Experience a romantic royal dinner under the stars or marvel at the sight of moonlight bouncing off the salt desert of Kutch, on these camping holidays. By Meenu
Everybody has a favourite holiday memory. Mine is camping by the River Baspa, 9,000 feet above sea level at Sangla in Himachal Pradesh, in a four-person tent with my family. One part of the river was our refrigerator, keeping our drinks cool, while the gushing river on the other side was our infinite bathtub. At night, we searched for constellations in the star-studded sky, sharing stories and songs, and sometimes just listening to the silence of the hills and the gurgling of the river. Baspa has since dried up, my children have flown the nest, and I have gone around the country for many more camping experiences.
Fortunately, tent tourism in India has seen a massive surge since my Sangla days. Adventure, green travel, communion with nature, religious immersions, spiritual shopping, wellness seeking, luxury living, royal pursuits—there is a camping holiday for every kind of traveller in this country. You can camp at the music festival at Sula Vineyards in Nashik, or in the salt desert of Rann of Kutch, try adventure camping in Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh, spend a night in the middle of nowhere in Darma Valley in Uttarakhand, wash your sins in the Ganga at a Kumbh Mela camp in Prayagraj, behold India’s tallest statue in the campgrounds by the Narmada in Gujarat, have tea with Deogarh’s erstwhile royals at Khayyam camp, have a taste of royalty at the Serai Relais & Chateaux in Bherwa, Jaisalmer, or chat with lamas at the Chamba Camp in Thiksay, Ladakh. From basic camping to glamping—you can take your pick of holidays depending on the size of your wallet, the adrenaline in your veins, and the secret desires of your heart.
UNDER THE STARS
I start my three-legged tent trail by camping at the Sula Fest in Maharashtra’s Nashik. The occasion is a heady mix of wine, music, and food, creating a spirit of bonhomie and carefree abandon. Wine tastings, grape stomping, gourmet food stalls, Indian and international musicians—the festival is a huge crowd-puller. The crowds are huge, swaying you into a spirit of sisterhood, kindled under the flash of neon lights, showers of confetti, and the symphony of drums, trombones, trumpets, dhols, and violins.
Once the performances wind down, the spirit carries forth to the tent city in the vineyard, set up by Let’s Camp Out, where you gather around the bonfire with musicians and singers, crooning under the stars until the wee hours of the morning. The gathering here is intimate, the spirit joyful, and the stargazing magical.
The camps are not luxurious. They are basic, with shared toilets. But if you are in for some musical bonding, yoga, local wines, tandem biking, and having a roaring time with friends, camping at SulaFest is an absolute delight.
Sula Vineyards is a four-hour drive from Mumbai (170 km).
Starts from INR2,500/USD 35 per person; letscampout.com
February 1-3, 2020
Switching from a music and wine aficionado in Nashik to a selenophile in the salt desert of the Rann of Kutch can be surreal. When we land in Bhuj, we have no idea about the amazing experience that awaits us. We are among the many travellers who have signed up for Rann Utsav. Run by Gujarat Tourism, this festival is very well-organised, but how the white desert manages to touch the soul amidst a sea of people is surprising.
Rann Utsav buses take you to your destination, that is the tent city, your home for the next two or three days. Golf carts and e-rickshaws take you around, from your tent lodgings, to the community dining area, entertainment areas (including in-house game halls, skyzilla pendulum, paintball area) to the stage where cultural performances are held, handicrafts market, the art gallery, and the spa. Tandem biking, ATV riding in the desert, and paramotoring are some of the other activities on offer here.
But it is in your pitched tent where you experience the peace and beauty of the desert. The tents are aesthetically decorated in an off-white hue, with motifs in rust and brown, and the interiors are soothing and cosy. The bathrooms are well-appointed, with 24-hour hot and cold water. The silence takes over, as you catch the first glimpse of the sunset. As the amber glow of the setting sun lights up the salt crystals, you experience the desert like never before. Every experience from here on is more surreal than the last. The sunrise the next day has the ethereal quality of the beginning of a new world. And yet it doesn’t compare to the almost magical sight of the moon visiting you in the night. Moonlight writes elusive stories on the vast expanse of salt, as all around you spirits soar, the breeze whispers, the stars glide, and the clouds dance. After such an experience, it is only natural that a tent, rather than concrete walls, is your abode for the night.
Rann Utsav organises pickups for guests from Bhuj airport (3.1 km) and railway station (80 km).
The three-day package starts from INR 14,000/USD 197 per person.
October 28, 2019, to February 23, 2020
From the white salt desert to golden sands, from celebrating the sun and the moon to experiencing the wilderness of sand dunes, from colourful Kutch to regal Rajasthan, the Khayyam campground at the royal estate of Deogarh lets you live like a royal for a weekend. Set up six kilometres from the magnificent Deogarh Palace, among rocks and bushes, Khayyam has an irresistible old-world charm. The waterproof tents are luxurious, in strong contrast to the barren landscape. The interiors borrow from ancient motifs and designs. The service is impeccable and heartwarming. As you settle down for a drink under the stars, you might be joined by the hosts, who regale you with stories of a glorious past.
When you are tucked in after an eventful day, you can effortlessly imagine the kings and queens of yore riding through the jungles from the camp to Fort Seengh Sagar, with the grand palace in the background.
The next day, go on a rural ramble through the fields in an open jeep, past a cave temple of Shiva, amid black volcanic rocks, to a lakeside alive with sarus cranes, white-throated kingfishers, black-headed ibises, and geese. A traditional Rajasthani lunch is served by the lake. As the relaxed afternoon stretches into a languid birdwatching evening against the backdrop of the setting sun, the world you routinely inhabit seems far, far away.
An early morning walk the next day leads you to Fort Seengh Sagar or the Deogarh Palace. After breakfast, you can head to the Aravalli Hills in a metre-gauge train, which takes you over 17 U-shaped bridges and through two tunnels. The journey back in a vintage royal car is just as charming. Cap the day off with a romantic dinner under the stars at Khayyam’s tents or a traditional dinner on the palace terrace with the host family. The drive back to your tents in an open jeep through the rugged terrain, with the stars hanging low, is ethereal.
Music, wine, sun, moon, stars, lakes, birds, and royal histories—a camping holiday gives you memories to cherish forever.
Deogarh Palace is 137 km away from the Udaipur airport. Taxis are available but you can also request the palace for a pickup from the airport.
INR 60,000/USD 845 per night
October to March
Related: A South American Camping Guide For Those Who Can’t Be Bound By Walls