28 Offbeat Destinations in India
While a few Indian tourist circuits are widely known and wildly popular, there are many hidden gems for the patient, discerning traveler who is willing to go off the beaten path. With the approach of summer, as people make vacation plans, it seems like a good time to highlight India’s overlooked spots. But since that would fill an entire book, Khabar presents only a selective roundup, which includes one general destination from each of India’s 28 states. The union territories, not included here, would make another roundup.
WARANGAL, Andhra Pradesh
Hyderabad in the central Deccan, Vizag on the eastern coast and Tirupati in the southern hills are familiar to travelers. Not as commonly known is Warangal in the northern plains of Andhra. A stronghold of the Kakatiya dynasty, which flourished between the 12th and 14th centuries, its attractions include the majestic Thousand Pillars Temple, the gateway of Warangal Fort, the medieval Ramappa Temple, two lakes and the Pakhal Sanctuary.
Did You Know? It’s a hub in Telangana, where there is a movement for a separate state.
BOMDILA, Arunachal Pradesh
Located not far from the 400-year-old Tawang Buddhist Monastery, Bomdila in the Himalayas has no shortage of scenic beauty and trails for hardy trekkers. Getting there would be an adventure in itself, since Bomdila is accessible only by road and there are no traditional hotels and restaurants in the vicinity. What’s more, tourists going to this region need permits. Seems like a dream destination for those who relish challenges.
Did You Know? Troops from China briefly occupied this area during the 1962 invasion.
Dubbed the Silk Village of Assam, it is situated near the Brahmaputra. Attractions in the area include Madan Kamdev, a temple with rock carvings, and Poa Mecca, a pilgrimage center for Muslims. There are also Buddhist shrines. Three types of silk—Pat, Eri and Muga—are produced in Sualkuchi, where the entire village is occupied in this industry. Known as the Manchester of the East, Sualkuchi is one of India’s 16 rural tourism sites.
Did You Know? Muga, the golden silk of Assam, is found nowhere else in the world.
Its proximity to the ruins of Nalanda—one of the earliest and greatest Buddhist universities—makes the town important. Also near Rajgir are two Buddhist sites, Vulture’s Peak and Venuvana, and hot springs that can be used by visitors. The Nalanda ruins include the Great Stupa and a museum that displays antiquities. This complex, dating back to the 5th century A.D., includes six brick temples and 11 monasteries.
Did You Know? Nalanda is being considered for recognition as a World Heritage Site.
Jagdalpur is the capital of Bastar district, known for its singular traditions and tribes who make up around 70 percent of the population: main groups are Gonds, Muria, Abhuj, Halbaa, Bhatra and Dhurraa. Dusshera festivities, the year’s high point, include dances, feasts and exhibitions of arts and crafts. Another celebratory occasion is the Madai Mela. Two of the most popular spots in the region are the Chitrakot and Tiratgarh waterfalls.
Did You Know? The Abhujmars practice ghotul, which allows premarital cohabitation.
This southern stretch of Goa may not have the same cachet as some other parts of the state, but its charms can be just as enticing. And the advantage is that it’s less crowded. Wedged between the Arabian Sea and the Sahaydri Hills, Canacona’s beaches include Agonda and Palolem. One can also visit the Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary and a monastery called Parthagal Math, not to mention a promontory jutting into the sea (Cabo de Rama).
Did You Know? Canacona is known for the thatched beach huts built near coconut trees.
Situated at the foot of Girnar (an extinct volcano), Junagadh is not far from the Gir Forest in the Kathiawar peninsula. There is an ancient fort called Uparkot, along with edicts that date back to the Ashokan period. Gandhi’s birthplace, Porbandar, is not far away. The confluence of four religious traditions gave rise to Hindu and Jain temples, Jama Masjid and Buddhist caves. Other landmarks there include Sakar Bagh and Junagadh Museum.
Did You Know? Only the Gir Forest is home to the Asiatic lions still living in the wild.
Located at the foot of the Shivalik Hills, Pinjore is close to Chandigarh and on the road to Shimla. Its spacious Mughal gardens, originally built by Auranzeb’s foster brother, were renamed Yadavindra. Apart from the Jal Mahal (Palace of Water), and colored water fountains, Pinjore’s attractions include the Rang Mahal, with 17th-century paintings on its walls, the Shish Mahal, with geometric paintings on its ceiling, and temple ruins.
Did You Know? Every year, since 2006, a Pinjore Heritage Festival is held in October.
DALHOUSIE, Himachal Pradesh
This hilly state has no dearth of picture-perfect spots, but while Shimla has a high profile, the same cannot be said about Dalhousie. Spread out over five hills, this lovely Raj-era town was named after Lord Dalhousie, a 19th-century Governor General. Subash Baoli, Khajjiar, Bakrota Hills, Panjpulla and a wildlife sanctuary called Kalapote are worth visiting. Many early Tibetan refugees stayed in Dalhousie before settling in Dharamsala.
Did You Know? Before being rebuilt, Dalhousie was destroyed in an earthquake in 1905.
LEH, Jammu and Kashmir
Given the turmoil, Kashmir’s beautiful valley is a less-than-favorable destination. But Leh, the capital of distant Ladakh, is a good (and safe) bet. Called Little Tibet, Ladakh is known for its stunning vistas, arduous mountain trails and ancient monasteries. Hempis Gompa, south of Leh, is Ladakh’s biggest monastery, while the 17th-century Leh Palace is a smaller version of the Potala in Lhasa. No permit is required to visit Leh and Kargil.
Did You Know? Ladakh, Aksai Chin and Baltistan belonged to a vast Buddhist kingdom.
This ‘city of a thousand gardens’ in the Damodar Valley has a sprawling wildlife sanctuary that’s home to bears, sambhar, chital, nilgai, even tigers. Other places of interest include Canary Hills, the Konar and Tilaiya Dams, and a Vishnu temple called Narsingh. Seen as a health resort in the hills, Hazaribagh has ample fossil deposits and is rich in minerals. In fact, nearby Koderma produces 60 to 65 percents of the world’s mica.
Did You Know? The Isco cave paintings, discovered in 1991, are over 1000 years old.
Formerly called Mercara, it’s the headquarters of Kodagu (or Coorg), a pretty district in the Western Ghats with rolling coffee estates. Home to the Kodavas, an ethnic minority with distinctive cultural traditions, the sights include the origin of Kaveri (aka Talakaveri, it has a rare Brahma temple), Abbey Falls, Nisargadhama (a scenic island), Raja’s Seat, Madikeri Fort, Nagarhole (a biosphere) and a lake/holy spot called Honnamana Kere.
Did You Know? Kodavas are known for their valor and contributions to the armed forces.
Is Kerala’s Waynad district, where Kalpetta is located, really off the beaten track? Only in a relative sense, perhaps, given that there are so many hot spots in this tourist-friendly state. There are ancient temples (Ananthanatha Swami), churches (Pallikunnu) and mosques (Varambetta) for pilgrims, and the natural beauty—waterfalls, plantations caves, lakes, forests—is also a draw. A Glass Temple for Jains has mirrors that reflect its icons.
Did You Know? The Banasura Sagar Dam is the second biggest earthen dam in Asia.
INDORE, Madhya Pradesh
Originally built by the Holkars, Indore is in the western part of this immense state. The Lal Bagh Palace is a draw, as are the chhatris (cenotaphs) built to honor deceased rulers. The temples here include Bada Ganapati, Kanchi Mandir (for Jains) and Annapurna, modeled on Madurai’s Meenakshi Temple. The imposing Rajwada in the city center incorporates Islamic, Maratha and French styles. Ujjain, a pilgrimage center, is close by.
Did You Know? Kasturbagram, set up by Gandhi, promotes the welfare of rural residents.
Being centrally located, Nagpur is not off the beaten path for passengers crisscrossing the country on trains. It may have a lower profile as a tourist destination, but there are plenty of sights: Deekshabhoomi, a stupa that’s significant for Dalits and Buddhists, Bohra Masjid, Dragon Palace Temple, Balaji Mandir and Sitabuldi Fort, along with the Ambazari Lake and garden. Dubbed the Orange City, Nagpur is the capital of Vidarbha.
Did You Know? A stone obelisk (Zero Mile) marks the country’s geographical center.
It could be the ultimate offbeat destination, given the many restrictions imposed on visitors. A permit is good for only 10 days and tourists can enter Imphal, the capital, only by plane. Only authorized tour groups of four are allowed to travel within the city. Sights include the Keibul Lamjao National Park, Loktak Lake, the gold-domed Govindajee Temple and Sendra Island. Many locals practice Sanamahi, an ancient religious tradition.
Did You Know? The separatist rebellion in this sensitive border state dates back to 1964.
Being the wettest place on earth, Cherrapunji—close to Shillong, the capital—is not for the average traveler, but it does attract adventure tourists and eco-enthusiasts. Over 40 percent of the state, with its three wildlife sanctuaries and two national parks, is forested. Nohkalikai Falls is one of the highest falls in India. Close to the plains of Bangladesh, this region is known for its pork-based cuisine. The local Khasis are mostly Christians.
Did You Know? Mawsynram, near Cherrapunji, gets us much—if not more—rainfall.
As the capital of a hilly northeastern state, for which a visitor’s permit is required, Aizawl is accessible by road or air (it takes an hour by plane from Kolkata). Nearby attractions include Tam Lake, where one can go boating, and a resort called Saituai, along with the Berawtlang Tourist Complex and Durtlang Hills. There is a state museum on MacDonald Hill, and Bara Bazaar is good for buying locally made products like hand-woven bags.
Did You Know? Mizo hill tribes, who practice Christianity, had migrated from Burma.
It’s the capital of a distant northeastern state that’s home to 16 major tribes. Kohima hosts an annual Hornbill Festival every December to showcase indigenous culture. The region’s attractions include the Dzukou Valley, famous for its views and vegetation, Kohima World War II cemetery, the Naga Heritage Complex, Bara Basti and Kohima Cathedral, said to be one of the largest in Asia. A permit is needed to visit Nagaland.
Did You Know? Kohima Cathedral can reportedly accommodate up to 20,000 people.
Also called Gopalpur-on-the-Beach, it’s a serene getaway on the eastern coast. It was a crucial port until 1942, but once the British left, Gopalpur turned into a modern resort, although colonial bungalows are still visible. Sand sculptures are another draw, as is the seafood. One can also visit a shrine dedicated to Goddess Kalua, the rock inscriptions of Jaugada, and the Rambha Bird Sanctuary. The 200-feet high lighthouse has 155 steps.
Did You Know? Bose’s nationalist rebel forces planned to enter British India from here.
Amritsar in the north and Chandigarh in the east are established destinations; Patiala in southern Punjab has less visibility. The walled Qila Mubarak Complex has many gates. While Qila Androon showcases Mughal and Rajasthani architecture, Divan Khana displays Guru Gobind Singh’s dagger and Nadir Shah’s sword. Other highlights include the Rang and Sheesh Mahals, Baradari Gardens, Moti Bagh Palace and an old fountain.
Did You Know? The famous Patiala peg refers to an unusually large serving of liquor.
The main destinations of this heritage-rich state are justly famous. Yet even less-familiar places like Bundi (near Kota) are well worth a trip. The 14th-century Taragarh Fort, built on a hill, and the neighboring Bundi Palace have Rajput-style architecture. Besides Chitra Shala, which has paintings on its walls and ceilings, there is a museum that displays Kota-style miniatures. Other monuments include Naubat Khana and Diwan-e-aam.
Did You Know? Rudyard Kipling’s stay at Sukh Mahal was an inspiration for his Kim.
Traveling by road is the only option in this state, since there are no airports or railways. Monasteries here include Dodrupchen and Enchey. The Nathu La Pass, one of the highest passes in the world, links India with Tibet, China and Bhutan. It reopened for tourists after 44 years, though a permit is needed. Other sights include the Dro-dul Chorten Stupa, Rumtek Monastery, Tsongmo Lake, Tseten Tashi Cave and Harbajan Singh Temple.
Did You Know? A referendum in 1975 changed its status from suzerainty to statehood.
THANJAVUR, Tamil Nadu
Chennai, Madurai and Ooty may be favored tourist destinations, but in the Deep South, Thanjavur has long been famous for its Cholan legacy and verdant rice fields. The Palace, built mostly by the Nayaks in the 16th century, houses bronze and granite statues. The 10th-century Brihadisvara Temple showcases Chola architecture, as do the Naageswaran and Mariamman Temples. A nearby library has over 30,000 palm and paper manuscripts.
Did You Know? The ‘Great Living Chola Temples’ in the area are a World Heritage Site.
It’s the capital of a state that’s home to 19 tribes, although Bengali Hindus make up a majority. Sights include the Ujjayanta and Kunjaban Palaces, not to mention a lake palace (Neermahal). There’s a Burmese-influenced Buddha Temple, along with Unakoti and Pilak rock carvings that date back to the 7th-9th centuries. Every July, the Fourteen Goddess Temple attracts thousands of devotees. About 66 percent of the state is forested.
Did You Know? Travelers do not need permits to visit this remote northeastern state.
KANNAUJ, Uttar Pradesh
One advantage of Kannauj in this vast state is its proximity to Kanpur. Dubbed Attar City, historic Kannauj is known for its indigenous perfume industry. Archeological ruins and artifacts, dating back to the Maurya and Gupta periods, are the other main draw. The Siddheswar Temple, which attracts hordes of pilgrims in October, is about 500 years old. Copper stills and receivers are used in a mostly traditional fashion to make the perfumes.
Did You Know? Attar is made from products like flowers, herbs and sandalwood paste.
Mussoorie and Dehra Dun get crowded, whereas the appeal of Dhanaulti in the Garhwal Hills is that it’s just as picturesque but without the congestion. It’s a convenient starting point for expeditions in the Himalayas, which in this area is thickly forested with deodar, rhododendron and oak. Eco- and agritourism are popular here. The Nanda Devi National Park, a World Heritage Site, includes the highest mountain that’s wholly within India.
Did You Know? For ecological reasons, trips to Nanda Devi’s main summit are banned.
HOOGHLY, West Bengal
It’s a grand river, but also a historic district just north of Kolkata. Landmarks include the Imambara, a 19th-century gateway graced by carvings and minarets. The Kali Temple is across the river, and Belur Math, the Ramakrishna Mission’s headquarters, is not far off. The Dutch legacy can be spotted in Serampur, which has colonial buildings, while nearby Chandannagar and Bandel retain their French and Portuguese legacies, respectively.
Did You Know? Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay’s ‘Vande Mataram’ was composed here.
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