ON A JUNGLE BOOK TRAIL
Pench, tiger county and land of Jungle Book - who knows, you just might just run into Bagheera, Baloo or the inimitable Shere Khan. "It is said that a British officer came to Pench in the 1800s. Whether he heard about a boy with a pack of wolves or came across them is not clear. But he made a report on it as part of his duties. Rudyard Kipling heard of this tale and based the story of Mowgli on it," says Ratna Singh, whose first posting as a naturalist was with the Taj Safaris Kipling property, Baghvan, in Pench. Singh, who is now a naturalist trainer, heard of many such stories during her stint there. "Seeonee, which is home to the wolf pack in the book, actually exists in Kanha and Pench. Then there is a village called Atikalli, which also finds a mention. It has now become an elephant camp. Tourists can visit and have breakfast there," she says. The design of Baghvan was inspired by the book as well. "We have outdoor machans to recreate the experience of sleeping under a leafy canopy with the jungle sounds reverberating around you," says Mridula Tangirala, director (operations), Taj Safaris. The naturalists are trained by the African Partner, &Beyond, to cater to the kind of experience you want. "Be it kids or adults, everyone finds it so interesting that they are in Mowgli's jungle," smiles Singh
The character of a city comes out in its rich culture, vibrant folk tales and age-old traditions. Storytrails, a travel company, offers you the opportunity to get intimate with a city through its stories. The storyteller makes the most mundane of sights come alive with captivating tales - some fact, some stories, some myths and some superstition. "We focus not on the number of locations to cover, but rather on themes and experiences, the kind of stories that can be woven in that trip, and how they can add to the entire concept," says Sandhya Gangadharan, in-charge of trail scheduling. For instance, the peacock trail takes tourists mostly on foot, and by rickshaw on some stretches, to Mylapore, the ancient part of Chennai. Once there, stories about Gods, demons, motifs and symbols come alive. "We offer stories about why people wear a mark on the forehead, why is there a kolam outside the house. These are all scripted, choreographed trails with in-depth research," says Gangadharan. The bazaar trail takes you to Georgetown to know why so many traders found their way here and to get a glimpse of the Armenian heritage; the steeple chase trails through Chennai's rich Christian heritage - right from the arrival of St Thomas to the tales from the British Raj. Or opt for the 'Once Upon a Madurai' tour to know how a teeny tiny toad halted the plans of a mighty king.
AN EPIC HOLIDAY
Visit the jungles of Seetha Kotuwa where a beautiful palace for queen Mandodari once stood or the Ashok Vatika where Sita was kept. Or go to Ussangoda where Hanuman's tail was set on fire. Legends also maintain that this was one of the airports used by Ravana. Step into the epic as tour operators across Sri Lanka organise Ramayana-based tours in the country. Ramayana Tours, a partner website of leading tour operator, Visit SL Travels, has been conducting these trips since 2009. "Around 330 Indian nationals and 150 Malaysian tourists have gone on these tours so far," says spokesperson Chinthaka Rathnayake. Some places like the Chariot Path and Sita Tear Pond - where Ravana took Sita to show her the beauty of his kingdom - are currently inaccessible. "But the Manavari temple in Chilaw where a Shiv linga was installed by Rama, and the Ravana caves, which served as a quick means of transport through the hills, can be accessed," he says.
Info: For a group of 4 people staying at standard hotels for a 10-day tour the cost is around Rs 125,000 (Rs 31,250 per person) This includes private transportation, accommodation, breakfast, entrance tickets, government taxes. Airfare, lunch, dinner and other personal expenses not included
WALK THE BYLANES OF MALGUDI
Imagine taking a trip with your favourite characters from Malgudi Days. Watch Mr Sampath - The Printer of Malgudi come to life in the bustling marketplace of Mysore or seek similarities between Malgudi's Lawley's Statue and Commissioner Sir James Gordon's sculpted likeness at the Mysore DC Complex. Specialists in offbeat travel experiences, Royal Mysore Walks, try to draw parallels between Mysore and RK Narayan's fictitious town. "Mysore is where Narayan studied and wrote his books. When I read his autobiography, I realised that a lot of characters and locations in his books are deeply influenced by real-life characters and real places in the city. For instance, there is a printer's shop just like Sampath's in the city," says Vinay Nagaraju, partner in the company. The city centre seems to be one of the major influences, considering Narayan stayed barely two kilometres away. The four-hour-long tour in an open jeep also offers delightful vignettes from the author's life. There is a lake in Mysore which Narayan would visit every evening to watch the sunset, the college where he studied, and a house that he had rented. There is also a quaint railway station, which makes an appearance in the book - there's plenty to soak in the Malgudi nostalgia. "While growing up, Narayan had two pets, a peacock and a monkey. It is said that he idolised the monkey so much that his grandmother would often tease him, asking if he wanted to become one when he grew up. As part of our research we came across several such stories on the web and in the city," says Nagaraju. The team has conducted 15 to 20 Malgudi Days tours so far. "Two weeks ago we took Sukumar Rajagopal of Cognizant on the tour and he loved it. Howard, a doctor from US, also loved the tour. I thought that only Indians were fond of Malgudi Days but we were in for a surprise," he adds. The tour ends with a hot cup of coffee at a cafe called Malgudi which has caricatures inspired from the book sprawled across the walls.