The best places to party in India (that aren’t Goa)
From the hills of Meghalaya to the coastlines of Pondicherry and the quiet town of Mangalore, GQ takes you to three of the best places to party in December… that aren’t Goa! Rudy Wallang of blues rock band, Soulmate offers his tips on vibing in the cosmopolitan, music-mad streets of his hometown. This coastal city in the South is quietly reverberating with a hardcore underground scene, finds Arshie Chevalwala. While Megha Shah votes for Pondicherry that isn’t just deeply spiritual but also boasts of eclectic new bars, restaurants and boutiques.
One of the first tabloids that captured the imagination of the people of Shillong in the Sixties and Seventies was JS magazine – it predominantly covered the lives of local bands and artistes, and advertised upcoming beat contests. Even today, passion for Western music runs wild amid its windy, twisty, maze-like lanes, into the living rooms of the locals, where families converse about rock over dinner. It’s an exciting confluence of a charming small-town India and an inherently modern, Western culture. If you take a walk, you might turn a corner and enter Middle Earth; and suddenly, among rolling hills and vanilla soufflé clouds, you might think that global warming can’t really be a danger. Yet, not far away, girls exit Sunday church in sky-high heels and tangerine lips; in bars and clubs like Cloud 9, Tango and Mikado Lounge, DJ nights and gigs by local bands every weekend see masses sip on rum and sway to “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Stairway To Heaven”.
The restaurants are vibe-y and clean (don’t litter in Shillong, you might be fined ₹5,000, or even jailed) and offer succulent pigs, tender bovines and even a polite change in recipe for the vegetarian. Little Chef and The Grub are small cafés serving large flavours. Or, visit The Eee Cee, which has been in operation since the Seventies and makes a great prawn chow and strong coffee. Stay at the Heritage Hotel (owned by the prince of Tripura) or Aerodene Cottage for something more quaint and quiet. You can walk to just about everywhere, unless you’re lucky enough to hear of a fête – local cultural festivals that were the original platforms for band culture – in the Jaintia hills (there’s one every month). In which case, book a car and drive right up. Partying with the nature-worshipping Khasis is just what you need this New Year.
Alternating between sleepy coastal town and rural power-cut-loop nightmare, to an unwitting tourist Mangalore is all Shiva temples and the reminiscence of Tipu Sultan’s reign. But to seasoned partygoers, it offers the perfect balance of untapped secluded beaches and, essentially, regulation-free privacy because of how far spread out and remote the shores are.
Get a buzz going at Liquid Lounge (with the holy trinity of potent cocktails, greasy food and plush sofas) or Froth on Top (for Keema Rice with a side T) in the city centre. Then, as you do, head 12km south to Ullal beach (for EDM surfers) or 20 km north to Sasihithlu (for a mellow trip-hop scene). The beach periphery, fuelled by party organisers (Summer Sands on Ullal is where it’s at this New Year’s Eve), is drawing crowds from all over the country – and away from Goa, including the best happy dust money can buy via port Uttara Kannada.
If you’re savvy enough to bring party favours, chances are you’ll get invited to a Berghain-style, no-holds-barred farmstay rager, bonfire and all, hosted far away from civilisation, past narrow dirt roads punctuated by cashew fields. To host one yourself: Access luxe properties via Airbnb (look in the Bolar, Bunder or Kuloor areas). Otherwise, stay at The Gateway hotel if you’re keen on room service. And even if you have touristy inclinations, the Sultan’s Bathery is a great spot for peace, quiet and soul-searching via hallucinogenics.
A beachy paradise that looks like an elegant French country town that’s been transported to the Bay of Bengal is an exciting premise to begin with. Add to that an underrated nightlife that’s recently found its groove and a tax exemption on liquor, and this seems like a more grown-up, cosmopolitan option to being jostled on the beaches of Vagator. Almost everything you do here, whether grabbing a drink or partying on the beach or hiring a yacht or buying cheese, feels vastly more cultured. Expats, people drawn by the ideology of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, French citizens, old Pondicherrians, new settlers – all contribute to the diversity. The cheery “Bonjour” you may receive from your auto rickshaw driver adds to the charm.
The most luxurious option to stay here is La Villa, where vintage meets contemporary. New hangout The Storyteller’s Bar features everything from book readings to jazz performances to poetry open-mics and film festivals. The Pub Zipper has an open-air bar and great cocktails, while L’Aqua on the rock beach serves up fresh breeze along with local beer. The Bay of Buddha, a rooftop chill spot in the Promenade Hotel, is perfect for a few drinks and a bite. If you want a moment of quiet before your night begins, Goyo is a silent restaurant that serves authentic Korean food. For lobsters and jazz, head to Le Dupleix hotel. For something more heavy duty, The Asian House bangs out loud beats on weekends. And if you can’t make up your mind, find a beach, grab a few drinks and watch the sun go down.