly turn into a snow resort every year, it still is the only place in South India with sub-zero temperatures and frosty weather. Thankfully, it is still impervious to the hustle and bustle of tourists, and the four-hour drive from Visakhapatnam via Araku Valley is mostly bereft of people. The trance of coffee plantations, misty meadows, and cascading falls is broken only by a pristine lake and a bird sanctuary. Though the village doesn’t have luxurious stay options, you can always drive back to Vizag or pitch a tent in the middle of nowhere! Stay at The Bheemli Resort in Visakhapatnam—doubles from INR 4,999; all.accor.com.
5. Delhi To Hamta
For the residents of Delhi, there’s always the promise of the Himalayas shining like a beacon on the darkest of nights. To get your fill of mountain air, drive to Hamta, a hamlet close to Manali, where you can glamp in a unique geodesic glass dome and enjoy gourmet meals. Perched at a height of over 2,600 metres, the domeshaped tents face the snow-peaked Dhauladhar range and overlook the pristine Hamta Valley—an excellent spot for hikes, nature trails, and picnics. The intrepid could also plan a trek to the Hamta Pass, at 4,200 metres, or visit the quaint igloo village of Sethan. Domes from INR 10,000; glampeco.com.
6. Chennai To Yercaud
The only thing better than a six-hour-long southern sojourn through the breathtaking Shevaroy Hills in the Eastern Ghats, is ending it in a quaint former British colony. The moment your wheels leave the urban jungle of Chennai and whoosh past pit stops like Kanchipuram, Vellore, and Dharmapuri, the air becomes mistier, the route smoother, and the woods thicker. An hour’s uphill drive ahead of Salem and 20 hairpin bends bring you to Yercaud. Here, farms teem with coffee and aromatic spices, and colonial structures offer history lessons. Exercise your legs and breathe in the fresh air with verdant walking trails. Stay at Grange Resort— doubles from INR 3,500; grangeresort.com.
7. Bengaluru To Bandipur
With 874-square-kilometres of forested reserve, the Bandipur National Park is the perfect antidote to months of isolation. From Bengaluru, if you take the route through Channapatna, Mandya, followed by Mysore, you can reach Bandipur in under five hours, while also experiencing wildlife and nature at the Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary and Kokkare Bellur Bird Sanctuary, both in Mandya. Make sure you cross the forest department gate in Bandipur before 8 pm, and check yourselves in to a plush resort like The Serai, Bandipur, located along the fringes of the reserve. Sign up for a 2.5-hour safari at the resort and dive right into the jungle early next morning. Doubles from
INR 13,000; theserai.in.
8. Mumbai To Kaas Plateau
Did you know that Maharashtra has its own ‘valley of flowers’? Kaas Plateau, a 300-kilometre drive from Mumbai, is the breeding ground for over 175 species of wildflowers. Otherwise a rocky terrain also known as Kaas Pathar, it transforms into a bed of multicoloured flowers, including the white habenaria (ground orchids), the bright yellow sonki, the smithia (the Mickey Mouse flower), and the rare ceropegia, towards the end of monsoon. This floral biodiversity hotspot has even been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The region also has an eponymous lake. The best part? To maintain the sanctity of the place, a limited number of people are allowed to visit in a day. So, book in advance (kas.ind.in)! Stay at Le Meridien Mahabaleshwar Resort & Spa—doubles from INR 9,680; marriott.com.
9. Guwahati To Cherrapunjee
A road trip from Guwahati to Cherrapunjee offers sights of undulating uplands, deep valleys ribboned with waterfalls, and shades of green all around, not to mention the promise of rain. The four-hour-long drive to one of the wettest places on earth is no less than a slideshow of picture-perfect landscapes. Though tourists flock the region during the monsoon, the last few months of the year guarantee smaller crowds. Nohkalikai Falls, Nongriat Root Bridges, Mawsmai Cave, and the nearby Mawsynrum (now the wettest place on earth) are reasons enough to spend a day or two in this Meghalayan highland. Stay at Jiva Resort Cherrapunjee—doubles from INR 3,000; jivaresortcherrapunjee.com.
10. Kolkata To Sundarban Mangroves
The beauty of the City of Joy lies in its chaos. But a holiday in Kolkata may not be the best thing in times of social distancing. So, pack your bags for a trip to the mangroves of Sundarbans. The three-hour road trip to Godhkali Ferry Ghat gifts scenes of the countryside veiled in mist. From here, the world’s largest mangrove forest is 90 minutes by boat. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Sundarban National Park is a massive river delta with mangroves, mudflats, and networks of narrow creeks and water channels where Royal Bengal tigers, sunbathing crocodiles, and tree-climbing crabs reign. Ditch the usual itinerary and make the four-deck MV Paramhamsa cruise your home for three days. Cruise package starts from INR 15,000 per person; vivadacruises.com.