The road less travelled...

India’s best-kept secret destinations lure Shalini Mitra into treading the expanse of the country for a richer experience

Himalayas

Regular experience of novelty is essential to a long and happy life. So why stick to the tried and tested tourist trails when you can discover something new? India has a plethora of destinations which remain underexplored or even unexplored. Vacations in the following charming yet lesser-known locales will not only make you escape crowds but will also leave you with unique and memorable experiences which are hard to find on the charted routes.

Prayer wheels at a monastery in Mcleodganj
Prayer wheels at a monastery in Mcleodganj

Mcleodganj, Himachal Pradesh

Himachal Pradesh, known as the ‘state of apples’, is undoubtedly home to some of the most visited tourist destinations in India such as Kullu, Manali, Chamba and Shimla. But Mcleodganj is truly different. Being the abode of the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, it is kown as ‘Little Lhasa’ or ‘Dhasa’ because a large population of Tibetans lives here. Its culture is a beautiful blend of Tibetan and a bit of British. Named after Sir Donald Friell McLeod, the lieutenant governor of Punjab, Mcleodganj was developed under him which shortly became an attractive place due to its natural beauty. Impressive monasteries having larger than life images of Buddha, Padmasambhava, and Avalokteshwara and the backdrop of the Dhauladhar ranges of mountains will leave you spell-bound. This is nature at its best.

Besides, here in markets you get everything authentic from Tibet without actually going there, which needs a visa. The restaurants also offer rich Tibetan flavours.

The strenuous trekking route to Triund also starts from McLeodGanj.  

Wellington station
Wellington station

Wellington Tamil Nadu

Except the name, there’s nothing to compare this charming little town with the capital of New Zealand. But Wellington does have charms of its own. The town is near Ooty which is famous as the ‘Queen of Hills’ and is therefore forever crowded with tourists but travel just 35 kilometres further, and you find a secluded wonderland nestled amidst the stunning hills of Nilgiris. The World Heritage Nilgiri Mountain railway chugs silently past this scenic town. It is the only metre gauge, also known as a cog railway or toy train. It passes through many tunnels, and over hundreds of bridges (about 30 of them are large ones). What makes the rail journey spectacularly picturesque is the surrounding rocky terrains, ravines, deep curves, tea plantations, and thickly forested hills. While in the town, you must taste various attractive flavours of tea such as chocolate, cardamom, peppermint and masala tea. Wellington is also known for the Defence Services Staff College (DSSC), a premier tri-service training establishment that imparts training to field grade officers of the three wings of the Indian Armed Forces, friendly foreign countries and various Indian Civil Service departments.

Tie & dye print of Barmer
Tie & dye print of Barmer

Binsar Uttarakhand

Binsar is for all — adventure-seekers, bird-watchers, devotees, nature-lovers or wildlife enthusiasts. Situated at an altitude of about 2,500 metres, the town in the Kumaon region is adorned by the Jhandi Hills, and the views of majestic snow-clad Himalayan peaks from here are second to none. Being entirely a forest region, Binsar is an ideal place to unwind and relax where nature has the last word.

Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary is a must-see even if you are not an avid bird watcher or a wildlife seeker. On the tall deciduous oak trees of Binsar more than 200 different species make their nests. You can see both rare and not-so-common birds like forktails, blackbirds, woodpeckers, jays, magpies, thrushes, pheasants always flying around in the forest. Butterflies, which have become almost extinct in the cities, too can be spotted easily. Among the fauna one can spot antelopes, macaque, flying squirrel, leopard, musk deer, chital deer, jungle cats, wild boar, black bear, red fox, goral, langur and even muntjac (also known as barking deer) which are native to South Asia.

Devotees and spiritual seekers will be overwhelmed to see several temples in and around Binsar. About 6 km away from the town, on the way to Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary at Ayarpani, Bineshwar Mahadev Temple is the most important Hindu pilgrimage site. The 16th century temple boasts commendable architecture, making it a popular tourist place, as well.

Motifs on mud houses in Barmer.
Motifs on mud houses in Barmer.

Barmer Rajasthan

While crowds flock the popular cities of Jaipur, Udaipur, Jodhpur or Jaisalmer in Rajasthan — the land of Maharajas, travel just about 150-200 kilometres further and experience Barmer, deep in the Thar Desert, famous for its mud houses and Mahabar sand dunes. Mud houses in this desert town are decorated with folk motifs exuding warmth. The dunes are clean and offer adventure seekers a range of exciting activities such as camel safari, jeep safari, and camping. If you are lucky, you may spot deer, wild rabbits, foxes and bears hidden behind the scarce and thorny desert vegetation. One also enjoys spectacular views of sunrise and sunset from here. The temple of Goddess Jagdamba is very famous from an archaeological point of view as it is said to be more than 500 years old. To get a glimpse of the art, history and culture of Rajasthan, visit Barmer Fort and see the exquisite stone carvings and colourful glass windows inside.

If you are a history buff, you may find the Kiradu temples, a group of ruined temples about 30 km from Barmer, quite interesting and intriguing.

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