Don’t want to deal with hostile immigration officers in foreign countries? Take a break in your own instead!
Late last year, we had planned to visit America, home to our extended family, with New York as the first stop. But that was before Donald Trump’s infamous ‘travel ban’ and the news that immigration officers in the US now had the right to scroll through your phone and laptop before letting you into the country. (And if they asked you for the passwords to your social media accounts to check that you were not an undesirable alien, you were supposed to hand them over or risk being flown right back to your point of origin.)
Not my idea of fun. And I suspect, not your idea of fun either. After all, who in their right minds would want to vacation in a country in which even valid visa-holders are treated as potential criminals/terrorists who must prove their innocence before being let in?
But while America presents its own peculiar challenges, the rest of the world isn’t a much better bet at this moment. Turkey (another destination we had been toying with) seems a bit dicey after a spate of terrorist attacks. Paris has seen terror wreak havoc on its streets. And we keep being told that London is next on the jihadi hit list.
So, if you are a scaredy-cat like me, and don’t fancy the idea of taking your life into your hands every time you venture out on holiday, then here’s a plan for you. This year, stick to vacationing in India. There’s so much to see and do in this vast sub-continent of ours that you won’t miss going abroad at all. And what you save on airfare, you can spend on experiences.
If the idea appeals to you, then here’s a handy (though far from comprehensive) list of all the things that you can do and the places you can visit without ever leaving our borders.
* Go temple-hopping:
No, I don’t mean a pilgrimage necessarily, though I always find a trip to, say, Vaishnoo Devi or Tirupati, very invigorating. You can always do the religious thing, if that floats your boat. But even if you are a non-believer, a trip to such destinations as Khajuraho, Varanasi, the sun temple at Konark, the ancient Martand temple in Kashmir, is an amazing experience in and of itself. The sculptures, the magnificent architecture, the patina of the ages, all of it makes for stunning visual beauty and a sense of how far back our civilization extends.
Such ancient cities as Mahabalipurum in Tamil Nadu with its rock reliefs that date back to the 7th century and Hampi in Karnataka which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site are well worth a visit. And if you are up to climbing around 700 steps, then head up the hill at Shravanabelagola to get a close look at the Gommattesvara Bahubali statue, which dates back to the 10th century, the biggest sculpture ever to be hewn from a single piece of rock.
* Be a beach bum:
Speaking for myself, I find Goa to be a crashing bore, with overcrowded beaches and murky water. If you want a beach holiday in India, the best place to go is the Andaman Islands, where the white sand beaches are pristine and bordered with the clearest blue water. Head out there before the hordes discover it.
* Hit the mountain trails:
No matter which part of India you live in, a hill station is never too far away. From Calcutta, it is easy to access Sikkim and Bhutan. If you are in Delhi, then the ski slopes of Gulmarg are a short plane ride away, as are the picturesque peaks of Uttarakhand. In the South, you can head to Ooty, Munnar, Kodaikanal or Coorg. And those who live in the West of India, can visit Mount Abu, which has an added attraction in the shape of the Jain Dilwara temples built between the 11th and 13th centuries.
* Go healthy and holistic:
If you are feeling a bit rundown and in need of some rejuvenation, take a spa break. In India, you are spoilt for choice when it comes to this category. You can go all fancy and spend a fortune at such upmarket resorts as Ananda in the Himalayas. Or you could go in for a more earthy and intense experience at such Kerala spas as Kairali, which bills itself as an Ayurvedic healing village and offers treatment for such diverse conditions as arthritis, bronchitis and hypertension. Or you can simply drive to a ‘spa resort’ near your city for a weekend break, involving lots of massages and heaps of indolence.
* Answer the call of the wild:
When it comes to wildlife, India has a virtual embarrassment of riches. Want to catch a glimpse of a tiger in the wild? You can visit Ranthambore in Rajasthan, Bandhavgarh and Kanha in Madhya Pradesh. If you live down south, then the Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu and Periyar National Park in Kerala are good options. Kaziranga National Park in Assam also has enough tigers to qualify as a tiger reserve even though its main claim to fame is as a rhinoceros sanctuary – it houses two-thirds of the world’s great one-horned rhinoceros (along with a large population of elephants) and is classed as World Heritage Site. If bird-watching is your thing, then you can’t go wrong with the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, now restyled as the Keoladeo National Park.
So, put away that passport for now. And go the Swadeshi way when it comes to travel. I promise you won’t regret it.