Forget Paris. Skip Agra. Give Goa a miss. And Bali's oh so last season. For the weekend leading up to Valentine's Day, plan a special holiday with that special someone at one of these unforgettable short-haul Indian destinations. Or pick an absolutely stunning international holiday with minimal visa fuss. Any of these destinations beats the 'dinner-and-a-movie' combo, so no excuses!
If clubbing's your thing, head to Mumbai. It's a city that takes its nightlife (and PDA;-) seriously. Pubs in Mumbai are open long after the ones in Chennai and Bangalore have closed for the night. Hard Rock Cafe, Zenzi and Blue Frog are some of the most hip places you can visit as a couple. And Man-U fans have to, have to, have to visit the Manchester United Cafe Bar at Palladium, Phoenix Mills. Expect lots of music, towers of beer and a high-adrenaline atmosphere.
Mandu, Madhya Pradesh
For a crash-course in old-fashioned romance, simply fly to Indore and head to Mandu. Rani Rupmati and Baz Bahadur's love story is the stuff of legends. There was music, there was poetry and history happened right here in the pavilions and palaces of Mandu. Beg, borrow or steal a translation of Ahmad-ul-Umri's 'The Lady of the Lotus – Rupmati, Queen of Mandu' and read Rupmati's love poems together.
Houseboat in Kerala
We admit - Allepey doesn't sound half as swish as Venice. But what better way to spend a romantic getaway than to cut travel time and max the holiday? Set adrift on a well-appointed houseboat. Simply loll on the deck together. Get an Ayurvedic massage. Succumb to the temptation to do the Titanic-stance at the prow. But please desist from singing the song - you'll be far exceeding the cheesiness quotient!
Haveli in Rajasthan
Recapture the era of the Maharajas and their decadent lifestyle by living out your fantasies as a royal couple. Splurge on a luxurious stay at any of the haveli-turned hotels in Rajasthan and treat the love of your life to some extensive pampering. Take in the grandeur of the forts and palaces. Head to the dunes for a romantic night under the clear desert sky. Just don't let the sand enter the tent!
If you've always wanted to visit Tibet, but haven't, and if Dharamshala doesn't fit the scheme of things at the moment, head to Coorg. Stay at one of the many plantations that now host visitors. Take long walks. Stop and smell the flowers. Drink lots of locally brewed fruit wine. Then pop across to Bylakuppe for a day trip and have a quick dekko at Tibetan life. Yes, you read that right – Tibetan! Maybe even find out how to express your love in Tibetan.
There are rules to visit and rules to stay at Silent Valley. And the constant presence of a guide and fellow travellers could prove a dampener to a city-slicker's idea of a good time out on Valentine's Day. But as a couple, if you share a world view that time amidst nature is time best spent, then head to Silent Valley - the rainforest bordering Tamizh Nadu and Kerala. Imagine staying in the midst of all that natural abundance, waking up to bird song, walking in reverence through lush foliage and if you're lucky, spotting the likes of the Lion-tailed Macaques, Malabar Giant Squirrel and the Great Indian Hornbill! 'Two for Joy' would perhaps be THE most romantic thing to say here.
Singapore is a fabulous destination for first time international travellers and seasoned travellers alike. It has all the glam of an international city, yet it proudly flaunts its Asian-ness. Must-dos as a couple include the night Safari (where the atmosphere is positively teeming with nocturnal animals), and feeding times and shows at the Singapore Zoo and the Jurong Bird Park. Oh, and they do have some rocking night clubs. Chinese New Year is being ushered in through February with festive red lanterns, parades, dance, music and food stalls, especially in Chinatown! And - hold your breath - Iron Maiden is also performing here in February!
This one's for the value-for-money types. A romantic all-in-one international destination. A short direct flight away. And stunning value-for-money. Stroll through the Sinharaja Forest Reserve, steep yourself in Kandy's culture, sun yourself on the beaches of Bentota or cozy up in a Geoffrey Bawa-designed suite at Lunuganga. Or stay in Colombo at a pretty boutique hotel and make day trips. At this currency conversion rate, it can't get better than this!
Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
For an exotic international holiday bustling with things to do, head to Kuala Lumpur and onward to Kota Kinabalu. Prepare to be awed by coral reefs and exotic tropical fish as you snorkel or scuba dive in the waters of Tunku Abdul Rahman Park. Or walk hand-in-hand on the pristine sands of Tanjung Aru Beach. Explore the trails in the rainforest of Gaya Island. Else, climb the formidable Mount Kinabalu. What's a measly bouquet of insipid roses when you can feast your eyes on over 800 species of orchid spread over the Kinabalu National Park?
It takes a while to reach Male', as a holiday it doesn't come cheap but the views - oh the views - are so worth it! Spectacular azure waters form the perfect backdrop to take your relationship up to the next level. Do take your swim-wear and sun protection along. There's going to be lots of sun, sand and lounging by the pool.
If you'd rather give this Valentine's Day a platonic flavour with a heady rush, head to Delhi by air and onward to Rishikesh by road. Adventure sport season is on and there are packages for all skill levels. Go river rafting. Trek in Uttarakhand. Rappel down sheer cliffs. Camp on the banks of the Ganges. At the end of the day, sharing an innocent cup of tea in those environs could unlock some not-so-innocent feelings.
An edited version appeared in TAXI's February 2011 Issue