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The only travel calendar you will need in 2018

Last updated on: January 10, 2018 05:00 IST

Manidipa Mandal draws up a month-wise guide to hotspots and off-the-beaten track destinations for the year.

2018 travel giude

Representational photograph: Courtesy Devon Windsor/Instagram

January

Ring in the New Year with hatching shells (and dancers' bells).

Warm up to 2018 on the beaches of Odisha -- Talasari and Astaranga are great, but Gahirmatha is where this year's Olive Ridley hatchlings will be making for the waves.

The world's largest rookery for the endangered turtle saw a record number of babies last year, and mating pairs have been sighted since early November. Hatchlings usually emerge 45-60 days after the females nest under cover of darkness.

If you have the time, picnic on the beach and catch the sunset at Astaranga -- eight kinds of wonderful by name, it is 90 km from Puri, about 30 km from Berhampur and Konarak. Just don't try to take a dip -- this place has quicksand pits hiding along the shore.

If you prefer musical waves, this is also the season of classical music and dance festivals: at Mukteshwar in the east, Mamallapuram in the south, Khajuraho in the middle.

Veterans, head to the Prakriti Foundation's annual event at Thiruvaiyuru, near Thanjavur.

 

February

We are heading into a spotless phase this solar cycle, with the solar maximum of 2014 well past. It was a disappointing one for this century, but the next is only around 2024.

If the Northern Lights are on your bucket list, hit Iceland now, before the aurora borealis gets elusive. From Reykjavik, there are lots of aurora-chasing tours from the city.

Thingvellir National Park is popular. (Options include the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon or the Skógafoss waterfalls.)

Darkness is your friend -- so aim for afternoons in the second week of February. Precipitation is your enemy -- so download the Aurora Forecast app and plan hard.

On cloudy days, Reykjavik's nightlife should have you partying hard instead.

CLOSER HOME: Take a Ganges cruise. Varanasi is sacred, but its air alarming. Try Bengal or Bihar instead (ganges voyager.net.inassambengalnavigation.com).


March

Spring is here and the surf's swelling along the west coast.

If you have never considered the sport, get in there before the big waves roll in by summer.

Sign up at the Surf Camp Namaloha, in the fishing village of Kodi Bengre (Udupi), run by the Shaka Surf Club. They do exemplary work, teaching local children to swim, surf and act as lifeguards, besides offering beginner lessons and rentals. The owners themselves trained under the Surfing Swamis of Mantra Surf Club, Mulki -- which offers yoga, meditation and vegetarian food at Ashram Surf Retreat, in addition to surfing, wakeboarding/jet skis, stand-up paddle boards, sea kayaking and snorkelling.

Then, graduate to the fabulous Ten Thousand Peaks near Maravanthe, or Manipal or Gokarna.

There are several points near Mahe, and one by the Shiva shrine near Murudeshwar, and also Manapad point.

There's also Dwarka, in Gujarat -- yes, surf and spirituality do seem to go hand in hand.


April

As spring segues into the Indian summer, leave for Arunachal. The contiguous trio of Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, Pakke (Pakhui) Tiger Reserve and the Sessa Orchid Sanctuary constitute a biodiversity hotspot.

Pakke's tigers are kept company by the leopard, clouded leopard and fishing cat, wild dogs and Asiatic jackals. Avian species (300-plus) include the endangered white-winged wood duck and the Oriental bay owl, and four hornbills. A third of India's 1,500 butterfly species have been spotted here. Dozens of reptiles and amphibians call this home. Sighting serow and goral require rare luck.

Stay at the community-run Pakke Jungle Camp -- once hornbill hunters, the elders of the Nyishi tribe are now conservationists (pakkejunglecamp.org.in).

Across the Kameng river, Eaglenest has over 450 bird species. Locals can also help you track the Arunachal macaque (identified 2003), red panda, flying squirrels and slow loris.


May

Take the (older) kids on a summer adventure.

A five-day Maney bhanjyang-Sandakphu trek is challenging enough for beginners.

Day 1: From Darjeeling, take a jeep to Maneybhanjyang. Buy permits for Singalilla, then climb to the tea house at Meghma (stop at Chitrey monastery or Lamaydhura on the way). Continue to Tonglu, to overnight at a trekkers' hut; or push on to Tumling (2 km) for better stays.

Day 2: March up to Jhaubari, downhill to Gairibas through the bamboo glades.Then it's blooming rhododendron forests all the way to Kalipokhri's black pond.

Day 3: Leave early for Bikeybhanjyang, valley of poisonous aconite blooms. The stretch to Sandakphu is steepish, but you should arrive early for the views.

Day 4: Sleep in pretty Gurdum.

Day 5: Head down via Srikholato Rimbik, and catch a jeep back to Maneybhanjyang.


June

Run away to wintry New Zealand, where to celebrate the rise of the Matariki (the Pleiades, heralding the new year to the Maori), Auckland holds a big cultural festival.

This is the time to go skiing over a volcano's lava pipes (Mt Ruapehu); take a road trip by camper van (try Spaceships rentals); whale-watch in Kaikoura; head into the snow-lined hot pools of Takapo Springs; take a dog-sled tour of Wanaka; and walk the Franz Josef or Fox glaciers.

If you prefer warmer climes, stick to the north of North Island.

The Art Deco buildings of Napier are worth seeing. So is Waimangu, a volcanic rift valley in Rotorua with the world's largest hot spring -- there's walking tours, a boat cruise on Lake Rotomahana and, oh yes, the rainforest.

At Lake Taupo, it is early for the Winter Festival (July), but visit the Craters of the Moon with their bubbling mud pools.

Also try trout fishing in Turangi or walk the Tongariro Alpine Crossing with ice picks and crampons.


July

Chase the monsoon across the subcontinent. Or pick a spot.

Head to Kerala and brave a bone-rattling ride before you fortify yourself with chai at Kolukkumalai organic tea estate, the world's highest at 8,000 feet. Invigorated? Flush out the waterfalls of Chinnakallar (India's third wettest spot).

In the north, drive into the rainshadow region of Spiti to track the Himalayan wolf, or set off on the Bali Pass trek to Yamunotri, taking in Ruinsara Tal (glorious for beginners). July is prime time for Kashmir's breathtaking Tarsar-Marsarlake trek -- the rain isn't torrential and snow still melting on the waters.

In the east, witness Jagannath's juggernaut in Puri, Odisha.

And finally, in the west make base in Mahabaleshwar, and walk the Kaas Plateau's wildflower meadows (cobra lilies are in bloom in July; Sita's tears in August). By then, around Bhainsrorgarh's charming fort, the Chambal has swollen and the birds on the islets are delighted.


August

Fly to Ladakh to escape the rains and cool off.

Once you acclimatise to Leh, a good quick trip is Magentic Hill, where parked cars seem to climb as though towed by a magnet (legend credits a road to heaven; a visual illusion is the prosaic explanation).

Outside Leh, stay at the Taras homestay near Thiksey, run by the Dutch Foundation and the Nyerma Nunnery (speaking of nuns, have you met the kung fu sisters of Drukpa?).

The luxury option is TUTC's travelling camps at Thiksey or Diskit.

For culture and comfort, Nimmu House is a good base for exploring the high ruins of Basgo or rafting to Sangam. Or camp on the Indus in Uletokpo -- try the Ule Ethnic Resort (uleresort.com).

Everyone ends up in Changthang, thanks to Pangong Tso, Tso Moriri and Tso Kar (try Pasture Land Camps, or Rupshow Residency), but make sure to acknowledge the Changpa nomads, the keepers of this land, and watch for marmots.


September

Enjoy a driving holiday to Kannur for good food, greenery, beaches, culture and history.

Muzhappilangad is Kerala's only drive-in beach. But also pop into Payyambalam and Thottada.

History and culture buffs should explore Fort St Angelos (bring a picnic) and the sea tunnels of Tellicherry Fort; the Mridanga Saileswari, Annapoornesh-wari and Rajarajeswara temples; Arakkal Kettu palace museum and the Kerala Folklore Academy.

The lighthouse, naval museum and cliff walkway offer simple pleasures.

Theyyam performances are easy to find (theyyamcalendar.com) as is kalaripayattu. The oracle dances at the Oorpazhachi Kavu shrine are worth seeking out -- vellattom at mid-day, kaliyattom at midnight.

Eat at the Raandhal restaurant in Thalappu (dare you to the brain curry, but the mussels biryani and mango fish curry are superb too).


October

And a bit of September: Art Basel's annual week-long December fair boosts Miami's economy by millions of dollars. But the new Art Basel Cities project sees the initiative partnering with Buenos Aires, making Argentina's first city our autumn destination of choice.

The opening venue of the Cities Exchange programme will feature a year-long fanfare of preparation that culminates in a week of events (September 11-16), in the Southern spring.

October 6-18 is when Buenos Aires hosts the Summer Youth Olympics, with the games village set near Villa Soldati.

This year, the games themselves are growing a good bit -- karate, roller sports, climbing and dance are being added to the roster.

Raise a toast to youth, then -- from a bunch of the city's new craft breweries, giving New World wine competition.

Also, we hear commercial flights to Antarctica take off from Argentina in 2018 (from Ushuaia).


November

Luang Prabang in Laos makes for an exotic vacation with a lower price tag, and scrumptious too.

Stay at either of the Apsara properties.

Must-dos include the alms ceremony for Buddhist monks and a breakfast of street eats like barbecued meats, local rice cakes or rice porridge. And lots of wat walking.

A cool hangout is Novelty Café.

The local baguette sandwich makes a great travelling lunch while cycling amidst the French colonial heritage; stop for noodle soup, either thick meaty khaosoi or lighter khaopiaksen. Have dinner at Khaiphaen; the fine dine option is L'Elephant, with both French and Lao set menus. The 10,000 kip veg buffet at the night market might compel you to take a cooking class at Tamarind restaurant.

On the way to Kuang Si temple, stop at the Free the Bears rescue centre.

Take the boat trip to Pak Ou caves' many generations of Buddhas took.


December

The gathering of Naga tribes at the Hornbill Festival, in Kisama, Nagaland makes for a uniquely Indian advent season. The inner line permit is worth it.

Kohima sets up lights and poinsettia is everywhere.

The food at Kisama puts all other roast beasts to shame -- from spicy snails and toasted slugs to the dog dish. The wet market is fun for local herbs and spices.

Visit Khonoma village and the eponymous national park and tragopan sanctuary. Buy dried wild apple (best candy ever).

Then, make a Hanuman-sized leap across to Tuticorin or Rameswaram, to the Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park. Again, arrange for permissions.

Glass-bottomed boats are at the ready to take you around the islands at Mandapam, which offer sightings of dugong, four kinds of dolphin, five species of turtles, biospheres from mangrove to coral reef (117 species!).

Manidipa Mandal
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