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Making waves
JOYFUL TRAVEL

A beach holiday is one ruled by the sun, sand and a decadent streak for lazing. But when the tsunamis slammed into coasts throughout Asia last December, holiday plans to beach getaways were scrapped. The country ' in fact the world ' came together as one, holding out a helping hand for those hardest hit by the waves. Now, the world is coming to terms with the catastrophe and as coastal areas starting to rebuild, vacationers are beginning to rethink those beach holidays.

For those in a sober mood, and others who don't have a yen to holiday in a raucous fashion, serene beaches are the best way to take a break from the stresses of city life. Think palm-fringed coasts, but minus rave parties, noisy crowds and trinkets sold by the wayside. The beaches are beginning to hot up, but there's still time to catch spectacular sunrises and equally stunning sunsets.

Gujarat

Perhaps the best way to begin your off-the-beaten track beach journey is by hauling yourself to the practically virgin sands of the Union Territory of Daman and Diu just off Gujarat. These twin islands are loved for their history and churches, forts, sumptuous seafood (and exotic treats for tipplers) and above all, their amazing beaches. The beaches are ideal for swimming and at low tide, one can take a walk into the retreating waters.

There are, of course, similarities with Goa but minus the crowds. The laid-back twin destinations are blessed with some of the most scenic beaches on the Indian west coast. And in case you're interested in trivia, Gujarat boasts of the longest coastline in the country stretching over 1,600 km. Resthouses, cottages, hotels and lodges are the accommodation options at Daman and Diu.

Diu Beach

Diu Island, once a Portuguese colony, is located 125km from Junagadh. The island also grabs attention due to its Portuguese architecture, conspicuous in its churches, public buildings and bungalows. Palm-fringed and secluded, the horseshoe- shaped Nagoa is Diu's most beautiful beach.

Other popular beaches here are Chakratirth, Goghla, Kevdi and Gomatimala.

Getting there: Diu is well-connected by air and road from Mumbai and Ahmedabad. The nearest railhead is Delwada, some 9 km away.

Best season for a visit: October to May.

Accommodation: Diu has resorts, hotels of star and non-star categories, resthouses and lodges between Rs 150 to Rs 2,000 per day.

Daman

Bordered by the Arabian Sea, Daman's beaches are clean, picturesque and inviting. Devka Beach that comes with an amusement park and Jampore Beach are the best bets for solitude-seekers.

Getting there: Daman is well connected by air from Baroda and Mumbai, by rail (nearest railhead is Vapi, 12km away) and by road (via Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Diu).

Best season to visit: October to May.

Accommodation: rest houses, hotels and lodges between Rs 150 to Rs 2,000 a day.

Ahmedpur Mandvi

It's the jewel in the Gujarat Tourism crown about 300km from Ahmedabad. The resort commands a panoramic view of Diu just across the creek. The beach is the perfect place for indulging in watersports. Also watch out for birdlife and fishing hamlets.

Getting there: The nearest airport is Keshod, about 145km away; the beach is connected by rail on the Ahmedabad-Veraval line that halts at Delwada (9km from the beach). State transport buses and private luxury coaches connect various destinations of Gujarat.

Accommodation: Tourists should stay in Junagadh, Bhavnagar and Rajkot.

Chorwad

It's as quaint as it can get in Chorwad, 66km from Junagadh and 23km from the fishing centre of Veraval. A tiny fishing village, Chorwad is dominated by the beach with its cheerful atmosphere.

Lakshadweep Islands

The charm of Lakshadweep ' a gorgeous archipelago of coral islands in the Indian Ocean ' is their remoteness. Perhaps the most exotic of beach destinations, the islands, 400km off the southwest coast of India, aren't exactly easy ' or inexpensive ' to reach. However, to many, they are 'the ultimate beach-cum-diving destination'.

Of Lakshadweep's 36 islands and islets, 10 are inhabited, and just six (including Bangaram and Kadmat) are open to visitors. The good news: it's as romantic as it can get here. And what's more, the region can be visited throughout the year.

Visitors can't get away from snorkelling in the shallow waters around Bangaram and Kadmat islands that boast of diving centres. They can row or sail to the three uninhabited islands of Tinnakara, Parali-I and Parali-II or even enjoy wind surfing and kayaking.

Lakshadweep's marine life is quite amazing. The lagoons at the Kadmat and Bangaram islands are home to spectacular marine life.

Getting there: Travelling to Lakshadweep may seem like a daunting task. It is connected by air (a 90-minute flight) from Kochi (Cochin) to Agatti, the only airport here. The airport can only take small aircraft and helicopters. The baggage allowance is no more than 10kg per person. Four passenger ships, that take about 20 hours to reach Lakshadweep from Kochi, ply on the route.

Accommodation: People usually stay at the Bangaram Island beach resort. The hotel has cottages on the beach. Catamarans, kayaks and sailboats come for no charge.

Kerala

The beaches of this sun-drenched state may play second fiddle to its backwaters, but the 900km length of Kerala's coast is outlined with sandy beaches and swaying palms. Brushed by gentle surf and sparkling-blue waters, you can visit these beaches throughout the year.

Varkala

Located 41km from Thiruvananthapuram, Varkala is more than just a seaside resort ' it's also an important Hindu pilgrimage. High cliffs with rich mineral springs rise from its coastline and border the beach and the waters here are rich in minerals with medicinal properties. The 2,000-year-old Janardana Swamy Temple, dedicated to Lord Vishnu, and the Nature Centre are the two main attractions of Varkala Beach.

Getting there: The nearest airport and railway station is Thiruvananthapuram and by road, Varkala is connected to Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam.

Best season to visit: September to April

Accommodation: From the 5-star comfort of Taj Garden Retreat to an ordinary beach resort, rooms come for Rs 200 to Rs 7,200.

Marari Beach

The village of Mararikulam, tucked away behind a line of dense palms, is virgin territory as far as tourists are concerned, It offers miles of beaches as well as the charm of traditional Kerala life and hospitality at its best.

Marari is also ideally situated for exploring the backwaters. For a busier day, throw in a trip to Kochi.

Getting there: The nearest towns are Alleppey and Kochi, which are well connected by air, road and rail.

Accommodation: The Marari Beach Resort run by the Casino Group of Hotels is built as individual Kerala-style cottages in a forested environment, priced between Rs 9,000 to Rs 20,000. Accommodation is also available in Cochin and Alleppey.

Kerala also offers other hideouts: beaches at Alappuzha, Beypore, Fort Kochi and Kappad. In Kappad, travellers get to see a pillar with the inscription 'Vasco Da Gama landed here, Kappakkadavau in the year 1498' that stands on the beach.

Orissa

Chandipur

Closer home, Orissa offers some of the world's best white sand beaches. Chandipur is another favourite seaside hideout which offers a different experience as the waters recede as far as 5km during low tide.

Getting there: By air, the nearest airports are Calcutta and Bhubaneswar and the nearest railstation is Balasore, connected to many cities. By road, Chandipur is 16km from Balasore.

Accommodation: Available at the fairly basic hotel run by the Orissa Tourism Development Corporation.

Paradeep

A huge estuary of the Mahanadi, Paradeep offers islands and creeks, marine drive and a pristine beach. It's also famous for the temple dedicated to Lord Baladeva.

Getting there: The nearest airport is Bhubaneswar, while by rail Paradeep is linked to Cuttack. By road, it can be reached via the three tourist towns of Udayagiri, Lalitagiri and Ratnagiri that lie within a 100km radius.

Accommodation: Tourists can book at Paradeep Port Trust's Nehru Bungalow and Madhuban Guest House and at Hotel Paradeep International.

Konark

While in Orissa, visit the Konark beach, known for its famed Sun Temple. The beach, 3km away, is one of the finest in the world, where tourists can catch glimpses of the local fishing fleet at work. The sunrise here is spectacular but the beach lacks good accommodation.

Surprised as you may be, but the Indian coastline throws open a picture-perfect world of palm-fringed beaches. Some are much visited and the others, lesser known. Take the path less travelled by this time ' and you won't regret it.

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