Two roads diverged in a wood, And I took the one less travelled by, And that has made all the difference.
The Road Less Travelled by Robert Frost.
With the growth of the Internet, there are few places left undiscovered or unknown. Just a few. The changing travel tastes of the Indian itinerant—some ecologically aware, others anthropologically curious—reflect growing interest in places such as Gavi, a verdant hill project in Kerala; the living root bridges of Mawsynram, Meghalaya, and Daringbadi Odisha, where the winter frost looks like snow. History aficionado? Chanakya, the author of Arthasastra, was born in Kolli Hills, Tamil Nadu. As the adventurous traveller hounds the travel agent for outré destinations, the Northeast is a revealing vista of extraordinary experiences. But there are places that have no airstrips or railway heads—so take a chance, be bold.
Go green gavi
A misty still lake surrounded by undulating hills cheerful waterfalls ponderous pachyderms and thick forests are the attractions for this eco destination hidden in Periyar National Park in Kerala. For hardcore naturalists an invigorating trek to one of the peaks promises to be irresistible. A jeep safari is ideal to glimpse of myriad types of wildlife such as tigers leopards bear gaur and sambar. Float on a coracle or a rowboat as the jungle unwinds around you.
Factfile: Kochi is the nearest airport 160 km away. Bus or taxi from there.
Where to stay: Gavi Jungle Camp, +919447902359; Thekkady Eco Lodge
Cave Crazy Kolli Hills
Not a place for the weak-stomached. A series of 70 hairpin bends up the rugged hills of the Eastern Ghats takes you to the peak of Kolli Hills. The panoramic views get better as you climb to the crest, which puts you figuratively on top of the world. Low hanging clouds alternately hiding and revealing the vistas in front add to the appeal. You can picnic by a waterfall, lounge by the lake or just lotus-eat on the meadows. Mystery buffs can look for the lost cave of Paambaati Siddhar—local buzz it is near the Akasa Gangai falls. Don’t expect gourmet chefs, but the views are worth the sacrifice.
Factfile: Nearest airport is Madurai, 220 km away. Nearest railhead is Namakkal 25 km away. Sparse accommodation.
Where to stay: Kolli Hills Camp, firstname.lastname@example.org; Nallathambi Resort, +919443209842
Bird Bold Thattekad
This eponymous bird watchers paradise is named after famed ornithologist Salim Ali. The Thattekad Bird Sanctuary lies between two languid tributaries of the Periyar River near Kothamangalam, home to such diverse evergreen fauna which makes it irresistible to birds like the Malabar Grey Hornbill, Little Cormorant, Blue-tailed Bee-eater and the Indian pitta. It’s been dubbed Kerala’s cuckoo paradise since it is home to at least four kinds of cuckoos. October to February is the best time to visit and stay in the numerous homestays inside and around the sanctuary.
Factfile: Nearest airport is Kochi, 70 km away. Nearest railhead is Aluva, 48 km away. No food available, only a few basic stay options outside the sanctuary.
Where to stay: Hornbill Camp; Soma Birds Lagoon, +914852141032
Savage Satisfaction Chorla Ghat
For the traveller with the primal urge, Chorla Ghat’s pristine dense forest cover, narrow trails and rare species of animals and reptiles such as the Barred Wolf Snake hold mesmerising appeal. Located in the Western Ghats at the intersection of three states—Goa, Maharashtra and Karnataka, the two hidden waterfalls are inviting and exciting.
Fact file: Belgaum in Karnataka is the nearest airport and railway station, 55 km away. No proper accommodation at Chorla. Ecologists and biologists use the fully equipped field station.
Where to stay: Wildernest Nature Resort, +918314207954
Tunnel time Araku Valley
A few hours from Visakhapatnam lies the thickly-forested Araku Valley, best reached by train on rail tracks hugging the hillsides, thundering over valleys and crossing 46 tunnels. Panoramic views of undulating meadows, lush green hills and carpeted valleys interspersed with orchards and coffee plantations are part of the postcard progress. Tribals who inhabit this unspoilt valley welcome the curious visitor to watch their dance forms accompanied by lilting songs.
Fact file: 115 km from Vizag, reached by train or bus
Where to stay: Jungle Bells Mayuri Hill resorts, +9184658 21695
War Wounded Igatpuri
A favourite of filmmakers, the Sahyadri peaks populated by ruins of ancient forts watch over this hill station’s beautiful grasslands. Highlights are Arthur Lake Kalsubai peak and Igatpuri Cemetery, where soldiers who died in World War I are buried. Ghatandevi deity of the legendary temple behind Tringalwadi fort is known as the Protector of Ghats. The mountains of Durrar Utvad Trimak and Harihar form a spectacular backdrop.
Fact file. Mumbai is nearest airport, 130 km away. Well connected by trains.
Where to stay: Dewdrops Boutique Resort, +919920392177
History’s Heights Chikaldara
The only hill station in Vidarbha, Chikkhaldara stands out like a beacon, rising dramatically from the vast plains around it. Home to tigers, panthers, sloth bears and wild boars, it abounds with waterfalls, lakes, botanical gardens and numerous vantage points for sweeping views of the terrain. The Gawlighur and Narnala forts date back several centuries. It’s the mythological place where Bhim killed Keechaka in a hand-to-hand combat.
Fact file: Nearest airport is at Nagpur 230 km away. Good bus connectivity.
Where to stay: MTDC Chikhaldara; Satpura Retreat, +917220230471
Frost Fantastic Daringbadi
Odisha’s winter destination is called the Kashmir of Odisha for its pine trees and lush rain forests and turmeric gardens. Even stranger is the snow—dew that turns into ground frost overnight. The Kutia Kondhas tribals, among India’s most primitive, live here. Home to 200 churches with the majority in Daringbadi being Christians; the Samaleswari temple is historic.
Factfile: Nearest airport is Bhubhaneswar, 250 km away. Nearest railhead is Berhampur, 120 km away.
Where to stay: Hotel Utopia, +916849245385
Song Scene Ziro
The Northeast is the new frontier of the brave new Indian tourist. The annual music festival at Ziro in the lower ranges of the eastern Himalayas makes it a pilgrimage centre for the pop lover. Independent India’s first administrative centre was established here. Watch members of the Apatani tribe engaged in a unique agriculture system—wet rice cultivation using no farm animals, machines or modern methods.
Factfile: Nearest airport is Jorhat in Assam, 370 km away.
Well connected by buses and shared taxis.
Where to stay: Hotel Blue Pine, 0378824812
Shiva’s Space Biligiriranga Hills
A protected tiger reserve, a Vishnu temple once patronised by Tipu Sultan, a centuries-old champak tree beside the Bhargavi river under which stand numerous shiva lingas of Soliga tribals, and megalithic burial sites make the meeting point of the white hills of the Western and Eastern Ghats abundant with the unusual. Wildlife enthusiasts can look for the Indian flying squirrel.
Fact file: Nearest airport is Bengaluru, 240 km away. Railhead at Chamarajanagar, 40 km away.
Where to stay: K Gudi Wilderness Camp, +919379676618
Living Legend Reiek
The heritage village on a mountain top is a museum of the living. Peep into the chief’s house to visualise the compactness of a family dwelling. Step away from the villages to gaze at riveting views of the surrounding hills and valleys, which overlook the capital Aizawl. Explore ancient caves.
Fact file: Nearest airport is Aizawl, 30 km away, but connectivity is skeletal. Well connected by road.
Where to stay: The Grand Hotel, 03892347777
Wholly Whimsical Benreu
To reach this remote village you have to pass though a ceremonial village gate, which leads down through a steep rocky path past green-roofed houses hugging hillsides along flights of rough-hewn stone steps disappearing into nothingness. Bamboo huts decorated with animal skulls, sacred community areas off-limits to outsiders and the village deity believed to arrive in a vehicle sans headlights make Benreu whimsical, mystical and even hysterical. Villagers regale the traveller with bitter-sour honey and mythical stories over a cup of rice wine around a blazing fire.
Fact file: Nearest airport is Dimapur, 110 km away. Hire taxi to reach Benreu.
Where to stay: Hotel Japfu, 03702240211
Rafting Raga Raison
Located on the bank of the Beas river with towering Himalayan peaks in the background, it is the starting point for serious white water rafting expeditions. Makeshift camps come up all along the banks for rafters as well as hard-core campers in summer.
Factfile: Nearest airport at Kullu, 25 km away. Nearest big railhead is Chandigarh, 290 km away. Arriving by road is a popular option.
Where to stay: Ramgarh Heritage Villa, +919816248514
Prehistory’s Palette Bhimbetka
In the middle of flat dry brush land burnt by constant sun, a set of rocky promontories rise dramatically into the sky in the ‘seat of Bhim’. A winding path leads to a set of caves on the top on a deserted plateau. The classified World Heritage Site contains rock shelters and art dating back to 9,000 years ago. Evocative pre-historic paintings depicting diverse aspects such as childbirth, communal dancing and drinking, hunting, and religious rites and burials provide a fascinating glimpse into prehistoric living.
Factfile: Nearest airport and railhead is Bhopal, 45 km away. Hire a taxi from Bhopal to reach Bhimbetka.
Where to stay: Courtyard Bhopal Marriott, +917553096444
Massif Majesty Soreng
The Kanchenjunga, majestic and timeless, presides over the green vistas of this little village in western Sikkim. A trek to Jhandi Danra from Soreng is a floral delight. Village visits and hiking camps available.
Fact file: Nearest airport Bagdogra, 120 km away. The mountain train ride to Darjeeling (45 km) is more scenic.
Where to stay: Rinchenpong Nest, +91 9732639539
Wet, Wet, Wet Mawsynram
Considered the wettest place on earth and drenched in rain for much of the year, people wearing boatlike bamboo hats is a common sight here. The jungles around the little town atop the East Khasi hills are home to living root bridges hundreds of years old—made by meticulously weaving together roots of rubber trees to form the architectural wonders that are organic and self-strengthening.
Fact file: Nearest airport and railhead are at Guwahati in Assam, 160 km away
Where to stay: Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort, 094361 15925
Temple Trail Chopta
The awe-inspiring view at dawn here is of 40 snow-covered Himalayan peaks, including Trishul and Nanda Devi. In the foreground are forests of deodar and pine, carpeted with rhododendrons and rare orchids. This ‘mini-Switzerland of Uttarakhand’ lies on the road between Kedrinath and Badrinath. The Tungnath temple here is one of the five and the highest Panch Kedar temples is open only June-September.
Factfile: Nearest airport is Delhi, 450 km away. Nearest bus terminal is Rudraprayag, 22 km away. Nearest railhead is Rishikesh.
Where to stay: Magpie Jungle Camp, +91 9758667755; Alpine Adventure Camp, +91-8476914402
Magical Monastery Lava
Lava seems like a slice of Europe in winters. Alpine forests of tall pine and birch reach to the blue sky. Snow covers the sloping hillsides against a backdrop of white Himalayan peaks. Just beyond the village is the Neora Valley National Park, a panorama of orchids and home to the exotic red panda, Himalayan black bear, clouded leopard and the tragopan. The sunrise view from Tiffin Dara and Ghanti Dara in the Neora Valley National Park is a favourite with visitors. Look for the Changey falls in the middle. Don’t miss the clock tower in the centre of town either.
Factfile: Nearest airport is Bagdogra, 105 km away.
Nearest railway station is New Jalpaiguri, 100 km away.
Where to stay: Yankee Resort, +913552282345;
Elgin Silver Oaks, +913552255296
The typical visitor to Angkor Wat in Siem Reap takes pictures or selfies. Beyond the temple tours in Siem Reap, a resort town in north Cambodia, lies the eternal beauty of breathtaking rural Cambodia, best explored through bike rides past the floating villages and more.
Where to Stay: Diamond D’Angkor Boutique, Road 50 (Sok San), Group 08; Sang Kat Svay Dangkom, Siem Reap; Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf and Spa Resort; Vithei Charles De Gaulle
Nearest airport: Siem Reap International Airport
This thinly-populated Japanese island has some of the best hot springs and treks. The Sapporo Snow Festival is held in February, when hundreds of huge illuminated sculptures of snow and ice attract hordes of visitors. The new bullet train will encourage tourists with the Nippon itch to make for Japan’s northernmost primary island.
Where to stay: ANA Crowne Plaza Hotel, 2-2-1 Hokuei, Chitose, Hotel Sapporo Ekimae, 2-9 Kita
2 Jo Nishi.
Nearest airport: New Chitose Airport (Sapporo)
Through the desert landscape of southwest Bolivia on the Chilean border in the Atacama desert runs a road along the Bolivian altiplano. Flamingoes mate by red and green lakes. Drive over the great glass-like glistening surface of the lake at Salar de Uyuni, the mining source of much of the world’s lithium. Hotels are made from salt slabs serve llama chops.
Where to stay: Hotel de Sal Sumaj Rijchariy, Salar de Uyuni, Colchani; Las Tholas Hotel, Avenida Ferroviaria
Nearest airport: El Alto International Airport
The Germans left this colony decades ago, but the ghost town of Kolmanskop outside Lüderitz, the Skeleton Coast, where hundreds of shipwrecks can be explored, make Namimbia unique. The Art Nouveau architecture in Namibia’s capital Windhoek offers a glimpse into an eclectic past. Safaris in the Etosha National Park or Waterberg Plateau Park are a must.
Where to stay: Protea Hotel Sea-View Zum Sperrgebiet, Woermann Street; Luderit
Luderitz Nest Hotel, 820 Diaz Street, Luderitz
Alte Loge, Mabel Street, Luderitz
Nearest airport: Hosea Kutako International Airport
Tea, cheese and wine make Azores, nine small Portuguese islands between Boston and Lisbon, a gourmet’s dreamland. Environmentalists have won here with whale watching having replaced whale hunting. Another tourist attraction is the island Faial, where the Capelinhos volcano expanded the landmass during 1957-1958 after lava erupted and cooled down.
Where to stay: Adegas do Pico, Rua Do Ramal, Prainha; Hotel Aldeia da Fonte, Caminho de Baixo
Nearest airport: Pico Island Airport