Tag Archives: offbeat destinations

Best places to visit in India
Best places to visit in India

One of the first questions you ask yourself when planning a trip to India, is simply: where to go and what are the best places to visit in India? It’s hard to give a brief answer to that question due to the sheer vastness of the county. In the following article we want to give you a good understanding of your options. It will hopefully help you understand which regions are popular, which are not as touristy and all the many delights and challenges of the said regions. With this all in mind you can make a decision on your preferred travel destination. If you rather want to discuss this with our travel magicians, plan your trip with us and we can help you find out where you can go.

What can you expect from India?

India is the seventh largest country in the world. We are blessed with some stunningly diverse geographical terrain. A desert holiday, a beach holiday, an island holiday, a mountain holiday, a wildlife holiday, a lush green plains and backwaters holiday or a combination of them all are possible when you visit India.

Add centuries of history under different reigns, their architectural influences, India’s deep religious and spiritual culture and your holiday can be have layers of depth and understanding the Indian story.

Most of the trips we plan include one, two or even sometimes three geographical elements. You can rarely escape history/culture and places of worship in India. Indeed, almost all our trips include regular forays into the same.

Even if your trip is short and you do not visit multiple regions you will still have hugely different experiences within the same holiday. 

Which regions are the most popular?

The popular (but, rightly so) regions are the following:

Rajasthan with stunning forts and palaces, national parks offering tiger safaris, the endless beautiful desert and charming (but often very affordable) heritage hotels.

India Someday recommends a minimum of 7 nights for this region and up to 14 nights at most. Visiting Agra and/or Varanasi would be an add on to a Rajasthan tour

Kerala, rolling hills blanketed in spice and tea plantations, lazy backwaters, thriving rainforests, balmy beaches and fabulous food all in one small state. Lovely traditional hotels, houseboats and innumerable homestays make these holidays incredibly intimate.

India Someday recommends a minimum of 5 nights for this region and up to 10 nights at most. You can combine Kerala with Karnataka (Hampi, Mysore), Tamil Nadu (Madurai, Tanjore, Pondicherry) or Goa. 

Goa is lined with bustling beaches that stay warm all winter long. The Portuguese influence means great food and architecture and the lush green countryside provides a ton of alternate routes. There’s delicious Indian and International food (lots of seafood) and a vibrant nightlife for those who seek it.

Goa is one of the most tourist-saturated regions in India, but India Someday can dig out places to stay that are miles away from the maddening crowd. Lovely beach front properties, beach huts, boutique hotels and luxurious resorts are all on offer in Goa.

India Someday recommends a minimum of 3 nights and up to 7 nights stay. Visiting Hampi for 2-3 nights can be an add on to Goa

Where can you go if the mountains are more your thing?

India boundaries hold in thousands of kilometers of the Himalayan mountain range. We love the mountains; and have successfully arranged several week long trekking trips in different parts of the Himalayas. You can look either plan a serious trekking holiday or just enjoy few days in the Himalayas

Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand are easily reachable from Delhi. Both states have innumerable multiple day trekking routes. You can also look at relaxed mountain stays, soaking the surroundings and going on daily hikes.

India Someday recommends a minimum of 4 nights, and up to 10 nights for the Himalayas. Look at between 6 to 10 days if you wish to do a multiple day trek, criss-crossing idyllic Himalayan villages. (India Someday helps you organise the logistics for multiple-day treks)

Leh and Ladakh, accessible only between June to mid-October, are a part of the high Tibetean Plateau. One can do a trekking trip or just a sight-seeing holiday.

We recommend a week to 10 days to include a visit to this region. One can take up to three days to reach Leh and Ladakh from Delhi.

Sikkim is another tiny, but beautiful Himalayan state in the North-Eastern part of India. It boasts strong Buddhist influences with remarkable monasteries. We recommend allocating a week to nine days to include a visit to Sikkim.

What are some less touristy and interesting regions to visit?

Tamil Nadu, a state in south India sharing a border with Kerala receives a lot less tourists than its neighbour. Home to stunning temple complexes (tens of centuries old), it also shares the hills with Kerala and has lovely hill stations and national parks. Pondicherry (a  coastal former French colony) is a convenient stopover while traversing Tamil Nadu. India Someday recommends a minimum of 6 days and upto 12 days for Tamil Nadu

Karnataka is a state above Kerala. It is home to the Unesco World Heritage town Hampi, endless coffee plantations and forest stays. Mysore, city of palaces, is a convenient drive from Bangalore. India Someday recommends a minimum of 6 days and upto 10 days for Karnataka. See a trip across South India through Hampi here

Gujarat is just south of Rajasthan and receives a fraction of the number of tourists that Rajasthan receives. Once can easily tack on a few days in Gujarat while visiting Rajasthan. It is dotted with temples, has a vibrant handicraft industry, pretty coastal stops and is home to the only National park in India that features the Asiatic Lion. India Someday recommends 3 days to upto a week for Gujarat.

Madhya Pradesh in the very centre of India is a large state with a lot of interesting architecture and home to some of the finest National Parks in India. If you are willing to endure longer travel times, Madhya Pradesh is the ideal destination to plan a wildlife holiday. Khajuraho (home to the famous erotic temples) and Orchha (a quaint temple town) can be conveniently included when planning a North India i.e. Delhi – Agra – Varanasi – Rajasthan trip. India Someday recommends allocating a minimum of 4 days and upto 10 days for Madhya Pradesh.

Where to go to be even more off-the-beaten-path?

Yes, there are states like Orrisa and Chattisgarh, unfortunately we do not know these states well and do not plan trips there. The Himalayan state of Kashmir is often avoided by tourists due to security concerns, but it is a breathtakingly beautiful region and we are happy to plan trips for our guests there (though we cannot take responsibility for their safety).

The North East (seven states called the seven sisters like Meghalaya, Assam or Nagaland) is a gorgeous remote region of India. We plan trips to this region with the help of a like-minded travel agency.

Where should you go if you only have two weeks in India?

We usually recommend either just a North India trip, or just a South India trip. For a North India trip, a short visit to the Himalayas is a possible addition. 

If you love beaches, you can add a few days in Goa to a South India or  a North India trip.

If you love hiking or just want to be completely away from other tourists then look an exclusively trekking holiday or an entire two weeks in one of the less touristy states.

A trip across the highlights of both North India and South India is possible. We usually ask our guest to aim for at least a two and half week holiday to include both regions but that would be pretty fast-paced. 

Click here to look at some of the two week long trips our guests took.

Where should you go for three weeks or more in India?

Your options would now be an extensive North India or South India trip, or a combination of both. You can also consider seeing the spiritual cities or trek in the Himalayas plus a visit around Rajasthan.

You can almost always allocate some beach time, or look at two weeks in the popular regions and a week in the not so popular regions. Or check out our blog for some four weeks trip ideas. 

In a nutshell, you will need to decide how long you want to travel for and if you are more of a history and culture geek or rather a nature person. If you want to see as much as possible in less time or rather have a relaxed time. If long distance travel is okay for you or you rather prefer short travel times.

We hope this information serves as a starting point to explore your options for an Indian holiday deeper. We usually exchange multiple e-mails with our guests as we plan their route, so a lot of the route discovery will happen over the course of e-mail exchanges. If only one, all or none of these regions appeal to you, plan your trip with us and let us know where you want to go and we’ll make it happen. Also check out all our tour ideas


Offbeat Tours in India
Offbeat Tours in India

Offbeat Tours in India

While travelling to India most people already have their must-visits ilke Agra, Delhi and Jaipur (the golden triangle), the beaches of Goa, the backwaters in Kerala, or even the romantic  Udaipur and the bustle of Mumbai. But India is so vast (I describe it like Europe, each state can actually be a country) that you can find places which are not yet a part of the tourist trail, and I hope they never are. So here is a list of our favourite offbeat routes

Lahual Spiti – the lesser known Himalayas

Everyone knows of Leh and Ladakh and the British summer capital Shimla, but the Himalayas have some wonderful lesser explored regions which are a must to visit at least once. The region of Lahaul – Spiti is a part of northeast Himachal, the roads and infrastructure are not the best and that means that travelling here is a little hard but the views and locale ensure that a 8 hour drive passes in the blink of a eye.

Himachal – Offbeat Route

Delhi/Chandigarh – Shimla – Thanedar/Kotgarh – Sangla – Kalpa – Tabo – Kaza- Kullu (Manikaran) – Chandigarh/Delhi

Start your trip in Delhi and head first to Shimla (yes a touristic start!). Shimla has expanded and grown into not such a pretty hill station, but still has an old world charm about it. The next stop would be Kotgarh, a small quaint village around 2 hours north of Shimla,

The next stop, Sangla, is what I call heaven on earth. A gushing noisy river with the Himalayan mountains surrounding you on all sides, as you sit in apple orchards and watch the world go by. The next few destinations are a part of the snow desert and with terrain similar to that of the famous Leh and Ladakh. The road journeys are long and open only from July – September, but the effort is completely worth it with striking monasteries and perfect blue skies along the way. You should end your trip in the hippie region of Tosh or Parvarti Valley, with Bob Marley posters, peace signs and the vices that go along with it.

Stay and Travel Find the perfect blend of home stays, guesthouses and some fantastic boutique hotels. See the other side of Shimla by staying at either Sunnymead or Aira Holme Stay and experience hospitality like never before. Then head to the lovely home in Kotgarh (Seetalvan homestay) where you can see range after range of mountains while sitting in a veranda sipping a cup of chai. The Banjara camps in Sangla are just brilliant and you can try Ecosphere in Kaza and Tabo. In Tosh you should get there without a plan and find the place you like most.

In terms of travel it would be best to hire a chauffeur driven car for the entire trip, but you could also take local buses if you are on a tight budget.

Best time to travel Number of days needed Ideal for
July to September 15-18 days Couples | Families | Friends

Rishikesh and the Kumaon region – Spirituality, the Mountains and a Tiger National Park

Uttarakhand is known as the land of gods. The fresh air, snowy winter, larger than life mountains, the small villages and simpler people make this a great destination. Known for its adventurous side with River Rafting, Trekking, Skiing, Camping, Rock Climbing, Rappelling, Uttaranchal also has some unbeliavble boutique hotels with just the right amount of luxury. Combine a trip to the Jim Corbett National park with the Kumaon hills and the touristy Rishikesh  for the full experience.

Uttarakhand – Offbeat Route

Delh/Dehradun – Rishikesh -Jim Corbett – Nainital/Nagar – Itmenaan – Kathgodam – Delhi

Start your trip in Delhi and head first to Rishikesh (yet another touristic start). Rishikesh hit stardom when the Beatles spent a few months there with their spiritual guru, and ever since you’ve had lots of yogashala’s and courses for tourists wanting that calming and spiritual experience. That aside, it’s a nice small town on the banks of the mighty Ganga (where you can river raft), with great places to eat.

The next stop would be Jim Corbett National Park. A dense forest with the chance to spot a tiger in the wild, it’s exactly like Ruskin Bond describes it in his books. if you are not fortunate enough to spot the elusive tiger, you will definitely see a host of other wildlife. From here you could make your way into the Kumaon Hills and the beautiful hill station of Nainital, and then to a lovely property called Itmenaan tucked away in the mountains.

As you make your way back down to Delhi via Kathgodam, you can add a few more places to your itenerary like Munsiyari, or Ramgarh if you have time. One thing we can promise is that not too many people would have already travelled this route.

Stay and Travel Again you can combine guesthouses or home stays with boutique hotels. In Rishikesh you can find a place in your budget, though we recommend staying at Seventh Heaven Inn  or Glass House on the Ganges for a more luxurious experience. In Jim Corbett you must stay in the Dhikala forest lodge. The stay is simply out of this world, you cannot beat the experience of living in the middle of a forest. Once in Kumaon you have a range of boutique hotels which you should stay in like White Peaks, The Retreat, and Itmenaan Lodge. We can go on with options, but  if you just let us know the number of days you have available, we can plan the trip for you.

In terms of travel it would be best to hire a chauffeur driven car for the entire trip.

Best time to travel Number of days needed Ideal For
February to June 12-15 days Couples | Families | Friends

 


Getting from Goa to Hampi
Getting from Goa to Hampi

How get from Goa to Hampi

You are in Goa, the land of sun, sea and inexpensive alchol, an ideal life for a hedonist like myself. Where do you go next? What can possibly keep up with the beautiful life that is Goa?  Where could still hold your interest? You should go from Goa to Hampi.

Our practical guide explains the different travel options between Hampi and Goa, the pros and the cons of each mode. It is not exactly a hop-skip and jump away, but Hampi is truly worth the travel effort.

Relaxed on the beaches of Goa; Now explore the ruins of Hampi Relaxed on the beaches of Goa; Now explore the ruins of Hampi

A village in the Vijaynagara city of North Karnataka, Hampi means champion. It is located in the ruins of the ancient city of Vijaynagara. The ruins of Hampi are a UNESCO World Heritage site. A place unaffected by time and the onward march of civilization, Hampi is a delightful, picturesque idyll. It’s stuck in the 16th century and positively oozing with old world charm. There are a lot of things for a young backpacker to do. It should definitely be on your itinerary if you are not willing to end your vacation in Goa.

The Boulders of Hampi! The Boulders of Hampi

By flight

The distance from Goa to Hampi is 344 kilometres. There are no flights from Goa to Hampi. You can either take the train or bus.

The picturesque town of Hampi The picturesque town of Hampi

By bus

There are state transport buses that run from Goa to Hampi, we have not tried them. They tend to take much longer and can be uncomfortable.

We frequently use Paulo Travels which provides bus services to and from Goa and Hampi. They provide two buses a day. You can choose between a Volvo Sleeper and a Non AC bus. Both buses are scheduled for the evening. One leaves at 18:55 PM IST and the other leaves at 19:04 PM IST.  It takes between 7 to 8 hours to reach Hampi by bus and should not cost you more than INR 600-800.

Tickets can be purchased directly in Goa, or purchased online.

Side note: Paulo Travels is usually a reliable bus in terms of punctuality and comfort. They frequently ply between Goa and Mumbai too. VRL is our favourite and Neeta is another good bus service.

Live the hippie life (for a while) in Hampi Live the hippie life (for a while) in Hampi

By train

Getting from Goa to Hampi by train is our preferred option. We suggest you take the Howrah Express (does not run on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays). You can board this train from Vasco De Gama station at 7:20 AM in Goa and reach Hospet (closest station to Hampi 20kms away) at 2PM. From there you can take a rickshaw. We suggest this train because it’s fast and you reach Hampi by noon which leaves you with an extra evening to spend in Hampi.

The journey is pretty beautiful, full of ghats and the mesmerizing Dudhsagar waterfalls. The Mandovi river making a leap in all its grace (looks like milk flowing from a mountain) hence named Dudhsagar waterfalls (sea of milk).

By Car (and driver)

One can hire and a car and driver and drive from Goa to Hampi. It is a long drive and on the expensive side. Expect the drive to take seven to eight hours (even upto nine). A car and driver would cost you anywhere between INR 9000 to INR 11000 (including fuel costs).

Some tourists opt for Hampi as a day trip. They rent a car to take them to Hampi and back. Honestly, we think that is tortuous amounts of driving and stunning Hampi deserves more time! A sunset or a sunrise in Hampi may well be one of your most memorable Indian experiences. The entire red granite city glistens in the soft rays of the sun.

Getting from Hampi to Goa

You can use the bus services of Paulo travels or The Howrah Express to travel from Hampi to Goa. When travelling from Hampi to Goa we suggest you take the bus. The reason we suggest the bus over the trains is the trains originate from Kolkata (36 hours away from Hospet) so they often late and at times can be very dirty too.

If you have reached Hampi and wondering where you should go next we suggest you give ‘Gods own country’–Kerala a try.

Here are travel options between Goa and Kerala.


Twenty best places to visit in North India
Twenty best places to visit in North India

Twenty best places to visit in North India

It’s only fair to start talking about North India, with the historic Golden Triangle of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur and then take it trough the deserts of Rajasthan into the magnificent Himalayan paradise destinations. So let’s start where most trips to India start and talk about our twenty top places to visit in North India.


Humayun Tomb, New Delhi Humayun Tomb, New Delhi

Delhi –A city with character

You’re most likely to land here if you’re visiting India. And when you do, you’ll probably be told about Delhi’s skyrocketing crime rate which is true but there’s more to Delhi than that. It’s a modern city in with a very strong historical essence, in the way it is constructed, in its architecture and especially in the monuments, tombs, temples, and ruins of Old Delhi. Street shopping at Sarojinini Nagar and Janpath, street food all over town, the alternative, designer culture of HauzKhas Village, the hipster feel of Pahadganj… these are things everyone loves about Delhi and yet the luxury shopper or the fine diner will not be pressed for choices with all the high flying malls and luxury stores in town. The city is sprawling and every area is like a world of its own (you can lose yourself just going around the lanes of ChandniChowk). The highways feel like they connect different worlds. Delhi has it all, and all of it makes one mesmerizing metropolis where you can spend months and still keep discovering it with all its fascinating nooks and crannies.

Taj mahal in Agra Taj mahal in Agra

Agra – More than the Taj Mahal

Yes, we all know that the Taj Mahal which is undoubtedly magnificent (especially in changing light at dawn and dusk) is Agra’s claim to fame but there’s a lot more to see here. Agra Fort, Baby Taj (a small unfinished version of the Taj Mahal in black), Akbar’s tomb and the fortress city of Fatehpur (Fatehpur Sikri) are all great monuments, each with its own unique historic significance and architectural genius attached. That’s the least you expect from a city that was India’s capital under the Mughals. Agra city itself can be quite an experience. It’s like a bunch of bazaars put together with most monuments lining the river Yamuna along the eastern side of the city. Taj Ganj is the settlement around the Taj Mahal where you’ll find cheap lodging and lots of small time Marble Inlay makers making replicas of the Taj Mahal and other beautiful pieces of art. Sadar Bazaar has the more swanky accommodation in town, craft emporiums and many restaurants, Further north from Agra Fort there is the commercial Kinari Bazaar which surrounds Jama Masjid. Agra is a great peek into the extravagance and the artistic impulses of the Mughals and their social effects.

Amer Fort, Jaipur Amer Fort, Jaipur

Jaipur – A piece of culture

Jaipur is one of the biggest and most bustling cities in the state of Rajasthan. Roam the old city bazaars (which are arranged in a courtyard like fashion around the city palace) for great handicrafts and souvenirs, ethnic wear that’s a class apart both as textiles and accessories, super interesting food (the ‘kachori’ from ‘Kanji’ is a must try as is the traditional ‘dal bati’ at old Jaipuri food joints). Amer Fort with an exquisite light and sound show by night and the brilliance of the Sheesh Mahal (palace of mirrors) by day, the Galtaji temple (or the monkey temple), Nahargarh fort and the lesser known Royal Cenotaphs  are major attractions on the outskirts while Hawa Mahal is an in city visual delight. Photography enthusiasts will have a gala time in Jaipur with its amazing Rajasthani architecture. If you feel like there’s been an overdose of structures, head to the greener Ram Niwas Gardens and visit the Central Museum in the southern part of town. Fort,

Ranthambore tigers image courtesy Björn Ognibeni (https://flic.kr/p/9tyXex) Ranthambore tigers image courtesy Björn Ognibeni (https://flic.kr/p/9tyXex)

Ranthambore – Spot a tiger

This is one of the best Indian destinations for tiger sighting. Of all Indian national parks, you have the best odds of seeing a tiger up close in Ranthambore. The tigers here smugly assume ownership of the place, least perturbed by the visitors and their clicking cameras. You might even have the illusion that some of them are striking a pose for your convenience every now and then. It’s not as easy as it sounds though, any wildlife photographer will tell you that if you’re not one yourself. But the proximity of this reserve to Delhi, Agra and Jaipur (the closest, you actually alight at Savaimadhavpur from the train to get to the park), makes it a much more convenient destination for nature lovers. You will get to see not only tigers but neelgai, chital, jackals, jungle cats, leopards and many birds if you’re aware enough. And the cool new development are the ‘buffer zones’ where you can actually get out of your jeep and walk around, but don’t expect to see a tiger unless you’re really lucky in these areas. Buffer zones are open all year round but the core area of the park is shut from 1st July to 30th September. October to March is the ideal time to visit. Animals frequent the lake in this season since rainwater is scanty. Summers are less crowded due to the extreme heat and winters are extremely busy here, so plan ahead!

The golden city image courtesy Koshy Koshy (https://flic.kr/p/bDTGXv) The golden city image courtesy Koshy Koshy (https://flic.kr/p/bDTGXv)

Jaisalmer – The desert’s golden edge

Jaiselmer is relatively more difficult to get to (an overnight railway journey from Jaipur or a drive through Jodhpur) but totally worth it. Enjoy the sights and sounds of a typical Rajasthani desert town, go on a camel ride at sunset, camp in the desert amidst the ‘Golden City’s’ sand dunes. People watch here, its great fun. The village folk in their vibrant turbans are all over the bazaar and there is absolutely no match for Jaiselmer’s sandstone structures. Walk through yourself in the meandering streets, with no fear of getting lost in this medieval small town. Go looking for traditional dance performances, and maybe go dune bashing.

The blue City jodhpur Rajasthan The blue City jodhpur Rajasthan

Jodhpur – The best fort city in Rajasthan

Jodhpur, in Rajasthan lines the Thar Desert to the east. Almost all houses in the old town are painted in a lovely blue wash and the stunning Meherangarh Fort (easily Rajasthan’s most beautiful) looms over them. Zipling off Meherangarh Fort is a brilliant experience no one should miss (more info. on that here: http://www.flyingfox.asia/cmspage.aspx?pgid=52). Don’t just visit the fort, go around town if you get the time, you’ll find puppet makers, tie and dye artists, spice markets and more. Lose yourself in the bazaars that radiate around the clock tower right in the centre of the city, the age old Sardar Market especially. The wall less Jalori and Sojati Gates will give you a feel of how old a city Jodhpur really is. For the sake of ritual, get a birds-eye view of the ‘blue city’ and keep a photograph of it for fond memory!

View of the Taj lake Palace,from City Palace, Udaipur View of the Taj lake Palace,from City Palace, Udaipur

Udaipur  – Charming city of Lakes

Udaipur is that rich and romantic setting you’ve seen in old Indian paintings and period films. Lake Pichola is lined by an array of palaces with beautiful balconies, havelis (small homes of the royal era) in pristine white, bathing ghats and lovely root top restaurants from where you can get great views of the lake and lush green hills around it. The Lake Palace hotel floats proudly in the middle of the lake, as does Jag Mandir. You have City Palace to the east of the Lake Pichola and, winding streets of the old city to explore and of course, the Fateh Sagar lake to the north. A drive through the outskirts is very visually rewarding as well, it gives you a real feel of the great Indian dynasty that was.

Pushkar, Rajasthan Pushkar, Rajasthan

Pushkar – Small, spiritual and hippie

Legend says that Lord Brahma (the Hindu deity who is the creator) dropped a lotus on this little town to the north of Ajmer and that’s how the holy Pushkar lake came to exist. The only Bhrama temple in India, it is an important pilgrimage spot, but more interestingly, it is a hub for hippie travelers. The lake is flanked by hundreds of temples and ghats, along with rooftop cafes, bakeries, etc. and a very colorful market, full of handicrafts, hipster clothing and a variety of food. Sunset by the lake is a great experience. If you come to Pushkar during the camel fair around October/November, you’ll see throngs of pilgrims, folk artists, musicians, camel sellers and buyers, tourists and many more people coming into Pushkar and the entire expanse of dunes around it acquire a lovely festive aura. Climb the hill where the Savitri Temple is to get an unsurpassed view over Pushkar (try to get there by sunrise, or at sun set). The Gayitri Temple offers great sunrise views as well. Make all your bookings in advance if you’re visiting at the time of the fair.

Varanasi image courtesy jai Kapoor (https://flic.kr/p/bvsFhN) Varanasi image courtesy jai Kapoor (https://flic.kr/p/bvsFhN)

Varanasi – The cradle of Hindu’asm

Also called Benares and Kashi, this is an old city that lies around the banks of the river Ganga. The banks of the river have an array of ghats leading to the holy waters, where you’ll see, priests, pilgrims and other folk in colorful attire, taking a dip, and performing rituals. The ghats of Varanasi are also where many Hindu’s in northern India religiously cremate their dead and where the grand Ganga aarti takes place. Watching the Ganga aarti in this ‘city of light’ said to have been created by the Lord Shiva one of the most intense and moving experiences you can have in India. Varanasi has a unique vibe, probably because it is considered one of the most important pilgrimage spots in the country. It is a city of sages and priests, a strange place where the deities abound and the aged believers wish to breathe their last.

Khujarao, Madhya Pradesh image courtesy claire spencer (https://flic.kr/p/chRw) Khujarao, Madhya Pradesh image courtesy claire spencer (https://flic.kr/p/chRw)

Khajuraho – The erotic temples

The sensual sculptures of the Khajuraho temples are yet unmatched. There is more than one theory for why the Chandella dynasty rulers had such explicitly erotic temples built back in 10-12 centuries AD (which one would imagine were conservative times in a country like India). One particularly funny one is that they were intended to be a ‘how to’ guide for Brahmin boys! A more serious one is that they symbolize Lord Shiva and his wife Parvati’s wedding party. The British rediscovered this forgotten architectural marvel, 400 km from Agra (southeast) and Varanasi (west), in 1838. The Western Group temples are particularly stunning with their pinkish sandstone and almost 3D relief giving of the illusion that the figures are alive with real flesh. Add to this the subtle changes in hues with the changing light of the day, in the moonlight and sometimes floodlights by night and you’ll find yourself just standing there and staring for hours! Khajuraho village, although belittled by the grandeur of the temples, has its own discreet charm, with a laid back pace, a nice market and pretty open-restaurants. The Khajuraho Dance festival is a great time of the year to visit Khajuraho.

Orchha – A smaller gem

Chhattisgarh’s more or less overshadowed gem, Orccha is a must visit if you’re taking a trip to the more famed site of Khajuraho, and even otherwise. In fact, the name itself translates to ‘hidden place’ and this tumble-down medieval town lives up to the title, nestled among dhak forest cover. Orchha is a convenient 18km journey from Jhansi. Its architectural value has been recognized over the years and its lovely shikharas, palatial remains, havelis and cenotaphs in sandstone with flora growing over them have been fortified. They all appear to be making a serene journey in time by the River Betwa. The village is a great place to relax on your way down from more demanding northern towns. Now that Orchha has taken up a bit of the limelight, you might find a lot of guided tours and tourists here, but the best way to enjoy it is to let this bustle clear out a bit, lay back and take in the entire aura of the place at peace.

Kanha National Park – in the lap of nature

Sprawled over 940 sq. km of deciduous forest cover, grasslands, hills and rivers, Kanha National Park to the north of Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh is easily one of the finest wildlife sanctuaries in India.  You’ll spot myriad species of birds and animals (tigers as well) here and be mesmerized by the parks early morning beauty. Sighting a tiger here is considered more difficult than other tiger reserves, but it’s totally worth a visit for the rest of the wildlife brilliant, refreshing country side views it offers.

Bandhavgarh National Park – Where the Bengal tigers thrive

195 km from Jabalpur and 237 km from Khajuraho, Bandhavgarh to the north east of Madhya Pradesh is a 448 sq. km. National Park which houses the most number of tigers in India. This is by far the best reserve to track tigers at. You have the best chances of sighting tigers and getting insight into their life and habits if you go here during season time. Accommodation is available near the park entry which makes it all the more convenient and you get to see all sorts of birds while sitting around in your lodge at leisure. Bandhavgarh also has some enthralling ruins for those with an eye for architecture or an interest in history.

Rishikesh – a charming Himalyan foothill

Rishikesh is one absurd mix of yogis, sanyasis, travelers, hippies, adventure sports enthusiasts and more. It lies on the foothills of the Himalayas, 24 km from Haridwar to the north with the Garhwal Mountains looming above at and the river Ganga flowing by. You’ll find many ashrams and yoga centers here. Go white water rafting, get adventurous with mountaineering or just take one of the easier and more recreational treks. The unparalleled adrenaline rush of bungee jumping and the tranquility which was its original charm, you’ll find it all here in Rishikesh. Walk up-river and a spot amidst the rocks to just sit and be meditative. All in all it is a lovely experience and you can spend quite a while here.

Amritsar – An Awakening of humility

Punjab’s largest city, Amritsar is famous for the Golden Temple with its stately domes which command the view from its busy old town streets. Just walking around the bazaars and narrow by lanes of the old town is also quite an experience in itself. Another thing that all travelers to Amritsar find interesting is the flag retreat at the Wagha border 29 Km to the west (Indo–Pakistan frontier) where Indian and Pakistani soldiers bring down flags in an elaborate manner every evening. If you’re into history, you can probably visit the site of Jalianwala Bagh (where silent protestors were massacred during India’s struggle for freedom).

Chandigarh – An urban design benchmark

The capital of Punjab as well as Haryana and yet of neither because it is a Union Territory, Chandigarh is modeled on Jawaharlal Nehru’s vision for a city that is “symbolic of the future of India, unfettered by the traditions of the past, [and] an expression of the nation’s faith in the future”. Le Corbusier (or Charles-Edouard Jeanneret) designed Chandigarh back in 1952 as a progressive town planning experiment amidst some controversy and the Le Corbesiurs buildings are till date a thing to see amongst designers and architects. It is much cleaner and greener city compared to other major Indian towns. The rock garden here is the most frequented tourist destination in India after the Taj Mahal.

Dharmshala – Center of Buddhism in India

The Dalai Lamas home in exile atop the picturesque Kangra Valley in the Dauladhar Range of Himachal Pradesh, Dharamshala has a unique spiritual vibe to it. The Dalai Lama resides a few kilometers uphill at McLeod Ganj, and there are a number of monasteries and nunneries spread all over the Kangra Valley. Take home pretty souvenirs made by the Tibetan refugees from the market and eat some of the best momos you get in India. Enjoy soothing Tibetan meals, intellectual and spiritual discourses, and bask in the general feeling of peace and camaraderie here. In the winter you will encounter heavy snowfall and the monsoons are very wet as well, but post monsoon is the most refreshing time to be here. The Museum of Kangra Art in Dharamshala is worth a visit. You might not want to stay in Dharamshala, because it has become a developed city over the years, so walk uphill (or take a bus) to McLeod Ganj and find (via the Tibetan Library and Secretariat) and find one of the many lovely lodging options there. Visit the Dalai Lama temple at the time of chanting for a great experience and spin some prayer wheels there for good fortune. The temple has an exceptional view of the valley too. Dharamshala is the base for a number of superb Himalayan treks. If you’re here during the Dharamshala film festival, do not miss it. Check out the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, head northeast to Dharamkot village; visit the Tushita Retreat Meditation Centre and the Tibetan Children’s Village near Bhagsu. You can spend weeks in these parts and not tire of it at all.

Shimla – Colonial Mountain town

The climb from the Kalka plains to Shimla in the Himalayas is an experience in itself with steep valleys, apple orchards and maize terrace farming all over the slopes. At 2159m, Shimla always has cool weather and great views. No wonder the British made it their summer capital and it still has the colonial aura with churches and mansions, cricket pitches and holiday resorts, immaculately turned out city folk and gentlemen smoking pipes, homes and shops bearing typically British names. Christ Church is a major landmark and Scandal Point is where people gather to chat in the afternoons. The Mall is the prime shopping street of the bazaar with other interesting ones branching away from it. The Gaiety Theatre has regular shows. May–June is season times here and Indian tourists from Delhi and Punjab flock to Shimla at this time, so if you don’t like it crowded you might want to choose a slightly off season period. October and November are the best months, but make your bookings in advance. Keep an eye out for the many activities of the ridge like brass bands, sports screenings and pony rides.

Kashmir Valley

Kashmir Valley can easily be called India’s most beautiful destination. This exquisite, cool, lush area is like heaven on earth. Whether you come in from the Jawahar Tunnel or Zoji La pass, you’ll find yourself in a fantastic, verdant land, with mountain peaks all around you. The mostly snow capped PirPinjal mountains, bright green fields with corn, wheat, almond, walnut and fruits in abundance, willows and poplars which yield some of the highest quality wood, it’s all here in Kashmir. Not much industrialization and the most amazing food with benign spices blended just right and preparations that’ll make you feel absolutely pampered, what more can you ask for. Kashmiri handicrafts are a class apart. The downside is that there have been years of political and social conflict over Kashmir and so you have to be on your guard around here although it is definitely not reason enough to miss out on its beauty. Drink Kahwah!

Leh and Ladakh

This is a whole separate part of the country, in terms of administration, culture as well as terrain. Literally meaning ‘land of high mountain passes’ and often called ‘little Tibet’ it is very rich in Buddhist culture, despite extreme suppression of it by the Chinese in Tibet nearby. The monsoons hardly make it here and snowfall is very little too. Ladakh is like a Himalayan desert and the ultimate on road experience for bikers and driving enthusiasts. The ‘Raid De Himalaya’ is a very difficult car rally that goes through Ladakh, a major achievement for those who complete it. You’ll see Buddhist prayer flags, monasteries, chotrens outside tiny settlements, gompas and ruins, dotting the otherwise sparse landscape and transitions in terrain which feel like they’re not of this world once you enter Ladakh. Observe the life of the nomads here, it’s as inspiring as intriguing. Leh is Ladakh’s capital, and a thriving city of the Indus Valley with stunning views around it and a lot of tourist activity. Part of the historic Silk Route, Leh is where you’re most likely to arrive on your Journey into Ladakh or for other adventurous side trips. To its north lies KhardungLa, the highest motorable pass in the world which leads you to Nubra valley replete with sand dunes. Yes, be prepared for amazing visual transitions. TsoMoriri is a lovely lake to the south east of Leh in Rupshu and PangongTso (extreme east of Ladakh) is an epic destination, a lake they show in the movies. You can peek into Tibet from here. You need permits to go into most of these parts, so it’s advisable to reach Leh a day early and get these. Kargil (in the stunning Suru Valley) is the largest city here after Leh and it is the midpoint on your way to Srinagar in Kashmir and also the point where the road to Zanskar starts. A jeep or bike is ideal vehicles to traverse these regions. There are reliable busses as well on the Indus Valley highway but they get fewer as the distance from Leh increases, making remote parts (which are the charm of Ladakh) less accessible. If you’re fit enough, there’s no match for trekking of course!