Even as fears of a Third Wave and fresh Covid cases surge in some parts of the country, in others, the pandemic appears to be loosening its grip amid large-scale vaccinations. This is why the long-dormant desire to travel has begun to resurface. Short road trips and vacations to nearby places are giving way to slightly longer holidays. “Earlier, the lead time for booking was 2-3 days, but with the festive season, it has increased to 5-6 days. This is a positive change from last year,” says Vikram Lalvani, Chief of Revenue, Sales and Destinations, Sterling Holiday Resorts.

While international travel is opening up, Indians continue to prefer domestic locales for their festive and year-end holidays. “On GoIbibo, 60% of the total advance bookings are for Goa, Manali, Darjeeling, Udaipur, Shimla, Gangtok, Agra, Jaipur, Amritsar, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur and Srinagar,” says Sunil Suresh, CMO, GoIbibo. This growing intent to travel is corroborated by Thomas Cook India and SOTC survey among 2,500 people, with 85% respondents showing keenness to travel between October and December this year.

To lure customers, travel aggregator websites, hotels and airlines are offering festive discounts. For instance, MakeMyTrip’s Festive Travel Sale offers 21% off on domestic flights, while OYO has launched ‘Check-in Rewards’, where you stand a chance to win assured rewards when you check-in at an OYO hotel and unlock ‘Check-in Rewards’ on the app.

Hotels and travel operators are also reassuring customers that they are taking all precautions, but ultimately it is up to the vacationers to ensure that they observe safe practices and choose destinations carefully. “We advise people to check travel restrictions set by the government before booking and travelling, and encourage them to book an accommodation with free cancellation,” says Ritu Mehrotra, Regional Manager, South Asia, Booking.com.

To further ease travellers’ plans, ET Wealth has shortlisted five domestic destinations in varying categories—beach, hills, wildlife, historical and religious places. These include Puducherry, Uttarakhand, Nagarhole National Park in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. Some are definitely not hotspots, others are clearly off-beat destinations. One reason for picking these places is that they are Covid-safe, having very few new Covid cases. The only exception is the wildlife park in Karnataka, which has been included because the population density in the parks is very low. So while we could have picked the Northeastern states in the ‘hill’ category, or the temples in the South for ‘religious’ category, we had to forgo these due to the recent surge in Covid cases in these regions. For your benefit, we have also listed the Covid guidelines in place in these states.

Besides, these are likely to suit your budget, costing less than Rs 50,000 for a couple. For convenience, we have taken Delhi as the origin point and considered 3-star stay options. So, if you reside close to the destination, your cost will automatically come down. The transport has also been taken considering budget and safety. So buses have been left out in favour of cabs for safety, and trains chosen over flights due to lower costs. The itineraries are tentative and you can alter them to suit your budget. So get ready to pack your bags!

Beach: Puducherry

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Puducherry, earlier known as Pondicherry, is the best destination for a laidback, lazy holiday, and in Covid times, among the safer and more affordable places. This former French colony has a sprinkling of serene beaches, quaint colonial villas, boulevards and cafes, amazing food, churches and temples. Though currently there are some restrictions in place, like night curfew, which means you cannot enjoy the nightlife, you can easily soak in the beautiful sites and beaches as long as you are back to the hotel by 11 pm.

You can fly to Chennai, Bengaluru or Hyderabad and then take a cab to Puducherry. You can also take trains, with Villupuram being the nearest railway station 35 km away, or buses, which are the cheaper options, but not as safe due to Covid. The tiny 20 sq km Union Territory can be enjoyed in a leisurely fashion by taking cabs, bikes or even walking. For accommodation, you have a pick that ranges from the budget to luxurious French villas that have been converted to hotels. In much the same way as sites and beaches, food is an attraction showing a clear French and Tamil influence.

Total cost: Rs 45,000 per couple, 3N/4D

Best time to visit: October – March

New covid cases: 56 (New Covid cases as on 12 Oct 2021)

How to get there

  • Delhi – Chennai: By air (return fare, 2 hrs 50 mts): Rs 10,000
  • Chennai – Puducherry: By road (cab, 160 km, 3 hrs): Rs 4,500

Total cost: Rs 14,500

Itinerary

  • Day 1: Arrive and visit Auroville, Matri Mandir, White Town, and Promenade beach.
  • Day 2: Visit Aurobindo Ashram, Manakula Vinayagar Temple, Botanical Garden, Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
  • Day 3: Go to Channumbar boat house, Paradise beach.
  • Day 4: On the way back to Chennai, visit Mahabalipuram.

Stay (3 star): Total cost Rs 18,000

Food: Total cost Rs 7,000

Sightseeing: Total cost Rs 400-500

Things to do

  • Visit beaches, including the Promenade or Rock beach, Paradise (Chunnambar boat house), Auroville, Karaikal, Serenity and Quiet beaches, among others.
  • Auroville, White Town, French Memorial.
  • Aurobindo Ashram, Manakula Vinayagar Temple, Botanical Garden.
  • Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Commute Cab (day trips): Rs 5,000

(Cost is lesser if you take separate cabs, bikes, autos, or even walk.)

Covid guidelines

  • All passengers must download the Aarogya setu App.
  • RT-PCR test report is not needed to enter Puducherry.
  • No quarantine rules applicable for domestic travellers.
  • All passengers should undergo thermal screening.
  • Lockdown is in effect but flight operations remain unaffected. Night curfew from 11 pm-5 am.
  • All tourist sites, restaurants and hotels open with 50% capacity.

Historical: Madhya Pradesh

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Rajasthan may be the favourite historical destination given its beautiful forts and palaces, but equally resplendent are Hindu and Jain temples as well as forts of Madhya Pradesh. Importantly, the state is low on new Covid cases. You can start with Gwalior, take in Orchha and end the trip with Khajuraho. Though Orchha is lesser-known, overshadowed as it is by Khajuraho, it is one of the hidden gems as far as historical monuments are concerned.

Though we have not listed in the itinerary, you can also take in Jhansi while travelling from Orchha to Khajuraho. Each of these places requires at least one-and-a-half days to take in all the monuments, but you can extend the stay as per your liking. Since the flight option is too expensive, we have considered a combination of train and road travel, which will fit in your budget. There are plenty of stay options ranging from budget to luxury and we have considered 3-star accommodation. For sightseeing, we have picked cabs for day-long excursion, but you can choose cheaper options depending on Covid safety practices followed.

Total cost: Rs 45,920 per couple, 4N/5D

Best time to visit: October – March

New covid cases: 12

How to get there

  • Delhi – Gwalior: By train (2AC, 340 km, 3 hrs): Rs 1,560
  • Gwalior – Orchha: By train (2 AC, 1 hr 30 mts): Rs 1,000, By road (120 km, 2 hrs): Rs 2,500
  • Orchha – Khajuraho: By train (2 AC, 4 hrs 30 mts): Rs 1,500, By road (170 km, 2 hrs 30 mts): Rs 3,000
  • Khajuraho – Delhi: By train (2 AC, 660 km, 14 hrs):Rs 2,860

Total cost: Rs 9,920

Itinerary

  • Day 1: Arrive in Gwalior.
  • Day 2: Spend half a day in Gwalior before moving to Orchha.
  • Day 3: Visit monuments in Orchha.
  • Day 4: Move to Khajuraho after half a day in Orchha.
  • Day 5 Spend the day in Khajuraho before taking the night train to Delhi.

Stay (3 star): Total cost Rs 16,000

Food: Total cost Rs 10,000

Sightseeing: Total cost Rs 3,000

Things to do

  • Gwalior: Gwalior Fort, Jai Vilas Palace & Museum, Tansen Memorial, Chhatris, Man Mandir Palace, Bir Singh Palace (Daitia), Mitavli temples, Bateshwar temples, Padavli fort.
  • Orchha: Orchha fort, Chhatris on Betwa river, Laxminarayan temple, Chaturbhuj temple, Ram Raja temple, boating/kayaking/rafting in Betwa river.
  • Khajuraho: Khajuraho Group of Monuments (over 20 Hindu, Jain, Buddhist temples), Raneh Falls Canyon, Archaeological Museum.

Commute: Total cost Rs 7,000 (day tours, local cab)

Covid guidelines

  • No RT-PCR or e-pass requirement.
  • All tourists must download the Aarogya Setu app.
  • Thermal screening shall be done for all passengers.
  • All passengers entering from Maharashtra must carry a negative RT-PCR test report with a sample taken within 72 hours before arrival. RT-PCR test timeline starts from the swab collection time.
  • Passengers might not be allowed to board flights if they are not carrying a valid test report.

Planning to travel? Find out if your hotel is covid proof

Is your hotel safe?

(Based on text by Riju Mehta)

Many hotels are implementing Covid safety measures in adherence with the guidelines of the World Health Organisation, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India and the respective governments. They are executing these via in-house resources, launching their own brand’s cleanliness initiatives, or employing external agencies to do so. Here are some of the safety measures and new norms you are likely to and should come across in hotel chains and resorts. You may find that most of them having initiated their own safety protocols.

Wildlife: Nagarhole National Park, Kabini, Karnataka

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Also known as the Rajiv Gandhi National Park, this 640 sq km sanctuary has the beautiful Kabini river flowing through it. In recent years it has turned into a wildlife photographer haven recording sightings of tigers, leopards, sloth bear, wild dogs, striped hyenas, elephants, chital, sambar, and barking deer. Safaris are conducted only by the Forest Department.

The cheapest way to reach Nagarhole from Delhi is by train, but be prepared to start 1.5-2 days earlier as it takes 33-40 hours to get there. After that you can take a cab. The fastest way is to take a flight to Bengaluru and take a cab from there. Stay options around the forest range from rentals to resorts and cost between Rs 1,500 and Rs 33,000 a night. If you stay at the Kabini River Lodge, run by the Karnataka government’s Jungle Lodges & Resorts, the package takes care of stay, food and safaris, but costs around Rs 27,000 a night. Other resorts may either include meals and safaris or charge extra for it. Also, check whether your resort conducts safaris because not all of them do. If you have time, check out the Iruppu falls nearby.

Total cost: Rs 49,000 per couple, 3N/4D

Best time to visit: November – May

New covid cases: 332

How to get there

  • Delhi – Bengaluru: By train (3 AC, 2,160 km, 33 hrs): Rs 11,000, By air (return fare, 2 hrs 45 mts): Rs 27,000
  • Bengaluru – Park By road (cab, 220 km, 6 hrs): Rs 6,000

Total cost: Rs 17,000

Itinerary

  • Day 1: Fly from Delhi to Bengaluru and then take a cab to Kabini. Take the evening safari.
  • Day 2: Go for bus/jeep/boat safari in the morning and evening.
  • Day 3 Take another safari in the morning if you want. Visit other sites or relax.
  • Day 4: Fly back to Delhi.

Stay: Total cost Rs 21,000

Food: Total cost Rs 5,000

Sightseeing: Total cost Rs 6,000-9,000 (3 safaris)

Things to do

  • Safaris are organised by the state’s Forest Department, with two safaris conducted on weekdays (6.30-9 am & 3.30-6 pm) and four on the weekends (6-7.30 am, 7.30-9 am, 3-4.30 pm, 4.30-6 pm).
  • Entry fee to Nagarhole National Park: Rs 600 + Rs 250-1,500 (camera)
  • Bus/van safari: Rs 1,200
  • Safari in Jungle Lodges and Resorts (JLR) vehicles (jeep/boat): Rs 2,000-3,500

Covid guidelines

  • Download and update the Aarogya Setu app.
  • Covid-19 negative certificate/ 14 days quarantine restrictions are applicable for visitors from restricted states.
  • All passengers entering Karnataka from Maharashtra and Kerala must carry a negative RT-PCR test report with a sample taken within 72 hours before arrival. RT-PCR test timeline starts from the swab collection time.
  • Negative RT-PCR test report is not required for asymptomatic passengers from any other state. Symptomatic passengers must carry a negative RT-PCR test report with a sample taken within 72 hours before arrival.
  • Passengers may not be allowed to board flights if not carrying a valid test report.

Religious: Gujarat

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Among the most Covid-safe states, Gujarat is also a well-regarded religious destination, with hundreds of Hindu and Jain temples. You can visit temples dedicated to Lord Shiva and Lord Krishna, which are sprinkled all over the state and in particular in Somnath, Dwarka, Ambaji, Bhavnagar, Jamnagar and Palitana. While the Dwarkadheesh temple in Dwarka is a part of the revered Chardham yatra for Hindus, the Somnath temple has one of the 12 Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva.

To fit into our budget, we have prepared a four-night, five-day itinerary, which includes a visit to Ahmedabad, Jamnagar, Dwarka and Somnath. While train is the cheapest mode of transport for intrastate travel, you can opt for cabs even though you pay slightly more in order to keep Covid-safe. While travelling locally to visit the tourist sites, you can take cabs for all-day sightseeing. Accommodation is also easy to come by in budget-friendly options and you save a lot on sightseeing costs as most of the sites you visit are temples, where entry is free of cost.

Total cost: Rs 48,820 per couple, 4N/5D

Best time to visit: November -February

New covid cases: 22

How to get there

  • Delhi – Ahmedabad: By air (one way, 1 hr 30 mts): Rs 9,663, By train (3AC, 935 km, 14 hrs): Rs 3,500
  • Ahmedabad – Jamnagar: By train (2AC, 2 hrs): Rs 1,690, By cab (300 km, 6 hrs 30 mts): Rs 3,300
  • Jamnagar – Dwarka: By train (2 AC, 2 hrs 15 mts): Rs 2,880, By cab (140 km, 2 hrs 45 mts): Rs 2,800
  • Dwarka – Somnath: By train (2 AC, 8 hrs 45 mts): Rs 1,970, By cab (230 km, 4 hrs): Rs 4,000
  • Somnath – Delhi (via Ahmedabad): By train (Over 24 hrs): Rs 5,330

Total cost: Rs 17,320

Itinerary

  • Day 1: Arrive in Ahmedabad. Visit the temples.
  • Day 2: Move to Jamnagar.
  • Day 3: Shift from Jamnagar to Dwarka.
  • Day 4: Move to Somnath.
  • Day 5: Travel back to Delhi.

Stay (3 star): Total cost Rs 14,000

Food: Total cost Rs 8,000

Sightseeing: Total cost Rs 500

Things to do

  • Ahmedabad: Akshardham temple, Swaminarayan temple, Hutheesingh, Modhera Sun, Shri Hanumanji, Devendrashwar Mahadev and Vaishno Devi temple.
  • Jamnagar: Bala Hanuman temple, Sidhdhnath temple, Nagnath, Bhidbhanjan Mahadev, Khijda, Parsi Agiyari, Jama Masjid, Jain Derasar, Moksh Dham, and Swaminarayan Mandir.
  • Dwarka: Dwarkadheesh temple, Nageshwar Jyotirlinga temple, Bhadkeshwar Mahadev temple, Beyt Dwarika, Nageshwar Shiva temple, Rukshamanee mandir, Sudama Setu, Swaminarayan temple.
  • Somnath: Somnath & Somnath Mahadev temples, Bhalka Tirth, Triveni Sangam, Panch Pandav Gufa, Lakshminarayan temple.

Commute: Total cost Rs 9,000

Covid guidelines

  • All must download Aarogya Setu app.
  • Covid negative report and vaccination certificate not required for those travelling to cities other than Surat and Ahmedabad.
  • Vaccinated passengers from Maharashtra and Kerala can enter Ahmedabad with a Covid vaccination certificate (both doses) after completing 15 days from receipt of the 2nd dose.
  • Non-vaccinated passengers entering Ahmedabad from Maharashtra and Kerala must carry a negative RT-PCR test report with a sample taken within 72 hours before arrival.
  • Passengers travelling to Ahmedabad from Maharashtra and Kerala might not be allowed to board flights if they are not carrying a valid test report/vaccination certificate.

Hills: Uttarakhand

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Due to its proximity to Delhi, Uttarakhand is one of the cheapest options on our list, but the cost may rise for people travelling from other parts of the country. It is one of the most Covid-safe destinations and we have picked some relatively unexplored places in the state, including Kausani, Chaukori, Munsiyari and Abbott Mount. All of these ooze natural beauty and are perfect for relaxation, or exploring temples, or simply trekking, hiking and bird watching. You can also ski if you love snow and want to be in the hills during winters.

Since these are unexplored areas, there are no luxury resorts, but smaller stay options and plenty of homestays and rentals. We have considered 2-star options which are pocket-friendly. Though buses can be the cheapest for intrastate travel, we have chosen trains and cabs for safety. Food and sightseeing are also extremely affordable, bringing down your travel costs considerably.

Total Cost: Rs 31,300 per couple, 4N/5D

Best time to visit: October – February

New covid cases: 20

How to get there

  • Delhi – Kathgodam – Kausani: By train (CC, 5 hrs 25 mts) + cab (5 hrs): Rs 1,450 + Rs 3,500 = Rs 4,950, By road (cab, 432 km, 10 hrs): Rs 5,500
  • Kausani – Chaukori: By road (cab, 87 km, 2hrs 45 mts): Rs 1,200
  • Chaukori – Munsiyari: By road (cab, 98 km, 3 hrs 30 mts): Rs 1,400
  • Munsiyari– Abbott Mount: By road (cab, 184 km, 6 hrs): Rs 2,300
  • Abbott Mount – Kathgodam – Delhi By road (cab, 153 km, 5 hrs) + train (CC, 5 hrs 40 mts): Rs 2,000 + Rs 1,450 = Rs 3,450

Total cost: Rs 13,300

Itinerary

  • Day 1: Arrive in Kausani and indulge in trekking or visit nearby sites.
  • Day 2: Drive to Chaukori, stay the night.
  • Day 3: Move to Munsiyari. Visit tourist spots and stay the night.
  • Day 4: Drive to Abbot Mount.
  • Day 5: Back to Delhi.

Stay (2 star): Total cost Rs 7,000

Food: Total cost Rs 6,000

Commute: Total cost Rs 5,000

  • Sightseeing: Total cost Nil

Things to do

  • Kausani: Visit the Baijnath temple, Rudradhari falls, Kausani tea estate, Sumitranandan Pant gallery, Stargate observatory and Anasakti Ashram. Go for trekking, biking, rock climbing and rappelling.
  • Chaukori: Visit the Nag Devta temple, Haat Kalika temple, Musk Deer park, Berinag and Patal Bhuvaneshwar.
  • Munsiyari: Explore Maheshwari kund, Nanda Devi temple, Tribal Heritage Museum, Birthi falls, Khaliya top, Thamari kund, Betulidhar and Panchachuli peaks. Indulge in trekking, skiing, rafting and bird watching.
  • Abbott mount: Pick from among Pancheshwar Mahadev temple, Abbott Mount church, Lohaghat, Vanasur ka kila, Mayawati ashram and Chineshwar waterfall.

Covid guidelines

  • Install the Aarogya Setu App and all travellers must register on Smart City web portal.
  • Vaccinated passengers can enter the state with a final Covid vaccination certificate (both doses) after 15 days from receipt of the 2nd dose.
  • No negative RT-PCR test report is required for fully vaccinated travellers to enter Uttarakhand.
  • Non-vaccinated passengers must carry a negative RT-PCR test report with a sample taken within 72 hours before arrival.
  • Passengers might not be allowed to board their flights if they are not carrying a valid test report/vaccination certificate.
  • Government has extended curfew restrictions till 19 October. Night curfew to continue and markets will not open after 9 pm.

Prices and return fares for all five destinations are for a couple. All prices and fares are indicative and subject to change.

Read more: EconomicTimes

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