Bold enough to travel despite Covid? Here are 6 getaways to beat winter

Winters in north India are particularly harsh, and tourist destinations here often see sub-zero temperatures during this time, which makes them unfit for people not accustomed to such cold. Here is a list of places that can be considered instead

Bold enough to travel despite Covid? Here are 6 getaways to beat winter
Elephant safari at the Kaziranga National Park in Assam. Image courtesy: Guwahati Airport

The Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant curbs on air travel, in particular, has dealt a massive blow to the tourism industry. India went under a stringent lockdown since March 25, which meant that the operation of commercial passenger flights was cancelled. It was not until May 25 that domestic passenger flights were restarted, albeit in a limited way. According to the Federation of Associations in Indian Tourism and Hospitality (FAITH), the Indian tourism industry is poised to lose Rs 15 trillion and see 3.8 crore people losing their jobs. There have been over 3 million cases of Covid-19 in India so far, and nearly 60,000 people have died due to the disease in the country. 

Still, if you are bold enough to plan a holiday to escape the punishing north Indian winter, here are 6 places that you can consider:

1. Munnar

This town in Kerala is called the 'Kashmir of South India'. Located at an altitude of 1,600m (5,200 feet) in the Western Ghats, Munnar is known for its rolling hills covered by a carpet of tea plantations. The scenery is breathtaking and a person looking down from a hilltop would often see mist clinging to the greenery below. 

There are a number of threatened and endemic species of flora and fauna that exist in protected areas like the new Kurinjimala Sanctuary, Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, Manjampatti Valley, and Eravikulam National Park among others. 

Some of these species are the Nilgiri Thar, grizzled giant squirrel, Nilgiri wood-pigeon, elephant, gaur, Nilgiri langur, sambar, and the neelakurinji flower (that blossoms only once in 12 years). Tourists may also visit the Munnar and Lockhart Tea Museums, Sri Subramanya Temple, Rose Garden, etc. A stay at the many colonial-style planters' bungalows is something to look forward to. 

The average temperature ranges between 17 and 18-degree celsius, which is considered to be extremely pleasant.

Nearest airport -- The airport closest to Munnar is the Cochin International Airport situated 110km away.
2. Coonoor

It is a taluk and municipality located in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu. It is located at an altitude of 1,850 metres (6,070 feet) above the sea level and is famous for its tea estates which grow a dark, intensely aromatic and flavoured tea variety called Nilgiri tea. 

One can enjoy panoramic views of the sunrise from behind the Nilgiri range from vantage points like Lamb’s Rock or Dolphin’s Nose while sipping on the local brew. The bellflower-lined streets are truly alluring. Other attractions are Sim's Park, which houses over 1,000 plant species, Droog Fort, which was used by Tipu Sultan in the 18th century, Catherine Falls, Law's Falls, Nilgiri Toy Train, silkworm breeding station and silk farm. 

The Pasteur Institute located near Sim’s park develops vaccination for rabies. Bird watching is a popular pastime in Coonoor. 

The average temperature in December and January hovers around 13-15 degree celsius, which is a bit on the lower side, but still manageable.

Nearest airport -- The airport closest to Coonoor is the Coimbatore International Airport situated about 70 km away.

3. Cola Beach

Cola beach in Goa is an offbeat and lesser-known location when compared to the more famous beaches in the state like Calangute, Candolim, or Palolem. 

The Cola beach scores heavily on natural beauty and is the place to be if you are in search of some peace and quiet. The fishing villages of Canacona make for a stunning landscape. The sea is gentle and the golden sandy beach is lined by palm trees. The clear palm-fringed freshwater lagoon adds to the charm. 

The average temperature here during December and January stays around a very comfortable 30-degree celsius.  

Nearest airport -- Dabolim International Airport at just over 50 km is closest to the Cola beach.
4. Kaziranga National Park

This park, located across the Golaghat, Karbi Anglong and Nagaon districts of Assam, is home to the one-horned rhinoceros and one of the most popular wildlife holiday destinations in India. The park's 430 sq km area is covered by elephant-grass meadows, swampy lagoons and dense forests. It houses nearly two-thirds of all the one-horned rhinos in the world. 

It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was declared a Tiger Reserve in 2006. Elephants, wild water buffalo, swamp deer, and a variety of birds add to the rich wildlife of the area. The park is circumscribed by the mighty river Brahmaputra. 

One of the largest tracts of protected land in the sub-Himalayan belt, the Kaziranga has also been identified as a biodiversity hotspot. The park is characterised by tall elephant grass, marshland, and dense tropical moist broadleaf forests. 

The winters are mild and dry with an average temperature in December and January being around 20-degree celsius. November to February is perhaps the best time to visit Kaziranga as chances of spotting rhinos increase during this time with the grass burning off and the background becoming clearer.

Those travelling to Kaziranga may also want to explore the Kakochang fall, Deopahar, Hoollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary and Addabarie Tea Estate nearby to make the holiday truly memorable.

Nearest airport -- Jorhat Airport, located at a distance of just under 100km is the nearest airport to Kaziranga. However, given the limited commercial operations at Jorhat, the Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport in Guwahati serves as a better connecting link for tourists coming from India and abroad.

5. Gokarna

This small temple town in Karnataka is one of the seven important Hindu pilgrimage centres of the world. The main deity is Lord Shiva (also called Mahabaleshwar) and the temple is believed to house the original image of Lord Shiva's linga (Atmalinga). 

Gokarna is also known for its beaches, including the famous Om beach -- naturally shaped like the 'Om' symbol, which is regarded as sacred by Hindus. The other beaches are the Gokarna Main beach, Kudle beach, Half moon beach, Paradise beach and Belekan beach. These beaches are not very crowded and life in and around Gokarna is laidback, giving tourists ample opportunities to relax. The drive up the path leading to Gokarna is beautiful with the Western Ghats on one side and the Arabian Sea on the other. 

Beach trekking, banana boat ride, beach shack stay, treehouse stay, flea market shopping are some of the activities to look forward to. Not too far from Gokarna are the Murudeshwar temple that has the world's second-tallest Shiva statue. Tourists can also hop over to Yana and Mirjan Fort. 

The average temperature in December and January hovers around 25-27 degrees celsius.    

Nearest airport -- Tourists would be better off using the Dabolim International Airport in Goa, which is just under 150 km from Gokarna. The Hubli Airport is a few kilometres nearer but operates only domestic flights.

6. Yelagiri hills

This is an attractive hill station located in the Tirupattur district of Tamil Nadu at an altitude of 1110.6 m (3,643.7 feet). It is surrounded by orchards, rose gardens and green valleys.
The hill station is noted for trekking, rock climbing and paragliding. 

Other places of interest in an around Yelagiri Hills are the Punganoor Lake Park, Jalagamparai Waterfalls, Swami Malai Hills, Telescope observatory and Sri Sathya Ashram. The Yelagiri Summer festival also brings in a number of tourists.

The average temperature in this region during December and January stays in the range of roughly 25-30 degrees celsius.

Nearest airport --  Kempegowda International airport (at a distance of just under 200 km).