9 Reasons Why You Should Make India your 2021 Destination

9 Reasons Why You Should Make India your 2021 Destination
A stopover near Pangong Tso, Ladakh,

It has huge diversity in landscapes, culture and food... and the second-largest road network in the world. Here's why India is the destination du jour for next year

Prannay Pathak
January 01 , 2021
15 Min Read

The year-that-shouldn’t-be-named is coming to an end and as the pandemic constantly waxes and wanes, some guilty corner of everybody’s mind is already deep in thought about travel in 2021. ‘When’s my first trip going to be?’ ‘How often will I be able to travel next year?’ ‘Will the mountains be safe because everyone’s headed there?’ ‘Will I finally get to see lions in Kruger... or, will I even travel abroad?’ So, what even if you can’t? In fact, the coming year is the perfect time to explore the lesser-known corners of the homeland. Over 7,500km of coast, 36 states and union territories, multiple mountain ranges and countless ensuing valleys, a forest cover stretching over 7,12,249 sq km (over a fifth of the country’s total land area)—a lot lies at your disposal really even if you can’t mingle with the crowds easily and have to keep feeling for the hand-sanitiser constantly.

 
 
 
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The pandemic has reset the clock. There’s a month to go before 2021 and here are nine reasons why India is the destination du jour.

Travel for Good Food
Sick of family WhatsApp forwards about immunity-boosting decoctions but also low-key intrigued? Let travel help you escape and also feed your curiosity. India, the land of Ayurveda, is a hotbed of healthful organic food, and every step of the way you will find local recipes for combating flu and bolstering vitality. It will be worth savouring the steaming goodness of thenthuk in a Ladakhi eatery over the faux ambience of a city restaurant (check out our four-part series on immunity-boosting recipes from Kolkata’s restaurants here).

 
 
 
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From fiery Chettinad specialties, rhododendron juice and hill specialties made from nutritious wild produce of the Himalayas, coffee in the Malnad region, and authentic Kashmiri kahwa, yakhni shorba and kadam saag in India’s northernmost state, to an unparalleled traditional food experience in the interior of Jharkhand and GI-tagged foods worth travelling to the length and breadth of the country for, 2021 will be the time to experience it all.

Walk those Vast Open Spaces
Among the many things India is known for is its population—its cramped streets, crowded markets, stuffed public transport and clearly overutilised public convenience facilities form an enduring cultural tapestry. But India makes for a great option for ample social distancing in open spaces, too. No matter where you live—there’s always a trek, or a walk with a gradient to be done in the great outdoors.

 
 
 
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Be it the great heights and lush vales of the Himalayan states, the uncharted havens of the northeastern states punctuated by raging rivers, the thick forest cover as one moves southward and the sublime emptiness of Ladakh—there is plenty of space for socially distanced travel here. And if you’d love to go glamping, there is no dearth of scenic landscapes, be it Wayanad, Kohima or Sangla.

Take Endless Road Trips
Haven’t #roadtrip and #solotravel been the travel buzzwords of this year after the pandemic intensified and left air and train travel looking ridiculous? After the torment of 2020 chopping up all our plans into little pieces right in front of our eyes, we guess it will be perfect to spoil ourselves a bit. India was declared as having the world’s second-largest road network recently and developments such as the Atal Tunnel and extensive road-building in the past two decades (add a projected 60,000km of highways by 2024 to that) are fast turning the Indian road network into a formidable one.

Magnetic Hill at Leh, where road trippers and long-distance bikers feel gravity-defying thrill
But leave the numbers aside—India’s sheer size makes it conducive for road trips of all sizes, be it day-long family excursions and slightly longer drives with your gang to epic odysseys spanning multiple states and topographies. From the impossibly gorgeous NH 1D that connects Srinagar with Leh, the 85-km-long Munnar-Udumalpet Road, the holy-grail Manali-Leh and Guwahati-Tawang routes to the Trans-Arunachal Highway, the surreal journey from Ahmedabad to Kutch and more—you’ll be listening to nothing but John Denver.

Read: How to Stay Safe During a Road Trip During the Pandemic

Engage with Local Communities or Be a ‘Voluntourist’
Several trends have been tipped to take over travel in the wake of the pandemic and community tourism has emerged as one of the avenues that can help deal with economic downturn resulting from future lockdowns. An Airbnb report that came out earlier this year predicted that regenerative travel practised in participation with local communities will rise in 2021. Sustainable travel companies such as Help Tourism and NotOnMap not only organise immersive experiences that allow travellers to interact better with the local community but are also training the latter to adapt to the demands of the pandemic better.

 
 
 
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Voluntourism had existed since before the pandemic but it is expected to steadily find takers among the Indian traveller base, with growing opportunities in teaching, farm work, animal rescue, and cleanliness drives and plogging. With plenty of avenues for sustainable and rural tourism coming together with the collaboration of local people, responsible travel is surely going to be what we call the new normal.

Do More with your Money
Cost is going to be a major factor in the sustainability of regular travel after COVID-19. Travelling within one’s own country would mean lower costs and is the sensible thing to do considering the present circumstances. Instead of splurging on flight ticket and accommodation costs abroad, why not take an extended break at a boutique homestay in the hills or experience the royal life at a heritage property? Need ideas on how to get more value out of what you spend on travel? Read our post-lockdown bucket list for Delhiites—the idea is to immersive yourself in rewarding experiences.

Read: 5 Familiar Sights in India That Are Part of Unesco World Heritage List

Chug Along like a Royal
North by Northwest, Murder on the Orient Express, The Darjeeling Limited, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone—at some level, don’t we all re-watch these films over and over for the simple reason that they all feature epic rail journeys? The opulence of India’s luxury trains that take you through the country’s sweeping panoramas, can make you forget all that. And ever since the Maharajas’ Express and the Golden Chariot slashed their tariffs, we are sure one can start believing in the dream of riding a luxury train again.

An attendant in the luxurious Deccan Odyssey
The Palace on Wheels, India’s premier luxury train, runs from September through April, taking one from the colourful cities of Delhi, Jaipur, Sawai Madhopur, Chittorgarh, Udaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Bharatpur, and Agra, covering 2,400km in the process. The Golden Chariot, which covers Karnataka and allows you to choose from among different packages, will resume operation in February 2021. Deccan Odyssey—five-time winner of Asia’s Leading Luxury Train title at the World Travel Awards—offers a wide range of itineraries.

Heed the Call of the Wild
There’s no chance you can see such a large variety of birdlife and wildlife—from wild cats, rhinoceroses, elephants, and river dolphins—anywhere closer. If Husing Valley in Hemis National Park is where the elusive snow leopard thrives, Rajiv Gandhi National Park is one of the top places in the world to spot leopards. Birders get lost—literally and otherwise—in Rajasthan’s Keoladeo Ghana National Park, which is a premier migratory home for birds from northern and central Asia. Pangolins and Malayan giant squirrels share the thick forest of the Neora Valley National Park with clouded leopards, barking deer, red pandas and Himalayan tahr. The list is long, with 553 wildlife sanctuaries, 103 national parks and 50 tiger reserves in the country. While you’re at it, do read our quick guide to spotting the rarest of the rare in India.

For Heritage Homestays, Caravans, and Treehouses
Isn’t it amazing that you can isolate while on a vacation, living in a treehouse? Perched high on treetops, they not only allow you incredible views of the immediate wilderness and vistas far away but also add a bit of thrill to your stay. And those who’ve always dreamed of caravanning like Shah Rukh Khan in Swades can now actually journey through wild Karnataka in a fully equipped, state-of-the-art campervan, or undertake adrenaline-pumping adventure in the treacherous terrain of the Northeast, driving top-of-the-line off-roaders, pick-up trucks and UTE trucks—all fully outfitted for camping.

 
 
 
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With homestays having become a preference over hotels in the immediate post-pandemic future, it is also worth savouring the sense of privilege that comes with staying at a heritage home. For instance, you could stay at Odisha's majestic Belgadia Palace, the once-residence of the Mayurbhanj royal family, or spend a week or two at a pristine heritage retreat in Ladakh. 2021 is also the time to tick off the houseboat stay off your list as you travel not only to Kashmir and Kerala but also Goa, where houseboat cruises on the Mandovi and Chapora rivers are a rage, and Assam.

Read: 10 Heritage Homes to Book Right Now

Lose the Pandemic Blues
While India has always been known as a major wellness destination, the demand for yoga-centric retreats, therapy and holistic treatment in the year following a pandemic is expected to go up. A Global Wellness Institute report has predicted a 7.5-percent annual growth rate for the industry. Prepare to regain the health (mental and physical) lost during the pandemic months with special wellness retreats in the Western Ghats, naturopathy sessions in the lap of Himalayas, Ayurveda treatment in the backwaters of Kerala and sampling the goodness of wholesome mountain produce in Himachal. Uttarakhand, Kerala and Karnataka are some of the most-visited wellness destinations in India but states like Goa are fast catching up with their own austere and luxurious offerings—and we couldn’t be gladder.


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