Byline: CAROLINE SYLGE
WHILE the hordes head to Kerala, those in the know are travelling to India's unspoilt north-east for tea gardens, Buddhist monasteries and private house parties which are as cheap as chips. Prices are per person, per night, full board.
For stressed-out friends
Glenburn Tea Estate, Darjeeling
Treat yourself to a few days at this luxurious bungalow on a working Darjeeling tea estate, complete with tea-picker villages, rivers, forest, orangery, convent and a riverside cabin to stay in. Naturalist, walking guide, Jeep and driver included in the price. Fantastic Indian and Nepalese food cooked by staff, decent wine. Picnics arranged, vegetables from the bungalow's garden.
Bungalow has an Out-of-Africa-style veranda and is surrounded by sweet peas, roses and big white butterflies.
A 14ft bronze Buddha stands on the opposite hillside, the snowy Kanchenjunga mountains providing the backdrop. There are four calming suites, with painted wooden furniture and hand-embroidered linens. Most romantic is the gold and cream muslin-draped Tea Planters Suite, with a Spanish mahogany four-poster bed. Four suites sleep 12 in total - ideal for a family party.
From [pounds sterling]69 (020 7373 7121, www.glenburnestate.com).
Best for stargazers
Samthar Farm, Samthar Plateau
Retreat to this simple, beamed farmhouse on the edge of a village.
It has a terraced garden packed with purple-and-white azaleas, good spaces for yoga, a hammock for watching mountain sunsets and a swing seat on which to sip Darjeeling tea in the early sunlight as local children walk to school.
The house has darkwood floors, Tibetan rugs and Buddhist thankas on the walls. Six double rooms, two in tiny cottages, have embroidered bedspreads made from monks' outfits and basic bathrooms, complete with bucket baths. Hot water is provided by solar energy and cooking is by gas.
Your hosts - Jimmy Singh, a retired Sikh general, and his Goan colleague, Catherine - will be as sociable or unsociable as you want.
Breakfast is outside, with homemade curd and honey, and you can dine on kebabs with organic vegetables from the garden. At night, after a trek in the foothills, sprawl on Sikkimese cushions in the sitting room lit by candles and kerosene lamps.
From [pounds sterling]33 (00 91 355 2255 204, www.gurudongma.com).
Best for outdoorsy types
Yangsum Farm, near Richenpong
Thendup Tashi and his two sisters run this working farm, built by their grandfather in 1833 and surrounded by Sikkimese prayer flags blowing in the wind. Inside there are four double rooms with wooden floors, family trinkets and traditional primary-coloured Sikkimese cushions and fabrics. Shared bathrooms are simple but clean. Ask to be taken to the hot springs or Thendup can arrange river-rafting.
Explore fields full of cardamom, rhododendron, pine, chestnut and cherry trees. You can help on the farm, or let Thendup Tashi take you on a trek past stupas (Buddhist shrines) to monasteries and the carved wooden ancestral houses of the Sikkimese Lepcha tribe.
This is a tranquil place - the Kanchenjunga mountains dominate your view from everywhere . …