An extended weekend around Independence Day has many Delhiites planning short holidays -- with the quaint towns of the Himalayan foothills proving to be favoured destinations, though some are even venturing abroad.
Easily accessible hill stations in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh top the list, with most preferring road trips instead of the overnight trains and buses.
"I am going to Manali in Himachal Pradesh with my friends. This is a perfect extended weekend for such a trip," Chetan Jaiswal, a government employee, told IANS.
And he is, of course, driving. "It is always an amazing experience to drive on serpentine roads, so I have decided to drive myself to Manali," Jaiswal added.
The extended, three-day weekend, which starts on Saturday (August 13), is followed by Sunday and Independence Day on Monday (August 15). All government as well as most private offices will remain closed on Saturday, a second Saturday.
For government employees, the break can be made even longer if they take a day's leave on Friday (August 12), or add two days leave on Tuesday and Wednesday -- August 16 and 17 -- as August 18 is Raksha Bandhan, a restricted holiday.
For those in the private sector, a four-day leave request (from Tuesday, August 16, to Friday, August 19) can result in an impressive nine-day break from August 13 to August 21.
According to those in the travel trade, apart from the hill stations, other hot destinations include Jaipur, Udaipur and Goa. Some are also choosing to fly to foreign countries like Sri Lanka, Thailand, Hong Kong and Malaysia that are short flights away.
A bank professional, Yashwardhan Verma says that he is planning to spend the weekend in Sri Lanka.
"I am visiting Sri Lanka with friends. Hill stations would be very crowded and the pristine beaches of Sri Lanka are always a favourite destination for me, so I chose it over the hills," Verma told IANS.
Akshay Gupta, a quality control analyst, says that though his first choice was Kashmir, he decided instead to visit the Vaishno Devi shrine in Jammu.
"I wish I could visit Srinagar and Gulmerg, but unfortunately due to the unrest in the valley I had to leave this idea. I have decided to visit Vaishno Devi shrine during the extended weekend," Gupta told IANS.
In view of the demand, travel operators are offering an array of holiday packages for the long weekend.
They say bookings are heavy for nearby hill stations such as Lansdowne, a tranquil place in the Garhwal hills; Manali, a pretty alpine hill station in Himachal Pradesh; Dalhousie, a postcard-pretty destination; and others like Mcleodganj, Tirthan, Nainital, and Shimla, the Queen of Hills.
Rohit Garhwal, Associate Vice President (Sales and Operations) of online holiday operator TravelTriangle.com, says that the days when travelling was restricted to a once-a-year activity are gone. More and more people prefer long weekends to break the monotony of their hectic daily schedules.
"We have received a tremendous response for our weekend trips so far, which provides our travellers with an extremely cost-efficient adventure-filled weekend getaway."
"Weekend vacations are practical, economical, and do not require tedious planning and they provide instant satisfaction too. With the upcoming long weekend, we are offering travellers not one but numerous short weekend getaway options which include a mix of popular and hidden destinations," Garhwal added.
Ashok Thakur of Himachal Yatra Tours says that the extended weekend is witnessing a 70 per cent surge in the number of tourists opting for hill stations.
"This time we are witnessing 70 per cent increase in the number of tourists who wish to visit hill stations this extended weekend. Seeing huge demand, we are offering special tour packages for places like Kullu-Manali, Mcleodganj, Kasauli, Shimla, etc.," Thakur told IANS.
(Ashish Mishra can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)