As the home of the iconic Taj Mahal, the Red Fort of New Delhi, Agra Fort, and the fantastically elaborate Mysore Palace, India is a land of contrasts, where traditional and modern worlds collide. In this article, we venture off the beaten track, exploring some of the country’s lesser-known, but no less impressive attractions.
1. Ziro – Arunachal Pradesh
A nirvana for tourists beating a retreat from the stresses of daily life, tucked away in the picturesque mountain-scape of northeast India, the Ziro Valley’s sprawling paddy fields, lush green hills, and quaint villages mesmerize visitors with its scenic beauty.
Popular with photographers, bird spotters, and nature lovers, Ziro is perfect for adventure seekers, too, presenting the unique opportunity to trek through the jungles of this relatively unexplored region of Arunachal Pradesh.
Every September, top national and international musical performers and folk artists arrive in Ziro for its annual music festival, presenting overseas visitors with an unforgettable taste of Indian culture, enjoying enchanting music and sampling regional culinary delights.
2. Gurez Valley – Kashmir
With its cool mountain air, bubbling river, and breathtaking landscapes, the Gurez Valley lies on the ancient Silk Road. In 1865, the British author Sir Walter Lawrence described it as one of the most beautiful scenes in all of Kashmir, where the waters of the Kishenganga River are surrounded by “mountain scarps of indescribable grandeur.”
Precariously crooked wooden villages dot the Gurez Valley landscape, its hillsides awash with vivid swathes of wildflowers. In the distance loom snowy peaks, with waterfalls tumbling down the mountainside, quenching the emerald grasses of the valley, while women wash colorful rugs at the side of the river.
The army delivers essential assistance and supplies in emergencies and throughout the long, hard winter.
3. Unakoti – Tripura
Tripura is the third smallest state in India, and one of the nation’s least explored travel destinations. Nevertheless, it is rapidly garnering an international reputation as a hidden jewel of Indian tourism.
From its magnificent palaces and ancient temples to its wildlife sanctuaries and waterfalls, Tripura’s lush green landscapes boast much to entertain visitors of all tastes.
Tucked away in the forested Jampui Hills lies the heritage site of Unakoti. A centuries-old Shaivite pilgrimage spot, Unakoti’s Lost Hill of Faces is unlike any other attraction in India. The most famous statue is a 30-foot-high carving of Shiva’s head, crowned with a 10-foot high headdress. Flanked by the Goddesses Ganga and Durga, the relief also incorporates several other Hindu deities, including Hanuman, Nandi, and Ganesh.
4. Spiti – Himachal Pradesh
Spiti, which translates to English as “Middle Country,” is a town straddling the border between India and Tibet. Though technically falling within India, Spiti incorporates a strong Tibetan cultural influence, with colorful prayer flags fluttering in the wind, and monks in saffron colored robes wafting from ancient monasteries.
Spiti’s largest monastery is Kye. Perched atop a hill at an altitude of 4,166 meters, Kye is the largest training center for monks in the region.
This cold desert region is a land of contrasts, where green plains vie with barren mountainsides, beneath towering, snow-capped peaks. Spiti is a land of myth and mystery, its incredible rock formations carved by melting snow over the centuries, leaving deep gouges stretching up to the sky.
5. Majuli – Assam
Best known for its picturesque views and untouched tribal cultures, Majuli is a large island on the Brahmaputra river, and is one of just a handful of wetland ecosystems in India.
Accessible by ferry from Jorhat, Majuli is best avoided between the months of July and September, when severe flooding causes considerable disruption. The best time to visit is the third week of November, when the Ras Leela festival attracts visitors from near and far, with cultural music, dance, and theatrical performances.
Majuli’s Hindu Satras are world-famous places of worship that remain an integral part of Assamese life, with 31 of the original 16th century structures still in use today. Satras not only serve as places of worship, but are also important centers of culture, arts, and literature. A hotspot for flora and fauna, Majuli harbors many rare and endangered species, including the Siberian crane, pelican, and whistling teal. The island is under threat due to soil erosion, with conservationists warning that within 20 years, the entire island could be underwater.