Five Unusual Destinations in India that are Worth It
India is known to be quite the cauldron of ethnic diversity. Unfortunately, this is a fact that is taken largely for granted, even by the zealots of adventure and travel among us. If you’re tired of hearing about the same old trite places and want to make a trip that will be worth it, there is a plethora of alluring destinations that seem to be lying just waiting to be discovered. So if you are inspired to explore these unconventional gems, here are five of them to tickle your fancy.
1) Dudhsagar Falls
Literally “The Sea of Milk”, this grand waterfall lies near the Eastern border of Goa and truly blossoms in the monsoon months of June and July when the rains transform it from a weak dribble into a raging torrent. This seldom-publicized beauty is a sight to behold and a far cry from the sandy beaches that Goa is famous for. It is India’s 5th tallest waterfall, with a height of 310 metres, and as it drops from a nearly vertical cliff face, it produces a sublime layer of white foam reminiscent of milk, which gives it its name.
Legend has it that there was a beautiful princess who enjoyed cooling off in the hot summer months by bathing in a secluded lake near her palace. Sheltered by the lush tropical forest around the lake, she would always feel at ease in the comfortable serenity. It was her temple; her happy place. She would then satiate the appetite she had worked up after her daily swim by a devouring a jug-full of sweet, creamy milk from a vessel of pure gold (in the olden days, anorexia was unheard of as the fashion industry had yet to come into existence). One day, as she sipped her milk, she discovered that a handsome prince standing creepily amongst the trees was watching her. In her embarrassment, she poured a curtain of milk from her jug to hide behind while her maids rushed to shoo away the prince and cover her up. Thus, the sugared milk poured down the cliffside and continues to flow as a tribute to her chastity and virtue.
The Himalayas are undoubtedly the most magnificent mountain range in the world, and India is privileged to have them right in our backyard. It is also the tallest mountain range in the world. And there is only one place where you can truly appreciate this fact: Sandakfu. This peak of the Lesser Himalayas is the highest point in West Bengal at 3600m, and the climb to its top takes you through pristine forests of oak and rhododendron, and pretty patches of wildflowers and magnolias dotting your route in the springtime. The real treat when you finally reach the top is the breathtaking armchair view of four of the five highest peaks in the world, namely: Everest, Kanchendzonga, Lhotse and Makalu. It is the most marvelous view of Kanchendzonga, glittering in the sun. You can truly see why it is known as the Sleeping Buddha. Although this 4–5 day trek does require you to be in peak levels of fitness, Sandakfu has a small settlement at the top with a few hostels, and there are huts and lodges along the way that provide overnight shelter for trekkers, making it very convenient.
Some of you might remember this name from your middle-school textbooks as TheWettestPlaceOnEarth™, a record that is now actually held by a nearby village: Mawsynram. Cherrapunji, or Sohra as it is now locally known, is a small mountain town in the Khasi hills of Meghalaya. It is here that British Christian missionaries first came in contact with the indigenous Khasi tribal community in the 18th century, giving them their script and their religion. Although it might be known for its rainfall, travelers fall in love with it for its rustic hillside charm, bubbling rivers and gorgeous valleys made surreal by the smoky haze of the ubiquitous clouds. But that’s not all. The most striking feature of this area in the depths of North-eastern India is its living root bridges!
As a result of traditional Khasi ingenuity, the bridges here are not built. They are grown. The abundant rubber fig trees in the area produce secondary roots from their trunk that allow them to thrive in the wet climate and rocky terrain. Noticing this feature, the Khasis developed a method to use this to their advantage to help them cross the many rivers in the area. Using hollowed out betel-nut tree trunks to prevent them from diverging; they guided these roots across distances of over a hundred feet, before carefully allowing them to take root in soil on the opposite side. With time, this grows into a sturdy living bridge. Although this takes over a decade’s labour, these magnificent works of art are incredibly strong. In fact, as they are alive and growing, they only strengthen with time, and some of the ancient root bridges that are used every day might be hundreds of years old. Coupled with the gurgling brooks and majestic landscapes, these make for a fantastic scene right out of a Tolkein novel!
Did you know that there is a hill-station in Chhatisgarh? And that it is a mini–Tibet? The Dharamshala of Middle-India! MIND. BLOWN. This small village set in the richly forested and hilly terrain of the district of Surguja has been the abode of Tibetan exiles for the last half a century. They have been enjoying their solitude in this small, pleasant nook in the densely forested plateau of Chattisgarh as is the wont of Buddhist monks. Only recently has it become more accessible to outsiders as the government has renovated the nearby roadways. This hidden gem is rife with wonder—a large Buddhist temple, ample small cafés that serve thukpa and momos, a handful of monasteries scattered around, lovely waterfalls such as Tiger Point where tigers are said to roam, and the strangest of them all: Jal Jali. This is a curious natural occurrence, where the land forms a firm, solid layer upon a swampy underground reservoir, making for a natural trampoline! Treading on it makes it bounce up and down! Absatively absurd!
This quiet Karnatak town on the banks of the great Tungabhadra River is heavy with the shadows of its glorious past. The group of monuments here is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is the last remnants of the capital of the ancient Vijayanagara Empire that lasted 300 years and spanned the majority of peninsular India in the 15th century. The stunning architectural marvels—over 500 individual ruins of temples, palaces, shrines, reservoirs and other buildings—that lie spread across swathes of rocky hills and fields of paddy tell a thousand stories of the rich cultural legacy of ancient India. The air is heavy with the magic of the past. If you dig deeper still, you will discover minor rock edicts from the 3rd century BC, indicating that this site was an important location during the time of the emperor Ashoka. The entire city is a monument to the wealth and power of the rulers, evident by the lavish constructions and intricate detail that went into producing these religious and cultural tributes. Today, it lies but a forlorn memory, silent and deserted, giving you the fascinating impression of time having stood still.