What traveller type are you?

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

This quote from Mark Twain has always been my constant companion, egging me in my journeys to seek new experiences, as I wander away aimlessly. For most of us, the word ‘travel' conjures up many images — blue skies, serpentine roads, an endless array of milestones, an elusive horizon, the distant hum of a train, clusters of dusty villages, sun kissed ferns, a flap of a wing, stately mountains, sandy shores, the call of the wild, a lost monument. And somewhere amidst all of them are people waiting to tell you their stories.

But travel very often is all about choices. While some of us prefer the Road Not Taken, others choose the weathered road. Whether you travel rudderless or with a purpose, the buzzword is alternative travel. Move out of your comfort zone, leave the regular destinations behind, chart your own rugged paths and detours and discover a different personality within you as we help you map your choices in 2012.

1. Bird watcher

There is a whole community of travellers out there who are into birds and bees and butterflies. Join this breed even if you do not understand words like ‘endemic' and ‘raptors', for these birders will take you to exotic and faraway lands in search of their feathered friends. There are close to 1,500 species of birds distributed across different habitats and states in India — be they forests, water bodies, mountains, deserts. Corbett alone, for instance, is home to over 600 species of birds. The Himalayas, the Northeast and the Western Ghats should be in your travel itinerary if you want to go birding in 2012. My favourite haunts are the lakes. I was lucky to be blinded by a flock of orange, black and white colours up in the sky as the flamingos flew overhead in Pulicat Lake. Look for the migratory birds that arrive in the lakes in winter. Chilka in Orissa is strongly recommended. If you are however, a beginner, start by birding in your own backyard and in the water bodies and lakes around your city.

2. Wildlife enthusiast

All that the brochures keep crying about is tiger tourism. But with their numbers dwindling, it is indeed a stroke of luck if you do see even a hide of the majestic creature in your safaris. However there is more to Indian wildlife than just the tigers. Even as you make Corbett, Bandhavgarh, Sundarbans, Ranthambore and Bandipur your wildlife destinations of 2012, do visit some of the biodiversity hotspots in our country. I would recommend Valparai in the Annaimalai Hills, known for several endangered species including the Nilgiri tahr and lion tailed macaque, and the tropical rainforest of Agumbe in Karnataka.

3. Eco warrior

The gentle rustle of a stream, a distant echo of a waterfall, the scent of a spice plantation, a carpet of colourful wild flowers, the endless expanse of the backwaters, quaint hill stations with lost charm — eco-tourism encompasses both wildlife and birding. There are several destinations that are high up in the hills or in the plains that make you a pantheist. The strawberries of Mahabaleshwar, the coffee plantations of Coorg, the carpet of tea in Nilgiris, the shola forests in Kodaikanal, the Kaas Plateau in Maharashtra, the backwaters of Kerala, the house boats in Kashmir, the orchids in Sikkim and Kalimpong — there is a hint of magic everywhere . Don't just go green this 2012: head out and embrace the world of colours.

4. Culture vulture

In a small little village called Pinguli in Sindhudurg lives a puppeteer who tells stories of how his ancestors were spies during the Maratha period. The tribals of Nagaland and Ladakh tell you that dance is their way of life. The Kodavas in Coorg will explain their many rituals in the marriage ceremonies. The Chettiars at Chettinadu will take you on an architecture tour of their mansions. Learn a bit of Kalari Payatu, the martial art, in Kerala. Celebrate 2012 with the local communities in various parts of India — the weavers, the potters, the goldsmiths, the healers, the musicians, the dancers, the folk artists, the painters, the sculptors and many others who were once part of our cultural fabric . Explore their cultures and join in with their festivities . The Mysore and Madikeri Dussera in Karnataka, the Theyyam in Kerala, the Hemis festival in Ladakh, the Sonam Losar in Sikkim are some of the cultural events that you should attend in 2012.

5. Festival fiend

2012 is all about celebrations. While waiting at the Mumbai airport to board for Jordan, I met this Israeli who had lovely silver rings adorning her fingers. We got talking and she mentioned that she was just returning from Pushkar and the festival was a must-see for most of her compatriots. She also mentioned the Hampi festival and Kumbha Mela in the same breath and added she would soon be visiting India again

We are in a land of festivals, where we celebrate everything — the sun, moon, stars, water, land, animals — every tourist destination has its own festival. If you like music and dance, visit Mahabalipuram, Ajanta and Ellora and Khajuraho Dance festivals. The Rann Utsav in Kutch, the Desert Festival in Rajasthan, the sand art festival in Konark, the kite festival in Gujarat, the Nagaland Hornbill festival, the Ladakh festival — your calendar is filled with festivities.

6. Heritage lover

One of my best trips in 2011 was to the remains of a 3rd century BC stupa in the district of Gulbarga in Karnataka called Sannathi. Even as the excavated sculptures are carefully pieced together by historians, they claim that they have unearthed a visual record of Emperor Ashoka. There is heritage in almost every corner in India — behind fields, inside coffee plantations, in dusty towns, high up in the hills, inside the caves. There are close to 20 World Heritage Sites in India and another 15 which have been tentatively selected for recognition.

7. Rustic traveller

If yellow is your favourite colour, then visit the mustard fields in Punjab or the sunflower fields in Karnataka. But rustic tourism is not just about fields and colours. It is the simplicity and the local hospitality of India's rustic villages combined with an experience of local food, arts, heritage, sports and culture and interactions with local communities. Almost every state offers a rustic experience. Kerala lives up to her image of God's own land in her rusticness. The small quaint hamlets high up in the mountains in Himachal and Uttaranchal have a charm of their own.

8. Hill hunter

For a lot of us travellers, mountains conjure up images of the endless massive range of the Himalayas which is a destination by itself. Be it hill stations or peaks, the mountains lure you either for a relaxed tour or for a trek. Starting from Kashmir and Ladakh in the North to Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh in the Northeast, you need to acclimatise to heights before you start your Himalayan odyssey. Leh, Zanskar, Tawang, Sela Pass, Pelling, Yuksom, Kufri, Auli, Dharamshala are your picks for 2012 in the Himalayas.

9. Mountain goat

A lot of us love to see the mountains by road. While we choose the comfort of a four-wheel drive, the strong and the brave hearts prefer to trek. There is nothing like carrying a backpack, looking at an open sky from your sleeping bag and living right in the open. Almost every region in the Himalayas can be straddled upon by foot — from Ladakh to Sikkim, from Himachal to Uttaranchal.

10. Adventure seeker

If travel means a rush of adrenalin, then let go of the conventional travel routes and give in to your adventurous spirit. Besides camping, there are several expeditions that take you across glaciers and frozen lakes in mountains and hills in the Himalayas. River rafting in Rishikesh and Ladakh, scuba diving in Netrani island, a hot air balloon ride in Rajasthan, skiing in Auli are some experiences that you must try.

11. Beach buddy

If beaches in Goa are known for their wild parties, the beaches in neighbouring Gokarna, Karwar and Sindhudurg are virgin and quiet. Some of them like Bekal Fort lend a touch of heritage as well. But nothing like a visit to the exotic shores of the islands — Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep — to rejuvenate yourselves.

12. The faithful

Ours is a country where we have more deities than communities, where religious festivals are part of our cultural fabric, where many religious shrines are secular, historic and have become tourist destinations. From Vaishnav Devi to Char Dham, from Tirupati to Sringeri, from Annai Velankani to Ajmer Dargah, Golden Temple in Amritsar to Dharamshala monastery, from Akshardham to Madurai Meenakshi temple, the list is endless. As for me, I want to visit Kolkata during Durga Puja.

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