Ever thought of traveling off the beaten path and glimpsing a side of India that few tourists see? From pristine beaches to quirky villages, hidden architectural marvels and more, there is no shortage of such unseen places in India. These pristine surroundings are waiting to be discovered. Check out these 24 offbeat destinations that are just begging for you to visit them!

1.   Anthargange: Land of Caves

Approximately 70 km from Bangalore, this unique hillside is heaven for cave explorers. It is scattered with a plethora of caves formed from small volcanic rocks. The caves are both welcoming and intimidating at the same time.

What adds to its charm? There’s a spring that emerges from a small crevice in the rock, a mysterious source. Local people believe the water of the stream to be very holy.

2.   Umri: The World’s Twin Capital

The small town of Umri in Allahabad, believed to be 250 years old, has perplexed researchers all over the world. Out of every 1,000 children born here, 45 are twins. In the last 80 years, the village has had 108 twins, which is amazingy. The reason for this remains unknown. But the villagers believe it to be god’s miracle.

Hemis monastery during their famous and colorful festival, one of India's incredible offbeat destinations
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3.   Hemis, Kashmir

Located about 45 km southeast of Leh is the beautiful town of Hemis. The town is popular for its Hemis monastery and a colorful festival that it celebrates every year.

4.   Bhangarh Fort: So Haunted its Illegal!

Like with other haunted places, Bhangarh has no shortage of myths and ghost stories. But unlike other places this one is so haunted the government of India has made it illegal to enter the grounds. Apparently anyone who has been out past sunrise in the ruined town of Bhangarh, also known as Bhangarh Fort, has never returned alive.

Read More   The Haunted Bhangarh Fort

5.   Ethipothala Falls: A Sight to Behold

About 11 km from Nagarjuna Sagar Dam in Andhra Pradesh lies Ethipothala, which is home to the spellbinding Ethipothala Waterfall. The falls are a union of three streams and are quite a sight to behold.

Bekal Fort, one of India's incredible offbeat destinations
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6.   Bekal Fort: The Giant Key-Hole Shaped Fort

Sprawling over forty acres, the 300-year-old Bekal Fort is shaped like a giant key hole. It is one of the best preserved forts in Kerala. The observation tower in the fort offers a fascinating view of the Arabian Sea and all the major places in the vicinity.

7.   Bada Imambra: Gravity Defying Palace

This architectural marvel was built in the 18th century in Lucknow. It is a fantastic mix of European and Arabic architecture. The most astonishing aspect is the central arched hall, a whopping 50 meters long and about three stories high, hanging without the support of any pillars or beams!

8.   Idukki: Land of Red Rain

Well known for its spice plantations, wildlife sanctuaries, hill stations and the gigantic Idukki arch dam, this district in Kerala truly is the epitome of natural beauty.

What makes this place really quirky? Idukki is known for the most unusual phenomenon called Red Rain. The colored rain of Kerala started falling in 2001. Since then it has become one of the most discussed anomalies of recent years.

Loktak Lake, also known as the floating lake, one of India's incredible offbeat destinations
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9.   Loktak Lake: The Floating Paradise

This is the largest freshwater lake in Northeast India and its banks are home to the world’s only floating National Park. The Loktak Lake in Manipur is also called the floating lake because of the floating masses of vegetation on its surface.

10.   Khajjiar: India’s Mini Switzerland

About 24 km from Dalhousie, this small picturesque saucer-shaped plateau is a wonderful destination. For a peaceful sojourn in the lap of the Himalayas, this is the ideal place for relaxation.

11.   Kolkkumalai: The World’s Highest Tea Plantation

For all the tea lovers reading this, this is one place you would crave to visit. At 7,900 ft above sea level the hills of Kolkkumalai in Tamil Nadu produce tea which has a special flavor and freshness.

Malana, deep in the heart of India's cannabis country and home of the pontent hash known as Malana Cream, is one of India's most incredible offbeat destinations
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12.   Malana: Little Greece of India, Popular for Its Cannabis Cream

In the northeast of the Kullu Valley lies the solitary village of Malana. The village is considered to be one of the first democracies in the world. It is also home to the notorious Malana cream, arguably the finest quality hash ever produced.

13.   Mawlynnog: Asia’s Cleanest Village, The Magical Paradise

Do you cringe at the sight of litter on streets in India? Well then you will be surprised to know about this village. Located about 100 km from Shillong is Mawlynnog, a small village in the East Khasi Hills. In 2003 it won the award of being the cleanest village -- not just in India but in all of Asia.

14.   Nohkalikai Falls: The Waterfall with a Tragic Tale

One of the five tallest waterfalls in the country, Nohkalikai Falls near Cherrapunji is named after the horrific tale of a woman named Ka Likai. The legend behind this gorgeous fall makes it all the more intriguing and beautiful.

Orchha dates back to 1501 and is full of palaces and shrines. This combined with a lack of tourists makes it one of India's most incredible offbeat destinations
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15.   Orchha: A City Frozen in Time

Full of palaces and shrines still retaining their original grandeur, the city of Orchha dates back to 1501 and is a must for all history / culture / architecture buffs. It is located near the banks of Betwa River in Madhya Pradesh.

16.   Roopkund Lake: The Mysterious Skeleton Lake

Situated at an altitude of 5,029 metres in the Himalayas, this lake is popularly known as Skeleton Lake. Skeletons of about 200 people belonging to the 9th century were discovered here. It was later found that a hailstorm had killed the people. To this day, visitors can still see those skeletons.

17.   Shetpal: The Village of Snakes

A village at about 200 km from Pune follows a frightful custom. Each house in this village has a resting place for cobras in the rafters of their ceilings. No cases of snake bites have been reported in this village despite snakes moving about freely in every household.

Spiti Valley, one of India's most incredible offbeat destinations
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18.   Spiti Valley: The Hidden World

Tucked away in the Himalayas of Himachal Pradesh, the Spiti Valley is a relatively unknown world! With Tibet in the east and Ladakh in the north, this region is scattered with tiny villages and monasteries rich in traditional culture.

19.   Tharon Cave: Archaeological Wonder

Located 27 km from the district of Tamenglong in Manipur, the Tharon Cave is of great archaeological and historical importance. A visit to this cave is reportedly the experience of a lifetime.

20.   Chilkur Balaji: The Visa Granting Balaji Temple

Is the USA your land of dreams? If yes, then you simply cannot miss visiting the Chilkur Balaji Temple, which is about 20 kms from Hyderabad. People believe the 21st century god of this temple has the power to grant you a US visa.

Yes, you read that right. Every week around 75,000 to 100,000 devotees visit this temple!

Dhanushkodi, one of India's most incredible offbeat destinations
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21.   Dhanushkodi: Ghost Town with Mythological Importance

About 620 km from Bangalore is the ghost town of Dhanushkodi. Not only is it famously known for its mythological importance, but also for the cyclone that hit the town in 1964, which ravaged the entire region.

22.   Vihigaon Falls: The Picturesque Falls

Located in the Thane district of Maharashtra, Vihigaons Falls is a monsoon fed waterfall. It is the perfect place for rappelling and canoeing.

23.   Wilson Hills: Hill Station with a Spectacular Sea View

About 870 meters above the sea level, this hill station is located in the State of Gujarat. The most amazing aspect about it is the rare and beautiful sea view that guests get to see.

Yumthang, one of India's most incredible offbeat destinations
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24.   Yumthang Valley: The Valley of Flowers

Located at about 148 km from Gangtok, the Yumthang valley with its scenic beauty is truly a paradise for nature lovers.

Most likely you won't have the time or money to visit all of these destinations. However make sure to squeeze at least a couple of them into your India trip -- it will be that much more special and memorable of an experience!

  Over the next six months I will be exploring as many of these locations as possible. 1 down, 23 to go! Follow along at blog.theHoliDaze.com

Like what you just read?     More Offbeat Travel Guides

Published in India

I have never understood how anyone can like January. The sad, sinking feeling caused by limp, leftover tinsel hanging in shops, braving the dreary weather without any promise of a mulled wine stop, realising that everyone you know has vowed to lose weight, save money or quit drinking- it is a real slog of a 31 day month.  For me, the January Blues are hitting particularly hard this year (can you tell?) Having spent Christmas on holiday in India, flying back to reality on New Years Day has left me longing for backpacking adventures again. So, before I get a grip, look forward and make plans for 2014, here are my top 10 beautiful places in Asia, home to my happiest past travel memories.

10.   Tiger Leaping Gorge, China

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By far and away the best thing I did whilst traveling around China, The Tiger Leaping Gorge hike in northern Yunnan is, in my opinion, still massively underrated. The Hutiao Xia gorge, at 16km long and 3900m from the Jinsha River to the snow capped Haba Shan, is simply breathtaking.  During summer the hills are absolutely teeming with plant and flower life and an even pace allows you to unwind in the picturesque villages along the way. The trail stretches between sleepy Qiaotou and even sleepier Walnut Garden and runs high along the northern side of the impressive gorge, passing through some of the most diverse and beautiful landscapes in the country.

Jane’s Guesthouse in Qiaotou is the perfect place to prepare or recover from the trek. The food is homemade and hearty, the coffee is strong and the rooms are cosy with clear views of the snow-capped peaks. At the other end, Sean’s Spring Guesthouse is worth every footstep of the extra walk into Walnut Garden. Keep following the painted yellow arrows- you will not regret it! We finished our trek with warm Tibetan bread, celebratory beers and an open fire in Sean’s homey lounge.

The hike can be completed in a day or two, but it is equally tempting to linger and enjoy countryside life for longer. After all, how often do you get to watch the sun set over Jade Dragon Snow Mountain while supping Chinese tea and resting your tired feet?

9.    Gili Islands, Indonesia

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There is a lot to be said for an island with no motorized traffic. Being able to stroll around the parameters, barefoot and still sandy from the beach, having left your friends snoozing on one of the shoreline sofa beds, is reason enough to make the trip across the water from Padang bai. Though they are certainly not undiscovered, the three irresistible Gili islands offer a quiet and serenity that the rest of Bali simply does not.

Made up of beachfront bungalows, white sands and warm waters, Gili Trawangan is the isle with the most going on. Like many of the Indonesian hotspots, it ticks all the boxes for a desert island cliché and also boasts an exciting nightlife for those living-the-dream on the South east Asia trail. Designated party venues mean you can choose between a night at one of the low-key raves or whiling away the hours at a beachfront restaurant. Highlights for me were the Nutella milkshakes, having our very own DVD night in a private beach hut, dancing under the stars at Rudy’s Bar and night swimming with phosphorescence- luminous plankton.

You can reach the tiny tropical islands by fast boat from Bali and mainland Lombok or (painfully) slow ferry from Padang bai and Senggigi.  Prepare to wade ashore.

 8.     Malapascua Island, The Philippines

Malapascua Island

 

This little island off the northern tip of Cebu is sun-bleached and fabulous. Simple villages, bustling basketball courts and local fiestas play a huge part in making this tiny speck of The Philippines a traveler’s paradise. Though it is slowly becoming more and more popular, Malapascua remains off the beaten track and humble in its approach to tourism. Home to welcoming locals and some dive school expatriates, the island community is peaceful and charming with a real sense of having left the western world behind.

The diving here is also world class. With three wreck dives, a sea-snake breeding centre and daily thresher shark sightings, Malapascua is one of the best places in The Philippines for big fish encounters. Night diving is popular, with mandarin fish, seahorses, bobtail squid and blue ring octopus making regular appearances. And if marine life isn’t your thing, the delicious local food, mesmerizing sunsets and picture-perfect Bounty beach make for a blissful dry land experience.

Sunsplash Restaurant operates a beach bar during high season and is the perfect place to wait for the sunset. For the very best views and an extra slice of quietude, stay at Logon or Tepanee.

7.     Mui Ne, Vietnam

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For someone with a notoriously terrible sense of direction, the surf capital of southern Vietnam offers a welcome sense of order. With everything spread out along one 10km stretch of highway, it is impossible to get lost and easy to find friends. In fact, with guesthouses lined up on one side of the road and restaurants and shops flanking the other it couldn’t be any easier to negotiate your way around the coastal town.

Once an isolated stretch of sand, Mui Ne is now famous for its unrivalled surfing opportunities and laid back vibes. For windsurfers, the gales blow best from late October to April while surf’s up from August to December. Luckily for me, lounging around on the beach is possible all year through. For the very best Kodak moments, the red and white sand dunes provide endless hours of sledding fun and jump-as-high-as-you-can competitions with the local children. A beautiful walk along the Fairy Spring will also take you past some stunning rock formations. While it feels as though you should be wading upstream barefoot, be sure to take shoes if you are going during the midday sun.

When night falls, resident DJs, beach bonfires and live bands draw the surfer crowds to DJ StationWax and Joe’s 24 hour Café, where happy hour can and usually does last til sunrise.

6.    Unawatuna, Sri Lanka

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Unawatuna Beach in Sri Lanka is what I hope heaven looks like. Deliciously lazy, exceedingly tropical and just so very, very beautiful, this sandy gem is the kind of place everyone dreams about. Life moves slowly here. Sleeping under a swaying coconut palm is about the only thing on the itinerary for most.

Following the devastating effects of the tsunami in 2004, locals of Unawatuna set about re-building their businesses right on the sand. While this does mean that the beach is much smaller than it used to be, honey-mooners and hippies alike flock to this boomerang shaped bend to soak up the Sri Lankan sunshine. And it really doesn’t get much better than this. The sea is gentle, turquoise and perfect for swimming and banana lassis are brought to your very sunbed. Colourful tropical fish swim in the live patch of coral in front of Submarine Diving School and you can rent snorkel masks from any of the places on the beach. I discovered a whole new meaning of lazy in Unawatuna but, if you want to leave utter beach paradise, it is a great base from which to explore the surrounding areas.

(This one does come with a warning. A cockroach warning. It is not enough to get Unawatuna booted off the list, but please note that multiple hard-shelled creepies do feature in my memories of this otherwise utterly perfect corner of the resplendent isle. Having said that, I did choose to stay somewhat off the beaten track at Mr.Rickshaw’s brother’s cousin’s place. It is very likely that the crayon-box cute guesthouses on the beach are roach free.)

5.    Yangshuo, China

yangshuo

 

For the perfect blend of bustling Chinese culture, enchanted landscapes and sleepy relaxation, look no further than this sedate and peaceful ancient city. Worlds apart from the mayhem of congested Guilin, Yangshuo lies in the mist of karst limestone peaks and the gentle Li-river. Cycling through the villages will take you past duckmen, fishermen, water buffalo and clementine farms, as well as over silky brooks, ancient caves and sights like Moon Hill and the Big Banyan Tree. And when you’re done with the countryside, get lost amongst the painted fans and embroidered costumes of Yangshuo Town and its cheery market place.

I stayed at beautiful Dutch guesthouse, The Giggling Tree in Aishanmen Village. Bamboo rafting was on our doorstep and they arranged transport to the Lakeside lightshow, ‘Impression Sanjie Liu’. Cycling into town for street side specialties, souvenir shopping and live folk music was easy enough, although the starlit ride back after a few Tsing Tao’s was a little shaky!

4.     Luang Prabang, Laos

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You can’t help but smile when you are in Laos. The people here are possibly the most laid back people on earth. Even after two long, long days of doing nothing on the slow ferry, arriving into the languid mountain kingdom of Luang Prabang makes you want to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n. Tourists meander down the French colonial streets to the flow of the Mekong River and saffron robed monks seem to almost glide up and down the shaded sideways on their way to prayer.

Voted one of the best places in the world for ‘slow travel’ by Lonely Planet, this hushed and heady city offers everything from red roofed temples to quaint provincial coffee houses, the moonstone blue Kuang Sii waterfalls and exquisite night markets. You can watch the sun setting over the river, hear the monks chanting their oms in the distance and enjoy delicious local dishes with a cold Beer Lao. With a curfew bidding this heritage listed town goodnight at 11.30pm, catching up on your sleep has never been so enjoyable, especially if you are recovering from tubing in Vang Vieng. (For a much less sleepy evening, ask a tuk-tuk driver to take you to the local bowling alley. Trust me on this one.)

3.    Mira Beach, Perhentian Pulau Kecil, Malaysia

mira beach

 

When I discovered that Beach Tomato had included Mira Beach as one of its ‘world’s most beautiful beaches’ I physically stood up and clapped. I almost don’t want to say it aloud for fear of contributing to this unspoilt patch of paradise becoming, well, spoiled, but I couldn’t agree more. Set back on the western side of tiny Kecil island, Mira Beach is its very own secluded cove. Surrounded by forest-green jungle, lapped by bathtub warm sea and drenched in Malaysian sunshine, the white bay can be reached by taxi-boat or Tarzan inspired trek only. Steer clear if you’re looking for plush resort or summer luxury though, the stilted chalets are as basic as they come. Managed by a local Malay family, the collection of rustic huts are kept clean and framed by frangipanis for ultimate postcard perfection. We left by water-taxi, tanned and having swum with turtles. Heaven.

2.      Pokhara Valley, Nepal

pokhara

 

Whether you are in Nepal for trekking the Himalayas, volunteering with an NGO or spotting the rhinos and elephants, a visit is not complete without catching a glimpse of (or a good long gaze at) Lake Phewa in Pokhara. Popular for being the gateway to the AnnaPurna trekking circuit, the valley has been blessed with panoramic views of this breathtaking region. Waking up to crystal clear views of snowy Mt. Fishtail, boating on Phewa’s placid waters and hiking to the sunkissed World Peace Pagoda could not have made me any happier. Throw in the cups of masala chai at Asian Teahouse, the surrounding Tibetan villages and the unimaginable hospitality of the local people and I was about ready to miss my return flight home.

Guesthouses are homely, food is hearty and the scenery really is spectacular. Pokhara is so much more than just a place to rest your feet after a hike. A month here saw us paragliding from Sarangkot, exploring the Old Bazaar, playing guitar in an underground Blues bar and falling in love with the children of the Himalayan Children’s Care Home. Don’t miss out on the Nepali specials at Asian TeaHouse and Pandey Restaurant. For me, the smaller the café, the better the food. Venture away from those Lakeside favourites!

((Drum Roll please...))

1.     Varkala, India

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If Varkala were a fairytale, it would be the one that made you believe in love, trust in the happy ending and doodle hearts and flowers in your notebook.

Nestled in the evergreen state of beautiful Kerala, this seaside town offers sunlit red ochre cliffs, coconut palm fringed beaches and peacock blue waves. The liquid lulls of local Malayalam, coconut spiced South Indian curries and breathtaking views of the ocean make it the perfect haven from the hustle and bustle of India’s cities. After ten days here, I wondered how I’d ever been happy anywhere else in the world.

From the singing mango-seller on the sand ‘yum, yum, yum, yum, eating eating’, to the cheeky waiters at the cafes, the locals on the cliff have got it exactly right. You could while away days, weeks and months watching the lives and loves of fishermen, frisbee-playing locals, moonlit yoga classes, Hindu temple men and strolling backpackers. Guesthouses are secret gardens and bamboo huts, restaurants are candle lit and family run and the Tibetan market wafts incense until after dark. Yet, far from being just a serene stopover, Varkala boats a ‘Shanti Shanti’ soul and cheeky community spirit that binds even the quietest visitor under its spell. By night, lanterns twinkle, candles flicker and stars burn bright over the backpacker favourites. I never knew beer could taste as good as it does here; poured from a discrete tea-pot, served with a glinting smile and supped to the blissful sounds of ocean, music and laughter.

If you tire of strolling, swimming, sunbathing or smoothie-drinking easily, the charming Varkala Town is just a 5 minute scooter ride or leisurely walk away. Surfing lessons, yoga classes and cooking workshops are all available atop the rosy cliff too. For dolphin watching, walk past the quieter Black Beach to the hamlet of Edava and watch from the cliff curve.

My heartfelt recommendations for Varkala are breakfast at The Juice Shack, hammock swinging at Secret Garden Homestay and Restaurant and cold Kingfishers at Backside Café. If you’re lucky enough to be there when the Alleppy Boys are playing, get down to Chill Out Lounge for a jamming session with the gorgeous and very talented local band.

There are daily trains and buses to Trivandrum, and a backwater boat to Alleppy leaves from neighboring Kollam.

Hammocks at Secret Garden Homestayhammocks at Secret Garden Homestay
Varkala CliffVarkala Cliff
Indiasea view from Juice Shack balcony
New Year's Eve at Secret GardenNew Year's Eve at Secret Garden

Happy Traveling in 2014!

Published in Miscellany Articles

Like most countries, India’s north and south are worlds apart. While Delhi and Jaipur pedestal grand architecture and royal palaces, Kerala boasts that it is ‘God’s Own Country’. And it is as though God himself has picked this tiny part of the world for His own. The rice paddies, the tea plantations, the coconut groves, its backwaters, beaches, cliffs and the sunshine: Kerala really does have it all. And then, pinned to the chest of this southern state, there is Varkala.

It is our fifth consecutive day by the beach. The sun is hiding in its milky cloud sky and there is a powerful wind tormenting the waves. Irritable, foamy-white ocean meets sullen, sugar-white sky at the horizon. Opposite, at shore, water cascades onto itself again and again, over and over. Searocks and sandbags glimmer wet in the tired sun of the afternoon and palm trees lean back-breakingly close to the edge of the sea, the gale forcing them to bend, bend, bend until their leaves are almost dipping in the blue.

The lack of scorching sun and sticky air is annoying; I have come to look forward to baking in the beach heat and competitively tanning. The ache of lying too long on hard-packed sand, back muscles flat against the unshifting beach, is a small price to pay for having a tan in November. The lines of swimming heat between sunbathers and sea, the crimson ripple of skin, the salt of wet bodies, the sting of burnt lips; senses are set alight in Varkala. Seaweed smelling sarongs and damp board shorts merge with the almond scent of sun lotion. Warm water bottles waste in the sunlight, the air sucked out of them.

Later on, in the lemon infused hours of early evening, the tourists will emerge once more, reeking of apple soap, aloe vera and spiced shampoo. Those sense-filled, excited, delicious beach moments will belong to personal galleries of happy times, filed away and frequently sought out from the crevices of every memory. This afternoon, marooned on white plastic garden furniture at an ocean-side café, deafened by the raging Indian Sea and whipped by the untiring wind, belongs to such a gallery.

Welcome to Kerala, India

Two weeks later. Sitting cross-legged on Helipad Beach, metres from the toddler-tumbling sea, we watch the giant ball of burnt sun streak its way through turquoise sky. The clouds turn from cotton white to a colour so beautiful that even the lonely dogs lift their faces to the horizon. Shades of rose, tangerine, crimson, peach, apricot and coral leak into one another, staining the dusk. The space above, peacock blue, matches the rippling waves below, making it appear as though a paintbrush has just been dragged through the heavens.

There are no lines in this Varkala; no edges or boundaries or fences or roads. Just colours bumping into colours, sea giving way to sand, cliffs into beach and day into night. White hermit crabs scuttle silently in their thousands, moving tiny grains of sand while no-one is looking. And, just for those rosy minutes, honey-trapped in the moonset, India is still. The beach is the sky and the sun is the star; we toast God’s Own Country with a Kingfisher beer.

Published in India

Kerala is literally a paradise set in green! And Kerala backwaters is one of its unique attractions. National Geographic Traveler has tagged the Kerala backwaters as one of the top 50 Must-Visit Tourist Destinations in the World.

What Are The Kerala Backwaters?

The Kerala backwaters consist of a chain of brackish (a mix of saltwater and fresh) lagoons and lakes lying almost parallel to the western coast of the state. These backwaters stretch from one end of Kerala to the other. You can enjoy the vivid yet varied glimpses of Kerala culture while experiencing its pristine backwaters. Come with me as I take you on a photo journey exploring the Kerala backwaters:

Look how green the Kerala backwaters are

Taking a relaxing boat ride through the Kerala backwaters

Houseboats in the Kerala backwaters of India

Traditional Kerala boat

Happened upon a boat race in the Kerala backwaters

Children on a boat in the Kerala backwaters

At the end of the day, this is the sunset you have to look forward to in the Kerala backwaters

The beautiful sunset from Kerala Backwaters lures you back. Each one is different..and you can never get enough. Hope you enjoyed my photo tour exploring Kerala Backwaters. And please do share your experience if you had taken a trip through these backwaters...Love to hear from you.

Published in India

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