India is a land of surprises. And that is why, it is imperative to move away from buttoned-down destinations like the Taj Mahal and the forts of Rajasthan. This year, tread off the beaten path and pick one of these 20 offbeat experiences—hunting for dinosaur fossils in Gujarat, visiting a goat village in Uttarakhand, and many more. By Sushmita Srivastav & Rashima Nagpal
1. Visit India’s Oldest Pottery Studio In Himachal Pradesh
For a long time, the quaint little village of Andretta was among Himachal Pradesh’s best kept secrets—until Irish-born actor Norah Richards arrived here in 1920 and set up an artists’ colony. Today, Andretta is home to the oldest pottery studio in the country, and a visit is regarded as a rite of passage for ceramists in training. Paint terracotta pots, make
functional glazed earthenware or your own set of microwave-safe ceramic ware by partaking in a 45-minute pottery session. If you want to commit to the craft completely, Andretta Pottery also offers a three-month introductory course that starts twice a year—April and September.
2. Discover The Scenic Araku Valley In Andhra Pradesh
A three-hour drive from the port city of Vizag takes you to the enchanting Araku Valley.
One of the not so well-known destinations in Andhra Pradesh, Araku Valley is dotted with
lofty mountains, jungles, and waterfalls. Along the winding road to Araku are the Anantagiri
Hills, with acres of coffee plantations. Apart from coffee, Araku also takes pride in its spices and smoky bamboo chicken—a recipe where chicken chunks marinated with coriander and spices are stuffed into bamboo stems, covered with sal leaves, and cooked over hot coal for about 30 minutes, with no oil or water. The valley is also worth visiting for its 150-million-year-old Borra Caves.
3. Try Flyboarding In Goa
If you want more than just sun, sand, and soirées on your next beach vacation in Goa, try
flyboarding. While this daring adventure requires concentration, basic swimming skills, and a short training session to learn the sport, it certainly deserves a place on your itinerary for the sheer adrenaline rush that it gives you. Once you get the hang of the sport, spend a day at Chapora Beach diving, flying, spinning, back-flipping, twisting, somersaulting, and dolphin-swimming. The jet spray attached to your feet propels you up to 20 feet high in the air. Wandertrails, an adventure tour operator in the state, offers 20-minute flyboarding
experiences that include a briefing session, equipment, safety gear, and complimentary t-shirts at INR6,088/USD86.
4. Ride Like A King Aboard Maharajas’ Express
Any journey through southern India is endowed with blissful landscapes. But a long-haul train trip means giving up on creature comforts. Or, does it? The Southern Sojourn is a unique journey offered by the luxurious Maharajas’ Express. Embark on a weeklong trip starting from Mumbai, and make your way through Ratnagiri and Goa, explore the ruins of Hampi, the cultural riches of Mysuru, the port city of Kochi, the exhilarating snake boat race in Alleppey, and finally, get off in Thiruvananthapuram. There are deluxe cabins and suites, five-course dinners are served in style, butlers cater to the most whimsical demands, and bars and clubs ensure the journey never gets boring.
5. Find Giant Technicolour Squirrels In Maharashtra
As regal as they are, tigers are fairly de rigueur in Indian forests, and there aren’t too many wildlife enthusiasts who haven’t seen one. But the Indian giant squirrel? Endemic to
India, these tree-dwellers hide in the sun-speckled tree canopy. They are best spotted at Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary, tucked amid the Western Ghats of Maharashtra. Known
for their patchwork of fur painted with shades of brown, orange, maroon, and black, Indian (or Malabar) giant squirrels are seen here scampering through the branches. The state animal of Maharashtra, these squirrels can grow up to three feet.
6. Hike To India’s Highest Tea Estate In Kerala
Most of you would know that India is the second-largest producer of tea in the world, but not many would know that it’s also home to the world’s highest tea estate. Thirty-five kilometres from Munnar, the Kolukkumalai Tea Estate—bordering Kerala and Tamil Nadu—
cultivates tea leaves at an altitude of over 2,438 metres. The estate takes pride in its ‘orthodox process’. It continues to use its old-school equipment that was set up in the 1930s; instead of the mechanised crush-tear-curl (CTC) method, tea leaves are handpicked, weighed, graded, and then dried indoors to ensure that they don’t crumble.
The tea is then rolled, oxidised, dried some more, and ultimately packaged for sale. Get your hands dirty with the ‘make your own tea’ offering at Kolukkumalai Estate and combine that with a guided hike of the plush Windermere Estate.
7. Meet Irrawaddy Dolphins In Odisha
Asia’s largest brackish water lagoon, Chilika Lake in Odisha, is home to a unique creature: the Irrawaddy dolphin. Chilika Lake has emerged as the single largest habitat of the endangered species. Hire a boat at the lake for a sight of the peculiar dolphin with a bulging forehead and a short beak. While watching these gentle creatures arch in and out of water is a soothing experience, Bhitarkanika National Park (258 km away) in the same state offers a more thrilling wildlife encounter: crocodiles. Home to the world’s second-largest mangrove ecosystem, the park is famed for its population of giant estuarine crocodiles that can grow as long as 23 feet. Book a 12-day wildlife tour to Odisha with 365 Hops.
8. Observe Nesting Turtles In The Andaman
Between November and March, Kalipur and Ramnagar beaches of North Andaman turn into wildlife treasure troves. The volcanic black sand found on these beaches does not make
them as picturesque as their more famous cousins down south, but it does invite four kinds of turtles to lay their eggs—olive ridley, leatherback, hawksbill, and green turtles. The
unique biodiversity is worth a trip to the far-flung region. And the lack of tourists is always
a plus. Arrive in Diglipur, the largest town in North Andaman, and head to the Kalipur and Ramnagar beaches, 15 kilometres away from each other. While you’re here, take the 15-minute boat journey to the twin islands of Ross and Smith that are connected by an 800-metre-long sandbank.
9. Go Green At A ‘Goat Village’ In Uttarakhand
A community called The Green People is working to improve the livelihoods of rural households in the Garhwal Himalayas by means of agro and eco-tourism. Ever since its inception in 2015, the organisation has introduced eight far-flung homestays called The Goat Villages, including groups of cottages along the trekking routes of Nag Tibba and Dayara Bugyal in Uttarakhand which are run, built, and maintained by the locals. The Green People also runs Bakra Chaap, an organic farming project that bridges the gap between rural farmers and urban consumers.
10. Try Bird Watching In West Bengal
Come winter, and thousands of migratory birds fly all the way from the Himalayan foothills, China, and Siberia to join the resident birds in and around West Bengal’s capital, Kolkata. Hence, the city is a dream come true for birding enthusiasts who can spend hours spotting
their winged friends at the pristine waters of the Santragachi Jheel, the 228-year-old Indian Botanical Garden in Shibpur, the Chintamoni Kar Bird Sanctuary, which is also famous for hosting many species of butterflies, ferns, and orchids, and the lake of Rabindra Sarobar.
From the fulvous whistling duck, swinhoe’s snipe, Northern pintail, to the black-naped oriole, booted eagle, yellow-browed warbler, brown hawkowl, and more, the City of Joy turns home to a variety of migratory birds and becomes a birder’s paradise.
11. Spend A Few Days In A Village In Punjab
The land of five rivers, Punjab in the north of India is home to idyllic treasures. From golden mustard fields to aromatic food, it is a state that is largely characterised by its pleasant smells and sights. Punjabiyat, a resort of four standalone cottages in the middle of a farmland in the district of Gurdaspur, offers a unique experiential stay that lets you
bask in the essence of the region. True to Punjabi tradition, the experience here includes hearty meals, dips in tubewell tanks, tractor rides, and stargazing from the comfort of your
12. Explore The Buddhist Circuit In Bihar
Bihar is home to many ancient monuments and places of reverence, including a fascinating Buddhist trail. Come here to seek solace and whet your wanderlust for the offbeat as you find nirvana in Bodhgaya, visit the ruins of Nalanda University, and explore the Vishwa Shanti Stupa in Rajgir. While Bodhgaya was where Prince Siddhartha attained enlightenment beneath the Mahabodhi tree 2,600 years ago, the fifth-century UNESCO-tagged Nalanda Mahavihara was once the centre of Buddhist learning, with temples, meditation halls, and millions of scriptures and manuscripts. The Vishwa Shanti Stupa in Rajgir is an important pilgrim spot, and is dotted with rocky hillocks, mustard and paddy fields, and swaying palm trees.
13. Discover The Afghan Architecture Of Madhya Pradesh
Far away from the tourist crowds, Mandu in Madhya Pradesh is a secluded city on a lush forested plateau, with palaces, tombs, mosques, and the unique baobab trees. Among the plethora of monuments that dot Mandu’s landscape, are some of India’s finest examples of Afghan architecture. Many know Roopmati Pavilion for the tragic love story carved on its stones, but the fact that the sandstone structure is also a great reminder of Afghan architecture is largely unknown. The nearby Baz Bahadur Palace, Shah’s Tomb, Hindola Mahal, Jahaz Mahal, and the celebrated Jami Masjid are also ideal for exploring the architectural style in detail.
14. Go River-Caving In Meghalaya
If squeezing through narrow murky trails, scurrying past spiders, bats, and beetles, and
wading through wild streams is your idea of a unique experience, then river-caving is just the adventure for you. With more than 1,600 caves—over 1,000 of them largely unexplored—Meghalaya should be on the top of your bucket list. The renowned caves here include Krem Puri in Mawsynram, reputed to be the world’s longest sandstone cave; Krem Mawmluh in Cherrapunjee, which has stalagmites and stalactites that have formed over a thousand years; and Krem Chympe. Given that much of Meghalaya’s mysterious subterranean world is still waiting to be discovered, any spelunkers worth their salt should be making a beeline for it. Join Northeast India’s socially responsible tourism venture, Kipepeo tours, in their week-long ‘Meghalaya Caving Adventure’, anytime from November to March.
15. Get Star-Struck At India’s Highest Observatory In Ladakh
Nobody ever talked about Hanle. That is, until some physicists from the Indian Institute of Astrophysics decided in 1996, that this remote village in Ladakh was the perfect site for setting up an observatory in the Indian Himalayas. The prime reason: over 260 spotless night skies in a year! By the turn of the century, the country’s highest astronomical observatory—at a height of 4,511 metres—was ready to roll. Currently, the 10th highest of its kind in the world, the Indian Astronomical Observatory is run by 25 people, including Dorjey Angchuk, the engineer-in-charge who is happy to talk to you about cosmic matters.
16. Learn Indigenous Tribal Art In Arunachal Pradesh
Arunachal Pradesh is home to over 26 tribal communities, most of whom continue to follow a traditional lifestyle, virtually disconnected from the rest of the world. Kipepeo is a socially responsible tourism venture that has been organising community-oriented tours in Northeast India for 10 years now, helping tribes attain an equitable status in the society. One of their tours takes you deep in the valleys along the Siang and Subansiri rivers, where you learn about the culture and traditions of six tribes—Adi, Apatani, Tagin, Gallo, Mishmi, and Nyishi. From savouring traditional brews and picking up bamboo crafting skills from the Adi tribe to learning the unique farming practices of the Apatanis and homestay experience in Ziro Valley, the tour brings to you the simple joys of life. Plan the 11-day Central Arunachal Tribes Tour between October and May.
17. Go On A Chettinad Food Trail In Tamil Nadu
Amid ancient temples and many 19th-century mansions, the laid-back Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu keeps safe age-old recipes and food techniques that have been part of its glorious legacy since time immemorial. Apart from the signature Chettinad kozhi (succulent
chicken cooked in spices and coconut), gorge on idiyappam (steamed string hoppers made from roasted rice flour), mutton chukka (marinated lamb in a masala of cardamom, cinnamon, clove, chilli, and curry leaves), meen kuzhambu (fish fillets in sweet and sour curry), vazhaipoo meen kuzhambu (fried flowers in spicy tangy gravy), milagu kozhi varuval (pepper chicken fry), karaikudi eral masala (prawns laced in a fiery spice paste), cabbage carrot poriyal (sautéed vegetables), kada or quail fry, and kozhukattai (sweet steamed rice flour dumplings) during your food pilgrimage through the region. Join Puliyogare Travels in their two-day-long culinary excursions through Chettinad.
18. Experience Wellness In The Backwaters Of Kerala
Contrary to popular belief, wellness in Kerala goes beyond Ayurveda. The swaying coconut trees, tranquil backwaters, birdsong, the thachu shastra (traditional wood-based architecture of Kerala), and more, add to the rejuvenating effect of God’s Own Country. Get a hang of this all-encompassing version at Coconut Lagoon, a 30-acre oasis of calm in Kumarakom, the idyllic village-town on the backwaters of Vembanad Lake. A typical day here includes yoga and meditation sessions at dawn, classes in the traditional martial art of
kalaripayattu, watching butterflies flitting about in the garden, a cooking class with the chef, and a sunset cruise among other things.
19. Hunt For Dinosaur Fossils In Gujarat
With the discovery of one of the largest collections of dinosaur fossils and eggs in the world, Gujarat gained the reputation of being home to India’s very own Jurassic Park. A fossil park and a museum in Balasinor take you back in time—65 million years, to be precise. While the park has been around for years, the Dinosaur Museum and visitor centre were built in June 2019. It features 10 sprawling galleries, and is a state-of-the-art venue to learn about the history of the land and the giant creatures that once inhabited it. Both the park and the museum are located in a village called Raiyoli, 100 kilometres from Ahmedabad.
20. Experience The Urban Bedouin Life In Rajasthan
Regal, tasteful, and dreamy, the premium camping experience offered by Camp Chhatra Sagar is the epitome of offbeat luxury in Rajasthan. Midway between the princely cities of Jaipur and Udaipur and two hours southeast of Jodhpur, the camp dates back to 1890. Ever since Chhatra Sagar opened to travellers, it has become a heritage experience of its own. Set over a 100-year-old dam on the edge of a lake, surrounded by a nature reserve where flamingos visit each year, the site with its handcrafted canvas tents has now been remodelled as a RAAS property, replete with a swimming pool, spa facilities, and a dining venue.