Travel Desk

Planning to escape Delhi’s noxious air during Diwali? Here are six pollution-free places to go to

These destinations are the perfect antidote to Delhi’s smog-choked streets.

Last Diwali, the air quality in the national capital deteriorated to alarming, hazardous levels. In the days that followed the festival, Delhi woke to blankets of smog and gloomy news reports of toxic pollution and of being among the cities with the worst air in the world. Rising pollution had far-reaching effects on city life: visibility on the streets was hampered, schools were closed down, construction work was halted, and residents’ health was affected. Unable to bear the torment, many residents escaped the city for greener, cleaner climes.

It is unclear if this Diwali, Delhi will witness a repeat of the depressing past. The Supreme Court has suspended the sale of firecrackers during the festival, calling them as a major contributor of pollution in the capital. “Let’s try out at least one Diwali without firecrackers,” one judge said.

But if you’re still considering leaving the city, and avoid obvious health complications from the noxious pollution, here are six places you can escape to.

Explore the mansions of Churu and Ramgarh, Rajasthan

Malji ka Kamra

A four-hour train ride away from Delhi, Churu is a sleepy, 400-year-old Rajasthani town on the fringes of the desert. Spend a few days at Malji ka Kamra – a flamboyant mint green, century-old haveli, now restored as a hotel – exploring Shekhawati’s intricately frescoed havelis. Churu is dotted with the remains of once-grand structures. Some, such as the twin havelies of the Surana brothers, date back to 1871 and still boast paintings and intricately carved doorways. Drive to neighbouring Ramgarh, with over 300 havelis and a cluster of cenotaphs with patterned roofs. Sample hot kachoris on the street, and at night, lie back on the open-air terrace of your hotel, looking up at a clear sky of stars, unobstructed by city smog.

Experience farm life at Punjabiyat, Punjab

Photo credit: Punjabiyat/via Facebook
Photo credit: Punjabiyat/via Facebook

Set in the lush farmlands of Punjab, Punjabiyat is a farm stay that offers a much-needed reprieve for city slickers. An hour away from Amritsar, four rustic, comfortable cottages with mud-plastered walls look out onto the wheat fields of a working farm in the Saidowal-Gunopur village. Take long walks through the fields, cycle through the village, ride the tractor and let the children try their hand at various farm activities. Days can be as active or laid back as you choose. Take excursions to the gurdwara or Amristsar, or just lounge with cups of ginger tea on the porch. Like everywhere in Punjab, meals of creamy lassi, stuffed parathas, veggies and kebabs are hearty, with the added bonus of being farm-fresh.

Hike trails beyond McLeodganj, Himachal Pradesh

Cloudy Triund, above Mcleodganj, Himachal Pradesh. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-2.0
Cloudy Triund, above Mcleodganj, Himachal Pradesh. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-2.0

Dharamshala and McLeodganj remain popular getaways from Delhi for their monasteries, cafés and curio shop-lined streets. Beyond the main market stretches, trails cut through the forested mountains to quieter enclaves. Trek through pine forests to the nearby village of Dharmkot, where the many cafes offer a good hot beverage before further walks to bucolic meadows and small waterfalls. The Tushita Centre offers courses on Buddhism as well as drop-in guided meditation sessions. Half an hour from McLeodganj, explore traditional Tibetan arts and the doll museum at the Norbulingka Institute. Sometimes skilled artists are at work here creating thangka paintings.

Take in the colonial charms of Landour, Uttarakhand

Char Dukan in Landour, Uttarakhand. Photo credit: Vishal Poswal/via Facebook
Char Dukan in Landour, Uttarakhand. Photo credit: Vishal Poswal/via Facebook

A quiet cantonment town just five kilometres away from the tourist traps of Mussoorie, but with cafes serving pancakes and plenty of outdoor trails to keep children engaged, Landour is the perfect antidote to Delhi’s smog-choked streets. In a throwback to the Raj era, colonial bungalows and churches define the town’s narrow streets. Take long walks through trails of deodar and pine, trek to the popular view point Lal Tibba, and visit St. Paul’s Church. When hunger strikes, head to Char Dukan, where a clutch of cafes serve pancakes and ginger lemon honey tea. With its cheery façade adorned with Tibetan motifs, Doma’s Inn is hard to miss, and offers a comfortable stay in cozy wood-lined rooms. Make the steep climb to Sisters Bazaar – a little market selling a handful of yak hair products and local produce such as apricot and gooseberry jams and preserves.

Try a Himalayan homestay at Jilling Terraces, Uttarakhand

View from The Kumaon in the Nanda Devi range. Photo credit: The Kumaon/via Facebook
View from The Kumaon in the Nanda Devi range. Photo credit: The Kumaon/via Facebook

Getting to this 80-year-old cottage in Kumaon involves a steep two-kilometre trek from Matial village that winds along mountain paths, through forests of oak and rhododendron. What lies at the end is well worth the labour: a rustic home shielded within acres of forest, expansive views of layered Himalayan peaks, including the Nanda Devi – India’s second highest peak. Rooms, like Kafal and Buransh, are named for berries and flowers found in the region. Spend days hiking through the wilderness with views of the South Gola range, dine on locally-sourced produce, and keep an eye out for the local variety of bird and animal life. In the evenings, retire by the fireplace with a book and, in a welcome respite from city noises, enjoy the sounds of the wilderness.

Relish the mountain vistas and art at Naggar, Himachal Pradesh

The Naggar Castle, Manali. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons  CC-BY-SA-4.0
The Naggar Castle, Manali. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA-4.0

While Manali is likely to be overrun during the holidays, nearby Naggar, where the Beas flows in the shadow of Himalayan peaks, offers plenty of quietude. Russian artist Nicholas Roerich immortalised the mountainscape in his paintings, and made these peaks his home from 1928 until his death in 1947. Set high above the village, reached through forests of pine, the Roerich Estate is the family’s preserved double-storey home. Browse through Nicholas and his son Svetoslav’s paintings displayed in a little gallery, and visit the memorial within the estate. Wander the grounds, taking in the Himalayan views and bracing mountain air. Naggar lends itself to lazy days spent by the riverside and on meandering walks. Explore the 15th century Naggar castle, built in typical pahari style with stone and wood, when the town was the capital of the Kullu Valley.

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Changing the conversation around mental health in rural India

Insights that emerged from discussions around mental health at a village this World Mental Health Day.

Questioning is the art of learning. For an illness as debilitating as depression, asking the right questions is an important step in social acceptance and understanding. How do I open-up about my depression to my parents? Can meditation be counted as a treatment for depression? Should heartbreak be considered as a trigger for deep depression? These were some of the questions addressed by a panel consisting of the trustees and the founder of The Live Love Lough Foundation (TLLLF), a platform that seeks to champion the cause of mental health. The panel discussion was a part of an event organised by TLLLF to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

According to a National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), common mental disorders including depression, anxiety disorders and substance use disorders affect nearly 10% of the population, with 1 in 20 people in India suffering from depression. The survey reported a huge treatment gap, a problem that is spread far and wide across urban and rural parts of the country.

On 10th of October, trustees of the foundation, Anna Chandy, Dr. Shyam Bhat and Nina Nair, along with its founder, Deepika Padukone, made a visit to a community health project centre in Devangere, Karnataka. The project, started by The Association of People with Disability (APD) in 2010, got a much-needed boost after partnering with TLLLF 2 years ago, helping them reach 819 people suffering from mental illnesses and spreading its program to 6 Taluks, making a difference at a larger scale.

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During the visit, the TLLLF team met patients and their families to gain insights into the program’s effectiveness and impact. Basavaraja, a beneficiary of the program, spoke about the issues he faced because of his illness. He shared how people used to call him mad and would threaten to beat him up. Other patients expressed their difficulty in getting access to medical aid for which they had to travel to the next biggest city, Shivmoga which is about 2 hours away from Davangere. A marked difference from when TLLLF joined the project two years ago was the level of openness and awareness present amongst the villagers. Individuals and families were more expressive about their issues and challenges leading to a more evolved and helpful conversation.

The process of de-stigmatizing mental illnesses in a community and providing treatment to those who are suffering requires a strong nexus of partners to make progress in a holistic manner. Initially, getting different stakeholders together was difficult because of the lack of awareness and resources in the field of mental healthcare. But the project found its footing once it established a network of support from NIMHANS doctors who treated the patients at health camps, Primary Healthcare Centre doctors and the ASHA workers. On their visit, the TLLLF team along with APD and the project partners discussed the impact that was made by the program. Were beneficiaries able to access the free psychiatric drugs? Did the program help in reducing the distance patients had to travel to get treatment? During these discussions, the TLLLF team observed that even amongst the partners, there was an increased sense of support and responsiveness towards mental health aid.

The next leg of the visit took the TLLLF team to the village of Bilichodu where they met a support group that included 15 patients and caregivers. Ujjala Padukone, Deepika Padukone’s mother, being a caregiver herself, was also present in the discussion to share her experiences with the group and encouraged others to share their stories and concerns about their family members. While the discussion revolved around the importance of opening up and seeking help, the team brought about a forward-looking attitude within the group by discussing future possibilities in employment and livelihood options available for the patients.

As the TLLLF team honoured World Mental Health day, 2017 by visiting families, engaging with support groups and reviewing the successes and the challenges in rural mental healthcare, they noticed how the conversation, that was once difficult to start, now had characteristics of support, openness and a positive outlook towards the future. To continue this momentum, the organisation charted out the next steps that will further enrich the dialogue surrounding mental health, in both urban and rural areas. The steps include increasing research on mental health, enhancing the role of social media to drive awareness and decrease stigma and expanding their current programs. To know more, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of The Live Love Laugh Foundation and not by the Scroll editorial team.