There’s absolutely no excuse for you to not head out of town on a weekend
Keoladeo Ghana National Park
Once a duck shooting reserve for the Maharaja of Bharatpur, the park is today one of the richest bird sanctuaries on earth, and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s open all year, and cars are only allowed up to a certain point. You can choose to walk, cycle or take a rickshaw beyond that. Ask your hotel to pack some lunch so you can picnic among eagles, storks, partridges, quails, sandpipers and, of course, ducks.
Set on the banks of the Naini lake, this picturesque hill station is perfect for a long weekend. The major draws here are the Naina Devi Temple, the St John in the Wilderness church, the Gothic Government House, and the zoo, which houses a snow leopard and a Siberian tiger, among other animals. Nainital gets snow between December and February and although temperatures drop, it’s a good place to escape to and live out a white Christmas.
Jim Corbett National Park
The Jim Corbett National Park offers an opportunity for you and your family to catch up on Corbett’s stories. The oldest national park in India, it is home to the endangered Royal Bengal tiger. The park has lush, dense forests that hold within them open grasslands, perfect for spotting elephants, jackals, deer and rare owls. Visitors usually travel in jeeps, but you can also opt for treks with guides, or choose an elephant safari.
If you want some peace and quiet, try a weekend at Kalsi. A vast green valley at the confluence of the Yamuna and its tributary Tons, it’s also steeped in history: Emperor Ashoka’s kingdom is said to have stretched till here. The town retains some of its old-world charm, and life here is far removed from the chaos of cities or even the nearby hill-stations. Tourists usually make a day trip from Dehradun, but it’s not a bad idea to stay overnight.
A camel fair is rare fare indeed. In Pushkar, Rajasthan, this annual event (November) draws a large number of tribes, villages and tourists. Watch the fair grounds explode into a riot of colours. Other treats include some excellent local food, albeit vegetarian, and evenings filled with folk music. Pushkar has several temples, and a fabulous bazaar to get lost in, but for a different experience, sail over the town in a hot-air balloon.
Alwar – Kesroli
What’s not to love about a fort that’s been turned into a hotel with spas, pools, and rooms that date back to the 14th century. The hill fort at Kesroli has been converted by the Neemrana Hotels into one of their most popular properties. The fort towers nearly 200ft over Neemrana village, and is close to the Sariska National Park, home to several tigers. The park also holds ruins of 10th- and 11th-century temples and a 17th-century palace.
Haridwar is usually associated with spiritual journeys, and a round of the temples is a must. But hotels at Haridwar offer more than just spiritual respite. You can try racing in 4X4s on dry river beds, or opt for jeep safaris at the nearby Rajaji National Park. Of course, Haridwar’s biggest draw is the mighty Ganga. Evening aartis on its riverbanks are truly a special sight, and its tremendous rapids allow superb rafting experiences.
Perfect for a day trip or picnic, the Damdama Lake is one of the largest natural lakes in Haryana. You can take a boat out–try rowboats, canoes or motorboats, or even kayaks. The surrounding Aravalli hills are good for rock climbing, providing a natural progression for enthusiasts and children. You can also take a hot-air balloon ride, or go parasailing. If you’re in the mood for adventure, hire tents and enjoy some old-fashioned camping.
Dharamshala is worth a visit for its food alone. You get such fabulous Tibetan fare that you almost forget where you are–cradled amidst the stunning Dhauladhar mountains, surrounded by pine trees. Bhutanese and Chinese dishes also abound, but it’s the thukpa (noodle soup) that you should try. Also bite into pizzas, pastas and desserts. Burn it all off with walks to ancient temples and quiet monasteries, or trek up the hills.
Shimla offers a diverse range of holidays for families – you can trek, skate, camp, and when the season permits, even ski. The Kufri Ski Resort and Narkanda (Shimla’s oldest ski resort) offer lessons and provide transport as well. Camp Potter’s Hill hosts you in tree houses in the heart of the Himachali forest, but if you’d like to tune down the wilderness, you can always choose one of Shimla’s many trekking trails.