Chill out this New Year!

Chill out this New Year!

If looking for off-beat experiences to celebrate the arrival of 2019, here are some recommendations for you...

A perennial stream in a tea plantation of Valparai

If you want an escape from the New Year rave parties, megabars and clubs bursting with the exuberance of raucous rockers, we have some recommendations for you. For a whiff of adventure and a relaxed holiday, head to Camp Splendour, a rustic adventure camp in Thirumurthy Hills in Tiruppur district, or to the land of PI to trace the French connections. If you want a take-it-easy break from the hardcore party-goers jostling for space on a laser-thrashed dance floor till the wee hours of the morning, the tea county of Valparai is definitely the place to be.

Camp Splendour, Tamil Nadu’s best-kept secret

If you are looking for a place far from the madding crowd, head to Camp Splendour, a wooded retreat and rustic camping site within driving distance from Coimbatore and Udumalpet. Robinson Crusoe would have felt at home in this camping site which is so quiet, hidden, undiscovered, and relatively free from swarming tourists. It is indeed ‘Tamil Nadu’s best-kept secret.’

Fringed by thick forests, with the far end rising into hills of the Anamalai range in the Western Ghats as a backdrop, glistening waters of the Thirumurthy reservoir on one side and the swaying eucalyptus trees on the waterfront, Camp Splendour nestles in an idyllic setting. The adventure camp is dedicated to experiential tourism to connect people with nature. It is an ideal mooring point for individuals pursuing adventure sports. The camp is simple and utilitarian on the surface, but delves into the heart and you come a step closer to the greens and browns of nature. The boot camp has rooms for those who don’t want to rough it out. But nothing can be more thrilling than camping in the great outdoors under a starry sky amidst sylvan environs with the silence broken only by the sound of rushing wind.

Jet-skiing in Thirumurthy Reservoir
Jet-skiing in Thirumurthy Reservoir

“There are plentiful activities to indulge in at this dream destination. Birding, bonfire, coracle rides, canoe trips, camping on the shores of a reservoir, forest exploration, trekking, games, and visits to a nearby ancient Shiva temple, Panchalinga waterfalls and tribal hamlets are all part of the wilderness escapade,” says Group Captain (Retd) Jayshankar, National Adventure awardee, who runs this boot camp along with his spunky wife Shyamala. 

The experience encompasses a broad canvas. You can chart your own way over hills and through forests in the Western Ghats, or indulge in kayaking, canoeing or jet skiing in the expansive reservoir of the Thirumurthy Dam. Those who want to have fun in the water can bounce on the water trampoline that is moored near the campsite. There is also a scenic trek route from the camp leading to a point where you can have a clear view of the dam and the hills. The best way to round off the day is to sit around a bonfire listening to Jayshankar crooning some yesteryear melodies.

In the tea county of Valparai

The journey to Valparai is as interesting as the destination. Nilgiri Tahr will greet you en route the 40 sharp, hairpin bends on the Ghat Road from Aliyar to Valparai, while you tarry awhile to catch glimpses of the picturesque waters of the Aliyar mini-hydel project from the very top.

At 3,500 ft above sea level, in Tamil Nadu’s Anamalai Hills, within driving distance from Coimbatore, Valparai offers an easy escape from the sweltering heat of the town. Unlike its peers, Valparai is lesser known, but has all the charm of a hill station sans the regular tourist spots, crowds or noise. Here one can observe the workings of an orthodox tea factory, visit a church, temple, waterfalls or simply enjoy the views of the thick rolling hills, the nippy environs, the early morning walks, and the wildlife sightings. 

A Nilgiri tahr on the ghat road leading to Valparai
A Nilgiri tahr on the ghat road leading to Valparai

You can picnic by a perennial stream, or visit a little patch of forest where you are sure to see the endangered lion-tailed macaque on this less-trodden route. Endemic and endangered species find their home here in this biodiversity hotspot. As you drive through the sprawling tea gardens in the lap of the Anamalai range of the Western Ghats, you’ll be treated to herds of elephants and massive gaurs grazing casually among the tea bushes.

The best way to chill out is in the stately Sinna Dorai Bungalow, a refurbished heritage bungalow, perched atop the Iyerpadi Hill, surrounded by tea fields and commanding a breathtaking view of the Valparai landscape and the rainforests of Vellamalai and Akkamalai in the Anamalai Tiger Reserve. One can lounge in the sprawling balcony sipping piping hot tea, reading novels and reliving the lifestyle that the aristocratic planters had. One can wake up here to the raucous calls of birds which reside in and around the bungalow or sit in the garden soaking in the picture-postcard views. The best way to culminate one’s Valparai sojourn is to embark on the scenic road trip along the backwaters of the Sholayar Dam and Malakkapara where you will be treated to ample wildlife sightings.

Pondy — Land of Pi

Pondicherry — formally named Puducherry, affectionately called Pondy, is the perfect place to head to if you want to take the pace of life down a few notches. In Pondy, one has the luxury of slowing down, taking a breather. You can go for long walks along the beach road in the early mornings and evenings, spend a lazy afternoon in siestas in cool colonial interiors, stop by an antique shop, have a nibble at a wayside restaurant, or at the delightful terrace café.

Walking or pedalling down Pondy’s sun-dappled boulevards is the best option to imbibe its old-world charm. Soak in the bright mustard walls with bursts of bougainvillea cascading over them and clean lines of the quaint colonial heritage buildings in the beachside French quarter and cross the canal for the restored grand Tamil mansions.

Vestiges of Roman connection in Arikamedu, Puducherry
Vestiges of Roman connection in Arikamedu, Puducherry

To delve deeper into the heritage of the place, enrol for INTACH’S two-hour heritage walk, which takes you around the squarish town intersected by canals. Or join Storytrails for a ramble around the French quarter of the town, soaking in sights and listening to incredible tales that bring this place to life. An engaging raconteur will guide you through Pondy’s lesser-known Tamil quarter and introduce you to local food.

The section facing the sea is the French Quarter, and the interiors the Tamil one, and the architecture distinctly divides the two. You will see the vestiges of colonialism – the street names in French, the policemen wearing traditional French caps, the buildings with distinctly European architecture.

Inside the town is the Aurobindo Ashram but Auroville commune is 8-km north of Puducherry. For a beach holiday, head to the outskirts of Puducherry where you can unwind by the sea and make short forays to nearby towns. If you have the time, head to Chunnambar, 8 km south of Puducherry. Its chief allure is boating down the scenic Chunnambar river up to Paradise Beach, which is actually a giant sandbar between the river and the sea. This pristine beach is ideal for lazing around. But the coastal village of Veerampattinam has the longest beach. Close by is Arikamedu, where several artefacts from Ancient Rome were discovered. But all that remains are some perpendicular walls from that era.