As a child, when asked to write an essay on My Country, I would always begin with the cliché of India’s diversity. Religious, cultural, ethnic and of course, topographical. As we grew up though, the lens shifted from our own nation to the wonders of the world. Wanderlust takes us to the farthest corners of earth, the Eiffel Tower of Paris to the Pyramids to Egypt to the wilderness of Africa. Undoubtedly, each one of these places deserve the ballads of praise and admiration heaped upon them. But, if one were to look at the wealth we possess at home, India is a treasure trove.
This blog is about some gems in India that makes me incredibly proud of our motherland and all her unfathomable diversity:
The Majestic Kanchenjunga - Darjeeling
Towering over the town of Darjeeling with an altitude of over 8,000 meters, the majestic Kanchenjunga is the world’s third highest mountain. Its name is derived from ancient Tibetan words roughly translating to ‘The Five Treasures of Snows’ after its five tall peaks. For anyone who is a lover of adventure and trekking, the large expanse of this mountain range is a blank canvas open for exploration. Not only does this range have the opportunity to scale the peak, it also home to a number of ancient endangered species including the snow leopard, the Asiatic Black Bear and the Himalayan musk deer to name a few. For those content looking at the gigantic range from the foothills, the town of Darjeeling has plenty to offer to keep you occupied. Famed tea estates like the Makaibari Tea Estate, Glenburn Tea Estate, Goomtee Tea Estate, Puttabong Tea Estate and Happy Valley Tea Estate are open for exploration as well as extended stays. What morning ever could beat the privilege of having a Himalayan sunrise and the world’s best cup of hot tea?
The home of Dalai Lama - Dharamshala
For Tibetans and Buddhists around the world, the little city of Dharamshala is the sacred land home to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. Set amidst the shadow of the snow clad peaks of the Dhauladhar Range, clear skies and scenic waterfalls, what sets Dharamshala apart from most places in India that you might visit is its distinct Tibetan identity. You will be surprised by the number of monasteries you encounter, with Buddhist Flags, slogans, Gompas and monks in their bright orange robes near constants. Primary among these places is the Norbulingka Institute - an establishment dedicated to preserving Tibetan culture in its literary and artistic forms. Other places of interest include Mcloedganj (a relic of Dharamshala’s colonial past that dominates the upper half of the city), the Chamunda Devi Temple, the neo-gothic style St. John’s Church, Namgyal Monastery, Bhagsunag Falls and the nineteenth century Gyuto Monastery.
Wilderness of Madhya Pradesh
Madhya Pradesh is often touted to be the 'heart of India', and, apart from its historical legacy, this state is also home to the most expansive biodiversity you might probably find on the subcontinent. For animal lovers, the state is a goldmine with nine National Parks and six Tiger Reserves. To see how it feels to peep into this fascinating world of green, with animals roaming wild in their home is something each one of us must experience once in our lifetime. The most popular national parks include the Kanha National Park – famous for its beautiful landscapes, the Royal Bengal Tiger and creatures like leopards and the barasingha. Fun fact, the Bammi Dadar, the sunset point of the park, was originally the inspiration for the Jungle Book. The Bandhavgarh National Park boasts the highest number of tigers in the country, along with opportunities to trek and a visit to the Bandhavgarh Fort. Other National Parks and reserves worth visiting are the stunning Panna National Park, Madhav and Satpura National Parks, and the Van Vihar National Park – the haven for ornithologists.
The Palaces of Rajasthan
If there is one part of India that can take even the greatest cynic back in time, it is the north Indian state of Rajasthan. It has an incredible martial history going back centuries, with tales of valour, splendor and bravery entrenched in the very bricks of their fortresses. Overlooking the old Jaipur is the majestic Amber Palace built in the 16th century by Raja Man Singh, with multiple structures added over the years. The Bal Samand Lake Palace – the erstwhile vacation home for the royal family of Jodhpur, now a heritage hotel – will give you a classic royal experience. The Umaid Bhavan Palace is arguably the most famous and grand palace in the very heart of Jodhpur, with half of it functioning as a museum and a heritage hotel. Its Indo-Saracenic architecture, grand ballrooms, famed gardens and the aura of a bygone era are all features that have ensured it remains a favourite of visitors all year long. Other palaces and fortresses of note include Udaipur’s Udai Bilas Palace, Patwon ki Haveli and Mandir Palace in Jaisalmer and Bikaner’s Junagarh Palace.
The stark beauty of Leh Ladakh
If there is place that has suddenly captured the fascination of Indians in the last decade (especially the bikers) it is the now Union Territory of Leh Ladakh. Located in the north-easternmost part of India, Leh Ladakh is immensely blessed when it comes to scenic beauty and the unparalleled hospitality of its people has ensured that visiting Ladakh makes its place in the bucket list of every millennial. The azure blue Pangong Tso Lake as well as the remote Tso Moriri Lake leave visitors spellbound by the sheer tranquility of its waters, while the 17th century Leh Palace is a standing relic of Tibetan architecture. The Changtang Wildlife Sanctuary and Hemis National Park as well as the beauty of the Zanskar Valley are sure to etch a permanent place in your memories. If you do decide to go explore this paradise, ensure you book your tickets in the summer, between April to June, when the winter snow has thawed that the weather is pleasant enough to be just about perfect.
Backwaters of Kerala
The state of Kerala is known more popularly as 'God's Own Country', and the beauty and serenity of Kerala’s backwaters will convince you how much it deserves this name. This tiny south Indian state is peppered with rivers, rivulets and streams that flow though lush green landscapes rich in flora and fauna and mangrove forests with towering coconut trees on either side. Chief among these backwaters are Thiruvallam backwaters in Tiruvananthapuram, the Ashtamudi backwaters in Kollam are comprised of eight channels and are home to some of the most high-end resorts in the state, the Vembanad Lake in Kumarakom that is the perfect spot for picnics, boating, nail biting snake-boat races during the Onam period, and hands down the most beautiful sunset you will ever see. Another popular destination is Sasthamkotta Backwaters – also known as the Queen of Lakes – the largest lake in Kerala that also happens to be surrounded by mountains on three sides. A perfect scenic destination for boating, fishing, and making most out of quality time with your near and dear ones.
Life along the Ganges
Throughout India’s long and rich history, the river Ganga has held immense mythological and cultural significance. It is an integral part of the Hindu religion itself, with one of the world’s most ancient and continually inhabited cities - Varanasi or Benaras blossoming owing to the river. The city offers stunning views of the river from its ghats as well as insight into Hindu devotion with its grand sandhya aartis, temples and perennial chanting of priests. Another major city that owes its life’s blood to the Ganges or rather Hoogly as it is called there, is Kolkata. There are river cruises that take you across the Hoogly to this mesmerizing city and iconic locales such as the Howrah Bridge, Hoogly Bridge and the Princep Ghat. While cities such as Prayagraj, Patna and Haridwar get to experience the river in all its glory, it is Rishikesh where the Ganga is at it’s rawest. With a stunning landscape of sharp cliffs and hills, the river gives you some of the country’s most splendid views (including white sand beaches) as well as thrilling opportunities for adventure sports.
The beaches of Andaman and Nicobar Islands
If you are someone who’d rather lounge on a beach than scale the heights of a mountain, these islands off the eastern coast of India are the place for you. With a rich cultural and colonial history, as well as blessed scenic beauty, the islands have always been an excellent place for tourism, rest and rejuvenation. Some of the most noteworthy beaches in the islands are Port Blair’s Wandoor Beach and Corbyn’s Cove, the magical Havelock Islands that are a perfect getaway for honeymooners, Laxmanpur Beach on Neil Island, and Bharatpur Beach – whose sprawling, clear sea and coral reefs set it entirely apart from the rest. These islands are also home to indigenous tribes of Great Andamanese, Onge, Jarawa and Sentinelese in the Andaman Islands and Shompen and Nicobarese tribes in the Nicobar Islands. These tribes, who allegedly migrated from Africa millennia ago, live in relative and in some cases, complete isolation from modern civilization and have a diverse culture entirely dependent on the nature and bio-diversity that surrounds them.
The land of the Seven Sisters
North-East India is an amalgamation of the culture and natural bounty of the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Sikkim together known as the Land of the Seven Sisters. India’s longest river – the Brahmaputra is the source of life for most of these states as well as an excellent medium to explore the beauty of Assam through a river cruise on the Brahmaputra. Arunachal Pradesh’s Tawang is a balm to the heart of those seeking spirituality in the middle of snow-capped mountains. Assam’s Kaziranga National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that offers the opportunity of traversing through a sprawling ecosystem with animals such as Wild Asiatic Water Buffaloes, Swamp Deer, Indian Elephants, Bengal Fox, Golden Langur, Pythons, Assamese Macaque, Large Indian Civet, and the famed Bengal Tiger all found here. The wettest place on earth Cherrapunji (and also the most stunningly green), finds its home in Meghalaya; a state whose name literally translates to the abode of rain.
The Ruins of Hampi
Once the capital of one of the greatest empires the country has seen, the ruins of Hampi today are a gold mine of architectural splendor. Spread out over an area of 26 sq. kms, flanked by the river Tungabhadra in the north and rocky ridges on the other three sides, every inch of this place tells a story of an era of the might, courage and skill of the rulers of the Vijaynagara kingdom. Structures here include the Dravidian style temple of Malyavanta Raghunathaswamy, the Hampi bazaar that leads to the Virupaksha Temple and the Vithalla Temple, the remains of what was once the royal court of the kings of Vijaynagara and the two-story Lotus Mahal. Hampi is a priceless heritage, for it is testament to the incredible skill of people all the way back in the 14th century. The best time to visit Hampi would be the month of December, where the government of Karnataka organizes the annual Vijaynagar Festival.
This list is by no means an exhaustive account of what our country has to offer, nor are any of the places in any particular order of excellence. Every corner of India has its own mysteries, and lore and relics, just begging to be explored. Look inwards this time and uncover all that is ours to truly believe that India is indeed, Incredible!