Long gone are days when traveling entailed visiting a select few cities that would highlight the splendor of a country. The last decade has seen a new craving among travelers, a desire to walk through uncharted territories and experience the unexplored.
'Off the beaten track' is a phrase that pops up often in conversations nowadays, especially when discussing countries like India which still holds within itself an array of eccentric destinations that showcase the quainter side of travel. Among the country's many picturesque towns and villages, seven stand out for having an absolute uniqueness to them that is both enchanting and inimitable in character.
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Off the Beaten Track: 7 Highly Underrated Destinations in India
Even though nearby Mussoorie has become notoriously crowded, Sainji village remains a hidden gem situated a few kilometers further up from the famous hill station. Known as the corn village, Sainji is a delight to walk through. Its houses are the village's main attraction as batches of ripened corn hang outside each building, adding a dash of yellow to the otherwise turquoise, green, blue and pink homes. A sign of wealth as well as the primary produce on which the village survives, the staple diet here consists of walnut chutney and corn flour roti. The villagers are a friendly bunch of people who are more than happy to prepare a meal for visitors should they ask for one.
While it's not possible to stay in Sainji, it does make for a wonderful day trip from the equally lovely Landour. A hillock that overlooks Mussoorie and Doon Valley, promising spectacular views, beautiful hiking trails and rustic eating joints, Landour is the ideal destination to relish the tranquillity of the mountains.
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While the major hubs of Rajasthan such as Jaipur, Udaipur, and Pushkar take on the bulk of tourism, it's the small city of Bundi that genuinely epitomizes the old-world charm of this princely state. Situated three hours away from Jaipur and an hour from Kota, Bundi, often compared to Jodhpur for its blue-colored houses, is a treasure-trove of ancient grandeur, reflected through its beautiful attractions.
Fort Taragarh is a 14th-century marvel, in desperate need of renovations, that promises panoramic views of the city, once you manage to conquer the steep climb to its top. Sukh Mahal, a palace by the lake, speaks of the city's glorious past, whereas, the architecturally spectacular Raniji ki Baori, a 46-meter-deep stepwell, is the highlight of any visit in Bundi for its fascinatingly intricate designs and engravings on the walls and arches.
The town of Udvada is of immense importance for the Zoroastrian community. It was in the nearby village of Sanjan where their forefathers first landed in India centuries ago, after escaping from Iran. The Atash Behram temple in Udvada is one of the eight fire temples of the country, and the fire here has burnt bright continuously for more than a thousand years.
Although visiting the Atash Behram is restricted to people of the Zoroastrian faith, the coastal town of Udvada has enough to amaze any visitors. Best explored on foot, the colorful Portuguese-style houses are a pleasant surprise, although not quite as much as the delectable Parsi food found here, which is by far the most authentic and best in the country.
The Islands of Lakshadweep
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A breathtakingly stunning collection of 36 islands and atolls, Lakshadweep is an archipelago off the coast of Kerala and a Union Territory of India. Since most of the islands are uninhabited and others require permits, there's an omnipresent romantic vibe to Lakshadweep that is still very much devoid of any mass commercialization.
Those who manage to venture here are privy to the serene, warm waters of the Laccadive Sea that is home to a magical kingdom of corals, a vibrant marine life and even a 200-year-old shipwreck, perfect for a scuba diving expedition. Visitors to Lakshadweep can stay at one of the larger islands, such as Kadmat and Bangaram, and enjoy local culinary preparations, head on out for activities such as snorkeling and kayaking along with taking in the joys of relaxing on pristine sandy beaches with no one in sight for miles.
Tawang (Arunachal Pradesh)
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Situated at a height of 3048 meters above sea level, Tawang is all about a relaxed spiritual mountain spirit that freshens up the body and the soul. Home to the largest Buddhist monastery in the country and the second largest in the world, the city's spiritual aura is infectious and the perfect escape for those wanting to break free from the shackles of everyday city life.
The locals of Tawang are welcoming and the city is small enough to explore on foot. One of the highlights of a trip here is the Giant Buddha. Visible from everywhere in the town, it's a lovely place to get a bird's eye view of the surroundings that give Tawang its natural appeal. While the panoramic views will amaze you, don't miss out on visiting the temple underneath the Budhha which has a magnificent pictorial representation of his life.
Orchha (Madhya Pradesh)
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Located in the center of India, 15 kilometers from Jhansi, and alongside the Betwa River, Orchha is a historically and religiously significant town on a path of self-discovery as its many attractions are beginning to come under the spotlight of ardent travelers. To get a feel of the city, head down to the riverside, where a flurry of activity welcomes visitors, inviting them to mingle with the locals, go river rafting or kayaking in the Betwa and experiment with some of the region's delicious street food.
Architecturally, the Orchha Fort, built on an island, is magnificent to explore, as are the 14 cenotaphs that immortalize the various past rulers of the region. However, it is only in Orchha where Lord Ram is referred not as a god, but as a king, making the city's Ram Raja Temple an essential religious destination for Hindus.
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There's a lot more to India's beach scene than Goa, and Gokarna is precisely the kind of seaside escape where it's still possible to find secluded spots on the sand, by the waters of the Arabian Sea. A temple town known for its Mahabaleshwar Temple, there's a vintage allure to the place that attracts people who enjoy the simple things in life.
To get the best that Gokarna has to offer, take a hike alongside the sea from the busy and crowded Gokarna Beach towards Kudle Beach, Om Beach, and then Half Moon Beach, all three of which are dotted with shacks where you can eat fresh seafood or spend a night in a moderately priced bamboo hut.
As one of the largest countries in the world, there's a huge range of incredible destinations around India, many of which are still well under the tourism radar. A renewed lust for the undiscovered is leading travel enthusiasts to the far reaches of India, revealing beautiful places that still hold tight to their ancient heritage and culture. Unaffected by modern trends and technology, these destinations are an essential link to our past and a reminder of who we really are, and where we come from.