Summer destinations in India

This is the time of year to pack your bags for a vacation. Welcome to destinations that help you unwind this summer!

This is the time of year to pack your bags and say goodbye to the rut of a stifling routine. And, if the heat is getting unbearable, you need a change of scene.

The beauty of Lakshadweep

Lakshadweep islandThe coral islands of India, Lakshadweep is a series of quiet lagoons off the coast of Kerala. 36 islands are scattered like pearls across the turbulent waters of the Indian Ocean. The landscape is dotted with swaying palm trees and the lazy lapping of waves over the glittering expanse of sand. With its stunning rainbow-coloured coral reefs and clean coastline rife for exploration and deep sea diving, Lakshadweep is a beautiful summer paradise. Many tourists island-hop by taking a 5-6 day cruise. Each island has its own specialty. Kavaratti, the capital of Lakshadweep, is the most developed island with the Dolphin Dive Centre, an excellent facility for water sports, where trusty sailboats and nimble kayaks are all available for hire. There is even a traditional floating restaurant situated atop a quaint boat.

Bangaram, a resort island, with many spas is a great place to unwind. Bangaram is a scuba diver's dream- come-true; it also houses a vast colourful underwater world that you can explore. Another highlight: rare oceanic birds abound on all Lakshadweep islands.

One can reach Lakshadweep by air and ship from Kochi. Indian Airlines operates flight from Kochi every day except Sunday. Lakshadweep Administration operates ships from Kochi - all standard voyages.

Chandigarh calling

Nestled between two rivulets, Patiali Ki Rao and Sukhna Choe, and the Shivalik Hills in the North, Chandigarh is, perhaps, India's cleanest city. The air is fresh and cool; this makes it a perfect summer retreat. The city is divided broadly into structured blocks called Sectors, all in neat and precise numerical order, making it easy for the traveller to navigate. For excitement and activity, head to the City Centre, popularly called Sector 17. This is the main shopping and commercial belt. Every Saturday night is marked by the Plaza Carnival, a three hour-long programme where local talent gains expression through music, dance and plays. Don't miss the Museum of Evolution of Life, situated in Sector 10. The Rose Garden in Sector 16, heralded as the largest in India, spreads over an area of 27 acres. It has a remarkable 1,600 varieties of roses and more than 17,000 flowering plants, including a Garden of Fragrance in Sector 36, not to speak of the Hibiscus Garden with its 40+ varieties of plants.

The Sukhna Lake is perfect for nature lovers and picnickers. The Rock Garden in Sector 1 is the first-of-its-kind in the world, since it utilises urban waste materials and converts them to displays of beauty. The International Doll Museum in Sector 23, with over 300 dolls from different countries is also a must-see.

Chandigarh Airport is just 11 km away from the City Centre. Indian Airlines connects the city with other major cities like Mumbai, New Delhi, Jammu, and Amritsar. The city boasts of an excellent road-network. It is also conveniently located within motor-able distance from a number of major cities of North India. National Highways 21 and 22 run through the city. Near-perfect road conditions and breathtaking views on either side of the road offers a pleasant drive.

The rail network also serves the city conveniently. Chandigarh Railway Station is about 8 km from the City Centre. Trains like the Shatabdi Express and the Himalayan Queen service the city.

Desert Dreams: Udaipur

UdaipurThis is a city of white-washed buildings, marble palaces, havelis, sparkling lakes, frothing fountains, and lovely gardens. It was once an important part of the ancient Mewari Kingdom. Udaipur proves to be a refreshing oasis in the arid void of the Rajasthan desert. It is built with Lake Pichhola at its heart. The other famous water spot in Udaipur is the Lake Fateh Sagar. The countryside is watered by other smaller streams and brooks as well. Be sure to pay a visit to the Maharadja Palace that towers over Lake Pichhola with a beautiful blend of luxuriant rooms, passages, pavilions, courtyards, minutely-chiselled columns, a labyrinth of pillars and terraces. Another lovely summer retreat in Udaipur is the Lake Palace, renowned the world over for its classic luxury and stunning beauty. It is a symbol of Udaipur and stands for the golden epoch of royalty and power. Built by Maharana Jagat Singh II in 1754. It has now been converted into a luxury hotel that spans the entire length of the tiny Jag Niwas Isle. Perfect for honeymooners or those in search of opulence that is rare these days, Udaipur is also famous for its Gulab Bagh or Rose Garden with a colourful fountain bearing a statue of a woman holding a torch, surrounded by sculpted ducks and wild flowers. There is also a zoo, guaranteed to delight children and adults alike with many species of wild birds, tigers, chinkaras and leopards. If you are a history buff, stop by the library, which is home to ancient handwritten manuscripts and valuable first edition books.

Udaipur City is 260 km from Ahmedabad, 745 km from Mumbai, 406 km from Jaipur, 665 km from New Delhi. Indian Airlines and Jet Airways flights operate in the Udaipur-Delhi, Udaipur-Mumbai sector. Rail: Udaipur is connected by direct trains from New Delhi and Ahmedabad.

The Valley of Rainbows: Kodaikanal

KodaikanalSituated in the mountainous region of Palani Hills in Tamil Nadu, Kodaikanal has always been the ultimate Mecca for honeymooners and nature lovers. The blast of cold air that caresses your face is a welcome change from the stifling heat of the plains. With numerous hairpin bends and gorgeous forest cover, picnic areas and azure skies, Kodaikanal remains a trekker's favourite. The annual flower show is a much-awaited event in the hill station during summer. Held in Bryant Park, it is also an opportunity to learn more about the revolutionary methods of pruning, grafting, potting and seed collection. The naturalist will be fascinated by the unique purple flowering plant, the kurinji which blooms every twelve years, carpeting the valley in a velvety violet. The Kukkal caves make another interesting expedition. These caves are actually overhanging slabs of rock, at an altitude of 1,500 m and historically significant because they reveal traces of a long-lost civilisation - the early mountain settlers or Puliyans who had made the Kukkal caves their home for centuries. Pillar rocks, a barren cliff made of massive pillars and the Silver Cascade, a tiny silver waterfall make a beautiful backdrop for a nature jaunt, picnic or that perfect family picture!

The nearest airport is Madurai, which is 120 km from Kodaikanal. The nearest railway stations are Palani, which is 80 km from Kodaikanal and Kodai Road Station, 64 km away from Kodai.

Kodaikanal is connected by road with Chennai [520 km], Ooty [264 km], Trichy [197 km], Coimbatore [175 km], Kumili [Thekkady; 160 km], and Madurai [120 km] There are regular bus services from Madurai, Palani, Kodaikanal Road, Theni, Dindigul, Tiruchirapalli, Kumuli and Coimbatore.

Coorg: Coffee and more

CoorgLiterally translated, Coorg means "dense forest on a steep hill." Also known as Kodagu, this is the sacred cradle of the river Kaveri. Coorg is also home to some of South India's most luscious spices and divine views. Here, you will find bright, clear skies tinged in deepest indigo blue, grassy slopes, thick flowering shrubs and bushes with bursts of brilliantly coloured petals. The days stretch ahead filled with long walks, picnics by sparkling waterfalls and blissful cups of the local speciality - a strong cup of mouth-watering coffee and tangy sweet orange juice. Karnataka continues to be India's largest producer of coffee and the estates of Coorg account for half the state's production. Oranges, cardamom and black pepper are the other rich bounties of this fertile territory. Among the interesting places to explore are the Raja's Seat or Sunset Point, a park overlooking the peaks and valleys where kings apparently sat to admire the gorgeous view, Nagarhole National Park where one can spot peacock, barking deer, bison, rabbits and elephants, and the Abbey Falls, which is an ideal picnic spot. You'll also be able to appreciate the first flush of spring and the bloom and beauty of summer at their best in Coorg.

The nearest airport from Coorg is Mangalore [135 km]. Cities like Mysore [120 km], Hassan [115 km], Mangalore [136 km] and Bangalore [256 km] are linked by road with Coorg. Mysore is the most convenient [road] link from Coorg. The historical city is only less than 2 1/2-hour drive from Coorg and is also connected to the rest of India with extensive rail network.

Visakhapatnam: Coramandel calm

Often called the city of destiny, Vizag in Andhra Pradesh is a refreshingly lovely coastal town, full of awesome beaches and coastal bays that will give Goa a run for its money. A local favourite is Ramakrishna Beach, a 30-km coastal strip between Vizag and Bhimili. Lawson's Beach and Rushikonda are also worth a visit. Don't miss the Submarine Museum which is the only one of its kind in all of Asia! A submarine called the INS Kusura, now docked on the sands, was first assembled in Russia. It arrived in India in 1970, and served in Indian Navy for over three decades. The Nudasarlova Water Park with its rows of flowerbeds, tinkling fountains and colourful birds and golf course is an ideal retreat. The ancient Borra caves, nearly a million years old [90 km from Vizag] offer a scenic train ride and a charming hill park called Kailasagiri houses larger-than-life idols of Shiva and Parvathi [at a height of 40 m]. The scenic beauty of Araku Valley and Indira Gandhi Zoological Park are other chief attractions.

Visakhapatnam is 650 km from Hyderabad and 350 km from Vijayawada. Regular bus services are available from Hyderabad, Vijayawada, Bhubaneswar, Chennai and Tirupati. Vizag is a major junction on the commercially important Chennai-Kolkata rail line. As such the city is well-connected by rail and also by air with New Delhi and Kolkata.

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Kamala Thiagarajan
Kamala Thiagarajan is a Madurai-based journalist. Her writing interests encompass a host of genres including travel, health, entertainment and lifestyle. She is a full-time freelance journalist who works from her home in Madurai, South India. With ten years of experience in journalism, she has over four hundred articles in print in leading magazines across the globe. Her writing spans a variety of travel, health, entertainment and lifestyle features read by a diverse audience in over seven count

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