INDIA is a land full of diversity, color, chaos and sometimes tranquillity. With a population of more than one billion people, spanning three million square kilometers, there is plenty to do and see.
But often visitors to this nation – which bursts with culture, ancient traditions and artistic heritage – do not get to see the non-touristy landscapes and hidden treasures. In such an expanse of land, it can sometimes be hard to know where to start.
Here are a few of India’s lesser-known destinations, which are certain to engage your curiosity, broaden your world knowledge and leave you wondering if your dreams have merged with reality.
Majuli is the largest freshwater island in the world. It sits in the river of the Brahmaputra, just a 20-kilometer journey from the city of Jorhat in Northeast India. The waters surrounding the long, slender island are pristine and pollution free, which is a rarity in India.
The island is mostly inhabited by tribes who have called it home for centuries. The tribal culture and traditional festivals which are celebrated on the island are one of the main reasons people come to visit.
Although accommodation and food options are limited on the island, it truly is a slice of rural tranquillity that would be hard to find in other parts of India.
Kutch is a flat island located in Northwest India with a history that can be traced back to prehistoric times. The island is nestled in the Gulf of Kachchh and the Great and Little salty Ranns – home to the last refuge of the Indian wild ass.
The island is entirely seasonal and can only be visited when the monsoon rains are not falling, which normally occurs between July and September. During this time, the dazzling white-salt planes are drowned by sea and river water, leaving it marshy and muddy.
During the winter months of December to February, the island comes alive with the Rann Festival. Huge camp settlements with cultural programs, activities and adventures such as hot-air ballooning and camel treks can be enjoyed here too. This island has a rich history of handcrafts and embroidery work, as well as being home to a large population of flamingos.
Mandvi beach is a stunning place to visit on your island adventure – often people fly their kites here, making a beautiful view.
The food found here is mainly vegetarian, and often garlic, onions and potatoes are avoided because of the religious teachings of Jainism, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t totally delicious.
Sundarbans, West Bengal
Bengal is mostly known for being the home to one of the world’s most celebrated and majestic animals – the Royal Bengal Tiger. But Sundarbans in western Bengal has one of the most beautiful and surreal wildlife forests in India, teeming with much more than our striped feline friends.
The area is surrounded by roaring rivers and beautiful estuaries which are shared between India and Bangladesh.
The serenity and silent charm of the mangrove forest fill visitors with a sense of calm and amazement. The ecological balance is unique in this forest, with a bioclimatic zone that allows the animals who live there to prosper.
Basic hotels and restaurants, which are open all year round, can be found dotted around the Sundarbans. It is best to visit in winter as it is cooler and less humid, and remember to never go out alone through the mangroves, and especially not at night, as crocodiles are lurking.
Leh Ladakh, Kashmir
Often described as India’s own mood-land, Leh Ladakh is a region in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. The beautiful region starts at the Kunlun mountain range and extends to the Great Himalayas, with plenty to see in between.
Leh Ladakh is truly a heaven on Earth with an abundance of treasures including nature, geography, sceneries and a mix of cultures from Tibetans to Indo-Aryans who share the mountain range.
Pangong Lake is the main reason people make the journey up to this mountain range. At an altitude of 4,350 meters and a five-hour drive away from the city of Leh, it is advised that only those with strong lungs make the trip, due to thinning air.
Shanti Stupa is also a magnificent place to visit. It is proclaimed as one of the most incredible Tibetan structures ever built and can be found on the hilltop of Chamspa in Leh.
The most soul-warming multinational-inspired cuisine can be found in the city of Leh. Serving Indian, Tibetan, Chinese and even Korean, some of the local favorites are Thupa (noodle soup) and Momos (steamed dumpling).
It is said that Leh Ladakh is the only place on earth that man can sit with his face in the sun with his feet dangling in the water and get sunstroke and frostbite at the same time, so we suggest visiting in Summer when the temperatures are a little warmer.
Orchha, Madhya Pradesh
The Taj Mahal is arguably one of India’s most recognized landmarks, but it is often busy with tourists and worshippers. Why not head down to the central state of Madhya Pradesh and visit the medieval city of Orchha to explore the 17th-century palace buildings in their original state.
The town is now full of farming communities, living peacefully on the banks of the river Betwa. The river splits into seven channels and legend has it that this is to honor the seven erstwhile chiefs of Orchha.
This ancient town is culturally significant in that it seems frozen in time, with little damage done to century-old buildings and monuments.
You will be spoiled for choice of food in Orchha as European, Indian and Chinese food can all be found in friendly restaurants around town and in hotels.
You can enjoy a simple stroll around this town to meet locals, and cycle into the countryside for pure tranquility. But if you are up for something a little more adventurous, you can take to the waters on a whitewater rafting adventure.