From the hippie trail in Goa and the fiery street food of Delhi, to the iconic Taj Mahal, India is awash with fascinating travel experiences. But away from the classic destinations it’s easy to escape the crowds and discover offbeat India
Many people believe these castaway islands, adrift in the Bay of Bengal, belong to Thailand or Burma so far-flung are they from the mainland. But this archipelago can in fact lay claim to having the best Indian beaches. Set a course for these pinprick islands and you’re in for days of serene pleasures on some of the most beautiful beaches you’ll ever clap your eyes on. As soon as you dig your toes into the sand you’ll realise why in-the-know travellers are trying to keep this place hush hush. Sunsets here are soul-stirring, glittering clear waters lap flour-soft sand, and a tangle of jungle and mangrove forest add nooks of dreamlike jaunting to the setting.
Discover Indian coastal culture with some added ooh la la in this southern seaside town that was under French rule until 1954… it even has its own Arc de Triomphe. Not completely off the tourist trail, the spotlight was shone on this atmospheric city after the Hollywood movie, Life of Pi, was filmed in and around its bougainvillea-strewn streets. Yet it’s still one of India’s less-explored cities, and a few days’ spontaneous wandering will reveal the golden curve of its beach, intriguing backwaters, the spiritual new age community of Auroville, and buckets of French quirks.
The forts of India don’t do understatement. And a stay at this royal retreat will really push the limits when it comes to serious decadence. A former private palace for the Holkar dynasty, it sits in a corner far beyond the regular tourist circuit in Maheshwar – where atmospheric Hindu temples pepper the landscape and pilgrims pray to shiva along the banks of the Narmada River. Book the hotel’s Royal Arjun Tent and you’ll be wooed by its free-standing tub, pillowy four-poster bed, and plunge pool. And dine under the glare of the moonlight on one of the river’s private islands to add a touch of pizzazz to your stately stay.
Many tourists flock to the green and serene state of Kerala, an infectious combination of tranquil rivers, knockout beaches, and the hills of the Western Ghats, smothered in spice and tea plantations. But it’s still easy to find lesser known corners for pockets of adventure. The south may have the upper hand when it comes to glorious glistening backwaters, where tourists spend blissed-out days on kettuvallum (rice barge) house boats. Yet escape to the state’s northern end, to the boats bobbing around the Valiyaparamba inlets near Bekal, and you’ll barely see another tourist. Spend several days cruising the backwaters, fed by the rivers of India, and you’ll wake up to dazzling sunrises, potter around sleepy villages and dine on exquisite barbecued fish and coconut curries.