36 Reasons Why you Need to Explore India this Year

36 Reasons Why you Need to Explore India this Year
A sand sculpture in Puri, Odisha, Photo Credit: Getty Images

The OT Team gives you one reason why you must visit every state and union territory in India. So, have you packed your bags yet?

OT Staff
January 01 , 2021
24 Min Read

We don't call India a land of diversity for nothing. The diversity in India is unique and believe us when we say you have yet to see it all. You are nowhere near it, you haven't even scratched the surfce. Don't believe us? See for yourself. To help you understand what's in store for you this year, we have curated all of 36 great reasons why you should consider exploring India in 2021.

Chhatisgarh for #Waterfalls
Chitrakote Falls in ChhattisgarhNaxal notoriety often blots out any other conversation on the state, but as they say, sweet are the fruits of adversity. Or in this case, the waters of Chhattisgarh’s torrential cascades. Waterfalls of all shapes and sizes dot this fertile state, powered by perennial flows of the Mahanadi, Godavari, and Indravati. Bastar is home to Chitrakote, India’s widest waterfall, as well as the multi-tiered Tirathgarh Falls. Geography enthusiasts will enjoy the volcanic, fold and fault-based hills that provide the humble foundation for these bubbly torrents. The artistically inclined can photograph the misty rainbows hovering above the plunge pools. Fishing and boating are obvious options here but you might want to try going to the ancient temples and tribal villages that skirt these waters instead.

Haryana for #IndusValley
Rakhigarhi, a pre-Indus Valley site in HaryanaHaryana’s wrestled away a sizeable chunk of Pakistan’s archaeological fanfare, with its enviable collection of Indus Valley sites. Step back into antiquity with visits to the ancient settlements of Sisai, Kunal, Binawali and Siswal. Of particular interest are the villages of Rakhigarhi and Bhirrana—their 9,000-year-old ruins, peppered with granaries, seals and terracotta figurines, pre-date Harappa. A fragment discovered at Bhirrana even bears remarkable artistic similarities to the legendary Dancing Girl, suggesting the craftsman had first-hand knowledge of the figurine.

Himachal Pradesh for #Buddhism
A Tibetan Buddhist monastery in SpitiMental peace may be evanescent, but it doesn’t hurt to renew it with a dash of Buddhist spirituality. Himachal’s Tibetan populace brings with it the gift of zen, in the form of striking monasteries that dot the state. The over 1,000-year old Lhalung monastery in Spiti is one of the oldest in the region; if you’re someone who enjoys the calming presence of monks, join the prayers alongside the 150-odd lamas at Dhankar gompa. The Bir Monastery in Mandi is a favourite for artists, courtesy of the ornate Tibetan paintings and sculptures that deck its walls. City dwellers can eventually reach an inevitable plateau of quiet solitude here, after which one can shake things up with paragliding at Bir Billing next door.

| Check out what Delhi has to offer |

Uttar Pradesh for #Varanasi
The crowded ghats of VaranasiVaranasi is a place of contradictions, where one can find equal parts of spirituality and chaos. One of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, it is a land of temples, of gods and most recently, of music. Your tryst with the city should start with the Ganga arti at Dashashwamedh Ghat. The ghat come to life with the processions here, a vibrancy that can be experienced from land or from a boat. Among the many temples, visit Kashi Vishwanath and Sankat Mochan in the city. A little way off is Somnath, where Gautam Buddha first preached to his followers. Varanasi is also home to musical legends like Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Bismillah Khan. There are plenty of classical music concerts here to keep the traditions alive.

Uttarakhand for #Yoga
A woman on the banks of the GangaA reprieve for our overworked senses, the verdant hills of Uttarakhand, its gentle slopes and valleys foster the culture of yoga as its own. Beyond the beauty of the hills and the adventure found within them, yoga centres have sprouted all across the state, on top of lonesome hills or next to the Ganga. These centres gain students from all over the world, with many spending months practicing the art. A way to step away from the material world and detox, people find peace and learn to lead a healthier life. While most ashrams provide accommodation and food, some even offer courses on training as a yoga teacher. From humble homestays that offer an unpretentious atmosphere to experiencing tranquility in luxury, your learning can be tailored according to your needs and budget.

Punjab for #Lassi
A glass of frothy lassi in AmritsarThe sweltering waves of summer heat call for constant refreshment. A delectable concoction of curd, water, flavouring and sugar, the traditional Punjabi lassi in Amritsar is an unbeatable choice. Visit any roadside vendor in the food capital of the state to get an authentic taste of the beverage in a classic kulhad or the more popular mega stainless steel glasses. Try multiple tempting flavours: kesari, mango and chati are the crowd favourites. A garnish of nuts, malai or even a dollop of fresh makkhan are often recommended for additional flavour on the drink.

Arunachal Pradesh for #UntouchedForests
Namdapha National Park in Arunachal PradeshWith 80 per cent of the state covered in foliage, Arunachal Pradesh is ranked second when it comes to ‘area under forest cover’. Two of its most beautiful forests are the Namdapha and Dirang. With an area of 1,985 sq km, Namdapha National Park is the largest protected area in India. Nestled in the Dapha Bum range of the Mishmi Hills and the Patkai range, the park is home to 425 species of avi-faunas, clouded leopards, tigers and red pandas. There have been rare sightings of snow leopards too. At 1,497 metres above sea level, Dirang is between Bomdila and Tawang. Due to its lower elevation, the valley enjoys pleasant weather and views of the snow-capped mountains. A bath in the hot spring waterfalls is a must, no matter when you visit.

| We like Nagaland for #Adventure |

Assam for #Majuli
Majuli island in AssamLying in the heart of Assamese civilisation, the river island Majuli is modern-day Mesopotamia—a land between rivers and a sociological goldmine. Majuli is the locus of Assam’s neo-Vaishnavite culture. Here, 22 hermitages (satras) preserve traditions like mask-making, weaponry, and antiquities from the Ahom dynasty, their relative isolation a boon against cultural dilution. Harappan-style pottery, luxurious Muga silk and sweet pitha are the more accessible gifts that you can take home. You can also join the Mising tribe in their harvest jamboree of ali aye ligang (with a mug or four of rice beer), or the three-day long raas festival that honours Krishna. Though sociologically irreplaceable, Majuli’s chances of survival are grim. The Brahmaputra slowly eats away its borders, and this may be your last comfortable chance to see the world’s largest river island.

Manipur for #Sports
Thang Ta, an indigenous martial art form in ManipurThis state has given the country some of its finest sports people—from Mary Kom to Ngangbam Soniya Chanu. The state’s affinity with sports is unparalleled. Did you know that a version of the modern-day polo originated in Manipur? Sagol Kangjei, as it is traditionally called, has seven players on each side, mounted on ponies, with sticks made of cane and balls made of bamboo roots. From the warriors of this erstwhile kingdom, came Thang Ta and Sarit Sarak, a form of skillful martial arts. The state is also known for hockey (Khong Kangjei), rugby (Yubi Lakpi) and wrestling (Mukna). These indigenous games are extremely popular amongst the youth, with several sports centres and festivals being set up to encourage them.

Meghalaya for #Music
A guitarist next to a vendor in ShillongIn the hills of Meghalaya, music plays a keen note for anyone willing to listen. The debut of NH7 Weekender Shillong and the Bollywood film Rock On 2 brought much of this to the limelight, exposing the state’s interest in a wide variety of music—rock, punk, metal, funk and jazz to name a few. For fans of metal music, there are bands like Prisoners of Chaos and Nemesis, whereas bands like Skylevel play instrumental math rock. In a flawless mix of skill and technology, the music here is experimentative, political and most importantly, fun. The younger generations are quick to pick these skills up, reviving the state’s history with music and hosting several music festivals with international line-ups. Apart from private concerts and the NH7 Weekender, the Shillong Autumn Festival is also widely popular.

Mizoram for #WildOrchids
Orchids from MizoramAtop grand mountains of Mizoram immersed perpetually in a sober sky, the sprinkle of wild orchids brings pops of vibrancy. In varying shades of pink, purple, red and orange, these flowers bring together a postcard-like scenery on the trails of the mountains. Trek up to Phawngpui or Hmuifang to capture their beauty yourself. In fact, the perpetual blue hue on Phawngpui with a contrast of the vivid orchids makes for an enviable snapshot. We suggest you prolong the visit staying in overnight camps. Unfortunately, on accordof their rare nature and striking appearance, theft of the orchids is quite common. Please do not pick out any flowers. We guarantee they look more desirable alive.

Sikkim for #Birding
A blood pheasant in SikkimSikkim is a haven for those who wish a front-row view of exotic biodiversity. The state’s varied altitudinal zones provide for astonishingly contrasting climates and you can drive from tropical weather to perennial snow within a measly hour. This makes Sikkim the ideal habitat for a magnanimous palette of 550 species of avifauna. Fetch a ride to Pemayangtse monastery or trek upto Dzongri and sight some of these peculiar birds, including the maroon-backed accentor, red-faced liocichla, blood pheasant and Himalayan monal.

| We hear #Wildlife is to die for in Madhya Pradesh |

Tripura for #IndigenousInstruments
Saranda, a musical instrument from TripuraBamboo, leather, wood or horn—the many textures of Tripura’s native instruments have birthed a unique soundscape for this hilly state. Try your hand at samui, an eight-holed flute carved according to the grasping style of its players, or the unusual combination of bamboo clappers in the lebang-lebangti. And not to forget the dangdoo, an Indian cousin of the Jewish mouth harp. The wind-cum-percussion instrument is a recognisable marker of Tripuri ingenuity. Players pluck the wire held between the idiophone’s tong-like arms to make music, with controlled breathing that colours plunk and pitch. Those with a touch of arthritis may want to leave out the kham; this double-membraned instrument hangs from your neck, is tied to the waist, and is played on the ground.

West Bengal for #MarblePalace
The Marble Palace in KolkataIf you’ve not seen the Marble Palace in Kolkata, you’ve not seen Kolkata in its true glory. Situated on Muktaram Babu Street in the city’s north, it’s one of the most palatial of the 19th-century mansions and definitely the best preserved. Over 35 kinds of marble are said to have been used in its construction, which was completed in 1835 for Raja Rajendra Mullick, a wealthy Bengali merchant with a passion for collecting art. As decreed in his will, his descendants have maintained the palace as a museum which all are welcome to view, besides using the property for charitable purposes as well as the most sublime musical soirées. The rooms are bursting with sculptural wonders brought from Europe, and the walls are said to display art by artists like Rubens and Reynolds. It’s a time capsule worth getting lost in.

Bihar for #Handicrafts
A traditional Madhubani painting from BiharOverachievers aren’t the only endless stream to come out of Bihar—the state hosts a veritable mountain of handicrafts. While Madhubani paintings and tussore silk are the most common souvenirs, we’d be remiss to forget the artistry in sujuni embroidery, or the vividly coloured Khatwa appliqué style. And once you dive into the state’s expressive art, the possibilities are endless. Those with nimble fingers can try their hand at fashioning delicate Papier-mâché toys or weaving figurines out of sikki grass. Inclined towards a sturdier haul? Pick up tribal jewellery, or elegant terracotta jars. Bihar’s artisans also have a penchant for stone carvings—see the Ashokan pillar at Sarnath, or the exquisite sculptures of the Mauryan empire. Try a jaunt to the village of Patharkatti in Gaya:i t’s the centre of it all, producing everything from pestles to Buddhist iconography. Fancy commissioning your next couch?

| Anyone up for Goa? Because it's super cool during the #Rains |

Jharkhand for #Sarnaism
Tribal men from Jharkhand dance in celebrationSarnaism is one of the largest faiths you’ve never heard of. Based in animist philosophy, the religion is rooted around the worship of trees. If you want to retire the usual tourist trail for a more incisive look into India, we suggest a trip during the Sarna festival of Karam. It’s a monsoon celebration dedicated to power and youthfulness. Observed between August and September, the festival sees villagers sing, feast, and share legends—try and spot the yellow forest blooms tucked behind their ears. Alternatively, you could enjoy the colours of spring with a stay during Sarhul. One of Jharkhand’s most prominent fêtes, it’s celebrated with vibrant dances, tribal cuisine, and intricate headgear. Enjoy the intense flavours of fish sukha (dried), or grab a handful of the foraged bhardo, bihidien and rugda mushrooms that appear at this time.

Odisha for #SandArt
The oceanic radiance of Odisha would be a sight for wonderment if it was not humbled by the display of grandiose sand artwork on the coast. Visit the shores of Puri to witness the awe-inducing work of the professionals all year round. Sophisticated sculptures carved into a compound of fine grains of sand and water, these works of art play the stage to project views on political, social and most of all, environmental issues. You might even encounter the artistry of Padma Shri awardee Sudarsan Pattnaik, the man who propelled the state’s art to international platforms. We suggest a trip during December to observe experts across the world competing at the International Sand Art Festival in Konark.

Gujarat for #Architecture
A nun inside a Jain temple in GujaratRun your palms across the ornate sculptures, carvings and fortifications that define Gujarat’s eclectic architectural persona. A refined mix of Jain, Hindu and Muslim styles, travellers can enjoy the state’s iconic stepwell creations at Rani ki Vav, or beside the Sun Temple at Modhera. Catch the spiral silhouettes of Mahabat Maqbara at a sunset in Junagadh, or climb (read: heave) the 3,500 steps to reach the main temple of the Jain Palitana complex. The temple cluster, one of the largest in the world, is a principal pilgrimage spot for the Jain community. If pressed for time, make a beeline for the Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park—a Unesco World Heritage Site, it features palaces, mosques, tombs, archways, chalcolithic sites and much more.

Rajasthan for #DesertSafari
The sun sets in the Thar desert, RajasthanBeyond the vivid cities of Rajasthan lie endless scores of sand engulfed in smoldering heat. Unbeknownst to most, these deserts have a lot more to offer than just challenging weather. Mounted on a camel, you can trod over the sand dunes on a safari, starting from Jodhpur, Jaisalmer or Pushkar. Upon travel, tiny inhabited villages unveil themselves frequently. Engage with the locals here and spend some time emerged in traditional folk tales. Temperatures drop remarkably low at night, so night safari tours allow for accommodation in luxurious or simple tents, according to your budget. The nights usually end with music, dance and other cultural festivities.

Maharashtra for #CoastalDrive
Kondura beach in Sindhudurg, MaharashtraEpic in every sense of the word, the coastal roads of Maharashtra make for an unforgettable trip. With the vehicle of your choice, map out SH4 starting from Alibaug and all the way south until you enter Goa. The quaint ghats and beaches, expansive bridges and ferry rides, offer many photo-ops and pit stops. The route is dotted with small villages, where you can explore local cuisine and culture. Monsoon would make for a picturesque drive, but if you happen to travel during summer, stop at Ratnagiri for alphonso mangoes. A little ahead is Dapoli, in the same district, which is dubbed as ‘mini Mahabaleshwar’. Stop at Guhagar and Tiracol, for the best virgin beaches.

Andhra Pradesh for #Pilgrimage
The grand shivaling in Lepakshi, Andhra PradeshWith over 3,000 temples across the state, Andhra Pradesh is one of the most sought after religious destinations in the country. Topping the list of the holiest of temples is Venkateswara Swamy or Tirupati. Built on the banks of river Krishna, the Srisailam Mallikarjuna Swamy Temple is dedicated to Shiva and is home to one of the 12 Jyotirlinga shrines of Shiva in India. Built during the Chalukyan reign in 625 CE, the Bhadrakali temple in Warangal is one of the oldest in the country. The idol is 2.7 metres tall and has eight hands, each carrying a weapon, with an alluring crown sitting on his head. The 16th-century Veerabhadra temple in Lepakshi is an architectural wonder. Be it the 15-feet tall Nandi or the hanging pillar or the 12-foot hooded serpent Naga, the temple is enriched with both cultural and engineering marvels. The 125-feet tall Dhyana Buddha statue is a testimony to the proud Buddhist culture of Amaravati. Protected by the ASI, it also holds a museum in the complex.

Telangana for #PeriniSivatandavam
Perini sivatandavam from TelanganaTrip, twirl and prostrate? More like sway, glare and intimidate. The Perini Sivatandavam is a spirited pre-war dance that’s been brought back from India’s Middle Kingdoms; vigorous yet elegant, the act had barely survived the fall of the Kakatiya kings, until classical guru Nataraja Ramakrishna revived it 700 years later. While the temple dance isn’t limited to any gender, it’s recognisable for the hyper-masculine energy that courses through its performers. To the untrained eye, Perini resembles the haka, made iconic by the Maoris of New Zealand. But on closer inspection, the tandavam seemingly shifts between two forms of Shiva. Dancers straddle the poise of Nataraja, the Cosmic Dancer, until finally invoking the violent energy of Rudra, the Terrible. Mridangams provide chaotic company.

Karnataka for #Theatre
Yakshagana theatre from KarnatakaFiery and flamboyant, Karnataka wields some of India’s most arresting theatre traditions. Folk forms like Yakshagana aren’t just famous for their extravagant costumes and unique flow, but also for churning the literary imagination of giants like the late Girish Karnad. This rangbhoomi effortlessly toes the line between the contemporary and the historic; push aside banana leaves for a view of small-scale but authentic nataka productions in villages, or take a seat in city auditoriums for a taste of modern Kannadiga snark. Harikathe, where women showcase invigorating performances, is an act you cannot miss. Those who weren’t coerced into mythology as children, and desire more power in verbal retellings, could take a leaf out of this tradition’s book.

Tamil Nadu for #ThanjavurArt
A Thanjavur painting at Brihadishwara Temple, Tamil NaduA state deep-rooted in its rich cultural history, Tamil Nadu is home to an expansive, ever-growing art industry. Scout for Thanjavur paintings or Palaghai Padam, an ornate artwork created on a bed of cloth combined with wood. Going back to the 16th century, these paintings depict Hindu gods and saints amid a plush background of curtains. For a more traditional souvenir, search for artworks with well-rounded bodies and almond eyes. Texture and dimensions are enhanced by embellishing the sketch using semi-precious stones, delicate gold leaves and pieces of glass.

Kerala for #BackwaterCruises
A houseboat in KeralaWe wouldn’t be surprised if ‘idyllic’ were the reigning sentiment here. Kerala’s network of lakes and lagoons is the kind of wisened solution to land pressure that India needs. This brackish labyrinth is home to a rich tropical ecosystem of crabs, frogs and turtles. Hop aboard one of the many colourful houseboats (kettuvallams) that cruise these waters, and enjoy verdure vistas amid bites of authentic Malayali cuisine. Indulgent Ayurvedic treatments are also on offer. Keep a telephoto lens at arm’s length—an array of avifauna visit the paddy fields and vegetation that flanks these lagoons, and you might end up with an award-winning shot.

| Try Ladakh for it's flowery treasure trove |

Chandigarh for #UrbanLandscape
The Rock Garden in ChandigarhTo breathe life into a city, was Le Corbusier wish for India’s first planned city. A city of space, light and ample greenery, it is known for its meticulous urban landscape. Driving through the city, one can easily spot the separate spaces assigned for work, living and relaxing. Chandigarh acts as a living organism, that can grow and flourish from the time of its inception. The pleasant weather and lavish living attract many to visit, if not relocate. The Garden of Silence and Rock Garden serve as one of the many quaint reprives, and Sukhna Lake may be an artificial lake but is an oasis nonetheless. Today, this urban utopia is a sprawling town that serves as a success model for architecture enthusiasts and aficionados.

Daman and Diu for #NaidaCaves
Naida Caves in DiuSharing space with the glorious Diu Fort, Naida Caves are worth stumbling upon. The origin of the caves are a bit of a mystery, some believing it to be a natural wonder, while others consider it a man-made structure. The latter suggests that these caves were carved out by the Portuguese who used the rubble and sand to build the adjoining Diu Fort. The labyrinth of tunnels inside the caves are yet to be fully explored, but signs and steps have been placed inside for tourists looking to wander about. The tunnels open to caves of different sizes, some with holes in the roof that lets sunlight filter in. The caves demand a visit by photographers and adventurers alike.

Puducherry for #FrenchQuarters
A French-era church in PuducherryThe beaches may be alluring, but tear your eyes away from the pristine waters to find a treasure amid the cobbled-streets of this Union Territory. The Quarters (including White town and Tamil town) are best explored on foot, as you start from Goubert Avenue, a seafront promenade. From here, pass the lighthouse (1839) and head to the museum inside the French Colony. While the museum is most notable for its collection of bronze Chola statues, there are dated coins from different countries, colonial furniture, and archaeological samples collected from nearby forts. After the museum, one can explore the many French-themed cafés or Bharathi Park opposite the neoclassical Raj Nivas, and also the Gandhi Memorial near the seafront.

Andaman and Nicobar islands for #WaterSports
A school of glassfish in the Andaman SeaIt would be a true abomination to not try your hand at the varied watersports offered in the Andaman and Nicobar islands. The clear deep seas may hold many mainstream activities like a banana boat ride but, for true water babies, snorkelling in Port Blair and Havelock Island is a different experience altogether. If swimming is a skill you don’t possess, you can try sea walking as an alternative at either place. Try scuba diving or book a glass-bottom boat for dolphin watching; semi-submarines can be picked for a coral safari (a fun family activity). For those looking for a more slow-paced venture, kayaking and fishing are options.

Lakshadweep Islands for #Honeymoons
A romantic table for two in LakshadweepIf there were better ways to celebrate a new phase in your life, we’d tell you. But the powdery-white beaches of Lakshadweep afford the bubble of privacy most ideal for honeymooners. Surrounded by coral-rich lagoons, this archipelago is a cluster of boat-shaped islets, brimming with gorgeous views that soothes most senses. Winters are an ideal time to visit, when the clear skies and azure waters become the perfect backdrop for a romantic getaway. There is much to do here and couples can islet-hop for adventure, food and serene moments. Agatti, the gateway to the islands, is known for snorkelling. The corals near Banagram and Kadmat are a sight to behold. Kalpeni is a haven for seafood and its colonial architecture and, Kavaratti island is a must-visit for its dense coconut mangroves.

Dadra and Nagar Haveli for #Waterbodies
Dudhni Lake in Dadra and Nagar HaveliSandwiched between Gujarat and Maharashtra, Dadra and Nagar Haveli have dense jungles, mountains, rivers and valleys. Near Silvassa, Vanganga Lake Garden is unique. It has a beautiful lake with an island in the centre that connects to the garden by a bridge. Lined with trees, the spectacular fauna and flora is punctured by fountains and scenic lighting. Dudhni Lake, a reservoir of the Madhuban Dam, hosts plenty water activities like kayaking, water scooters, canoes and jet skies. The Madhuban Dam, is in itself quite spectacular and is an extremely popular camping site.

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