VACATION S. VENKATRAMAN lists his favourite five offbeat places for a quick, budget holiday

Mention summer and the first thoughts that come to mind are heat, mangoes, lemonades, and hill stations. Though places like Shimla, Ooty, Koidaikanal, Nainital will always appear in the itinerary of most tourists, let’s escape to some uncharted getaways this summer.


This small hamlet in the Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand offers beguiling views of the mighty snow-capped Himalayan peaks like Trishul and Panchchuli early in the morning, giving your day the best start possible on a vacation. The cave temple of Patal Bhuvneshwar (38 km) has beautiful mythology and splendid formations of stalactites and stalagmites. Berinag (10 km) is famous for its first-rate tea gardens.

The Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (KMVN) cottages here have some of the best rooms with a view.

Getting there:

Nearest railhead: Kathgodam, 200 km

By road from Delhi: 500 km

Stay at:

KMVN is your best bet, with comfortable rooms and great food. Rs. 1,500-2,100.


Sarahan, summer capital of the erstwhile rulers of Bushahr and gateway to Kinnaur, is home to the 800-year-old Bhimkali temple. With atypical architecture that’s a blend of Hindu and Buddhist flavours, the temple’s pagoda-styled roofs and intricate wooden carvings are a treat for the connoisseur's eye. Located about 180 kilometres from Shimla, you reach it via winding roads laden with apple trees, deodars and pines on either side. The temple is surrounded by hills and you can spot the Srikhand Mahadev peak on a clear day. There is a pheasant breeding centre near the temple. As pilgrimage spot, trekking base camp or just a place to away from it all, Sarahan is an amazing experience.

Getting there:

Nearest railhead: Shimla, 200 km

By road from Delhi: 560 km

Stay at:

The Bhimkali temple guesthouse is economical and clean, with a canteen. Rs. 300-500.


This beautiful little hill station has not succumbed to crowds that plague its more famous neighbour Ooty. Tucked away in the Nilgiris, Kotagiri is great as trekking base camp or just hideaway. Don’t miss the double-cascaded Catherine Waterfall (8km) or John Sullivan’s Bungalow; (Sullivan founded Ooty). Kotagiri is also home to Longwood Shola, a beautiful patch of primeval forest where, if you are lucky, you could catch a glimpse of the giant Malabar squirrel.

Getting there:

Nearest railhead: Mettupalayam, 30 km

By road from Chennai: 530 km

Stay at:

Patience Villa has 3 very basic but clean and green cottages. Rs. 1,500.


Located around 120 km from Vishakapatnam, and reached via serpentine roads that curl through beautiful coffee plantations and the Anantagiri Reserved Forest is Araku Valley. AP Tousim offers a one- or two-day rail-cum-road tour that lets tourists enjoy both the road and train routes. The train winds through 50-odd tunnels and even more bridges. En route, it touches Shimliguda, the second highest broad-gauge railway station in the country after Qazigund in J&K. If you’re lucky, a mild shower can transform the entire valley into a haven of tranquillity during the blistering summer. Don’t miss the Tribal Museum, where you can see the Dhimsa dance performed by tribal women. The tour also covers the 1000-year-old Borra Caves, which according to legend were discovered when a cowherd fell through a hole and discovered a cave and a shiva lingam inside.

Getting there:

Nearest railhead: Vishakapatnam, 115 km

From here, both the road and train trips are superb.

Stay at:

APTDC’s Haritha Mayuri has a good location, basic rooms, okay food. Rs 1,200-2,750.


Aptly called Meadow of Gold, this gem of a place has historical, strategic and religious significance. What was once an important marker along the Ancient Silk Route is now a gateway to Ladakh from Kashmir along NH 1D. It lies just 10 km away from Zoji-la, a pass of strategic significance to the Army. Baltal, a base camp for Amarnath, is 15 km to the north. Easily accessible from Kashmir by road with the clear Sindh flowing alongside and the Harmukh range on the horizon, Sonemarg has a charm that not many hill stations can boast of. Pine and Silver Birch are in abundance, and wild ponies graze in the meadows. Sonemarg is also a perfect trekking base camp.

Getting there:

Nearest railhead: Jammu, 260 km to Srinagar and 75 km to Sonemarg

The spectacular drive from Srinagar is itself the journey.

Stay at:

JKTDC cottages have the best locations and views, basic rooms. Rs. 900-1,300.