A sinewy grey streak bolted through the jeep’s high-beams and down the rough dirt track of the Gangau Sanctuary, where we’d gone for one of the few night safaris on more →
The India you did not know of.
How often have you been to Shimla? Perhaps, every time somebody mentioned hills. Or is Darjeeling the one great love of yours when it comes to the other side of the fascinating country that we know of as India. Well, it’s time to rethink of all your great loves, for these places will have you falling, in love with travelling, all over again.
Here are India’s top 10 offbeat destinations -
On your way to McLeodganj, turn whimsical and steer towards the other road at Palampur. Rest assured you won’t miss the Mcllo or Jimmy’s of McLeodganj here. Driving by century old tea estates, you’ll find a few folks around. There would be, of course, ample of wild flowers and perky species of toads, birds and more. While tea rules the wind here and Dhauladhars stand tall, as if to guard Darang from probing eyes, you should do nothing but loiter. This is one of those few places where simplicity is evident, be it the folks or the happily grazing cows.
2) Nangal Wetlands
Dig deeper at the foot of the Shivaliks at Punjab, and you might as well find Nangal Wetland. Spread over 700 acres around river Sutlej, it’s cut off from the usual din and life that’s a much loved part of Punjab. Constant chirping and flutter of wings is what the din at Nangal is about. Trans-Himalayan migratory birds flock around the waters. Plus, there’s the elusive Indian otter too. While hordes arrive at Amritsar and the other famed names, Nangal wetlands has villages like Debeta, Hambewal, Talwara, Bhabahor Sahib, Khera Bagh and Sahmipur for neighbours. Walk around these hamlets and, in all probability, you’ll find yourself gorging over makke-ki-roti, sarson da saag, glassfulls of lassi. And, of course, dollops of melting, white butter. That’s some holiday now.
Some 90 km from Shillong, it’s Asia’s cleanest village. While Shillong, its cousin, steals all the limelight when it comes to tourism, it deserves a definite place on your must visit list. Mawlynnog is a discovery that you come across while you drive between the clouds. Just like winds make fronds on the waters sway and part to reveal some beauty, clouds drift apart to reveal Mawlynnong. It’s a place that clings hard to the past, away from the race of contemporary. Walk the ‘Sky Walk’ that stands at 80 feet if you manage to find the village to know what we mean by the phrase “head in clouds”.
What was that place where you sat reading all night? Must be some place good. Well, we explored a wee bit more and found a place that’ll make you write too. It’s a far away place in Pathanamthitta district of Kerala, where people often lose themselves in cloud swirls. Quite literally. Because tree houses are the nerve of Gavi. And while whiffs of cardamom rise up to the room as you look across jungles and jungles of it, you might find a herd of elephants hovering on the ground. Giving them good company from the trees are more than 260 species of birds. This remote town in Idduki shows you much more than the backwaters of Kerala.
Pitch a camp right in the middle of an oasis – that’s Osian for you. Just 65 kms from Jodhpur, it’s a retreat for the nomad in you. As the golden gleaming sands of the Thar desert turn all the more alluring at sun dawn or sun dive, Osian becomes a lesser known yet amazing place to head to. It’ll hurl you back in the time with the scattered ruins of 8th century temples around it. No wonder that it’s famous as the Khajuraho of Rajasthan. Hobnob with the villagers around, as you hop over a camel or maybe, a jeep. While the artisans at work are bound to make you gape at the intricate artwork, evenings are filled with the bonhomie of folk musicians and dancers.
Sprawling meadows of orchids, the calm ripples on a lake, sparrows tweeting and hopping, while the Kanchenjunga mountain range stands silent like a watchful guardian. That’s Mirik for you. While you explore this place in West Bengal, away from the probing eyes of picnickers, things will get surreal. Cross over to the other side of the lake over the bridge to land up in the foothills of the forest that spreads far and wide. Turn Columbus as you have some hundreds of winding treks. Better still, you can make your own treks. For the others to follow. As for the night, enjoy a cup or two of the tea that grows here. Or read by the flickering flames of the happily crackling bonfire.
A terrain so wild that it has survived the ever increasing blow of unmindful tourism, only if you steer away from the main town. Drive to the south east of Chamba and cross the little village of Chatrari. Know that you’ve landed in the heart of the place when you see the happily smiling Gaddi kids. This shepherd clan is well famous for the huge nose rings that the women proudly flaunt. Once you trek up your way from Budhil Nala, you’ll have a sight that’ll haunt you forever. Yes, the rare blue pines. If you’ve a porter or guide with you, make sure that you taste the rajma that they are so proud to churn up. My suggestion, pitch a camp on the hills around Kagti, and you’ll have the most comforting sleep of your life. Under the stars.
8) Roopkund Lake
All the sweat that you lost while trudging down the pine forest to reach this lake couldn’t have been better spent. A little explored place, off from the tourist circuit, this one makes for a very different, mysterious face of India’s tourism opportunities. Quite literally. You’ll know why I say so, when you cross country’s most beautiful meadows, oak trails that come alive with shockingly bright rhododendrons, and trot down to the side of the lake. Lying at the bottom of the lake are skeletons. Yes, human skeletons. An eerie calm prevails here, much to the love of the thrill seekers. While the mirror-like blue water shows you this rare sight, you’re free to read theories of all sorts. From starved Japanese troops to the lost British soldiers, feel free to pick what you think is true for the skeletons down there. Take a local along to add more local spice to the stories. Some company is undoubtedly a solace on this lonely trek.
While you steer away from Dalhousie, passing those famous boarding schools on the way and crossing the Kalatope Wildlife Sanctuary, there’s a meadow that awaits you. In other words, we call that meadow Khajjiar. Hailed as the mini Switzerland of India, it’s acres of rolling greens, hedged by towering pines and a lake in the middle. Though the lake goes through its share of slush during rains, Khajjiar takes you away from the curious tourist folks that walk the streets at Dalhousie. The Khajji Cottages that stand on one side of the meadow, run by Himachal government, are a perfect stay. Wake up early in the mornings to see school children hurrying off to the primary school that seems to run deep into the woods. Don’t forget to capture their happy grins. For, obviously, not everyone goes to a school in the woods.
The skyline at Dimapur is clouds, interrupted only and mostly by the smoke that rises from the chimneys of cosy looking wooden cottages. Add to it the wafting aroma and generous smiles of Dimapur’s folks, and you have a perfect recipe for an unforgettable trip. Cut off from the more favoured tourist destinations, Dimapur will have colourful, exuberantly flying butterflies as company for you. The grass here is so green and soft that you wouldn’t feel like soiling it with your feet.
And while this one sends you scurrying for your car keys, do not forget to share your experiences with us.
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