Explore six of the India’s most delightful hidden treasures
With India’s monsoon season recently ending, it is the ideal time to travel to one of the most colourful, cultural, and spiritual countries of the world. Ready to go?
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Eric Finley, Insider Journey’s Indian expert, shares six of his favourite hidden gems to explore in India. After clocking up countless trips to India, since his first visit 25 years ago, Finley says although he has visited most parts of India, there is still so much to explore.
“People have no idea how much is hidden away in every part of the subcontinent. India’s history is remarkable, as is the diversity, with most regions featuring their own languages and dialects, histories, and cuisines. Despite the incredible changes in modern cities like Mumbai and Delhi, you are never far from traditions that are hundreds of years old. Then there is the fantastic food, the vibrant street life, and the remarkable wildlife,” he adds.
Always wanted to go to India? Here are his favourite hidden treasures:
1. Kaziranga National Park
Due to its relative isolation in the far north-eastern state of Assam, Kaziranga is not on many India travel itineraries. However, this region provides some of the best wildlife experiences in Asia.
The greater one-horned rhino, a native to the Indian subcontinent
It is home to a large population of Indian one-horned rhinoceroses, herds of Asian elephant and swamp deer, gaur (Indian bison), and some of the last remaining wild water buffalo in Asia. Both common and clouded leopards live in the park forests, as does a healthy tiger population. Over a hundred species of birds can easily be seen in a day, including the great hornbill and bar-headed geese visiting from their Himalayan breeding grounds.
2. Calcutta (Kolkata)
Few first-time visitors to India include Calcutta on their itineraries. Those that do are rewarded with a city which retains a style and culture unlike any other in India. Calcutta’s streets heave with vehicular and pedestrian traffic but are alive with colour and history.
While the poverty is striking to most Westerners, Kolkata is regarded as India's intellectual and cultural capital
A heritage walking tour reveals some of India’s most impressive British colonial architecture, hidden temples, synagogues, churches, and other places of worship, as well as the incredible Marble Palace. Don’t miss the Victoria Memorial and its excellent museum documenting aspects of British colonial rule in India and the city’s rich Bengali culture.
3. Rural Rajasthan
Rajasthan is so rich in iconic Indian sights and experiences, that many are missed by visitors who stick to the main cities. Experience the brilliant colours of sarees and turbans in the fields and villages, sunset lighting on an ancient hilltop fort, a goat-herder tending his flock or a holy flame lighting the faces of worshippers as bells ring out over a village temple.
Experience rural India where villages pulse with vibrant saris, turbans and even painted cow horns! (Photo: Ostill/Shutterstock.com)
Stay in one of the heritage-inspired hotels or camps – many are refurbished country homes of local royalty, finely-restored and decorated to feature rich local fabrics and furnishings. Enjoy delicious country cooking, meet and learn about local people’s lives, and gain access to regional culture through the close relationships between most country lodges and nearby villages.
4. Cochin (Kochi)
Kerala’s historic trading port is now a bustling modern city but the little peninsula of Fort Cochin retains its special, historic atmosphere like no other in India. There is so much that’s unique here; the pretty tropical streets, shaded by giant rain trees and lined with mansions, and villas bearing features of local and European architecture.
The harbour is lined with high hung fishing nets where dolphins frolic, the remnants of British, Jewish, Arab, and other trading communities, and little galleries and cafes sit alongside old street stalls.
Fort Cochin has been attracting explorers and traders to its shores for over 600 years
Walk the messy atmospheric trading streets of Mattancherry where aromas of pepper, cardamom, ginger, and chilli almost bowl you over, and into Jewtown with its beautiful 17th century synagogue and many curio shops.
5. Varanasi at dawn
There is nothing quite like the timeless experience of a Varanasi dawn. Along the riverside steps known as ghats, Hindus gather quietly to reflect, pray, bathe or just take in the other-worldly atmosphere which evokes so much spiritual history. As the sun rises, gulls scatter over the still waters, bells sound from surrounding temples, imposing rest houses, and temples above.
See the beautiful dawn colours that are truly remarkable - there's nothing else like it in the world
When the day’s activities gradually break the solitude, explore the narrow lanes winding into the chaotic old town; too narrow for cars but frequently blocked by cows, carts or a passing scooter. Stop for chai or lassi, explore a local market and see the city come to life, as it must have for centuries.
Physically and culturally, Ladakh is spectacular. Isolated in the high Himalayas, Ladakh is a high altitude desert, with snow-covered peaks dropping into cold desert valleys, where a patchwork of colour erupts along the riverbanks for the short summer when locals cultivate stone fruits, nuts, and barley, and the region opens briefly to the outside world.
Apart from its pristine mountain environment, it is the ancient Tibetan Buddhist culture which makes this place so different. This ancient form of Himalayan Buddhism survives at possibly its purest here, since Tibet came under the control of China.
Connect with your inner self at Ladakh's monastries
The dramatic ancient monasteries like Hemis and Thikse sit high on rocky peaks, commanding incredible vistas, and to hear the monastery horns being blown across silent valleys, is to truly travel into another time and world. Minimum altitudes are around 3000 meters, so take a day to acclimatise.
Do you know other places of interest in India? Let us know in the comments below!