Array ( [0] => stdClass Object ( [id] => 69200 [title] => Campsites In India That Will Leave You Awestruck [description] =>

Graced with an abundance of serenity, India is a country with amazing camping locations that are sure to leave you awestruck. This gorgeous nation has numerous offbeat hidden destinations that will satiate your wanderlust. From the foothills of the Himalayas to the southern states which are an arms' length from the Indian Ocean, every corner of the country is home to absolutely sublime sites.  

Chandratal Lake, Himachal Pradesh

Camping at Chandratal Lake in the night

Surrounded by a rocky terrain and mountains, Chandratal will feel like a destination from another world to those visiting here. A challenging trek through the Spiti Valley and the Kunzum La will lead you to the Chandratal Lake. Its crystal clear sparkling waters gleaming with the reflection of the Himalayas is a sight to behold. Take in complete silence and calm all around with a walk on the periphery of the crescent-shaped lake. According to Hindu legends, this is where the eldest Pandava, Yudhistra, was picked up by Lord Indra on his quest around the Himalayas. 

Sonamarg, Jammu & Kashmir

Camping at Sonamarg during the winters

This picturesque hill station in India's northernmost state is located at over 9,000 feet at the foothills of the Himalayas. Offering a view of the glittering snow-capped mountains the valley encapsulating it brims with lush greenery. Treks to Thajwas Lake, Zoji-La Pass and the Ambernath pilgrimage are popular options to venture onto from here. However, I would highly recommend a visit to the free-flowing Sindh River which runs to the region further embellishing the already alluring beauty of the place.

Ramanagara, Karnataka

It was here where quite possibly the first blockbuster movie of Bollywood was shot. It was in the hills of Ramanagara, around 60 Kms from Bangalore, where Jai and Veeru fought off Gabbar Singh and his minions. Located on the banks of the Averahalli Lake amidst the verdant forests of the SRS Hills, zip-lining, rappelling, kayaking and archery are some of the adventure activities that one can partake in here.

Mawphlang, Meghalaya

When you think of places to travel around Meghalaya, Shillong is the first destination that crosses your mind. Well, slightly off the radar of most tourists is the town of Mawphlang. Made for nature lovers, the gleaming green forests of the East Khasi Hills at Mawphlang are a marvel. The dense jungle named Law Kentang is home to medicinal trees that have survived for over ten centuries. Take a trek through the greens and unearth the ancient stories and mysteries regarding the region. 

Chopta, Uttrakhand 

Camping at Chopta with a backdrop of the beautiful hills

Another destination nestled among the Himalayan mountain range, the exotic sight of the Nanda Devi, Chaukhamba, and Trishul peaks all covered in snow is a sheer delight for any visitor. Secured within the heart of the Kedarnath Valley, one can visit here throughout the year. The temperatures in winter drop to nearly 2 degrees. While the brittle cold might seem to be a drawback the layers of snow makes it an experience like no other. 

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Forest Therapy—yes, that's a thing. The Japanese call it Shinrin-yoku, adventurers call it forest walk, and push it back two decades back and I used to call it a normal afternoon on a beautiful sunny day. What is forest bathing? You see a forest, do a short hike, feel one with nature and come back feeling fresh—that's the whole deal with these forest bathing. Now a luxury, forests are making a comeback in our lives and for all good reasons. Nowadays when we talk about forest, all we can think of is safari because why else would one visit a forest if not for lions, tigers and bears? Well, there are just about a ton of things that one can gain from a walk in the forest. Peace of mind, away from the humdrum of a city life, quiet time are just some of the things (out of many) that come to mind—and they all sound good. Here are four forest trails you should consider doing not because in the world of jeep and elephant safaris these are some of the jungles where one can safely walk around minus the fear of becoming a big cat's chow, but also for the natural beauty.


Satpura National Park, Madhya Pradesh
Walking is a possibility in the heart of Satpura National ParkIt is one of the very few protected forests in India where visitors are allowed to walk, given the fact that in most national parks visitors are not allowed on foot. That and the fact that Satpura National Park is still (thankfully) a park without the usual rush of tourists makes it a choice destination for those who are looking for a walk to remember. The beautiful forest, ravines running through, vast grasslands, they all make Satpura a perfect place for a good walk in the wild.

Zeilad, Manipur
Located in Tamenglong district, Zeilad is one of seven high-altitude lakes in the district. Tucked away inside a deep tropical forest, a visit to these lakes means a hike through the lush forest. The forest is quiet and rich in flora and avifauna. If you are a fan of birdwatching, then you need to visit this forest in Manipur. A walk through the forest will take you to villages situated in pretty meadows which do seem quite out of place. The interchange of scenery, from deep forest to meadows to lakes and a surprise waterfall here and there, all are a part of beautiful forest trek. Contacting Rainforest Club Tamenglong, a local NGO in Tamenglong district is the best way to get a guided forest tour.

Agumbe, Karnataka
A beautiful waterfall in Agumbe

Agumbe is a great destination for herping enthusiasts. In pic: a vine snake in Agumbe

The wilds of Agumbe is rich. Not only in terms of flora and fauna but also in scenic beauty. Agumbe is a southern tropical wet evergreen forest in Shimoga district in Karnataka and you guessed it right—there are waterfalls and brooks aplenty. Calling out especially to the herping enthusiasts, Agumbe is a paradise for all things slimy, crawling and nocturnal. A perfect destination for those who don't mind an evening or three with the slimy forest denizens. Check here for more information

Sacred Groves, Meghalaya
There are more than hundred sacred groves or forests in the entire state of Meghalaya. What makes these forest interesting is the fact that these forests are taken care of and protected by the local communities. Some do it for conservation and then there are some who believe that these forests are home to deities. Whatever it is, these forests are beautiful and one can't help but respect. One of the sacred forests that I visited in Cherapunjee came with a rule—what belongs to the forest, stays in the forest. What a beautiful rule! Many of these sacred groves are also home to several monoliths and stone structures that have been there for centuries and they are not to be disturbed. A quiet and beautiful walk through the forest will take you to quaint meadows, small waterfalls and pools of crystal clear water.

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People always ask me which animal gets the most attention in the Indian jungle. The answer is, of course, the tiger, towards whom all cameras turn and who is also the focal point of conservation efforts. With so much community and government attention on the tiger, although fully justified, we have ignored another stunning, enigmatic and skilled predator of the Indian wilds: the leopard. I would like to share my experiences—including a few peculiar ones—with leopards across the country. 

Not that leopards are not acknowledged, but the instances are few and far between. Today, this big cat is under threat. A leopard cannot change its spots but humans need to adjust their priorities and give this beautiful cat another chance to survive.

If you are a wildlife bug and happen to be in the southern part of India during the winters, then Karnataka’s Bandipur National Park is the place to be. Several years ago, on a vibrant morning with just a nip in the air, my family and I were proceeding towards a watchtower after alighting from our vehicle when we were stopped by an incredible sight, never replicated before or since. A gorgeous young leopard was walking down the zigzag stairs of the watchtower where it had clearly spent the night and marked his territory. It looked least bothered by our presence and gave us a proud look before passing a mere 15 feet from us and sneaking into the bushes. Of course, a tremor of fear ran down my spine, and I stood there in disbelief at what had happened. What if we had arrived a few minutes earlier and climbed the stairs and encountered the leopard in the tower? But unpredictability and impulsiveness are the hallmark of a leopard. You could encounter it in the unlikeliest of spots. Most of the time, I have seen it appear and disappear like a ghost, hardly giving me time to lift my camera and take a decent picture.

Indian leopard at Kanha Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh, India

The man-killing occurrences in Uttarakhand attributed to leopards are often true. While making a film about leopard attacks in the state, my team and I interviewed the then Chief Wildlife Warden, Shrikant Chandola. Without mincing any words, Chandola said that more humans in Uttarakhand were killed by leopards than by all the other wild animals put together. But should the leopard alone be blamed for the situation? The fact is that, in Uttarakhand, just like in several other states, people have encroached upon the leopard’s territory and taken away its prey base. The resulting man-leopard conflict should, therefore, not come as a surprise to anyone.

My own jungle sojourns have offered me many occasions to study the leopard from close quarters. Soon after the Bandipur incident, I was driving uphill from Kaladhungi to Nainital. It was already dark when I spotted a leopard crossing the road in the beam of the car’s headlights. I stopped instantly and turned off the lights. Bizarrely, instead of running away, the leopard started walking towards me and finally sat down near my car. This occurred on several occasions, so much so that it became my habit to drive on the Kaladhungi-Nainital road only after sunset in the expectation of an encounter with the friendly leopard. It was here that I learned about its amazing auditory powers. As I sat observing it, I found that it could hear the sound of an approaching vehicle several minutes and kilometres before I could. Just as the vehicle swung into view, the leopard would disappear, always returning to join me by my car.

There is another special leopard, dear to me for several reasons. She was an orphaned cub when I first met her, a hair’s distance away from the jaws of certain death. However, I took it upon myself to continuously visit her every week in the forest for over three years, to teach her the laws of the jungle. Today, she is comfortably settled in the wild, roaming free with her second generation of cubs in the jungles of India. While some would credit me for her rehabilitation, I learned so much from this creature that rather than feel like I had changed her life, I’m convinced it was she who changed my life forever.

Narrated by the late Tom Alter and playing on the Epic Channel every Friday at 10.30pm, Wilderness Days is a 26-episode show produced and directed by Navin Raheja which takes the audience across India to appreciate and understand Indian wildlife better.

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Once upon a time hunting trips were a big deal. The bigger the game, the better it looked hung on the wall or placed as a rug. Defeating a ferocious wild animal sealed one's spot on the greatness' ladder. Many species got extinct only because of human intervention; the majestic Bengal tiger or Panthera Tigris Tigris is one kind who is only too familiar with all these. Though now slowly reeling back from the brink of extinction, the charismatic and fierce Bengal tiger is still struggling to make a strong and permanent foothold in the wilds of India. Home to 70 percent of tigers in the world, India is indeed a tiger hotspot. Sounds great, right? Let the numbers not fool you, tigers live a fragile life. We need to be more mindful of that. India is also home to 50 Tiger Reserves governed by Project Tiger under National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA)--one of the main reasons why we still have tigers in our country against all odds.

The stripes that we all likeSpotting tiger in the wild is definitely something writing home about. No matter how many times one has seen a tiger in the wild, every time the experience is different and exciting. There's something in that stride and intense gaze that leaves a person completely in awe (and mercy). Reminding our readers again to be mindful of nature, forest and its denizens, here are some great places where you can spot these big beautiful cats. Travel and spot responsibly!

Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh
Spotty, the famous tigress of Tala Zone, Bandhavgarh National ParkOne of the most popular tiger reserves in India, Bandhavgarh National Park stands out when it comes to spotting the majestic Bengal tiger. The park's three zones--Tala, Magdhi and Khitauli--together has the highest density of tigers. The park is located in Umaria district, Madhya Pradesh. Of the three zones, Tala is the most popular one and is the park's main zone. A personal favourite, Tala's tigress Spotty (named after a T-shaped marking on her left eyebrow) is a visual treat. Spotty and her cubs are every visitor's favourite. The best time to visit the park for the tigers is from February to June; the park is closed from July 1 to October 15. Besides tiger, the park is great for birds. Birders, are you reading this?

Kanha Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh
Also the largest national park in Central India, Kanha Tiger Reserve (Kanha National Park) is where you should be if you love the big cats. If the jungle and its denizens are good enough for Rudyard Kipling to feel inspired to pen down the classic Jungle Book, it's good enough for everyone. The land of Mowgli, Sher Khan and Balloo is a must-visit, not just for the tigers but also for the beautiful sal forest and rich avifauna. The park has four zones in the core area, namely Kanha, Kisli, Sarhi and Mukki. The park is open to visitors from October 15 to June 30 every year.

Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan
A tiger in its natural habitat at Ranthambore National ParkThe park is located in Sawai Madhopur district in Rajasthan and was an erstwhile favourite hunting ground of the royals of Jaipur. Ranthambore National Park, spread over an area of 392sq km is one of the few national parks in India where it is easy to spot a tiger in its natural habitat. There are 10 Zones in total, out of which Zone 4 is the most popular one as this was Macchli's home, Ranthambore's most famous and beloved tigress.

Pench Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra
The park straddles two states--Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. Pench (Madhya Pradesh) also shares the same spot as Kanha in terms of being an inspiration to Rudyard Kipling for his classic. The park is a beautiful combination of dense sal forest, vast and undulating grasslands and waterbodies. Male tigers like Raiyakassa and BMW (because of his markings) and female tigers like Collorwali and Baghinala are star attractions here at Pench. December to April is the best time to visit Pench.

Jim Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand
A tigress and her cubsLocated in the Nainital district of Uttarakhand, we all know and have heard of Jim Corbett National Park, the oldest national park in India. The park is important when we talk about tigers because it was the first to start the Project Tiger initiative. Jim Corbett National Park was established in 1936 and was then known as Hailey National Park. The dense forest of Jim Corbett National Park is no doubt a good home for the tigers but is also a challenging one for those who want to see these cats in wild. Tiger spotting is slightly tough here because of the dense forest and tall grass that serves as excellent camouflage for these cats. The park stays open from October to June every year.

Sundarban Tiger Reserve, West Bengal
Located in West Bengal, the Sundarbans National Park is also a Tiger Reserve and a Biosphere Reserve. The densely covered mangrove forest is home to the Royal Bengal Tiger. The reserve's star attractions, the tigers, have managed to earn the title of 'man-eaters'. Well, don't encroach on their privacy! Leave them be and admire them from afar. Tigers are endangered and Sundarban Tiger Reserve is an important home but sharing this home with them are other endangered species like saltwater crocodile, olive ridley turtle, hawksbill turtle, horseshoe crab, Ganges river dolphin and river terrapin. The park is also a great birding destination. Best time to visit Sundarban Tiger Reserve is from December to February.

Dudhwa Tiger Reserve, Uttar Pradesh
Enchanting forest of Dudhwa National ParkThe best of Terai, Dudhwa Tiger Reserve is one of the finest looking forests in India. Thanks to its beautiful sal forest, tall grassland and water bodies, the forest is a delight. Add to that the majestic Bengal tigers. It was here that the famous hunter-turned-conservationist Billy Arjan Singh re-introduced hand-reared zoo-born tigers back into the wild. Apart from the tiger, other species to be on the look-out for are the hispid hare (once considered extinct but rediscovered in Dudhwa), the critically endangered swamp deer, Bengal Florican, to name a few. The best time to visit the park is from November to May.

Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve, Maharashtra
The reserve is located in the Chandrapur district in Maharashtra and is the state's oldest and largest wildlife park. The teak and bamboo forest forms a part of a landscape that comprises of marshlands and rugged cliffs. Tadoba is not only great for tigers, but also for panthers, sloth bears, wild dogs, to name a few. The best time to spot these wildlife beauties is from February to May.

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The cold winter air sweeping through most of North India has been sending out ominous signals for the tough season ahead. Although these days are ideal to snuggle under your comfy blanket or watching Game of Thrones while sipping on your cup of hot coffee, layering up and venturing outside should also be one of your options especially with all the upcoming festivals. 

With winter all set to go into overdrive in the next couple of months, the season of festivities will also go into full gear. From the Pushkar Camel Festival in Rajasthan to the Magh Bigu Festival in Assam to Lohri in Punjab and Pongal in South India, the time for celebrations is right around the corner. Enrich yourself with the diverse and extraordinary traditions of the country.

Pushkar Camel Festival

A sale of a camel herd takes place at the Pushkar Camel Fair in Rajasthan, India.

Held during the auspicious period of Kartik Poornima, the Pushkar Camel Festival is one of the largest camel festivals in the world. Traders from distant part of the Thar Desert partake in this extravaganza. The last day of the festival witnesses unending hordes of devotees who bathe in the Pushkar Lake, the sacred location is said to be where Lord Brahma dropped the lotus flower into the Earth. Gathering in the heart of the city, colorful tents, shop arraying bangles, turbans and ethnic wear enamor the glorious festival. Snake charmers, folk musicians, and traditional dances bring a sense of harmony and culture to the historical festival. Pushkar is set in the midst of quaint havelis, Rajputana forts and palaces, and temples dating back centuries.

Date: November 15 - 23, 2018

Rann Utsav

A series of stalls from the Rann Utsav

Taking place in the Rann of Kutch in Gujarat, the festival is spread over a span of three months. Celebrating Gujarati folk music and culture, the event takes place over 7,000 square miles of white sand. Set up near the small town of Dhordo, which is easily accessible from the Bhuj airport, 400 tents are raised for tourists to stay in. The live performances under the serene moonlight are a real treat to the eyes and ears.

Date: November 1, 2018 - February 20, 2019

Hornbill Festival

Tribesmen of Nagaland perform their traditional tribal dance at the annual Hornbill festival. The Hornbill is also known as the Festival of Festivals'.

Taking place in the most eastern state of India, Nagaland, the Hornbill festival witnesses the coming together of the cultures and traditions of 16 tribes of the region and more. A blend of music, handicrafts, dance forms and food, the festival aims to revive and sustain the diversity of the Naga culture and heritage. Hornbill, which is the bird that the festival is named after, plays a prominent part in most of the folklore of the tribes. 

Date: December 1 - 10, 2018

Lohri

From experiencing colors of Gujarat, take a trip to Punjab and feel the pomp of Lohri. A harvest festival in northern India, the extravaganza commemorates the passing of the winter solstice. Marking the end of the winter season, it is held one day before the festival of Makar Sankranti. Remembering the sun deity, Lohri is marked by a bonfire around which the entire family gathers to honor the spirit of unity and togetherness. 

Date: January 13, 2019

Makar Sankranti / Pongal / Magh Bihu

A dance performance from the Bihu festival in Assam

While it falls on January 14 every year, 2019 is an exception where the festival will fall one day later. Usually taking place one day after Lohri, it marks the first day of the sun's transit into the spring months. Events such as kite flying, feasts, bonfires, and vibrant performances make the day one to remember. It is also the first festival of the calendar year and therefore, carries utmost importance. Known by different names - Pongal in South India and Magh Bihu in Assam - the day carries unparalleled significance across all of the country. Pongal and Bihu can usually last upto several days. In Gujarat, the auspicious occasion sees innumerable amount of kites take to the sky and compete in an unbelievable kite competition. 

Date: January 15, 2019

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Growing up in a Kashmiri household while not living in Kashmir only gave me a glimpse of the rich variety of dishes my parents relished while living in Srinagar. Whether it was my mom’s Rajma curry or my Dad’s chicken biryani, there was always a tinge of that Kashmiri flavor in whatever they cooked. This mystic cuisine is steeped in deep aromas and taste where the delicacies range from the curd-based curry of Yakhni to the delicious and sweet Phirni.

Also known as ‘Wazwan’, the cuisine has been influenced by cuisines of various cultures like Persian, Afghani, Central Asian and Middle Eastern. You can identify a Kashimiri dish by the liberal use of spices like cardamom, dry ginger, heeng (asafetida), cloves and saffron and chilies. An authentic Kashmiri wazwan experience can only be achieved of course in Kashmir, but for those who have never travelled up north, you can sample these delicacies at plenty of restaurants specializing in the cuisine all over India.

Khyen Chyen, Gurgaon

It's all about solid flavours and food at Khyen Chyen

If you’re really willing to take your taste buds straight to paradise with authentic Kashmiri food, head to Khyen Chyen (Khaana Peena) to enjoy dishes made with traditional cooking techniques native to Kashmiri food. Wazwan is served in a large copper plate each serving a group of four, representing Kashmiri hospitality. Try some Tabakhmaaz- barbecued lamb ribs prepared in ghee and a generous helping of Gushtaba- big meatball made with yogurt. The Waza Kokur and Badam Korma are must-haves at this paradise of Kashmiri delights. Everything from the presentation to even the cutlery gives you a touch of Kashmir.

Samavar, New Delhi

Kashmiri-style Dum Aloo

When it comes to Kashmiri food, this fine dining restaurant in South Delhi doesn’t disappoint; whether it is the light snack that is Nadurchurma- cut up lotus stem coated with seasoned rice flour batter and deep-fried, the famous Dum Aloo with its signature spicy red gravy or Haak Paneer- a leaf-green dish with a hint of heeng and little gravy. Along with the well-decorated restaurant, they also have two tiny shops which sell fresh baked goods. This wonderland of Kashmiri food has comfortable seating and is home to many home-sick Kashmiris who come together to reminiscence about their memories in this home away from home.

The Northern Frontier, Pune

A dish of spicy Rogan Josh

This restaurant located in Yerwada is known for its multiple options of yummy food and a range of delectable dishes like Rista and Murgh Rogan Josh with its fiery red colour and equally spicy gravy and happens to be a favourite among visitors. Besides the mouth-watering food, The Northern Frontier also offers a fine and elegant ambiance with a beautifully arranged seating area. This is the best place to enjoy sumptuous delicacies with family and friends. For those that prefer ordering food instead, they deliver in 30 mins (Dominos, who?) and also carry a travelling card swipe machine, something not very common in a city like Pune.

KongPoush, Mumbai

A thaali of Tabak Maaz and Buzith Kokur Kanti

Bored of butter chicken and naan? Consider going to KongPoush, one of the city’s most popular Kashmiri restaurants that will beat your home food cravings. The yummy Maaz Yakhni and Nadur Palak will have your mouth watering in no time. If the way to one’s heart is through food, then Wazwan is a one-way street to paradise. Dig into some crispy Tabakmaaz and Methi Maaj Kahwa for some added flavor to your usual food routine. The one-of-its-kind flavor will have you coming back again and again. KongPoush certainly knows how to get it right.

Bidri, Hyderabad

The abode of the Nizams is not one to be left behind when it comes to Persian inspired cuisine. This restaurant showcases its authentic Kashmiri cuisine with spicy indulgence and rich flavors of the North. Leave your forks and spoons behind at this traditional yet fine-dining restaurant which encourages its diners to eat with bare hands. This plush restaurant offers Kashmiri cuisine along with Hyderabadi and Lucknowi delights. Order the Asaf Jahi Murgh Tikka and the Beetroot Halwa—you won’t be disappointed. Dining here will appeal to all your senses as the sweet melody of Hindustani classical music tunes belted out by tabla and santoor players welcome you.

Wherever you eat, don’t forget to end your meal with the soothing taste of traditional Kashmiri tea Kehva which is laced with lemon, cardamom and sprinklings of almond!

 

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