For Independence Day 2020, we’re only wishing for one thing: the freedom to travel! As we enter the 74th year of Indian independence, we’re already planning our dream escapes to these 74 amazing places in the country. So read on and start curating your Indian travel bucket-list! By Bayar Jain

1. Go camel-riding in Nubra Valley, Ladakh

Replete with sand dunes in high altitudes backdropped by jaw-dropping mountains and clear blue skies, Ladakh’s Nubra Valley—while always gorgeous—is best explored on the backs of a camel. Strap onto the graceful humpback animals and immerse yourself in the serene calm of the valley.

2. Ride Asia’s highest Gondola in Gulmarg, Jammu and Kashmir

 

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Situated at the height of 2,653 metres—the second highest in the world, and highest in Asia—amid the pines of the Pir Panjal range, a gondola ride in Gulmarg offers you a birds-eye-view of the stunning valley. On a clear day, you can see Uttarakhand’s Nanda Devi and the Line of Control between India and Pakistan from this two-stage lift.

3. Go apple-picking in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh

 

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Plan your trip to Shimla during July and August to see the vast expanses of green broken daintily by the luscious red apples famous to the region. During these months, the time is ripe to pluck these fruits straight from the trees and indulge in their juicy goodness amid the seemingly never-ending orchards.

4. Go back in time at Fatehpur Sikri, Uttar Pradesh

 

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Ditch the tourist hub Agra and head to its sister-city Fatehpur Sikri instead. Founded by Akbar, a 16th-century Mughal emperor, this town is painted almost entirely in red sandstone. A grand entrance via the Buland Darwaza (translating to Door of Victory) here takes you straight to the simplistic lives of the bygone era, while the Imperial Palace Complex, Sheikh Salim Chisti’s marble tomb, Diwan-khana-I-khaas (Hall Of Private Audience) etc. help you understand the architectural prowess of the Mughals.

5. Get high on adrenaline in Rishikesh, Uttarakhand

 

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Cater to your adventure-loving side and swirl around the rapid waters of Rishikesh. Famous for its Ganges river, bungee jumping spots, and various camping grounds in the Himalayan foothills, this city is a fearless traveller’s paradise.

6. Experience tranquillity at Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia Dargah, New Delhi

 

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Whether you’re a religious person or not, this 13th-century mausoleum is sure to strike a chord with you. As the sun sets in the city, the grounds of the holy place start to reverberate with songs of divinity, leaving you in a happy trance unlike any other.

7. Taste luxury at The Pataudi Palace, Haryana

 

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Also called the Ibrahim Kothi, the owner of this colonial-era mansion is Bollywood royal Saif Ali Khan. Passed from the last ruling Nawab, Iftikhar Ali Khan to his son, Mansoor Ali Khan, this 10-acred princely estate today houses over 150 rooms, including seven dressing rooms, bedrooms, and billiard rooms, each.

8. Spot tigers at Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan

 

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A former hunting ground among royals, this wildlife reserve has now shed that image to turn into a diverse haven for tigers, leopards and marsh crocodiles. Moreover, it even houses the imposing 10th-century Ranthambore Fort, and a calm Padam Talao lake accentuated by water lilies.

9. Watch the Rural Olympics at Qila Raipur, Punjab

 

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Held annually in February, these power-packed competitions brings India’s sports to the fore. Picture special breeds of bullocks, camels, dogs, mules and other animals competing in intense racing events, along with gaming leagues of rural sports such as Tirinjen, Kikli, Gheeta Pathar, Khidu, Kokla Chhapaki and more.

10. Visit Barabar Caves—India’s oldest surviving rock-cut caves—in Bihar

 

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Dating to the Maurya Empire, these caves are situated in the twin hills of Barabar and Nagarjuna in Bihar. This four-cave cluster is believed to be carved out from monolithic granite rock, and continue to stand tall even centuries later.

11. Count the stars at Yumthang Valley, Sikkim

 

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Popularly known as the Sikkim’s Valley of Flowers, Yumthang Valley is a nature sanctuary dotted with many rivers, hot springs, and grazing yaks on the lush rolling meadows of the mountains. While the day hours here boast of many colourful flowers, this beauty takes to the skies as night befalls in the form of innumerable twinkling stars.

12. Journey in Darjeeling’s toy train, West Bengal

 

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Officially known as the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, this train is your ticket to wonderland. Although the heritage train operates from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling, it passes through the tranquil environs of Siliguri, Kurseong and Ghoom as well.

13. Explore the largest river island—Majuli, Assam

 

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Translating to ‘the land between two parallel rivers’, in this case, Brahmaputra River in the south and the Kherkutia Xuti in the north, Majuli is a breeding ground of Assamese neo-Vaishnavite culture and an abode of rare and endangered flora and fauna, including migratory birds that arrive in winter.

14. Make snow-angels at Sela Pass, Arunachal Pradesh

 

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Considered a sacred spot among Buddhists, it is believed that 101 lakes exist here. Located on the border between the Tawang and West Kameng districts of the state, this high-altitude mountain pass turns frosty white during the winters, metamorphosing into a wonderland instantly.

15. Marvel at the Kachari Ruins in Dimapur, Nagaland

 

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The origins and history of these quaint mushroom-domed pillars from the 10th century remain shrouded in mystery but are intriguing and oft-forgotten gems in a tourists’ itinerary to the state.

16. Stroll in the Dzükou Valley, Manipur

 

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Sitting high amid the clouds of the state, and couched comfortably at the borders of Nagaland and Manipur, this surreal destination is no less than a hidden paradise on Earth. Picture dwarf bamboo grasslands and wildflowers against waterbodies that freeze over in the cold months, and you’ve got yourself heaven.

17. Gaze at the Vantawng Falls, Mizoram

 

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Cascading down from a river hidden in dense forests, Vantawng Falls is the highest uninterrupted waterfall in the state. While bathing in these waters is difficult—owing to the thick vegetation engulfing its path—it’s view from a distance and roaring echoes are just as mesmerising.

18. Trek to the Double Decker Living Root Bridge in Cherrapunji, Meghalaya

 

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If there are any two-minds regarding nature’s might, then this natural double-decker root bridge quashes all doubt. Set in the dense forests of Cherrapunji, this iconic bridge is made of two tree root entanglements that are able to withstand heavy weights with no difficulty.

19. Join a beeline of devotees at Jagannath Temple in Ranchi, Jharkhand

 

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A popular Hindu pilgrimage centre perched atop a small hillock, the bricked Jagannath Temple dates back to 1691. If you’re not a spiritual traveller, head here to enjoy the breathtaking view of the city.

20. Practise wildlife photography at Barnawapara Wildlife Sanctuary, Chhattisgarh

 

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Established in 1976, this flat terrain sanctuary shelters tigers, leopards, porcupines, pythons, antelopes, and bison. The lush flora here is sure to tempt you to whip out your cameras and get clicking!

21. Go lake-hopping in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh

 

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The other City of Lakes in India (first being Udaipur), Bhopal has seven lakes dotted all over the city. When here, you’ll find yourself itching to stop over at each of these lakes for a picnic.

22. Catch the sunset at Rann of Kutch, Gujarat

 

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Reputed to be one of the largest salt deserts in the world, the otherwise stark white landscapes here don a colourful avatar during the three-month-long Rann Utsav where cultural programmes and adventure rides tease tourists of all ages.

23. Go strawberry-picking in Mahabaleshwar, Maharashtra

 

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Accounting for almost 85 per cent of the country’s total strawberry produce, this hilly land is a berry lover’s paradise. Plan your vacation between October and November or April and May to bite into the town’s famed fruit, or head there any time of the year to see these berries turn into jams, spreads, or syrups at the many strawberry factories here.

24. Watch the nesting of Olive Ridley turtles at Rushikulya, Odisha

 

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Situated in the Ganjam district along the Bay of Bengal, Rushikulya is a favourite among Olive Ridley turtles for mass nesting, a time when female turtles collectively take to the beaches to prepare nests and lay their eggs. This process usually begins in the third week of February, however, the arrival of torrential rains also impact the final date.

25. Sip on coffee at Araku Valley, Andhra Pradesh

 

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Araku coffee is known for its unique texture, fragrance, and eco-friendly cultivation. Head here to watch the tribals of the region in action, and see how the coffee roasts brew their way to your cups.

26. Explore The Rome Of The East—Mangalore, Karnataka

 

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Complete with historical architecture, pristine beaches, rich wildlife, coconut palms, and delicious food, this commercial centre offers activities to satiate all kinds of travellers.

27.  Get lost in the Pichavaram mangroves, Tamil Nadu

Spread over 1,100 hectares, the Pichavaram mangroves are one of the largest of its kind in India. The thick vegetation lures hundreds of birds every year, all of which perch themselves along the channels, creeks, gullies, mudflats and sand flats adjoining the seashore.

28. Cruise the backwaters of Kerala

 

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Arguably the most popular attractions of Kerala, the backwaters ooze with an irresistible charm. While the waters of Alleppey are the most sought after destination for tourists, the snaking network of the other destinations is just as alluring.

29. Go scuba-diving at Havelock Island, Andaman and Nicobar islands

 

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The rich marine life and abundant coral population of the Havelock Islands are ideal for water babies. The fact that the water here is crystal clear and the currents are usually low adds to the stress-free magical experience.

30. Unwind at Agatti Island, Lakshadweep

 

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The blue lagoons of Agatti Island remain devoid of bustling tourists, making it a dream escape for those looking for some quiet. Add to it the comfortable climate throughout the year, and you’ve got yourself a stellar deal.

31. Enjoy the summer sun at Jampore Beach, Daman and Diu

 

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The coastal city of Daman is necklaced with white beaches, one of which is Jampore. Dubbed as the cleanest one in the Union Territory, a visit here is full of fun. Think walking by the sea and enjoying the sunset, or even indulging in sports like motorboat riding, or parasailing.

32. Cycle around Puducherry

 

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With cobbled promenades in abundance, the vibe of the French-inspired Puducherry is best experienced by whizzing around in a cycle. Our pick? The French Quarter where tree-lined streets and mustard-coloured colonial villas seek refuge.

33. See recycling at its best at The Rock Garden, Chandigarh

 

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Also known as Nek Chand’s Rock Garden (after the founder of the garden), this sculptured park celebrates sustainability to the core. The 40-acred garden is built entirely using industrial and home waste; and discarded items!

34. Watch time go by at Secunderabad Clock Tower, Telangana

 

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Centrally located at Shivaji Nagar in Secunderabad, this clock from 1860 reigns over the city with a watchful eye. Although once set to be demolished by the civic authorities—a move that was ultimately squashed—today, the tower stands tall in all its glory.

35. Pose at the Aguada Fort, Goa

 

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Thanks to Bollywood, the 400-year-old fort has become a popular spot for the ‘Gram, and justifiably so! This old Portuguese fort stands on the Candolim beach, and overseas the shore of the Mandovi River.

36. Time travel at the ancient city of Lothal in Saragwala, Gujarat

 

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When at Lothal, you get a sneak-peek at the famed Indus Valley Civilisation. Located at an archaeological site in Saragwala, this ancient town from 2200 BC continues to preserve drainage systems of our ancestors, along with a mound, a township, a marketplace, and a dock.

37. Smell tulips at Indira Gandhi Memorial Tulip Garden in Srinagar, Kashmir

 

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Who needs to head to the Netherlands when you’ve got a rainbow of tulips in India itself? Considered one of Asia’s largest tulip gardens, this roughly 75-acred garden is situated on the foothills of Zabarwan Range with an overview of the Dal Lake. Tulips aside, the garden has over 40 other species of flowers as well, such as hyacinths, daffodils, and ranunculus. Head here between March and May to see the flora in full bloom.

38. Go mountain biking in Kohima, Nagaland

 

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The mountainous terrain is sure to tempt every biking enthusiast. Catering to this wish are popular biking trail areas such as Lugsad, Rain Forest Trail, and Bakahan. From the rugged high roads of the eastern Nagaland to the vast forest reserves in the middle, a memorable adventure is guaranteed.

39. Sip on tea at Munnar, Kerala

 

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Loaded with tea estates, the plantations of Munnar produce this heavenly drink in various flavours such as black, green, and even chocolate! The numerous rolling hills here are painted in waves of green leaves, with soothing whiffs travelling all across.

40. Become a wine connoisseur in Nashik, Maharashtra

 

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Protected by the government’s Geographical Indicator (GI) mark, Nashik is also known as the Wine Capital of India. The red laterite soil here, paired with the ideal water quality makes this town a great place for grapes to flourish. In fact, it is estimated that half of India’s vineyards and wineries are located in Nashik.

41. Fly like a bird in Bir Billing, Himachal Pradesh

 

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Famed for holding the world’s first paragliding world cup, this small village makes all your flying dreams come true. Blessed with suitable air currents, the flying season begins in September and extends to November as well.

42. Witness India’s first sunrise in Dong, Arunachal Pradesh

 

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Sandwiched between China and Myanmar, Dong is located at the confluence of rivers Lohit and Sati, making it a picturesque spot to witness the country’s first sunrise. Head here around 5:50 am when the sky starts to turn a soothing hue of pink-purple, clocking in a new day.

43. Connect with the Almighty in Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu

 

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Don the famous Kanchipuram sari and hop from one temple to another. Also referred to as the Golden city of Thousand Temples, the mesmerising South Indian architecture is sure to entrance even the staunchest atheists.

44. Spot dolphins at Coco Beach, Goa

 

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Hidden among the narrow lanes of Goa, Coco Beach is a gem often sidelined by tourists. When here, you can see happy dolphins skimming the surface of the water without eager tourists shadowing your view.

45. Glimpse into a Buddhist monk’s life at Hemis Monastery, Ladakh

 

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You can spend the night at Hemis Monastery and wake up to the morning prayers of Buddhist monks. This 300-year-old spiritual site even organises a two-day long Hemis Tsechu festival on the 10th day of the Tibetan Lunar month during which monks perform the mystic mask dances (chams) and enact sacred plays.

46. Debunk black magic at Mayong, Assam

 

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Once a cradle of Black Magic, today Mayong lies on the banks of river Brahmaputra. Legend has it that people of the region could once make humans disappear into thin air, or even tame beasts through magic. While these beliefs may not be prevalent anymore, they sure double as great tales to hear firsthand!

47. Hear the mighty roars of the Jog Falls, Karnataka

 

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Renowned as the country’s second-highest plunge waterfall, the loud echoes of the Jog Falls reverberate for miles. Split into multiple drops, the cascading waters meander through rocky cliffs and plummet from 253 metres.

48. Evoke patriotism at the Wagah-Attari border, Punjab

 

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The beating retreat ceremony is a package of excitement and patriotism in one. The daily military practices are marked by elaborate and rapid dance-like manoeuvres, symbolic of friendly sibling-like rivalry between India and Pakistan.

49. Count fish at Loktak Lake, Manipur

 

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Home to the world’s only floating national park, Manipur’s Loktak Lake is home to over 200 types of aquatic plants, 400 animal species, and over 100 types of birds. This life-sustaining water body is even a saviour in disguise for the many rural fishermen of the region as the waters are used for hydropower generation, irrigation and drinking water supply as well.

50. Go on a city tour of Vishakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh

 

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Vishakhapatnam or simply Vizag is a beach lover’s heaven. Besides bumming out on the well-maintained sandy shores, however, this industrial centre also has VMRDA INS Kursura Submarine Museum, Dolphin’s Nose lighthouse, and Indira Gandhi Zoological Park among others.

51. Enjoy bird-watching at Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary in Gurugram, Haryana

 

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Home to over 1,800 migratory birds, especially during winters, this massive bird sanctuary is also a popular picnic spot. To add to your lesiurely time here, the sanctuary also has four watch towers (machans); an education and interpretation centre; and a library full of films, slides and binoculars.

52. Relax at Umiam Lake in Shillong, Meghalaya

 

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Locally known as Bara Pani (translating to big waters, owing to its massive size), Umiam Lake is a man-made reservoir constructed to generate hydroelectric power in the surrounding environs. The serene waters are accentuated by the vast surrounding Sylvan Hills and green Khasi pines, making it a great escape from the city chaos.

53. Visit Golconda Fort in Hyderabad, Telangana

 

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This fortified citadel once flourished as a trade centre of diamonds, including the rare Koh-i-Noor. Today, it serves as a popular tourist spot comprising of four distinct forts with long outer wall; 87 bastions; eight gateways; four drawbridges; and many royal apartments, halls, temples and mosques.

54. Learn skiing at Auli, Uttarakhand

 

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The breathtaking snow-capped Himalayan peaks of Auli don a white gown during winter, and craft slopes worthy of smooth skiing. Plan your trips in January to experience the chilling thrill of this sport.

55. Camp at Murlen National Park, Mizoram

 

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Picture a tent amid flowing rivers sheltered by semi-evergreen forests, and animals such as tigers, sambar, and deer accompanying you. If you’re looking to escape from reality, then this thick forest is your best bet. It is believed that the vegetation here is so dense that only one per cent of the sun’s rays filter through.

56. Seek peace at Shantiniketan, West Bengal

 

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Shantiniketan, or abode of peace in English, is a creation of the writer and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore. The small town—set up to help the less fortunate gain education—became the nerve of traditional Bengali culture as it imbibes lessons on arts, humanities, and path-breaking philosophies once considered taboo.

57. Pluck oranges at Jampui Hills, Tripura

 

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Located in the northern district of Tripura, Jampui Hills has been growing oranges since the early 60s. What once started off as a means of self-sustenance has now catapulted to becoming a major economic source for the locals of the region.

58. Go canoeing in Minicoy Island, Lakshadweep

 

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Amongst the many water adventures in Minicoy Island is canoeing, a gentle sport which allows you to marvel at the diverse aquatic fauna as well. The fact that the waters here are largely shallow make the sport easier to learn without fearing being thrown off boat.

59. Get inspired at Ghalib ki Haveli, New Delhi

 

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Noted Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib is known for his many verses, but few visit the abode where his words came into being. Located at an obscure alley of Old Delhi, the walls of this home are painted by the works of the poet and give an insight into his creative mind.

60. Drive on the Nathula Pass Silk Route, Sikkim

 

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The historic Nathula pass is an offshoot of the Old Silk Route, and is a beautiful way to drive back in time. That aside, it has even won the crown of the highest pass accessible by road.

61. Traverse the Queen of Chotanagpur Plateau—Netarhat, Jharkhand

 

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Netarhat is a hill station in Latehar district of Jharkhand. This thick forested region also consists of crystalline rocks and a summit capped with sandstone trap or laterite, from where you can catch the spectacular sunrises and sunsets.

62. Marvel at the limestone caves of Baratang Island, Andaman and Nicobar Islands

 

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Mystery and adventure seekers, this one’s for you! Formed due to deposits collected over millions of years, the caves here are lined with stalactites and stalagmites. To reach, you first need to boat through thick rainforests which form a canopy overhead and then crouch your way into the dark caves.

63. Dip into the Kheer Ganga hot water springs, Himachal Pradesh

 

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At the end of a mystical journey into the woods lies the Kheer Ganga hot springs, a natural sulphur water spring. Named after the milky waters of the river, it is said that these springs house curing abilities.

64. Learn tribal art at Bastar, Chhattisgarh

 

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Characterised by simple line figures and geometrical patterns, the sustainable tribal art of Bastar can be seen in various forms: wood-carvings, metal products, terracotta items and bamboo decorative pieces. Head to this region to learn the craft from the tribals themselves or bring back a souvenir to marvel at for years to come.

65. See the world from above at Pench National Park, Madhya Pradesh

 

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Seeing wildlife from territorial levels can take a backseat as Pench National Park also offers hot air balloon rides for tourists. Sail above the deciduous forests and watch tigers in their natural habitats, or get up close and personal with the 210 migratory birds.

66. Go dune bashing in Thar Desert, Rajasthan

 

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If you’re looking for a pump of adventure, then Thar desert should be your pick. Also known as the Great Indian Desert, the soft, rolling sand hills here give an adrenaline dose like no other.

67. Get spiritual at Auroville, Puducherry

 

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Set up as an experimental township, Auroville was conceived as a gift to humanity. It is meant to be a utopian space where people of all countries coexist peacefully, and in progressive harmony, devoid of caste, colour, creed, or politics.

68. Stroll in the Nakshatra Garden in Silvassa, Dadra and Nagar Haveli

 

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The Astro-themed park gives space to a large variety of plants and trees linked to zodiac signs. Moreover, the garden has been landscaped to incorporate medicinal herbs, and Ayurvedic plants as well.

69. Chase butterflies at Butterfly Park, Chandigarh

 

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A landscaped park replete with trees and shrubs, this green space is designed to breed butterflies of various colours. Currently home to 35 species, the special quiet and noise-free zones segregated here aim to take these numbers higher.

70. Watch over the city from Daman Lighthouse, Daman and Diu

 

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Situated in Moti Daman, another significant attraction of the city, the Daman Lighthouse stands guard keeping a watchful eye. Visitors heading to this fort-based lighthouse can climb to the top to view the sea, and the setting sun.

71. Feel ‘blue’ at Jodhpur, Rajasthan

 

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Start your journey to Jodhpur from the guard-like Mehrangarh fort in the centre of the city, and make your way to the many amid the blue-housed streets. Ensure you stop by at the many step-wells, intricately carved buildings, and rustic beauties along the way.

72. Take a boat ride at Wah Umngot (Dawki), Meghalaya

 

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With waters that could easily be confused with a mirror, a boat ride in Dawki is a must. The lush green environment, which reflects beautifully in these calm waters make the experience all the more worthwhile.

73. Calm your mind at Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh

 

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A world-renowned Buddhist complex, Madhya Pradesh’s Sanchi was built in the 3rd century BC. Of the many monuments here, the Great Stupa paired with its ornamental gateway is one of the most recognisable architectures of the region—often doubling as a trademark for the country.

74. Scale Mt Kangchenjunga, Sikkim

 

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Although not an achievable mission for many, you can always dream of it and add it to your bucket list. Christened with the honour of being the third highest peak in the world, this mammoth mountain is a complex of three distinct eco-regions, and home to many endangered species such as snow leopard, Asian black bear, red panda and more.

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