The new year has already embraced us and this year’s travel bucket-list must have already been noted down in the diaries of every wanderer, traveler, backpacker, wanderlust and explorer. But how many of you have travelled to places that are off-the-usual or lesser-traveled or less-heard for that matter? I’m sure many of you might have, however, there are still many such wonderful places and destinations in India that deserves your attention. Destinations, which are usually given a miss by most travel guides. And to make it little easier for you to decide, I have listed down some of the most amazing and fascinating off-beat destinations in India for you to plan your journey to this year. What say a New Year Resolution? And the best part, extra points to these places for offering some of the most wonderful photo opportunities ever.
1. Hampi Group of Temples in Karnataka – The tale of stunning ancient temples
This has long been a fantasy land. Take my words, you’ll be flabbergasted once you step at the immensely exquisite and off-beat Hampi Group of Temples. Hampi used to be a well laid out town during the Vijayanagar Empire (mid-13th century to mid-17th century), serving as the capital of one of the greatest Hindu kingdoms in the history of India. Now, it stands tall in pride as the UNESCO world heritage site. Each and every corner of Hampi seeks attention, so make sure you come energetic and robust, as the place demands long WALK for you to be explore it fully.
Also, don’t forget to take the wonder ride on a Coracle in Hampi.
Attractions: Virupaksha Temple, Vittala Temple, Elephant Stables, Underground Shiva Temple, Nandi Statue, Zenana Enclosure, Sule Bazaar and Achyutaraya Temple, Hemakuta Hill, Queen’s Bath and Royal Centre.
Best time to visit Hampi: During Winter (October to March)
Nearest Airport: Hubli Airport (143 km away from Hampi)
2. Ziro Valley in Arunachal Pradesh – the fantasy land
For all the Daredevils and Intrepid travelers, there can’t be a much better place than Ziro Valley to go for an offbeat holiday. This one gets my highest vote because this place might appear to be far from the mainland but it’s the hub of young and adventurous looking for an ultimate trip for a lifetime. To reach here you’ll have to trek for almost 4-5 hours from the nearest motor-able road. The journey will be arduous but its worth the effort, when you come to the lap of tranquil nature with amazing views. Meeting the remote Apatani tribe of Arunachal Pradesh the residents of Ziro Valley.
Attractions: Hong, Hija, Hari, Bamin, Dutta, Ziro Putu, Tarin Fish-Paddy Farm, Talley Valley, Tapyo Salt, Dolo Mando, Kile Pakho, Dilopolyang Maniipolyang, Shiva Lingam at Kardo Forest, Pine Grove
Special Mention: Visit Ziro Valley during the Ziro Music Festival that is held during September-October, and witness this place turn into an out-of-the-world musical fiesta.
Best time to visit: Throughout the year
Nearest Airport: Tezpur Airport (280 km from Ziro)
3. Majuli – The largest river island in the world with heart-warming residents
Surely many people don’t know about it, but India is home to the “World’s Largest River Island” – Majuli. And it sure does need a place in the list of off-beat destinations of India. Majuli is one of the best off-beat places to visit in Assam with a mix plenty of history and a whole lot of nature. To feel and witness the out of the world landscapes of Majuli, I would suggest you go on a cycling tour to see its main attractions like Kamalabari, Auniati and Garamur. Go on a ferry ride to spot fishing boats, stop along deserted islands that very well qualify among the world’s best kept secrets. And, do get your binoculars as the birds that one can see here are hard to find elsewhere in India or perhaps even the world.
Attractions: Dakhinpat Satra, Garamur Satra, Auniati Satra, Kamalabari Satra, Bengenaati Satra, Amriteshwar Temple, Garmur, Auniati Satra Museum, Auniati Satra Museum, etc.
Best time to Visit: Monsoon (July to September)
Nearest Airport: Jorhat Airport
4. Loktak Lake – The only lake with floating land
After Majuli, there’s another unique phenomenon in India that is highly off-beat and deserves an applaud. It is the Loktak Lake – the only FLOATING LAKE in the world. Now that’s something outlandish, isn’t it? The lake doesn’t float, but it’s actually the floating masses of phumdis (a result of decomposing of masses of vegetation, soil, and organic waste) that appears to be floating on the surface. Some of the phumdis are so thick that it can hold a house and even a national park, and in this case, the Keibul Lamjao National Park. Another asset of this lake is – the Keibul Lamjao National Park – the only floating park in the world – home to rare and unique species of wildlife including one of the most endangered species of deer in the world – the ‘Sangai’ (brow-antlered deer), which is also the state animal. Folks, you have to see it to believe the nature’s wonder.
Best Time to Visit: October to May
Attractions: Sendra Island, Keibul Lamjao National Park, Fishing Community Vllages and many more.
Activities: Local cuisine, boating on the lake and more.
Nearest Airport: Imphal Airport (48 km from Loktak Lake)
5. The Hidden Grand Canyon of India – no less than its American counterpart in terms of charm
India has its own version of the Grand Canyon in Andhra Pradesh. This handsome piece of nature’s architecture bewitches every visitor. Located in a small village named Gandikota, which is nestled on the banks of the Pennar River in Andhra Pradesh, the Gandikota Gorge or the Grand Canyon is a tiny paradise on earth blessed with mesmerizing panorama. Admire the shimmering Pennar River adding the much needed grace to the landscape or indulge in some adventure activities like rock climbing, kayaking, etc. The best part about this place is that it is still far from commercialization, and that means less tourist, less crowd, and you’ve the place all for yourself to explore at heart’s content.
Must see attractions at Gandikota: The ancient Gandikota Fort, Belum Caves and Rayalacheruvu Lake.
Best time to Visit Gandikota: September to February
Nearest Airport: Tirupati Airport at Renigunta (220 km away) and Bengaluru International Airport at Bangalore (345 km away)
6. Osian – the oasis in the deserts of Jodhpur with temples of exotic art
An oasis in the Thar Desert, Osian is an ancient town in Jodhpur in the state of Rajasthan. Surrounded by golden sand dunes and hamlets. Osian has earned the name of ‘Khajuraho of Rajasthan’ due to the erotic sculptures of its many temples, which dates from 8th to 11th century. This place is a delight for those who love historical architecture, and a must-visit destination this year. Osian can be discovered in a day’s trip from Jodhpur. It is a great destination for families, kids and couples.
Attractions: The Sun Temple, Sachiya Mata Temple, Jain Temple, Harihara Temple to name a few.
Activities: Camel Safari
Best time to visit Osian: November to March when the weather is at its pleasant best.
Nearest Airport: Jodhpur Airport (65 km away from Osian)
7. Hemis in Jammu & Kashmir – at the roof of the world with the wild
Hemis is the lesser talked about places of India in Jammu and Kashmir. And this year Hemis should be in your must-see off-beat places in India. Surrounded by snow capped mountain ranges all year round, Hemis (situated at an altitude ranging between 3,300 and 6,000 m above the sea level) is a place of surreal beauty, rare wildlife, captivating monasteries, enchanting religious festivals and a lot more in offering to its visitors. How many of you have seen a now leopard? Do it right here at Hemis National Park.
Attractions: Hemis Monastery, Hemis National Park, etc.
Activities: Trekking at the mountain with expert and trained guides.
Best time to visit: May to June is the best time to visit Hemis as the temperatures in winter can fall as low as minus 30 degrees Centigrade.
Nearest Airport: Kushok Bakula Rimpochhe Airport, Leh (42 km away from Hemis)
8. Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh – India’s oldest art gallery
The caves of Bhimbetka is the first proof of human life in the Indian subcontinent, the beginning of the South Asian Stone Age happened here. Situated 45 km southeast off Bhopal city, Bhimbetka is a World heritage site and features earliest prehistoric cave paintings dating back to 30,000 years. These paintings display themes such as animals, dance, and hunting. There are around 243 (while the actual number is above 750) rock shelters for you to explore, so come prepared to take a thorough walk of these archaeological treasure, a gift from human races’ earliest ancestors.
Attractions: Auditorium Rock Shelter, Zoo Rock, Bear Rock to name a few.
Best time to visit: October to April
Nearest Airport: Raja Bhoj Airport Bhopal (46 km away from Bhimbetka)
9. PHUKTAL MONASTERY – The far far away land
This one is a must! Phuktal Monastery or Phuktal Gompa is by far the most spectacularly situated gompa (monastery) ever, and also the most isolated monasteries in Zanskar region of Ladakh. Phuktal or phugtal is a genuine place for trek lovers, as this place is a great gateway full of awe-inspiring sights and sounds. The monastery (situated 4,000 meters or 13,123 feet above sea level) was constructed in the 12th century and is situated on the edge of a rocky mountain cliff-side, at the mouth of a cave on a lateral gorge. The most interesting part is that Phugtal Monastery is accessible only by foot, so bring along your trekking gears folks, because you will have to take a 7 km long trekking route in this Ladakh region, from your start point at Padum, to reach this monastery. Once there, get a peep into the lives of the Buddhist monks whilst exploring this Buddhist wonder at the no man’s land.
Attractions: Prayer Halls and Library of Phugtal Monastery, Bardan Monastery (on the way) to name a few.
Best time to visit: July to September. The rest of the months the road to the monastery remain closed due to snowfall.
Nearest Airport: Srinagar and Leh Airport. From the airport, one needs to travel to Padum to connect to Phuktal.
10. DHARAMSHALA – The Little Lhasa in India
Tucked away in the lap of the Himalayas at 1460 m or 4,790 feet above sea level, Dharamshala is one of the most popular centers of Buddhism in India. This little hill station in Himachal Pradesh, known as Little Lhasa, is home to His Holiness – the 14th Dalai Lama. Mesmerizing views of the Dhauladhar Ranges of the Himalayas will simply take your breath away. It is one of the places to learn and explore Buddhism and Tibetan Culture. Those who enjoy solitude in the lap of the nature will savor lifetime moments here. Those looking for an adventure will find their true heaven with trekking and camping opportunities.
Attractions: Headquarters of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Dal Lake, Chamunda Devi, Mcleaodganj, Kangra Art Museum, Tea Gardens, HPCA Stadium (the highest cricket stadium in the world at 2250 m above sea level).
Activities: Shopping in McLeodganj for Tibetan Handicrafts.
Best time to visit: March to June is the best time as it doesn’t get too hot or too cold during this season.
Nearest Airport: Gaggal Airport (15 km away from Dharamshala)
Each of the above mentioned destinations are capable to blow your mind away with its unique charm. Watch this space for more such unique and off-beat destinations in India that are a must-travel.