Aru, Jammu and Kashmir
As pretty as a picture postcard sits Aru village, about 15 km by road from Pahalgam in Jammu and Kashmir. The village, surrounded by lush meadows, is the starting point for the easy to moderately difficult Kolahoi Glacier trek and several alpine lakes. Otherwise, very few travellers venture this way, and those who do tend to overstay smitten by its charm and hospitable people. In winter, when the area is snowed in, skiing, including heli-skiing, may be organised here (check for latest developments in the post-pandemic situation).
Cola Beach, Goa
One place whose photographs you do not have to photo-shop to add colour is Cola in Goa. Not far from its more popular neighbours, Palolem and Agonda, this almost secret beach is about 50km by road from Dabolim. A sandbar divides the sea from the coconut tree-lined emerald lagoon. Forested cliffs run on to the beach which is accessible, but not directly approachable, by motorable road. You may walk down from a convenient point or take the ferry service from Agonda. Accommodation is limited to a few resorts and tents (but check for latest information post pandemic). You may go kayaking in the lagoon.
Part of an eco-tourism belt developed by the Kerala Forest Development, Gavi is nearly 100 km drive from Pathanamthitta. Although the drive may be difficult in patches, the route is very scenic. The area in and around Gavi is known for its green hills and valleys (including shola forests), cascading waterfalls, tea gardens and cardamom plantations. Accompanied by a local guide, explore the forest here, which is home to a large number of bird species as well as large mammals such as the Indian elephant and Nilgiri Tahr. You have to obtain prior entry permission from the forest department and pay for entry and camera. Check if boating has restarted in the Kochupamba Lake. There are jungle camps in the vicinity of Gavi or you may stay in Pathanamthitta.
Girnar Hill, Gujarat
Said to be older than the Himalayas, the Girnar Hills of Gujarat, about 35km from Junagadh town, is a pilgrimage centre. But even if you are not spiritually inclined, you may go for the scenic hills, the architectural beauty of the temples, and hikes that will test your mettle. Also known as Revatak Parvat, it is covered with Hindu and Jain temples. Nearly 10,000 stone steps go up to the summit. The Jain temples, the oldest one (dedicated to Tirthankar Neminath) dating back to the 12th century, lie about two-thirds uphill. The Hindu temples are further up scattered on several peaks which requires hiking through undulating trails. A temple dedicated to Dattatreya perches precariously on the eponymous peak. Junagadh is your best bet for accommodation.
If you are looking for a beach holiday without noisy bathers breathing down your neck, try Harihareshwar, about 200 km away by road from Mumbai in Maharashtra. The Arabian Sea hugs the town in a sweeping semicircle. Although better known for its eponymous temple, the town is surprisingly quiet for the most part of the day. So you can spend hours by the beach. There are chances a private operator or two may offer quad bike rides. In the evening, you may hold a bonfire by the beach (but remember not to litter the place) if you are travelling with family or friends. If you are feeling a bit adventurous, catch a local ferry (check for latest operations post pandemic) to Bankot for a short trek to the old fort.
Go before travellers discover this little village, located a little over 160km from Jaipur (and around 330km from Delhi). Because Karauli is everything vintage Rajasthan stands for sans the commercialisation. Start with the City Palace (rebuilt in the 18th century) to catch the lattice work, stone carvings, frames and frescoes. Do not miss the city view from the top of the palace. Then, depending on how passionate you are about sightseeing, take a look at the havelis, temples and chhatris dotting the town. If you are looking for a royal stay, you may opt for the Bhanwar Vilas Palace. Otherwise there are budget to mid-budget hotels. The Kailadevi Sanctuary (part of the buffer zone of Ranthambore National Park) is about 5km from Karauli.
Katerniaghat Sanctuary, Uttar Pradesh
A little over 200km by road from Lucknow is this little known wildlife sanctuary of Uttar Pradesh. Now under the jurisdiction of the Dudhwa Tiger Reserve, the 550 square km sanctuary lies near the India-Nepal border. It is not very difficult to catch a sight of the deer and antelopes on a drive through the dense forest. The Girwa River here is home to the gharial and mugger crocodiles and Gangetic dolphins. In winter, the river attracts a large number of migratory birds. Accommodation is available in forest rest houses.
A lake-side hideout, Naukuchiatal is about 21 km by road from its more popular neighbour Nainital, in Uttarakhand. Perched at 1,220 meter above sea level, the nine-cornered lake is fed by an underground perennial stream. You can go boating in the lake. While the surrounding hills offer tranquil walks and bird watching opportunities, you may also try your hand at angling. Or you could drop in at the temple dedicated to Brahma if you want a spiritual run. Apart from the Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (KMVN) tourist lodge, there are several home stays in and around Naukuchiatal.
Prashar Lake, Himachal Pradesh
Lying about 50km by road from Mandi in Himachal Pradesh, Prashar Lake (also Parashar Lake) is an ideal destination if you love camping among the mountains. The undulating meadows around the lake are surrounded by dense forests and overlooked by the snow peaks of the Dhauladhar range. Perched at a height of 2,730 meter, and named after the eponymous sage, the lake has a floating island in the middle. A pagoda-shaped temple dedicated to the sage stands next to the lake. You may either stay in Mandi or in camping facilities around the lake.
Tinchuley, West Bengal
Nothing will prepare you for the scenic punch that this tiny hamlet packs in, with snow peaks on one side and river valleys on the other, and surrounded by tea gardens and fruit orchards. About 2km away from Darjeeling in West Bengal, the place takes its name from the three (‘tin’) hill tops that look like ovens (‘chulha’). A trek to Gumba Dara is in order if you are looking for some exercise. If you are on a long holiday, you may divide your time between Takdah, Tinchuley and Lamahatta. There are many quaint guest houses in the area.
Tranquebar Tamil Nadu
Go back in time at Tranquebar or Tharangambadi, less than 300km by road from Chennai in Tamil Nadu. It is said that it was on this strip on the Coromandel coast that the Danes landed for the first time in India, in the 17th century. The town still retains glimpses of the past. The key attraction is the Fort Dansborg by the beach. Other attractions include the Danish Governor’s House, the Zion Church, etc. The Danes handed over the place to the British in 1845.
If you are looking for a jaw-dropping experience, Unakoti in Tripura will not disappoint you. About 160km by road from Agartala, the green hills of Unakoti are covered in rock cut sculptures, said to be dating between seventh and ninth centuries. The most famous carving is a 30 feet high central Shiva head, an awesome work of art. The intricately carved 10-feet high headdress is flanked by Durga riding a lion and Ganga sitting on the mythical ‘makara’. Other sculptures include a gigantic Ganesha and other divine beings such as Hanuman and Nandi. You may stay at the tourist lodge in Kailashahar, eight km away by road.