This is the second of our two-part series. You can find the first part here.
India as a travel destination suffers a strange paradox. Of all the cliches that advertisers use to attract tourists, diversity is the most popular adjective, painting this picture of India as a one-stop-shop for every kind of travel experience. However, if you talk to even the most offbeat of travelers, or stalk the most alternative travel blogs, you will be hard-pressed to find a list of ‘places to visit in India’ that differs from another. For whatever reason, traveler after traveler in this country seem to go around in the same circles. India, at this first glance, feels like that grand uncle with only one stock of stories in his arsenal. And however fascinating the stories may be, however riveting his rendition of them, you’ve heard them all before.
Having traveled India greatly, however, we at Tripoto couldn’t disagree more. As part of Mission Bust-India’s-Grand-Uncle-Image, therefore, we present to you an alternative each to ten of the top ‘places to visit in India’. While they are not necessarily substitutes, they offer an experience that feels similar to the original. And all of it without the maddening crowd, pollution and accompanying touts. Some may call it offbeat. We call it having your cake and eating it too. (wink)
6. Want to see an actual tiger?
Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh
Instead of Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand
Set up in 1936 to protect the endangered Bengal tiger, the Jim Corbett National Park has morphed into a popular weekend getaway for those seeking a one-with-nature experience. While its proximity to Delhi has had a lot to do with said popularity, its dense jungles and the abundance of varieties of fauna are also attractive to eyes tiring of concrete jungles. However, the very animal in whose name it has been set up is frustratingly elusive, most long winding jeep safaris ending in the guide triumphantly pointing out some tiger poop.
Boasting one of the highest densities of tigers of all the national parks in India, a jeep-chase for a sight of the regal striped animal in the Bandhavgarh National Park is far more likely to result in an actual tiger. Relatively small in size, the national park is easily navigable as well, and with plenty of other varieties of fauna to keep your lens interested, you can rest assured your camera is unlikely to see the inside of its bag for the duration of the safari.
7. Craving a lake-studded landscape?
Instead of Nainital in Uttarakhand
Nainital feels like a nostalgic footnote from your childhood. The quintessential hill station for many, a until decade ago nearly every family thronged there in the summer holidays, coming back with pictures and stories of boating, and horse-riding, and sunsets on the lake Naini. However, the steep valley leading down to the slender lake is far past its capacity to contain this influx of vacationing couples. And their children. And their parents. And half their winter wardrobes… You get the drift.
Head instead to Tawang, perched at the end of a dusty backbreaking road through Arunachal Pradesh, the last major site before you hit the China border. Its geographical and political location will need you to jump several logistical and bureaucratic loops, but it feels like a worthy investment for what lies on the other end. The Tawang district boasts of not one, not two, but a whole 109 lakes! And sure enough, as you drive away from the town, tucked into every crevice and lying around every bend is a little body of pristine untouched water. If you ever have the crazy idea of a lake-hopping picnic at 12,000 feet, you know where to go now.
8. Looking forward to some hard-core beach-bumming?
Instead of Goa
That Goa is a persisting hanger-on to most itineraries around India is more an indication of a lack of alternatives than an actual advertisement of its pull as a beach destination. Overcrowded, filthy and often prohibitively priced, about the only saving grace of Goa is its vibe – an easy-going, bohemian breeziness that pulsates through its every vein and infects everyone that comes in touch with it. Combine with that the fact that it fosters what is arguably the best party-scene in India, and you have yourself the reason why it is so difficult to find an alternative to.
However, if it is beaches you are looking for – actual beaches with beach shacks not encroaching on their entire space, with space to laze and get a tan while reading a book, with stretches of unperturbed sand and sea in the distance – you needn’t go too far south. As soon as you cross the border into the state of Karnataka lie the several beaches of Gokarna, offering you the undiluted beach experience in an accessible neighborhood setting that makes it all the more intimate and cozy. Indulge every whim to not move a muscle and give in to the temptation to miss your train back. This is the sinful kind of lazy. But if you do manage to move yourself and get into a boat, you might be
9. Seeking some quiet immersion in history?
The Hoysala Temples of Hassan in Karnataka
Instead of Hampi in Karnataka
If suggesting an alternative to the Taj Mahal felt blasphemous, even talking about parallels to Hampi feels like a betrayal to our own love for the rumbling, dilapidated former capital of King Krishnadevaraya and the many stories it whispers through its wise old sandstone. It is a sweeping landscape of poetic history lessons lying on the banks of the mighty Tungabhadra, a sunset over which is a humbling experience that leaves you quite speechless. However, Hampi is no longer a well-kept secret, and each of these views will need to be shared with several other people, making the experience of soaking in the history a little elusive.
A little more than three hundred kilometers to the south of Hampi, in the quaint district of Hassan, lie the remains of the Hoysala kings, another great Kannadiga empire. While the remains are mostly in the form of temples scattered across the district, hardly recreating the feel of actually walking through the empire, the temples themselves are in a beautifully preserved condition, allowing you to get lost in the intricacy of every exquisite soapstone facade for hours on end. While Belur and Halebidu were the two capitals of the empire and house the most popular of these temples, the other ones – all within shooting distance – are equally fascinating, and offer fewer crowds.
10. Looking for fresher white waters to raft over?
Instead of Rishikesh in Uttarakhand
White-water rafting in India has nearly become synonymous with the town of Rishikesh, located at the foothills of the Himalayas and considered a convenient base for longer forays into the mountains. Nearly every turn of the Ganges for several kilometers up the river from Rishikesh is dotted with tents of aspiring rafters and groups to lead them. However, the town itself has been sapped of its interest value by an over-crowding of hotels and tour companies, all yelling at you about offering the best prices. As far as entries go, it is not the most appetizing way to start your Himalayan meal.
Tucked into the Great Himalayan National Park, located in the district of Kullu, is the Tirthan Valley, a worthy alternative destination for river rafting enthusiasts but a fantastic travel destination even otherwise. The Tirthan river that gives the valley its name runs along a pristine landscape and offers some thrilling rapids. If you have had a fill of navigating frothy, rocky waters, you are in luck — the Great Himalayan National Park happens to be one of the most picturesque trekking destinations in all of the country. Take your pick. Or, like us, sit back next to your tent and marvel at the overwhelming beauty that surrounds you.