Deepavali and fireworks are rather synonymous. Although I love the bright lights and the glitter of the festivities, I would rather escape the noise and the pollution that comes with it. If you are like me and would like to head to remote destinations, here is my pick of great Diwali escapes in south India.
Birding - Thattekad
Would you like to be in a forest and wake up only to the call of birds? Then head to Thattekad, one of the most pristine birding sanctuaries located on the banks of the river Periyar in Kerala. Barely an hour’s drive from Kochi, the Periyar river is bathed in fog as I take in the view. This tropical evergreen and deciduous forest is home to over 250 rare and endemic species of birds and the sanctuary is named after the ornithologist Salim Ali, who stumbled upon it almost 80 years ago.
Elephants roam here rather freely, says my guide, but luckily we do not spot them. The forests come alive with colors and calls. We see a pair of Malabar grey hornbills. Then there is the much-awaited brilliantly coloured Malabar trogon, which is the prized catch of the day. But Thattekad is not just about birds. It is about the lush greenery, the tip-toeing of the mist, and the silence that echoes through the jungles.
Wildlife - Daroji
Head to a wildlife sanctuary that was once one of the gateways to the Vijayanagar empire. The destination is Daroji, located near Hampi. It was once called Darwaze -- meaning gate -- and the local people tell me that this was one of the kingdom’s forgotten gateways.
Boulders give way to the shrub jungles, fowls and francolins rush past us. We see termite mounds and we finally reach a hillock where sloth bears roam freely amid the rocks. Anegundi, across the Tungabhadra River, was believed to be the mythical Kishkinda, the monkey kingdom of Sugriva who was Rama’s ally in the war against Ravana. And if myths are to be believed, there was one bear in the army called Jambavan. Today, Daroji Wildlife Sanctuary, which includes the Bukkasagara range of mountains near Hampi and Anegundi, is home to several sloth bears. You can also find leopards, foxes, jackals, hyenas and pangolin along with several mammals and a variety of birds and reptiles. This is an ideal destination to lose yourself, far from the madding crowd.
Beaches - Om Beach
If you like a wave of mysticism set amidst virgin beaches, ringed in by mountains, then you can chant OM at the beach here. The Om Beach is so called as the waves create a pattern of their own in the form of the mystical “OM “symbol. Tales from Indian mythology lie entrenched in this small temple town of Gokarna as the temples here are ancient and located close to the beach. The Western Ghats overlook the Arabian Sea and you will often find trekkers discovering new paths along the coasts or higher up in the hills. Chalk out your own, or lose yourself in a spiritual wave, or party hard at the other beaches here - chances are that you will not miss the fireworks.
Heritage - Vattakottai
Located close to Kanyakumari is the sea-fort of Vattakottai, which offers one of the most stunning views. The sea surrounding us is calm as it caresses the shore. A lone tree stands; its dead branches almost touch the sky. On the distant horizon, one can see windmills dancing to the tune of the breeze. This circular sea-fort, built on the coast, opens into a picturesque view of the Western Ghats encircling the oceans – the Bay of Bengal on one side and the Arabian Sea on the other. Coconut trees grace the shore, and some parts of the wall jut out into the sea.
As we enter the granite fort, the outer walls greet us with the symbol of two elephants with a conch shell, but the fort itself is neither imposing nor formidable. A huge open courtyard, probably a parade ground, leads us to a flight of steps with a ramp. We look down from the walls, built at a height of almost 25 feet, and the sea greets us. Stand here and you can gaze at an endless fabric of blue for hours.
Mountains - Nilgiris
Nothing can be more exciting than taking a journey up the Blue Mountains. How about a ride down the hills on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway? As the train huffs and puffs along on its own little pace, you can soak in the fresh air and the mist. Get off at any station and explore the surrounding environs. If I were you, I would choose the quaint and quieter ones, but if you like a bit of crowd, head to Upper Coonoor or Kotagiri. Walk by the lakes, stroll by the shola forests, and take a deep breath and enjoy the natural scenery.
module=MediaCarouselPhotosCAFlavored;_id=13ac983f-9af8-3f68-8c6f-0c5bf8ea0131;content_id=;position=left;width=16u;mod_id=mediacarouselphotoscaflavored;module_name=Travel SS Embed Nilgiri Mountain Railway;ads_refresh=;animation_speed=0.7;configId=MediaEmbeddedSlideshowSpotlightConfigFlavored;flavor=photos.embedded.slideshow;header=RIDING THE NILGIRI MOUNTAIN RAILWAY;hide=0;list_id=2015ea40-1d3f-3fe9-ab7f-c429fe665e39;max_items=;show_caption=1;show_full_caption=0;show_provider=1;ult_pt=storypage-->