|The Taj Exotica property located in beautiful Bentota in Sri Lanka and (top) an aerial view of Queenstown in New Zealand
For the George Clooneys of this world, there’s nothing unusual about holidaying in exotic villas by an Italian lake. But even lesser mortals are looking for equally luxurious vacation spots this summer. Travel snobbery is at its sharpest this season and everyone from tour operators to swank hotels are furiously racing to woo the well-heeled Indian traveller. The summer packages on offer promise to be extravagantly luxurious in their effort to extend dream retreats to trendy urbanites.
The ITC-Welcomgroup’s WelcomHeritage packages offer a taste of the good life through its multiple fort resorts, country manors and jungle lodges. These retreats are situated in stunning locations and are mostly heritage properties that have been converted into hotels. There is an effort to create unique living spaces for the jet-setting traveller suffering from the ‘been there, done that’ syndrome.
The Royal Camp built within the fortifications of the imposing Nagaur Fort, is a series of 20 Swiss luxury tents with lavish interiors and super-deluxe dining facilities. As night descends on the spectacular landscape, campfires are lit and an evening of folk dances and music follows. Another attraction not to be missed is the Panchla sand dunes. The summer package also includes visits to the historic city of Nagaur, Khimsar Fort, Rao Amar Singh’s cenotaph complex, jeep safaris to the blackbuck reserve and camel safaris. A word of caution though ' hit the desert trail before April.
And relax, you don’t have to burn a hole in your pocket for this exotic journey. The package costs anywhere between Rs 4,000 and Rs 14,000 for a standard double bedroom for two nights and three days with a 15 per cent discount on food and soft beverages. Says Sunil Sikka, corporate head for marketing and business development, WelcomHeritage, “Our packages are designed keeping in mind the changing interests of the modern day traveller. The affordability makes it all the more popular. And it’s always a fascinating experience for people to stay in the same dwellings that were once inhabited by royalty.”
Bandavgarh Jungle Lodge, Corbett Ramganga Resort, Bal Samand Garden Retreat and Khimsar Sand Dunes Village are other historic monuments that are part of the WelcomHeritage package. And in each of these places, there are multiple choices for the privileged Indian tourist. From horse expeditions reminiscent of Rajput heroism of the bygone era, to boating and trekking, there are endless choices.
It is true that affluence and greater global exposure have made the Indian tourist more discerning in his choice of package tours. Therefore, exclusivity is the buzzword in this segment. Take a look at the summer package introduced by the Taj Group of Hotels. Labelled the Taj Holidays Apex offer, this package invites you to stay at any one of their facilities located in both India and abroad between April 1 and June 15. To avail this offer, book your packages before March 10. You can choose your dream locale from a host of sanctuaries that nestle amidst stunning backdrops. Fisherman’s Cove in Chennai and Chikmagalur atop the Sahayadri Range, are some of the less explored destinations. And presumably these will now find favour over done-to-death trips to Ajanta and Ellora or Fatehpur Sikri.
The Taj Garden Retreat in Chikmagalur is located in the coffee district of Karnataka and it aims to give you a feel of plantation living. The room and breakfast offer at Taj Garden Retreat will set you back by Rs 2,400 per night on weekdays and Rs 2,550 per night on weekends.
Alternatively, if you can’t have enough of the sun and sand, you can head straight for The Taj Exotica at Bentota, a beach resort on the south coast of Sri Lanka. With its pristine surroundings and never-ending coastline, Bentota is captivating, to say the least. The bed and breakfast offer at The Taj Exotica costs $90 per person.
If foreign lands beckon, there are plenty of options on the tourism platter. Thomas Cook’s Mono New Zealand summer package (ex Mumbai/Delhi) is all about discovering the sublime geographical features of Kiwi land. You will be mesmerised by Waite Mata Harbour and its virgin beaches or the beautiful Waitomo Caves. Feel the heat at Te Puia Whakarewarewa Thermal Reserve, skydive over Lake Taupo and soak in a thermal hot spring to rejuvenate yourself. The intrepid traveller gets a shot in the arm with a journey through the Homer Tunnel and the glacier-carved Elington Valley on the way to Milford Sound, an integral part of the Fiordland region of South Island. The tour cost for the Mono New Zealand trip is Rs 1,34,450 per person on twin share basis.
Those hitting distant shores this season, keeping in mind the bargain basement prices of international air tickets, will be spoilt for choice. There are packages designed to cover just about every place both on the East and West Coast of the United States. This Thomas Cook tour is comprehensive, spanning New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Orlando, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Francisco. The cost of the American Splendours package (ex Mumbai/Delhi) is Rs 2,49,935 per head on twin share basis.
Does all of this make you think how inadequate your previous holidays were' But there’s always time to take a crack at these splendid offers. And this time you’ll know for sure why everybody’s going on a summer holiday.
My favourite holiday
I am not only passionate about music but travelling to interesting places as well. If I have less work, I like nothing better than to go trekking. My favourite holiday then would be at the Mount Everest Base Camp in Nepal where I went two years ago. It was a sort of a self-discovery trip and I had one of my friends with me for company. The Base Camp is situated at an altitude of 18,875 feet and was terribly cold. We stocked up on food and all sorts of mountaineering equipment. The total journey lasted 22 days and we had many Bengali trekkers from Calcutta joining us too.
My other favourite destination is Reunion Island, a volcanic island close to Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. I went there with my family three years ago and came back relaxed and refreshed.
• If airlines are vying with each other for passenger loyalty and wooing them with amazing offers and packages, it’s now the turn of travel websites to do their bit to attract more hits. Prime Website makemytrip.com has challenged travellers to find airfares cheaper than what it offers and promises to redeem the difference if they do find a cheaper ticket going. Now it’s travelguru that is trying to outdo competition. It’s hot promotion, ‘Travel Cheap or Travel Free’ guarantees that when you make a booking through www.travelguru.com, you get to sift through a choice of the most attractive and lowest-priced domestic airfares. The promise is that if you find a cheaper fare, you get to travel free. Time to surf.
• For the select few who think rushing overseas at the drop of a hat is oh so boring, there are packages offered by the best hotels in town that are refreshingly ingenious and a great way to unwind this summer. For instance, Club Prana at Calcutta’s Hyatt Regency has introduced spa packages comprising complete body massages with herbal oils to relax and rejuvenate your senses. And there’s even a massage called Pizhichil, a medicated herbal oil massage to treat clinical problems like arthritis and paralysis. You can avail this package for approximately Rs 3,200. For further details, call 2335 1234.
You can also opt for the special summer wraps at ITC’s Sonar Spa. The Hydro Marine Body Wrap uses an assortment of minerals present in the sea to detoxify your system and stimulate cellular functions. Apres Sun Treatment is the specialised spa package introduced this season and has a cooling effect on the body. It involves the application of Aloe Vera gel on your body and is especially invigorating after strenuous outdoor activities. For more: call 2345 4545.