INDIA ISLAND GETAWAYS
ISLES OF BLISS,RAINWATCHIN-THE GREAT INDIAN ROPE TRICK,WAYFARER-UPHILL JOURNEY,Chalsa in the Dooars, Darjeeling and Gangtok
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Isles of bliss
India’s island getaways are just right for rainwatchin’, says Suktara Ghosh
How would you like a holiday with a difference? It’s everyone’s dream to hang out on a tropical island (think about painter Paul Gauguin in nature is the sole show stealer and the palm trees wave about gently against blue, blue skies. Where you can watch the sun sinks into the waters on a distant horizon. Let’s change that picture
a bit. How would you like to hang out on a tropical island during the monsoons? And instead of heading to islands like Langkawi or Mauritius, travel to India’s own small island getaways. Remember that India is a huge and varied subcontinent and you can travel east and spend time on the Andaman & Nicobar Islands or head west to Lakshadweep. These islands may not be as tourist—oriented as the Caribbean islands or Indian Ocean getaways like Mauritius but they have an unspoilt charm of their own that is unquestionable—especially during the monsoons.
Andaman & Nicobar Islands The Andaman & Nicobar Islands have been described as a “broken pearl chain in the Bay of Bengal”. The islands are still surprisingly undeveloped from a tourist point of
view. In fact, there are still only a handful of resorts stretched
across the islands—that’s partly because Port Blair, the capital is about 1,200km from Calcutta and it’s expensive to get there. Make sure
you visit Cinque Island, one of the best diving destinations in the world with water visibility up to 80ft. And if the underwater coral garden is not enticement enough, the superbly colorful and diverse marine life is sure to take your breath away. Havelock Island,Neil Island and Long Island also have spectacular beaches. And if you prefer your holidays with a dose of adrenaline, the Andaman Water Sports Complex in Port Blair offers the excitements of waterskiing, snorkeling, parasailing and glass-bottom boats, to name just a few.
HOT TICKET! Chill out in the luxurious Welcomgroup Fortune
Resort BayIsland (on PortBlairIsland), built from the native red “paddock” timber by the celebrated architect Charles Correa. A double occupancy Continental Plan room will cost Rs.4,310
(including breakfast), while an American Plan will cost Rs.5,810 (including all meals). The APAI (American Plan, All Inclusive) at Rs.4,777 for a 2-night stay includes accommodation, meals, airport transfers, a half-day city tour ending with a sound and light show, and a half-day Ross Island tour (landing fees extra) for two people. Taxes are inclusive.
LakshadweepThe Lakshadweep Islands off the Malabar Coast are famous for being the only coral reef island in India. Once again it’s not easy to get here—you can fly 398km from Kochi to Agatti, the only airport. Or, you can make an 18 to 20 hour journey by ship.
The most well-known holiday resort is on Bangaram Island, about
90 minutes from Agatti airport by boat (transference by helicopter during monsoons), and a haven for lovers of adventure water sports. Indian Airlines and Kingfisher have flights fromKochi to Agatti.
HOT TICKET! Bangaram Island Resort offers a summer package
on a twin-sharing basis. Valid till September, a 7 night stay will cost Rs.27,660, Rs.20,900 for five nights, and Rs.13,250 for 3 nights, including all meals and taxes. Transferring charges extra. Snorkeling, kayaking and turtle watching are some of the attractions—if weather permits.Poovar Island Indians are just discovering how small islands can be turned into tourist getaways. Take PoovarIsland which is barely 30 minutes from Thiruvananthapuram and a 15 minutes boat ride from Poovar Jetty. This tiny island now has the 25-acre Poovar Island Resort with a mix of floating cottages and others on dry land. Be warned: there are no water sports here. But it’s the ultimate get away from it all destination—especially when there are thunderous grey monsoon clouds above.
HOT TICKET! The Poovar Island Resort offers double occupancy Premium and Floating Cottages at about Rs.10,149. Land cottages cost Rs.6,767. The package includes arrival and departure by boat
to and from Poovar jetty, welcome drink on arrival and all meals
(buffet) served in the restaurant. The package is valid till September and excludes taxes.The Portuguese and numerous other dynasties that have ruled Diu have all left their mark. The fort, skirted by the
sea on three sides is majestic with its giant light house and grand cannons.NagaoBeach, shaped like a horseshoe, is famous for its water sports. And if relaxing away from the crowds amidst
casuarinas plantations is more to your taste, opt to hang out
on the Jampore beach.
HOT TICKET! At Hotel Kohinoor, a double occupancy Classic Deluxe room costs Rs.1,950, while a Royal Executive comes for Rs.2,450. A suite is slightly more expensive at Rs.3,450. There is
also a special package for a 2 night Classic Deluxe stay costing Rs.5,400, while for a Royal Executive; you have to shell out
The great Indian rope trick
WAYFARER: Rappelling at Ratan Durg Fort led to some
classic cliffhanger moments for Rachel Pillai
Rattan Durg Fort sits on top of a 300-ft cliff, around thirty stories high. One side is vertical, dropping straight down into the ocean; if you lie on the edge, looking down; you’ll see waves washing over flat, sun-shattered rocks below.
Look around, and the rocky shore stretches around the curve of the peninsula, past miles and miles of seascape, fishing boats, birds, a lighthouse, clear sky and blue water — a beautiful background to the black rocks, white waves and red fort walls.
It’s a lovely sight… if you weren’t terrified rigid the minute you look down at the rappelling path. In a few minutes, you’ll be stepping over that edge and going way down, your entire past, present and future held in a length of rope slimmer than your little finger.
Starting: You know what the worst part of rappelling is? It’s watching other people go down. It ties your stomach in knots,
makes you dizzy, nauseous, tensed and drains your camera battery too, because everyone wants you take that classic going-down photo.
The day gets hotter, the horizon shimmers. A huge cloud of swifts flutters around, and faraway, we see a pair of beautiful bramhani kites circle… and I get extra intestinal intertwining
because I’m watching them all from above.
Close shaves: JD clears the path with a machete, after an abortive start when he goes over and realizes he’s forgotten to wear the descended—the single most important piece of equipment in rappelling other than the rope—and is hanging only by his hands. Luckily, he’s able to haul himself back.
Steve starts off, under the influence of too many people shouting instructions; he locks his feet on the edge, and his body’s weight pulls him backwards, until suddenly, he’s suspended over open space almost upside-down.
Raw fear slowly drains away from his face, and he goes from scared to panicked to terrorized and out on the other side, in a death-calm; he told us later that he went because the worst that could happen, had happened.
I tie the handycam to my forearm and get ready; there’ll be some interesting videos from this trip. D’s screwed a digicam in
video mode to his helmet; between the two of us, we’ll get a feel of the actual rappel, in first-person perspective. Warning! Do not try this without expert guidance, because you’ll end up smashing it, or your head, if you aren’t careful.
Tricks of the trade: The toughest bit is negotiating the first step, gradually letting your body go semi—horizontal. It’s toughest because you fight all your instincts that scream blue murder to get back on flat solid ground. Three million years of evolution have taught that safety lies on rock, not nylon, when the ground lays
thirty stories below with thin air in-between.
My past rappelling experience also doesn’t give much confidence, because this feels different; I don’t realize why, until later. Normal rappelling lets you easily pass the rope through the descended, but here, I was struggling to feed the rope through the loop. It was because 300ft of rope has several kilos of solid weight, minimum even without wind drag; I had to fight to lift it every inch upwards.
Once over the edge though, it’s smooth sailing… Except for, suddenly and unexpectedly, thorns, on bushes. And loose rocks. Crumbling scree. Falling pebbles. Long, poky dry grass.
Adrenaline heightens sensation; everything came with its own
So how do you feel?: What’s it like, rappelling, overcoming your instincts and fears? It’s hard to describe. There’s certainly some
fear, your heart goes at double-speed, and your hands clench at
the rope in a death grip. But there’s also a sense of immense pride that in
spite of feeling like this, in spite of the butterflies, you didn’t back down.
There’s a sense of having joined some kind of elite club, an achievement in doing something you never thought you could do; and in some way, it’s made you better than you were. Braver, stronger. After this, a lot of things will cease to frighten; you’ll remember the feeling you had at the top, and you’ll know that if you overcame that, you can overcome anything.
The rope hisses onwards, and my nostrils catch a faint tang
of heated metal and friction-burnt mitten. There’s such high tension
that if I let go my controller hand (the one that holds and controls
rope speed), and slide free, the rope’s friction alone can melt the quarter-inch-thick steel descended.
I also realize that I’m beginning to bounce gently. After two hundred feet, the elasticity in the nylon is becoming apparent, and it’s stretching along its length. It’s unnerving, to say the least; the rope, like a living thing, seems to be trying to halfheartedly shake you off. I keep going, and finally, I’m in the blessed shade after five hours in the blazing sun, with the ground just ten feet below and coming up to meet me.
Cooking lessons: I gasp in the shade for a while, before we begin
the long walk back. The sun’s out with a vengeance now, and the landscape is pitiless; no shade. I was fried before I came down.
Now I get baked, broiled, roasted… and by the time the car returns
to pick us up, I’ve gone into the dark side of barbecue char.
We have to stop at the coolest hangout in Ratnagiri, the local ice factory. We load up a giant, break it up in buckets and stick in
bottled water; a few minutes later, we savour the best drink ever. Chilled
H2O, after a long, long, sunny, thirsty wait.
If you can’t take the heat anymore, then just take a week off from work and head for the hills.Sinclair Hotels is offering a 6-night and 7-day Sinclair’s North East package that will take you to Chalsa in the Dooars,Darjeeling and Gangtok. Priced at Rs.36,560 for two adults, the offer is valid till 30th September, 2008. The costs will take care of transfers, accommodation, breakfast, dinner and lots of sightseeing. You get to stay the first two days at Sinclairs Retreat Dooars, Chalsa, with a sightseeing trip to Gorumara forest or Samsing thrown in on the second day (subject to availability). The third and fourth days
will be spent in Sinclairs Darjeeling with a spot of sightseeing in Darjeeling on the fourth day. Day five and six of the package are to
be spent in Gangkok. On day six, you get to do a trip to Changu
Lake, about 35km from Gangtok. If you’re in luck you might see the Red Panda, Brahminy ducks and more. On day seven you head back for New Jalpaiguri railway station or Bagdogra airport. Entry charges, camera fee are not included in the package cost. For bookings, contact 22801317/18/19/20 or email kolkata @ sinclairshotels.com.
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