Travel Desk

Top 10 holidays in April: Trek in Sikkim, watch tulips bloom in Kashmir, listen to ragas in Banaras

A list of places to go and things to do this month.

Baisakhi in Amritsar

Credit: Angad Pal Singh Kingra/Wikimedia Commons
Credit: Angad Pal Singh Kingra/Wikimedia Commons

An eternal favourite destination for the gorgeous Golden Temple and its glorious street food, Amritsar in April is extra special with the added festivities of Baisakhi. Partake in that famed Punjabi hospitality, as Punjab celebrates the festival on April 14 with much revelry and fervour. It’s a day when farmers celebrate a good harvest, the calendar heralds the beginning of the Sikh New Year, and that marks the founding of the Khalsa in 1699. Devotees pay their respects at the Golden Temple, take a dip in the holy water tank, and feast on a volunteer-prepared, communal langar. Also visit the new Partition Museum, which documents the story of over 14 million people affected by the division of India.

High-Altitude Treks in West Sikkim

Credit: Proxygeek/Flickr
Credit: Proxygeek/Flickr

Between Sikkim’s snowy winter and wild monsoon, a short summer season between April and May reveals rhododendron-laden trees, clear skies, and the best chance to spot the elusive Kanchenjunga from West Sikkim’s Khangchendzonga National Park. Vast tracts of cherry and oak provide a habitat to wildlife such as the tahr and red panda. The long road journey into this untamed high-altitude region is best now before the rains hit, and April also marks the beginning of the short summer trekking season on the popular Dzongri and Goeche-La routes through the park. Both trails take around 10 days, but shorter, easier day hikes are possible from Yuksom.

Road Trip to the Tirthan Valley

As summer rolls around in North India, the time is ripe for a road trip in Himachal Pradesh, as the snow melts away to reveal lush valleys and forest-draped peaks. In Kullu district, the roaring Tirthan River carves out the Tirthan Valley, far removed from the bustle of the state’s other popular summer getaways. Stay in traditional wooden pahari homes in quiet settlements such as Gushaini and Nagini, camp under the stars in a flower-studded meadow, and try angling in the cold streams. Gushaini sits on the fringes of the Great Himalayan National Park, where the best season for day hikes and longer trails through the UNESCO World Heritage Site has just begun.

Witness the Darjeeling Tea Harvest at Sourenee Tea Estate

For endless cups of tea and plenty of quiet time, head to Darjeeling’s Mirik Valley, where the Sournee bungalow sits within an expansive 100-year-old tea estate. Watch tea pickers as they practise their delicate art, and indulge in tea-tasting sessions, where estate-grown varieties of the famed Darjeeling Orthodox tea are on offer. The advent of the spring rains in early March denotes the beginning of the tea season in the Darjeeling hills. Experience the season of the First Flush, or the first plucking, which yields the very best of Darjeeling tea and lasts until the end of April.

Track Rhinos in Kaziranga National Park

Credit: Himanish Dutta666/Wikimedia Commons
Credit: Himanish Dutta666/Wikimedia Commons

On the southern banks of the Brahmaputra, within the tall elephant grass of Assam’s Kaziranga National Park, lurks the endangered one-horned rhino, alongside an abundant population of deer, water buffalo, and the rather elusive Royal Bengal Tiger. Look up into the branches to spot pelicans and kingfishers. Jeep safaris go deep into the park, while elephant safaris offer a better chance at spotting animals hidden in the tall grass. Head into this thriving landscape before it closes for the rains, usually in May, only to reopen in November.

Go River Rafting on the Ganga

Add a little adventure to your next family holiday with a spot of river rafting on Ganga’s whitewater rapids. Stay at a tented riverside camp on the white sands of Devaprayag and Shivpuri near Rishikesh. Reserve your mornings to navigate a series of rapids and bodysurf in the shadow of forested peaks. Spend the rest of your days taking forest walks, lazing by the river with a book, and sitting by a bonfire under the stars. The rafting season lasts until early May and starts again only in late September.

Sankat Mochan Sangeet Samaroh in Varanasi

Credit: Sankatmochan-Sangeet-Samaroh/Facebook.com
Credit: Sankatmochan-Sangeet-Samaroh/Facebook.com

Every April, Varanasi resounds with the strains of Indian classical music and dance as the five-day Sankat Mochan Sangeet Samaroh takes place within the compound of the Sankat Mochan Hanuman temple. Free to attend, the annual festival has seen some of the biggest names in the industry over the years, including Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia, and L Subramaniam. Performances last all night, and the air is festive as the audience flits in and out, sharing tea and snacks. (From April 15-20)

Unwind at Aranyakam in Wayanad, Kerala

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Cradled between the Nilgiri Hills and the Nilambur Forest, Aranyakam offers a homestay experience within the lush coconut groves, coffee, tea, rubber and cardamom plantations of Wayanad. Choose to stay in the main house – a grand, wood-lined heritage Kerala home – or independent tree house huts, with sweeping valley and forest views. Meals consist of authentic, home-style Kerala cuisine. Days here are best spent taking lazy walks through the surrounding plantation and savouring the glorious absence of city sounds.

Experience the Tulip Season in Kashmir

Credit: Abdars/Wikimedia Commons
Credit: Abdars/Wikimedia Commons

April signals the start of the tourist season in Kashmir, as cool climes and spring blooms beckon. Plan a visit to coincide with the 15-day Tulip Festival, on until April 15, in Srinagar’s Indira Gandhi Memorial Tulip Garden – Asia’s largest tulip garden. The summer capital comes alive with colours as 20 lakh tulip bulbs, spanning 46 varieties, bloom in the garden overlooking the postcard-perfect Dal Lake. On the side, expect poetry recitals, handicraft stalls, and traditional Kashmiri cuisine.

Kasauli Rhythm and Blues Festival

Courtesy: Kasauli Rhythm and Blues Festival
Courtesy: Kasauli Rhythm and Blues Festival

Head to the hills this Easter weekend as the sixth edition of Kasauli’s annual music festival returns from April 14-16 at Baikunth Resorts. In the foothills of the Himalayas, the outdoor festival will see acts across a span of genres, including fusion-jazz, sufi, folk, indie, and Bollywood. Up-and-coming young acts such as the Kamakshi Khanna Collective are slated to play alongside Neeraj Arya’s Kabir Café, Nasya from Delhi, the Jonita Gangdhi Band, and Late Too Soon, among others. Proceeds from the festival go towards treating critically ill children with heart disorders.

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From Indian pizzas in San Francisco to bhangra competitions in Boston

A guide to the Indian heart of these American cities.

The United States of America has for long been more than a tourist destination for Indians. With Indians making up the second largest immigrant group in the USA, North American cities have a lot to offer to the travel weary Indian tourist. There are umpteen reasons for an Indian to visit vibrant education and cultural hubs like Boston and San Francisco. But if you don’t have a well-adjusted cousin to guide you through the well-kept Indian secrets, this guide to the Indian heart of Boston and San Francisco should suffice for when you crave your fix.

Boston

If you aren’t easily spooked, Boston is the best place to be at in October due to its proximity to Salem. You can visit the Salem Witch Village to learn about present-day wiccans and authentic witchcraft, or attend séances and Halloween parades with ghosts, ghouls and other frightening creatures giving you a true glimpse of America during Halloween. But the macabre spirit soon gives way to a dazzling array of Christmas lighting for the next two months. The famed big Christmas trees are accompanied by festive celebrations and traditions. Don’t miss The Nutcracker, the sugar-laced Christmas adventure.

While it upholds its traditions, Boston is a highly inclusive and experimental university town. It welcomes scores of Indian students every year. Its inclusiveness can be gauged from the fact that Berklee College of Music released a well-received cover of AR Rahman’s Jiya Jale. The group, called the Berklee Indian Ensemble, creates compositions inspired by Indian musical styles like the Carnatic thillana and qawwali.

Boston’s Bollywood craze is quite widespread beyond the campuses too. Apple Cinemas in Cambridge and Regal Fenway Cinemas in Fenway can be your weekly fix as they screen all the major upcoming Bollywood movies. Boston tends to be the fighting ground for South Asian Showdowns in which teams from all over the North-Eastern coast gather for Bollywood-themed dance offs. The Bhangra competitions, especially, are held with the same energy and vigour as back home and are open to locals and tourists alike. If nothing else, there are always Bollywood flash mob projects you can take part in to feel proudly desi in a foreign land.

While travellers love to experiment with food, most Indian travellers will agree that they need their spice fix in the middle of any foreign trip. In that respect, Boston has enough to satisfy cravings for Indian food. North Indian cuisine is popular and widely available, but delicious South Indian fare can also be found at Udupi Bhavan. At Punjab Palace, you can dig into a typical North Indian meal while catching a Bollywood flick on one of their TVs. Head to Barbecue International for cross-continental fusion experiments, like fire-roasted Punjabi-style wings with mint and chilli sauce.

Boston is prominent on the radar of Indian parents scouting for universities abroad and the admission season especially sees a lot of prospective students and parents looking for campus tours and visits. To plan your visit, click here.

San Francisco

San Francisco is an art lover’s delight. The admission-free Trolley Dances, performed in October, focus on engaging with the communities via site-specific choreographies that reflect the city’s cultural diversity. Literature lovers can experience a Dickensian Christmas and a Victorian holiday party at The Great Dickens Christmas Fair, a month-long gala affair starting in November.

As an Indian, you’ll be spoilt for choice in San Francisco, especially with regards to food. San Francisco’s sizeable Indian population, for example, has several aces hidden up its sleeve. Take this video by Eater, which claims that the ‘Indian’ pizza at Zante’s Restaurant is the city’s best kept secret that needs outing. Desi citizens of San Francisco are big on culinary innovation, as is evident from the popularity of the food truck Curry Up Now. With a vibrant menu featuring Itsy Bitsy Naan Bits and Bunty Burrito and more, it’s not hard to see why it is a favourite among locals. Sunnyvale, with its large concentration of Indians also has quirky food on offer. If you wish to sample Veer Zaara Pizza, Dabangg Pizza or Agneepath Pizza, head to Tasty Subs & Pizza.

There are several Indian temples in Sunnyvale, Fremont and San Jose that also act as effective community spaces for gatherings. Apart from cultural events, they even hold free-for-all feasts that you can attend. A little-known haven of peace is the Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple. Their Anjaneya World Cafe serves delicious mango lassi; the beverage is a big hit among the local population.

If you’re looking for an Indian movie fix during your travels, the San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival’s theme this year is Bollywood and Beyond. Indian film enthusiasts are in for a treat with indie projects, art-house classics, documentaries and other notable films from the subcontinent being screened.

San Francisco’s autumn has been described as ‘Indian summer’ by the locals and is another good season to consider while planning a trip. The weather lends more vigour to an already vibrant cultural scene. To plan your trip, click here.

An Indian traveller is indeed spoilt for choice in Boston and San Francisco as an Indian fix is usually available just around the corner. Offering connectivity to both these cities, Lufthansa too provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its India-bound flights and flights departing from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.