More than monuments, museums or Michelin stars, acclaimed writer Paul Theroux seeks out happiness when he roams the world. Theroux, the author of more than four dozen books, including the just-released Tao of Travel, shares thoughts on some happy spots. These are typically places where theres fulfilment, good food and enough of it, good weather, families intact, and a sense that they dont have a desire to look for something elsewhere, Theroux says.
This Uttarakhand hill station offers much in the form of natural beauty and adventure — rafting and trekking in summer and skiing in winter.
How to reach: Kathgodam is the nearest railhead from where Munsiyari is an 11-hour drive. Cars can be booked from the station. If you want an easy drive, spend a night at Vijaypur.
What to do: Walk to Mehsar Kund or head to Munsiyari Bugyal, a meadow offering great views of the Panchachuli range. Drive to Dar Kot, where centuries-old wooden houses survive. For mountain lovers, Balanti offers a 180-degree view of Himalayan peaks.
Bite options: Stick to the resorts. They offer decent veg and non-veg fare.
For people down south, Keralas Wayanad is a popular weekend getaway. But its many trails — adventure, heritage, leisure — make it a destination where visitors from afar can stretch their stay without getting bored.
How to reach: Wayanad can be driven to from Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The closest airport and railway station is Kozhikode.
What to do: Pookote Lake, Sentinel Falls and Phantom Rock are short drives away. Go birdwatching on Kuruva Island, watch the sun rise over Sunrise Valley. Visit the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary, renowned for its elephants. The Edakkal Caves are also worth visiting.
Bite options: The hotels and resorts serve a range of cuisines.
|Nohkalikai Falls near Cherrapunjee
It was once the favoured haunt of the British. Vestiges of the Raj and royalty remain today. The waterfalls and lakes are the other attractions around the Meghalaya capital.
How to reach: Umroi airport is 30km from the town but Guwahati airport (100km) would be recommended for more reliable weather conditions. Guwahati is also the nearest railhead. Taxis can be hired from there.
What to do: Dont miss Umiam Lake, Spread Eagle Falls, Elephant Falls and Ward Lake. Shillong Peak offers a great view of the city. The Butterfly Museum and the Orchidarium are also worth a dekko. Visit Cherrapunjee, once the wettest place on Earth.
Bite options: Eat at Elgin and Bamboo Hut Chinese Restaurant in Shillong. Try Jadoh, a rice-and-pork Khasi delicacy.
|Havelock Island, Andamans
An idyllic island with coral reefs, mangroves and white beaches, Havelock is a tropical paradise in the Andamans. Dotted with eco-friendly resorts, the islands population is a curious mix of Bengali settlers and foreigners. The Radha Nagar beach is ranked among the best in Asia.
How to reach: Havelock is located 57km north-east of Port Blair and it takes about a couple of hours by ferry from there. You can also enjoy the comfort of a mini cruise and save half an hour if you board a Makruzz catamaran.
What to do: Love water sports? Havelock is the place to be. Go snorkelling or ride the waves on a speedboat. Scuba diving and game fishing are a great way to discover the treasure trove of under-sea life.
Bite options: Sea food, what else! Charcoal lobster, chilli garlic crab, king prawns in tartar sauce — have it the way you like it.
Famous for its Ganesha temple, Ganapatipule is a small town on the Konkan coast of Maharashtras Ratnagiri district; its one of the seasons hot picks for sun-bathers.
How to reach: It is around 370km from Mumbai by road. You can hire a car and drive down (about seven to eight hours). Or take a train from Mumbai to Ratnagiri and hire a taxi to Ganapatipule.
What to do: Put your feet up and swing on a hammock. Take long walks on the beach. Go for boat rides. Visit the Ganesha shrine. After dark, listen to the lapping waves and gaze at the star-spangled sky.
Bite options: Konkani fish delicacies are not to be missed. Try the Konkani fish thali with kokam kadhi in the towns hotels. The resorts will also rustle up local fare to your taste.
If you love the Portuguese ambience of Goa but find the beaches too crowded, head for Diu. The Union territory — at the southern tip of Gujarats Kathiawar peninsula — is a great place to chill out.
How to reach: Go to Ahmedabad by train or air; Diu is 495km away. If you do not want to cover the whole distance in a day, a good stopover would be the Gir forest.
What to do: Diu is all about lolling around and being lazy. If you want to pack in some sight-seeing, head for Diu Fort, built by the Portuguese in 1535. Close by is St Pauls Church, which turned 400 last year; also, St Thomas Church which is now a museum. There are several beaches along the coast, but Nagoa is the best. Try to stop by the quaint Sea Shell Museum near the airport.
Bite options: Prawns, squids, lobsters, crabs — they serve it all and at affordable rates.
|An elephant herd in Kaziranga
This national park in Assam is the stronghold of the endangered Asian one-horned rhino. You can also see the water buffalo, elephants and the hoolock gibbon.
How to reach: Kaziranga is two hours by car from Jorhat, which has both the nearest airport and the closest railhead. Cars can be hired from here.
What to do: Opt for a jeep or elephant safari. Keep an eye out for rhinos, elephants, monitor lizards and turtles. Walk through a village of the Mishing tribe to get a glimpse of their expert weaving skills.
Bite options: Most lodgings have in-house restaurants. The Aranya Lodge, run by the forest department, is recommended.
One of the best places to see the tiger, Pench in Madhya Pradesh also has a variety of other animals, such as the leopard, the wild dog and the jungle cat.
How to reach: Nagpur is the closest airport, from where taxis can be hired. Nagpur is also the nearest railhead. Board a bus to Khawasa, and from there take a taxi to Pench or arrange for a pick-up from your hotel.
What to do: Apart from jeep safaris and tiger sightings on elephant back, go for the pottery at Pachdhar village and the 30-minute stream-bed walk on a tributary of the Pench river.
Bite options: If youre looking for food outside your hotel, choices may be limited as most hotels serve food only to in-house guests.
A tiger sighting in this park in Maharashtra is almost guaranteed. Apart from the king of stripes, it holds bears, dholes, chital and sambar.
How to reach: Nagpur airport is 145km from the park. Vehicles can be hired from the airport. Chandrapur is the nearest railway station, about 45km away.
What to do: Gypsies can be hired for jungle safaris at Moharli Gate. The whole park can be accessed by jeep. Visit the shrine dedicated to Taru, a local god who died fighting a tiger, and scan the banks of the nearby Tadoba Lake for crocs.
Bite options: Food is vegetarian, and basic, within and around the national park. For better options, fill up at Chandrapur or Nagpur.
Inputs from Sankar Sridhar, Anirban Mahapatra,Sudeshna Banerjee and Aritro Ganguly
PAUL THEROUX talks about 10 smiley destinations around the globe
More than monuments, museums or Michelin stars, acclaimed writer Paul Theroux seeks out happiness when he roams the world. Theroux, the author of more than four dozen books, including the just-released Tao of Travel, shares thoughts on some happy spots. These are typically “places where there’s fulfilment, good food and enough of it, good weather, families intact, and a sense that they don’t have a desire to look for something elsewhere,” Theroux says.
|The Portland Head Light, Maine
Theroux has returned regularly since first visiting as a child in the 1950s. He loves everything about Maine, especially its long coastline. It has one of the most dramatic coasts. The great trip is to just go up Route 1, ideally late spring or early fall. You can drive from Boston to Portland and then just keep going along, Freeport, Brunswick, Rockland, up past Camden, then Bar Harbor. It goes all the way to Canada.
Orkney Islands, UK
Hard to get to but worth the trip, is how Theroux describes these mostly uninhabited 70 islands off the coast of Scotland. He recommends visiting Skara Brae, a Neolithic settlement and Unesco World Heritage Site, as well as the lovely harbour at Kirkwall, the largest town. People have been living there since prehistoric times and they have produced a lot of poets, writers, and musicians. I never stopped dreaming about these islands and the fresh fish, he says.
Despite what Theroux describes as a really terrible government, he loves this African nation, where small villages are self-contained societies that take care of their own. He suggests a visit to Lake Malawi. Its a very big, deep lake, with hotels all along the lakeshore. If I were a tourist, thats where I would go, and there are also game parks in the north where you can see elephants and giraffes and other animals.
Thailand is both famously foreigner-friendly and inexpensive, making it attractive to expats in retirement. Theroux loves the welcome, the food, the educated populace and the weather, but he also stresses the immense variety of travel opportunities. Theres coastal Thailand, jungle Thailand, mountainous Thailand, and if youre there you can easily visit Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, India, he says.
|A hula dancer from Hawaii
Theroux lives in Hawaii and attributes his prolific writing to the happiness he feels there. First-timers should make sure to visit multiple islands, as theyre all different. Each island has its own character, its own sense of pride, Theroux says. If youre not happy on one island, just find another.
|A view of the Nile
It has one of the oldest cultures on Earth, plus a friendly populace and a welcoming feel. Theroux especially likes the Nile. Egypt has the worlds treasures, thousands of years of accumulation of Egyptian culture, the pharaonic culture, not just the Pyramids, but temples all along the Nile, from Alexandria on the Mediterranean to Aswan and on to Abu Simbel. Numerous tour operators offer river cruises and guided excursions along the Nile.
Theroux spent a lot of time in Costa Ricas driest province, Guanacaste on the northwest Pacific coast. It has many resorts, is on the Pan American Highway and is easily accessible by air from the US. Happiness here is related to simplicity. They seem to practise the politics of enough, the economics of enough. They dont want more than they need, Theroux says.
The food in Sicily, the wine, the weather, the crops they grow, all are wonderful things. Its a very hospitable place, and Palermo is one of the great cities of Italy and of Europe too, Theroux says. Because of its proximity to North Africa, its different from the rest of Italy. He suggests getting there via ferry from Sardinia, train from Naples, or on a cruise ship.
Also known as the Kiriwina Islands, Theroux detailed this complex Pacific society off the coast of New Guinea in his book The Happy Islands of Oceania and describes it as one of the most liberated places he has ever been to. Its a place where I felt welcome, yet the people didnt want anything from me. They are perfectly content with what they have, he says. Like the Orkneys, it is far offshore and a hard place to get to, but worth it.
|The Ubud landscape, Bali
Theroux was so moved by the happiness in Bali, long a fantasy vacation destination, that he considered staying. Its the grace and aesthetic appeal. I just love the colours, the artistic sense of the Balinese. They can weave, carve, dance, play instruments, sing. Their houses are beautiful, their clothes are beautiful, they have temples, they have the most wonderful dances and ceremonies. Many travellers head to Balis beaches but traditional crafts and ceremonies can best be seen inland around the town of Ubud.