Jet off to the Himalayas, or cruise along the coast, we’ve got the perfect list of unexplored destinations in India you must visit. Some international travellers often give India a cold shoulder, and unfairly comment while travelling domestic, “Wow, we’re in such a beautiful place it doesn’t feel like India.” Well, that’s a phrase that needs to find its way out of our vocabulary; our homeland is filled with such a diverse landscape that deserves more attention, such as the ones mentioned below.
Traverse the high altitudes of Sangla and Pin Valley in Himachal Pradesh
Once the capital of the princely state of Bashahr, Sangla Valley is a quaint place full of raw beauty and majesty. Sangla translates to mean ‘Pass of Light’ in the Tibetan language and the region has a rich Tibetan influence. Mesmerizing views of the Himalayas, oak and pine forests, glacier streams and the pristine Baspa River flow through the valley.
For a stunning view of the vistas, stay at Hotel Batseri, a simple yet luxurious hotel built along the river. A top sightseeing spot in Sangla is the Kamru Fort; this architectural marvel made from stone and wooden rafters is dedicated to the Hindu Goddess Kamakshi. Another must-see is the Bering Nag Temple, constructed in honour of Lord Shiva. Sangla is also known as apple country and is dotted with sprawling apple and apricot orchards. In addition to this, the town of Sangla has a centre for handicraft lovers. The Tibetan Wood Carving Centre is where villagers practice their age-old skills of carving wood and turning them into handicrafts and decorative items. The region of Kinnaur also celebrates a Fulaich Fair, a festival of flower-watching. This festival starts in the month of September and is also associated with remembering loved ones who have passed away. From Sangla make your way to Pin Valley National Park, which is located within the Cold Desert Biosphere Reserve and is home to several snow leopards, Charmurti horses and Siberian ibex. 38 km from Pin Valley is the Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary, where Tibetan wolves, red foxes, woolly hares, Himalayan choughs, Himalayan finches and the snow pigeon can be found.
Best time to visit: March to June
Traverse across the emerald isles of Dzukou Valley, Nagaland
Emerald hills cover the landscape of the Dzukou Valley in north-east India. The gentle rolling hills are perfect for an easy trek via Viswema village or a more arduous one through Zakhama Village, both an hour’s drive from Kohima. The 4-hour trek is composed of charred black tree trunks juxtaposed against green terrain. Multi-coloured flowers carpet the valley during the months of June to September, and a secret garden in the heart of the valley is filled with wildflowers and rhododendrons. The main attraction for budding botanists though, Is the rare pink Dzukou Lily, an endemic variety of this region. If you’re planning a visit in winter, the Hornbill Festival is a must-visit, a vibrant celebration of the culture and heritage of the 16 distinct Naga tribes. The Ultimate Travelling Camp organises a Kohima Camp, a luxurious glamping experience, complete with individually designed tents, en-suite bathrooms, and a private butler.
Best time to visit: Flowering season of June to September or festive season from October to December
Witness Olive Ridley turtles nest at Gopalpur, Odisha
Saunter along the east coast of the Bay of Bengal, at the Gopalpur Beach. The nesting ground for Olive Ridley turtles, the area is surrounded by coconut and casuarina groves. The beach is the venue for the famous annual Gopalpur Beach Festival, where prominent Indian singers such as Shaan, Sonu Nigam and Neha Kakkar have performed in the past. A popular tourist attraction is Chilika Lake, the largest brackish water lagoon in the world. Flocks of migratory waterfowl arrive from as far as the Caspian Sea, Lake Baikal, Aral Sea, remote parts of Russia, Kirghiz steppes of Mongolia, Central and South East Asia, Ladakh and the Himalayas, to feed and breed in its waters. Gopalpur also has its own lighthouse built in 1925 from which you can enjoy a 360-degree view of the pristine beaches and town. To reach Gopalpur, you can travel by air to the closest airport, Bhubaneswar. Plan your stay at the 12-acre seaside MAYFAIR Palm Beach Resort, which has spacious spa rooms, family suites, and 5-star amenities.
Best time to visit: October to February
Step into a Rudyard Kipling novel Pench, Madhya Pradesh
Mentioned in the popular children’s story ‘The Jungle Book,’ Pench National Park looks exactly like Rudyard Kipling described. The quietest of Madhya Pradesh’s ‘big three’ wildlife sanctuaries, Pench is home to the endangered Indian wild dog, tigers, leopards, jackal, wild boar, wolf, deer, sloth bear, and hyena. One can also visit the Pachdar Village, a tiny community of potters located close to Turia, one of the gateways to Pench. Kids and adults alike can try their hand at the potter’s wheel or witness artisans moulding clay into exquisite artefacts. Journey to the tranquil Kohka Lake. Spend the night under the stars at Jamtara Wilderness Camp’s Star Bed, where a bed is setup on a raised platform right out in the open surrounded by the wilderness. Pench is also home to luxury resorts like Pench Tree Lodge, and Baghvan, a Taj Safari resort. Bring a little bit of Pench home with you in the form of delicious forest honey.
Best time to visit: October to February
See the famous black bucks at Velavadar, Gujarat
Velavadar is famous for the Blackbuck National Park, a 34-sq-km park that is an hour’s drive north of Bhavnagar. About 1800 of the endangered blackbucks, a fast antelope that sports elegant spiralling horns, inhabit the national park. One can even spot wolves, blue bulls, and other bird species in the grasslands. Stay the opulent The Blackbuck Lodge, where the cottages are in the heart of wilderness, but luxuriously appointed with wooden furniture and granite floors, and rough-hewn stone walls. You can even plan a one-day trip to the park from the city of Bhavnagar, a 1.5-hour drive away.
Stay at the heritage Nilambagh Palace in Bhavnagar, the cultural capital of Saurashtra, where you can visit the Takhteshwar Temple. About 2 hours from Velavadar is the spiritual township of Palitana, known for the awe-inspiring Jain temple complex. More than 860 temples are scattered across the hill, and were built between the 11th and the 19th centuries.
Best time to visit: December to March
Relax in the seaside town of Tharangambadi, Tamil Nadu
Six hours from Chennai lies the idyllic town of Tranquebar, aka Tharangambadi. A former Danish colony, this colonial-era town is steeped in history and can be explored on foot. Along the coast of Coromandel lies the second largest Danish fort in the world, built in 1620, the seafront Fort Dansborg. The town’s Ziegenbalg House’s Museum has the first printing press of India, where the first book, a bible in Tamil was printed. Stay in the centre of Tharangambadi in a restored 17th-century property called The Bungalow on the Beach.
Originally a Danish colonial house that later became the residence of a British collector, it is close to the Dansborg fort and Masilamani Nathar, a Chinese and Tamil architecture style temple. Other attractions close by include the Town Gate, the Gothic-style Zion Church, the Governor’s Bungalow, and the Maritime Museum. While you’re in the area, plan a day trip to the Pichavaram Mangrove Forest, around 60 kilometres away, and check out the world’s second largest mangrove forest by boat. Tharangambadi is a five-hour drive from Salem Airport.
Best time to visit: December to March, or August to September
Dive into the lively waters off Gokarna, Karnataka
A bevy of beaches await exploration at Gokarna. Head to the famous Om beach which gets its name from the shape of its coastline, aerially, and is a great spot for dolphin watching. Kudle, Half Moon, and Paradise beaches are ideal for relaxing in the sun and sand. Go diving off the coast of the island of Netrani, aka, Pigeon Island, accessible from Murudeshwar, a 1.5-hour drive from Gokarna. 89 varieties of coral, stingrays, pufferfish, sharks, turtles, sea urchins, colourful corals, orcas, whitetip sharks can be spotted during the dive. For sightseeing, visit the holy 4th century temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, built in the classical Dravidian style of architecture. Another ancient landmark in Gokarna is the 16th-century Mirjan Fort, 21 kilometres from Gokarna, which was once the seat of Queen Chennabhairadevi of the Saluva dynasty. One hour from Gokarna is Yana village, famous for two massive rock outcrops known as the Bhairaveshwara Shikhara and the Mohini Shikhara. The monoliths are accessible via an easy trek, and are composed of solid black, crystalline karst limestone. In Gokarna stay at the luxury wellness retreat SwaSwara by CGH Earth on Om Beach.
They offer detox packages, yoga, and other comprehensive wellbeing programmes. For those who prefer private villas, book a stay at Kahani Paradise. This 6-suite beautiful ocean view property is a 6-minuteute walk from Paradise beach and sits on 20 acres of land.
Best time to visit: October to February
Sip of local coffee at Wayanad, Kerala
A verdant haven awaits tourists in the hills of Wayanad, Kerala. Wake up to the intoxicating scent of coffee, at a coffee plantation in the region. Go bamboo rafting in Kuruva Island or visit the Edakkal Caves where stone age carvings date back to 6000 BC. From Meppadi town, you can trek up Chembra peak, the highest one in the Wayanad district at 2,100 m above sea level. Though you cannot go to the top of the peak due to wildlife conflicts, one can climb till the famous heart shaped, also known as Hridaya Saras.
A must-do of course, is a safari through the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary, an area replete with peacocks, herds of elephants, gaurs, vultures while lucky ones may spot a Bengal Tiger on their way. Those who want the complete luxe experience can stay at Pepper Trail, a boutique resort set in a 200-acre working coffee and spice plantation, where heritage suites in a 140-year-old colonial bungalow, as well as luxury tree houses set on giant jack trees are available. For a stay amidst nature, head to the Vythiri Resort, where a rope bridge rests over a flowing stream, and the tree villas are ensconced by greenery. Head home with local spices, coffee, tea, bamboo products, honey and herbal plant clippings from the area.
Best time to visit: October to May
Experience the majestic Himalayas in Pakyong, Sikkim
At an elevation of 3670 ft, along the Eastern Himalayas, lies the town of Pakyong. The region is known for having Sikkim’s first airport, Greenfield Airport, built by Punj Lloyd. Its name is derived from the Lepcha word “pa yong” which means “bamboo of the bow.” Pakyong is around 30 km away from the city of Gangtok and is bordered by Bhutan and Tibet. Tourists can visit the Rumtek Monastery, also known as the Dharma Chakra Centre, which was constructed by the 16th Karmapa (spiritual leader of the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism). Stay at the newly opened Vivanta Sikkim Pakyong, where you can picnic by a perennial stream that runs through the property. Trek amidst paddy fields in the certified organic state of Sikkim, against the backdrop of the Kanchenjunga or hike towards the quaint village of Bassnett via a winding road, where you can interact with locals. For a little local shopping head to Pakyong’s Wednesday bazaar ‘haat’.