While feted for its year-round good weather, feet-friendly markets and tree-shaded lanes, Bengaluru is no stranger to the relentless march of urban development. The city is sprawling ever outwards and upwards as its population soars.
But before you dismiss Bengaluru’s easy-going reputation as nostalgia, remember that there is one trick that India’s tech-city still has firmly up its sleeve – easy access to more calm country getaways than almost any other metro in the country.
Painted storks stalk the banks of the Cauvery River © Chaithanya Krishna Photography / Getty Images
A mass exodus of city-weary souls is a standard feature on every highway emanating from the city each weekend, but you don’t have to travel far before you can breathe easy. Just as the city seems to close in from all sides, the streets widen and the traffic eases, and you emerge into calm countryside, with excess oxygen and abundant greenery to soothe the body and mind.
We could write a whole book on short trips for Bengaluru, (in fact, we have – Lonely Planet’s Short Escapes from Bengaluru), but here are some of the top destinations if you’re looking to escape the urban sprawl.
Tea plantations sprawl over the hills around Coonoor © Supriya Sehgal / Lonely Planet
The emerald green hills of Coonoor look covered in moss from a distance, but when you get closer, the clumpy tea bushes that carpet the slopes and the smell in the air reveal the town’s long tea plantation heritage. Founded as a British resort in the 19th century, Coonoor attracted the interest of colonials thanks to its cool weather, offering blissful relief from the sun-blasted plains. Little has changed weather wise, and not much has changed in terms of Coonoor's appearance or atmosphere either. The Brits may have left, but the unmistakably colonial gabled roofs and tea plantations still endure. Coonoor is made for relaxation, whether you wander flower-filled Sim’s Park downtown, sample fine teas at Highfield Tea Estate, or hike out to the viewpoints at Lady Canning’s Seat and Dolphin’s Nose.
Practicalities: The 295 km trip from Bengaluru via Mysuru (Mysore) is easily covered in about 6.5 hours by bus. State-run KSRTC buses leave regularly from Kempegowda Bus Stand. On arrival, you can choose from a number of historic plantation-style bungalows for the night. Tenerife Tranquilitea is one of the most atmospheric places to stay, with oodles of period charm and a focus on tea tasting.
A night heron keeps watch from the banks of the Cauvery River © vbel71 / Getty Images
Galibore Nature Camp
For a clean, green escape, screech to a stop just as you hit 100 km on the odometer heading southwest from the city. Galibore Nature Camp is concealed between the Cauvery River and the thick forest of the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary, providing a striking palate of green after the grey of the city. Opportunities to immerse yourself in nature abound – hiking, cycling, bird-watching, angling (catch and release only), kayaking, or rafting down a 12km stretch of the Cauvery. If you prefer a more sedate experience, sink into one of the hammocks hanging from trees by the tent pavilions at the campsite. Meals are served at designated hours at the central Gol Ghar (Round House), but otherwise, your time is your own, whether you choose to get active or snooze through the day.
Practicalities: Galibore Nature Camp has just 12 thatch-roof tented cottages, furnished with a double bed, a fan, and ensuite bathrooms, and most visit on packages that include most activities. The easiest way to get here is to charter a car and driver in Bengaluru.
Stylish cottages edge onto the forest at Gorukana © Supriya Sehgal / Lonely Planet
Supported by the Vivekananda Girijana Kalayana Kendra (VGKK) Trust, Gorukana started as a charitable venture to encourage sustainable living for the Soliga tribe of the Biligirirangana Hills southwest of Bengaluru. Today, it is one of Karnataka’s most idyllic eco-resorts, and all proceeds from your stay go towards local community and wildlife conservation projects. The responsible tourism ethos doesn’t detract from luxury at Gorukana. Stylish cottages spill from the the forest, and Ayurvedic spa treatments and rejuvenation massages feature prominently. Nature provides its own therapeutic benefits, with a soothing soundtrack of birdsong and sounds from the jungle. Activities range from treks and ziplining to evening cultural shows by Soliga tribespeople, many of whom are staff members at the resort.
Practicalities: This luxury cottage property lies less than 200 km from Bengaluru, on the edge of the Western Ghats. You’ll need to charter a car and drive to get here as there is no easy route via public transport.
The Church of Our Lady of Angels in Puducherry (Pondicherry) © Soltan Frédéric / Getty Images
A classic slice of colonial India, Puducherry (Pondicherry) is split between the neat cobble-stoned streets and French architecture of the White Town, and the more gritty Black Town, where the town’s Tamil population were housed. Though it isn’t uncommon to hear local elders still speaking in French, this soothing seaside town has moved on from the divisions of the past, with the waves of the Bay of Bengal lashing at its golden beaches and an easy-paced rhythm to life. Active options range from scuba diving to surfing action, but you can also find a spiritual fix at Auroville – founded as a universal town for harmonious living, following the tenets set by spiritual leader, Sri Aurobindo and the yogic guru Mirra Alfassa, the mother.
Practicalities: Only 300 plus km away, Pondicherry is an easy overnight journey from Bengaluru by sleeper bus or train. French-flavoured, family-owned guesthouses make for charming accommodation. Top picks include L’escale Pondicherry and La Closerie - Bay of Bengal.
Ruins spill out of the boulder-fields at Chitradurga Fort © peevee aka venkatesan perumal / Getty Images
Set amidst classic bouldery Karnataka landscapes northwest of Bengaluru, Chitradurga is ideal for a day-long getaway to visit its romantically ruined fort and the nearby Chandravalli Caves. The crumbling fort dates back to the 3rd century BC, and according to the Mahabharata, perhaps the greatest of India’s Sanskrit epics, the site is said to be the abode of the demon brother-sister duo, Hidimba and Hidimbi. Even though the fortress lies fragmented on top of the hill, the leftover structures exude a powerful sense of grandeur. Another usual sight lures visitors to Chitradurga – the famous free solo rock climber, Jyoti Raju, is often seen climbing the tall boulders and the fort wall, and spectating has become a popular pastime.
Practicalities Chitradurga lies 208 km northwest of Bengaluru, and plenty of state-run buses run here daily from Kempegowda Bus Stand, completing the journey in around three hours. Accommodation options are unexciting – it’s better to visit as a day trip.
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