Experience famous foreign destinations in India at pocket-friendly rates

Tourism

June 21, 2021

/ By / Gurugram

Experience famous foreign destinations in India at pocket-friendly rates

Camel rides in the Thar Desert (Photo: Flickr) and the Sahara Desert (Photo: Lydia0730)

The disastrous second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic has put India on the red list of many countries in the world. At a time when international travel seems virtually impossible, Indians need look no further than their own land for budget-friendly options that mirror dream foreign destinations.

Visit the charming sand dunes of Thar Desert to experience Sahara

The diverse variety of flora and fauna in the Thar Desert emulates the legendary safaris in Africa, without the hassle of having to securing visas and months of stressful planning. The Desert National Park has rare species not found in the Sahara or outside the Asian subcontinent, such as chinkara, Bengal fox, and blackbuck.

Although not as large as the Sahara, what sets Thar Desert apart is that it covers a large part of the north-western Indian subcontinent, spread across Rajasthan, Punjab, Gujarat, and Haryana, meaning that there is a plethora of rich cultures and traditions to explore and engage with. The cities of Jaisalmer and Bikaner, in particular, offer beautiful night camps to stay in deep in the isolated desert landscape, and have exciting activities such as camel rides and night desert safaris.

Visitors can go on camel rides in the Thar desert while enjoying sunset views (MIG photos/Varsha Singh)

The iconic annual desert festival is scheduled again for February of next year, making it an ideal time to plan a trip here. The festival takes place amidst the golden Sam sand dunes near Jaisalmer and features an extravaganza of colourful sights and activities such as a showcase of Rajasthani folk dancers, turban-tying competitions and gair and fire dancers.

Sasha Tuli, a Delhi resident who visited Bikaner during the pandemic last year, raves about the uniqueness of the desert experience, and how it was a solace to take a trip to escape the constant worries and restrictions of the big cities.

“I went with my boyfriend after the three month long lockdown ended. I remember feeling really suffocated and just wanted to go away for a few days. Initially I was worried about Covid-19 safety and protocols but it was actually a good idea to go to Bikaner because it is much less crowded than Jaipur or other popular destinations near Delhi. I was a bit nervous since it was my first time riding a camel, but the guide made us feel really safe and we kept our distance from other visitors so I was never worried. We stayed in a really isolated area and were able to just enjoy a few peaceful nights wining and dining on the dunes, enjoying the music and general ambience,” says Tuli.

One of the best tourist packages is offered by the Jaisalmer Desert Safari company, which includes tented luxury accommodation that is gorgeously decorated and even stocked with a convenient attached bathroom, and activities such as folk dancing by the campfire and “dinner on dunes” party with a DJ.  The company also provides services for pre-wedding photo shoots, which is popular with couples who want to memories for life against such picturesque backdrops.

Gurudongmar Lake in Sikkim and Jökulsárlón Lake in Iceland

Jökulsárlón Lake in Iceland is known as “glacier river lagoon” (Photo: Molechaser)

Jökulsárlón Lake, translated as “glacier river lagoon” in Iceland is a major tourist attraction and its popularity has been bulked up since it was featured in Hollywood blockbusters such as the James Bond movie A View to a Kill (1985) and Batman Begins (2005). While tourists mainly tend to take the Lachen-Lachun tour package when visiting Sikkim, a hidden gem lies in the fairly unexplored Gurudongmar Lake which, resembling the Iceland lake, is notable as it is fed by glaciers and remains completely frozen in the winter, from November to mid-May. It is also one of the highest lakes in the world, at an altitude of 5400 m and is situated only 5 km south of the Tibetan and Chinese border.

Visitors usually take a morning hike to the lake in order to avoid the freezing temperatures later on, and thus can view the pristine aquamarine surface of the lake glimmering in the bright sunshine, framed by the picturesque snow-capped mountain peaks of Mt Siniolchu and Mt Khangchendzonga. The lake is also almost exclusively for Indians, as foreign nationals require special permits from the Ministry of Home Affairs in Delhi to visit. To enjoy the breathtaking views, tourists can also carry hot tea and snacks like noodles and chocolate to enjoy at Yithang Valley, and popcorn and oxygen sprays are also available to help with breathing at high altitudes.

The pristine surface of Gurudongmar Lake in Sikkim (Photo: Vickeylepcha)

One of the most fascinating aspects of Gurudongmar Lake is its folklore. Named after Guru Padmasambhava, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism, the legend says that he visited here in the 8th century and resolved the local shepherds’ plight of not finding drinking water by touching one part of the lake with his walking stick so that it never froze again, despite temperatures of 30oC below the freezing point. Since then, it has been considered a holy site for Buddhists, Sikhs, and Hindus, and devotees personally carry with them the sacred water that is rumoured to have healing properties.

Auli and Switzerland: Paradise for ski enthusiast

Ski lift at Gstaad, Switzerland (Photo: Gstaad Tourismus)

Located in Chamoli in Uttarakhand, Auli is often called the ‘mini Switzerland’ of India, and is famous among skiing enthusiasts from around the world for its magnificent, glittering slopes. It was the first accredited skiing destination in India recognised by the International Ski Federation (FIS). Not surprisingly, the Himalayan slopes are often better than the European Alps because of their sheer altitude and spread, which makes for long, thrilling descents and provides cross-country runs of 10-20 km. Auli welcomes beginner skiers as well, as there are several centres such as Auli Ski and Snowboard School and the Mountaineering and Skiing Institute which offer training to prospective skiers.

Tourists can be assured they will not break the bank, as a 14-day training course or a 2-day pass is a fraction of the cost of skiing in Gstaad, or other ski resort hotspots like Aspen. Moreover, one of the best parts of the tour is the 4.5km Gulmarg ropeway connecting Auli and Joshimath, from which visitors get a beautiful panoramic view of the surrounding forests and mountain peaks. This is the longest ropeway in Asia and costs around INR 1,000 per ride.

The ski slopes at Auli (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

“The ropeway ride was amazing. Especially when it snows, the slopes look similar to the ski resorts abroad, and it really feels like an international destination with a splendid view of the five surrounding peaks,” Alex Alosious, a travel blogger and photographer, tells Media India Group.

Auli is also the perfect place for summer excursions, with one of the most irresistible spots being Chattrakund Lake, where nature-lovers can take a trek and bask in the striking views and pleasant weather.

“The lake looks really mesmerising during the summer, as it is nestled in between the meadows of colourful flowers. I believe that here you get more of a chill atmosphere and soothing silence,” says Alosious.

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