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)
1.Searching for some high-altitude serenity?
Instead of Pangong Tso in Ladakh
If this article were written five years ago, Pangong Tso could well have been an alternative to some place, situated as it is in a difficult-to-access part of the barren cold desert of Ladakh. However, the multi-crore blockbuster movie 3 Idiots shot this placid, inaccessible lake to tourist stardom, and the serenity that it so beautifully courted gave way to loud, insensitive crowds. Most unusual travel destinations in north east India.
While the Pangong lake itself remains one of the most breathtaking sights of its kind, in the Eastern Himalayas lies an even better preserved secret. In northern Sikkim, at the end of a two-day trek from Gangtok, lies the Gurudongmar Lake, its emerald waters situated at an impossible height of 17,100 feet. Set in the stunning backdrop of majestic snow-clad peaks and at the end of an arduous trek through a barren, cold landscape, this is a sight you will have earned. And how.
2.Seeking a dash of color in the midst of a vast desert?
Instead of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan
Jaisalmer makes it all too easily to any list of places to visit in India: unabashedly colorful, gorgeously earthy, and abundantly historic. It has the bustling flea markets, the sandstone architecture, the royal heritage, the vibrantly-clad women – all the makings of the exotic orient that many a travelers seek. Situated in the heart of the Rajasthan desert, it is the land of destination weddings and camel safaris. But it suffers a certain caricaturing: almost every aspect of life here seems to pander to these glossy catalog ideas of India, lending it an air of artifice.
The Little Rann of Kutch, in central Gujarat, suffers fewer pretenses. Situated in a state that has until recently not been seen as a tourism hub, it is desert land that retains a crude earthy flair that is simultaneously charming and accommodating. While a salt marsh makes up much of the landscape, presenting some breathtaking photo-ops, it also has a vibrant artistic tradition that spills onto the painted huts, the clothing, and even the cow bells. It is even possible to spend a night at the border of the desert in mud huts cosying up around a fire by night. Something that seemed to be the sole domain of Rajasthan until not too long ago.
3.Want to witness the full charm of Mughal splendor?
Instead of the Taj Mahal in Agra
To even start to suggest that there exists an alternative to the all-marble embodiment of Shah Jahan’s love for his wife is a blasphemy, but before you pick up the rotten tomatoes hear us out. Sure, there is nothing that compares to the very first peek of the gorgeous structure, that first glimpse of the blindingly extravagant use of marble… but it will probably be quickly followed by a shove from the constant crowd pouring through the entrance, effectively breaking the spell. Add to that Agra’s infamously aggressive touts and repulsive filth, and the Taj Mahal experience can become slightly fatiguing.
Tucked away in the winding roads of the Nizammuddin area of Delhi, then, is one of our favorite sights in the world. Commissioned by his first wife to honor her husband, Humayun’s Tomb may not be able to match the dazzle of the Taj and its endless milky marble, but its presence is no less awe-inspiring, its symmetry no less brilliant. The red sandstone structure laced with delicate touches of marble and other precious stones stands at the end of several gateways, dramatizing the unveiling of the first sight, adding to its undeniable allure. To add to everything, the lush gardens surrounding it are an excellent place to slow time down, to just lay there and take in the gorgeousness of the surroundings – a luxury the Taj can scarcely afford.
4. Looking for the most picturesque place to pitch a tent?
Instead of Khajjiar in Dalhousie
Still riding on the popularity it gained upon being christened the ‘Mini Switzerland of India’ more than two decades ago, the vast meadow of Khajjiar is a shadow of what we imagine was its former self. What remains now is an over-grazed pasture land populated with nagging hawkers and over-worked horses. And we haven’t even begun to mention the bludgeoning crowds. Commercialization has obviously not been very kind on this hill station, and it has long worn out its welcome on the list of places to visit in India.
That the Himalayas are full of little gems is something of an understatement though. So for every over-commercialized hill station, there is a lovely little bend of the mountains you can call your own. On one such bend lies the idyllic hamlet of Syalsaur. Some government-built tourist log huts sit perched on a rocky bed with the river Mandakini gurgling softly by, its cheerful white water standing in a perfect contrast to the lush green of the trees cloaking the mountains that rise dramatically nearby. And to cap off this picturesque location, a gaze up the river reveals the mighty peak of Kedar rising in all its snow-clad glory against the blue sky. Switzerland can go take a hike. These are the Himalayas in all their quiet splendor and can be your perfect travel destinations in India.
5.Looking for the perfect backwater experience?
Instead of Alleppey
They say too much of a good thing is never good. Nothing bears better testimony to this than Alleppey, perched at the mouth of the Vembanad backwaters – basically, where every one of those pictures for Kerala Tourism are shot. However, those pictures tell only half the story. While the setting is idyllic – the backwaters, the palms, the dome-shaped houseboat nestled in their midst – what is missing is the other houseboat that is only a stone’s throw away. And the other. And another. And… you get the picture.
This may come as a shocker to those who have come to accept that it is impossible to have the backwater experience in India without having to nudge your way around, but less than 500kms north of this houseboat forest lie the much lesser-known Kannur-Valiyaparambu backwaters, housing a smattering of uninhabited islands, vast waterways, and abundant peace. When you’re dreaming up that honeymoon cuddled together on the deck of a boat with just stretches of palm-fringed water for company, this is the place you’re actually dreaming about.
You can read the second part of this blog here.
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