Famed for being as diverse and varied as it is heady and exotic, India is a country that charms the senses and leaves every visitor longing to return for another Asian adventure. It’s often said you could spend ten years travelling India and still only scratch the surface of this vast and unique area of the world. Those who are looking for a fresh take on exploring off the beaten path need look no further than this guide, which highlights some of the lesser-known experiences to be had in this most beguiling of countries.
1. Cruise Through Kerala on a Houseboat
The tranquil waterways of Kerala are bordered with lush tea and spice plantations, edged with swaying palms and peopled by locals making good use of the rivers to wash, catch fish and transport goods. There is no better way to take in the relaxed way of life and tropical vegetation than by hiring a houseboat to cruise along the rivers and canals. Often converted from rice barges, each houseboat offers maximum charm along with modern comforts such as showers and air conditioning.
2. Indulge Your Senses With an Ayurveda Wellness Retreat
Ayurveda, India’s centuries old medicinal system, is hugely popular throughout the world with people who take an active interest in holistic health. There could not be a more authentic way to experience the benefits of this ancient practice than at the source, whether your trip to India is to enjoy some respite from the stresses and strains of everyday life or whether it’s to find relief from a specific ailment. In fact it’s not necessary to be sick to experience the benefits of Ayurveda – many people wait until they feel unwell before treating their body and mind as they should, despite knowing that prevention is always better than cure. Think of making time for an Indian wellness retreat as a necessary luxury.
3. Sharpen Your Cooking Skills with a Culinary Homestay
Flavourful and fragrant, Indian cuisine is among the most popular in the world. Secret spice blend recipes for the perfect curried dish abound in books and online, but with a gourmet culinary homestay you can be sure of re-creating the real thing at home with confidence, whilst relishing the memories of your Indian adventure at the same time.
4. Hear the Call of the Wild at a Tiger Reserve
Often studded with temples and tropical hardwood forests, India’s tiger reserves are beautiful places in themselves, even if you don’t set eyes on a tiger during your stay. Other wildlife compete for attention with these majestic beasts, including leopards, monkeys, wild boar and a wide variety of tropical birds. Of course the glittering jewel in the crown is spotting the tiger in its natural habitat, a sight that promises to be adrenalin inducing and unforgettably arresting.
5. Take in a Buddhist Art Tour
Sacred and beautiful, the Buddhist art of India is a sight to behold and holds deep rewards for those wishing to contemplate its meaning. Traditional hotspots for Buddhist schools of art include Peshawar and Mathura, whilst there are numerous examples to be found in locations and temples right across the country, particularly in the north where influences spill across the border from Nepal and Tibet.
6. Visit Majuli River Island in Assam
As the world’s largest river island, Majuli is truly unique. Agriculturally rich, Majuli residents grow an astonishing 100-plus varieties of rice in the local paddy fields. Tribal and monastic traditions are strong making this a fascinating area to visit, whilst a huge variety of wild birds can be found in the wetlands here making it a haven for wildlife watchers. If you are fortunate enough to find yourself there during winter, the sunsets throughout the later months of the year are nothing short of spectacular.
7. Enjoy Ancient Architecture in Patan
With a remarkably complete ancient fortress situated within the modern town, the stunning Patan in Gujurat is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A place of significant architectural interest, Patan also enjoys a thriving clay toy-making tradition, which makes for some uniquely attractive souvenirs as a reminder of this most memorable of locations.
8. Walk the Pine Forests of Tirthan Valley
Whilst an obvious choice for many visitors to India is to head for the heat of the south, northern Himachal Pradesh yields hidden gems such as Tirthan Valley, a lush, cool environment that is a haven for bird watchers, trekkers and walkers. Breathtaking mountain views, alpine meadows, pine forests and glacial lakes are just some of the attractions that nature lovers can enjoy in this beautiful region.
9. Climb the Chand Baori Stepwell
Situated in the heart of Rajasthan, Chand Baori is an impressively intact ancient stepwell, one of many built as a solution to the India’s chronic water shortages. Reminiscent of an Escher painting, it has been used as a location for numerous feature films and attracts thousands of visitors every year to its intricate steps.
10. Witness the Vastness of the Laitlum Canyons
A true hidden gem, the Laitlum (meaning ‘end of hills’) Canyons in Meghalaya are as vast as they are beautiful. Their spectacular depths are carpeted with lush greenery and often shrouded in curling mist, adding a further layer of atmospheric mystery. Creating a natural amphitheatre, the Laitlum Canyons are ideal for trekking and exploring and give the impression of literally being on top of the world.
11. Walk Among the Flowers at Zakir Hussain Rose Garden
One of the most famous and delightful botanical gardens in all of Asia, Zakir Hussain Rose Garden in Chandigarh is landscaped over an extensive 30 acres and boasts over 50,000 rose bushes. The gardeners get creative with their visual displays, especially during festival season when the garden is at its most impressive.
12. Visit Nek Chand
One of the most offbeat attractions in all of India, Nek Chand Saini in Chandigarh is a sculpture park with a difference. Built illegally and secretly by an artist on government land, the park so impressed officials that its creator Nek Chand was granted both permission and a team of workers to continue his pet project. Today the Nek Chand Rock Garden is renowned as one of Chandigarh’s most beloved attractions. Sculptures range from dancing figures to horses to wild birds, all set among winding hand-constructed rock formations and mosaics.
13. Monkey Around at Galtaji
Often simply known as Monkey Temple, Galtaji near Jaipur is a popular and sprawling collection of ancient temples set within the Aravalli Hills. What makes these temples particularly picturesque is that they are built around a natural spring, tiered into two pools and replete with waterfalls, where pilgrims still come to bathe even today. The most famous feature of Galtaji though is the resident monkey population inhabiting the now empty temples in great numbers, to the delight and amusement of visitors.
14. Walk in the Shade of the Great Banyan
Situated near Kolkata and over 250 years old, The Great Banyan at Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Botanic Garden in Howrah near Kolkata is officially the widest tree in the world, covering over three and a half acres of ground. Rather than looking like one single tree it resembles a forest in appearance, making it a special destination for botanists.
15. Sail to Murad Janjira Fort
Just south of Mumbai in the coastal port town of Murad lies what is touted as the world’s most impenetrable fort, Murad Janjira. Unique for being bound on all sides by the sea, this centuries-old fortress has long since ceased to be active yet still retains its canons, and even boasts a seemingly miraculous fresh water well in the middle of the fort from which visitors can drink. The ruins within the fort walls will be of interest to history enthusiasts, as will the three huge canons that once defended the fort from would-be invaders.
16. Find Your Balance at Phuktal Monastery
Seemingly precariously built, Phuktal Monastery is an active Buddhist monastery constructed right on the very edge of a mountain range, high up in the Himalayan region of Ladakh. Originally built around a naturally formed cave, the Buddhist community includes a monastic school and welcomes visitors who have made the arduous journey to this unusual location, even offering overnight accommodation to guests.
17. Pick Your Own Tea at Kolukkumalai Tea Estate
Close to Munmar in Kerala, Kolukkumalai Tea Estate enjoys its status as the highest tea estate in the world. With lush, rolling hills of tea stretching across the plantation, visitors can book a tea tasting tour and sample the award-winning teas grown here whilst witnessing the traditional tea-making techniques still practised by local growers. Worth visiting for the panoramic valley views alone, but the plantation’s tea production tour is a must.
18. Witness Bull Surfing at Maramadi Festival
A strong tradition in the villages of Kerala once the harvest is in, bull surfing involves yoking together a pair of bulls and sending them racing across wet rice paddy fields with their ‘surfer’ in tow, akin to a Roman gladiator racing a chariot. This highly competitive activity is best left to the locals, who are trained experts and have been bull surfing for years as part of the annual harvest season. Visitors and locals alike can enjoy the excitement from the sidelines as they witness this dramatic sporting event, which occurs every year around mid-August.
19. Attend the Maharishi Mahesh ‘Beatles’ Ashram
Located in Rishikesh, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram is famous for its 1960s residents the Beatles, who came here to learn to meditate. Lying abandoned for years in the undergrowth, the ashram’s walls have collected an impressive display of fab four-themed graffiti over the decades. Since being re-opened in 2015 the site welcomes visitors all year round for sightseeing and nature walks.
20. Witness the Blue City of Jodhpur
Truly a sight to behold, the beautiful hue of the houses in the Blue City of Jodhpur is unmistakably Indian. Situated in Rajasthan, the city itself is an ornate maze of winding streets set within the Thar Desert. Whilst being a place of considerable interest to visitors with its architecture, picturesque gardens and numerous museums, it’s the view of the striking blue houses that makes Jodhpur a standout destination.
21. Worship a Motorcycle at the Bullet Baba Temple
Whilst most shrines and temples in India are reserved for gods and deities, the Bullet Baba Temple near Jodhpur is dedicated to a motorcycle with an unusual legend attached. The sight of a drink-driving motorcycle crash, each time the police removed the bike from the scene it mysteriously found its way back again. It was then decided that it would rest there permanently, and a shrine was erected in honour of its driver Om Banna, with offerings including whisky, flower garlands and bangles.
22. Picnic at Tiger Cave
On the shores of the famed Bay of Bengal, Tiger Cave is so named due to the huge and impressive tiger-like heads carved into the stone around the cave’s entrance. Set among tranquil gardens and open to all, Tiger Cave is the perfect spot to enjoy an atmospheric and unusual lunch.
23. Visit Gandhi’s House
Once the home of Mahatma Gandhi and the site of his death, Mani Bhavan in Mumbai is now a museum dedicated to its famous former resident. Many artefacts have remained untouched since his assassination, and visitors can explore the library, picture gallery and garden, as well as attend informative talks.
An incredible country in every respect, India has to be experienced first hand to be fully appreciated in all its splendour, quirkiness and wonder. Specialising in bespoke luxury travel to the exotic East, Corinthian Travel has the knowledge and experience to make your trip as memorable as it can be. Whether you choose to take in the delights of the north or south of India, our dedicated team of experts pride themselves on crafting the perfect Indian experience that promises to be unique to each traveller’s requirements and wishes. For further information or to book a trip, contact us today.