My favorite off the beaten track destinations in India

Updated in 2020: A list of my favorite off the beaten track” places and experiences in India, chosen after more than a year of travel around the country. Check out these places if you truly want to dive deep and go off the beaten track in India.

 

Fact: India is massive.

Though some people make it seem as if India is a country that can be “done” in a matter of weeks, the truth is that exploring India would take lifetimes. After more than a year—and hopefully more to come one day—I’ve only covered a tiny fraction of this majestic country.

With so much to see and do, it’s hard to decide where to travel in India! Although many people stick to the tried and tested destinations—think the Golden Triangle, Goa, and the Hummus Trail—there’s so much more to see in India beyond textbook tourist sights.

More importantly, India becomes much more rewarding (and much less filled with scam artists) when you leave the well-beaten path and immerse yourself in the myriad experiences it offers.

Below are a few of my favorite destinations to go off the beaten track in India, to help you travel beyond the hordes of sketchy tour touts, selfie squads, and stoned foreign hippies.

After almost one year of travel in India, there are some destinations we just can't get out of our minds! These are some of our favorite off the beaten track destinations in India, from South India to Northeast India, including a map of destinations for your trip planning!

Index

10+ epic destinations off the beaten track in India

Kannur, Kerala (South India)

Fire kutti theyyam ritual in Kannur, Kerala

Theyyam in Kannur: an otherworldy experience!

This dusty market town in northern Kerala does nothing to impress. But in the villages surrounding Kannur, an ancient ritual takes place for several months a year: Theyyam.

Theyyam is one of the most impressive rituals I’ve seen in India. Said to predate Hinduism, chosen men channel ancient deities through dress and dance. Once a dancer’s (elaborate) full makeup and costume is complete, he loses consciousness, and becomes one with the god.

It’s an otherworldly ritual—one you definitely don’t want to miss.

Read more: Theyyam, a dance of gods

A night of fiery Theyyam dance in Kannur, Kerala is one of many top off the beaten track sights in India.

Bijapur and Bidar, Karnataka (South India)

Best destinations off the beaten track in India - Ibrahim Rauza mausoleum through an archway in Bijapur, Karnataka - Lost With Purpose travel blog

The Ibrahim Rauza mosque and mausoleum in Bijapur.

Most travelers bus it to Hampi or the Konkan coast, giving very little thought to the rest of Karnataka. But in the northeast corner of the state are two cities that history fiends are sure to drool over: Bijapur and Bidar.

Large onion domes dot their skylines, Islamic history comes alive in the multitudes of madrasas, mosques, and shrines tucked away throughout both cities. Neither are particularly popular with foreign tourists, and locals are happy to have a chat or a cup of chai. By far some of my favorite places in Karnataka.

Read more: 7 off the beaten track destinations in Karnataka

Exploring crumbling arches in Bijapur, an epic off the beaten track destination in Karnataka state, India.

Kalna, West Bengal (East India)

108 Shiva temple in Kalna, West Bengal, India

The stunning 108 Shiv Mandir in Kalna is made up of two concentric circles of 108 tiny temples. How cool is that?

There’s a million reasons to love West Bengal—I’m admittedly a bit biased as Kolkata is my favorite big Indian city and Bengali food is to die for—but beyond stuffing yourself full of fish and rice, riverside terracotta temples are one draw to the eastern state.

Though scores of temples dot the riverside, not all are easily accessible not easy to find. However, Kalna is a picturesque temple town on the banks of the Hooghly—the lower Ganga river—and it’s packed to the brim with examples of Bengal’s famous terracotta architecture. About two hours’ drive from Kolkata, the town hosts a massive temple complex. The complex includes one of the more unique temples I’ve seen in India: the circular 108 Shiva Temple.

If you want to start branching out into West Bengal, Kalna is a good place to start.

Lalji terracotta Hindu Temple in Kalna, West Bengal, India

 

Hyderabad, Telangana (East India)

Best off the beaten track destinations in India - Char Minar during nightly traffic in the old city of Hyderabad - Lost With Purpose travel blog

The famous Char Minar in Hyderabad’s old city.

Although most of Hyderabad’s famed royal history is now lost to the ages, the city is a heaven for foodies and history aficionados alike.

A separate kingdom until 1948—Hyderabad’s Nawab was the richest man alive during its glory days—a stroll around its old city will take you past crumbling haveli mansions, palaces converted into government buildings, and what is quite possibly the tastiest non-veg food you can sink your teeth into in India.

Read more: Where and what to eat in the Old City of Hyderabad, India

A view of the buzzing market around Hyderabad, India's old city from the top of the Charminar monument.

Bundi, Rajasthan (West India)

View of blue houses from the palace in Bundi, Rajasthan, India

“Brahmin blue” houses, minus the hassle

Sure, Bundi might be one of the more “touristy” destinations on this list… but compared to other tourist spots in Rajasthan—think Jaipur, Udaipur, etc.—Bundi sees hardly any tourists.

And therein lies the chill. You can weave your way through tightly winding alleys, have chats with kind Rajasthani people who aren’t just out to sell you something, and enjoy a quiet palace filled with some of the most spectacular frescoes I saw in Rajasthan. You’ll actually be able to enjoy them, since you won’t have two thousand people pressing up against you to share the views (I’m looking at you, Udaipur).

Don’t be afraid to make the trek up to Taragarh fort for epic views over the city… but do be wary of the numerous monkeys lurking at the top. Protip: bring a stick. A big one.

Fresco paintings on the ceiling of a palace in Bundi, Rajasthan, India

Palitana, Gujarat (West India)

Our favorite off the beaten track destinations in India - Sunrise over Jain temple tops in Palitana, India - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Sunrise over the 1,000+ Jain temples of Palitana.

Palitana is home to one of Jainism’s holiest of pilgrimage sites, and joining throngs of devout Jains on part of their pilgrimage is still one of the highlights of my time in India.

There’s nothing quite like zig-zagging your way up a mountain before the crack of dawn with hundreds of pilgrims, then watching the sun slowly rise over a mountaintop covered with more than a thousand temples… literally!

Read more: 1% of a Jain pilgrimage in Palitana

Temple doors opening to sunrise over the Jain temples of Palitana, Gujarat state, India. The perfect off the beaten track destination for your India trip!

 

Rani Ki Vav, Gujarat (West India)

Our favorite off the beaten path destinations in India - Rani ki vav stepwell in Patan, Gujarat - Lost With Purpose travel blog

The insanely well preserved interior of Rani Ki Vav.

Rajasthan is famous for its stepwells—wide wells constructed so people could more easily access water—but I found the stepwells of Gujarat far more impressive. It helped that they have far less Instagrammers posing on their stairways.

Rani Ki Vav, outside of Patan town, is the well to end all wells. Despite being 900 years old, the stepwell is in excellent condition; it was lost under a covering of sand for hundreds of years. Without a doubt one of the most impressive works of art and architecture I saw in India.

Looking for more stepwells? Check out Sid the Wanderer’s article on Adajal stepwell in Ahmedabad.

Carved details in Rani Ki Vav stepwell, one of India's most beautiful stepwells in Patan, Gujarat state.

 

Diu, Gujarat (West India)

Best off the beaten path destinations in India - Colorful haveli on the streets of Diu island - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Vivid havelis on the narrow streets of Diu.

I’d be chill with mentioning every place I visited in Gujarat, from Laxmi Villas in Baroda to the Patola workshop in Patan. But Diu was something special.

The small island, technically administered from Delhi, was a Portuguese colony. Portuguese name plates hang on houses where Indian and Portuguese styles intermingle seamlessly. And unlike the island’s more famous beachy and colonial cousin Goa, very few tourists make it to Diu.

Orderly streets, fresh sea breeze, and a healthy splash of color—what more do you need to relax and recharge after more hectic travels on the mainland? The fact that beer is tax-free helps, too 😉

Blue skies over a Portuguese church on Diu island, India. A great off the beaten track destination in India if you're looking for a bit of comfortable rest and relaxation, and the perfect Goa alternative.

Gangotri, Uttarakhand (North India)

Gomukh glacier, start of the Ganges/Ganga river in Uttarakhand, India

On the way to Gomukh glacier, start of the Ganga (Ganges) river in Uttarakhand.

We all know about the famous Ganges River—known as Ganga in India—but where does the Ganges actually begin?

Several tributaries feed in to what ultimately becomes the Ganga, but there’s one specific source that people believe is the start of the life-giving river: the Bhagirathi river. Trickling out from the base of Gomukh glacier in Uttarakhand’s mountains, the icy cold water is crystal clear and clean enough to drink. Throughout the years, scientists and sailors alike have been fascinated by the water from this source. Sailors favored it because it was drinkable for months after collection at the source, while scientists are intrigued by its seemingly antibacterial properties.

Whether you want to sip from the start of one of the world’s holiest rivers, or simply enjoy a stunning but manageable mountain trek, you’d be hard pressed to find a more suitable adventure for your travels in India.

Read more: Trekking to the start of the Ganges River

Female traveler trekking to the start of the Ganges (Ganga) river from Gangotri, Uttarakhand, India

Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh (North India)

Top off the beaten track destinations in India - A colorful temple in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Bursts of color in Ayodhya.

Considered the birthplace of Ram, and seared into history by the destruction of the Babri Masjid, Ayodhya holds a special place in UP politics and Hindu nationalists’ hearts. Most tourists skip Ayodhya in favor of its famous neighbor Varanasi, but I enjoyed Ayodhya much more.

Not only is it the birthplace of Ram, it’s also the birthplace of several Jain holy men. Once part of the Mughal Empire, the narrow side streets of Ayodhya are a feast for the eyes, overflowing with temples, shrines, and intricate latticework.

The ghats aren’t as impressive as those along the river in Varanasi, but the calm and friendly people more than make up for it. It’s also pleasant to walk around without fake babas harassing you for photos and blessings every few meters.

Want more India inspiration? These are the 3 most beautiful states in India, according to The World in My Pocket.

Loktak Lake, Manipur (Northeast India)

Our favorite off the beaten path destinations in India - Pastel pink sunrise over Loktak Lake in Manipur - Lost With Purpose travel blog

Pastel sunrises over Loktak Lake.

I struggled to narrow down my favorite places in Northeast India—everything comes to mind! But through the indecisiveness, Loktak Lake quickly rises to the top.

Spending some peaceful days on the shore of Loktak Lake is a must for anyone wandering to the northeast. You can sit and watch fishermen and -women navigate between the floating islands of plants—known as phumdi—in their wooden boats. Read a book to the sound of buzzing dragonflies and fresh fruit falling from the trees. Admire the seemingly endless variety of flowers growing around the peninsula jutting into the lake.

The lake is also home to the world’s only floating national park: Keibul Lamjao.

Read more: Why you need to visit Loktak Lake

Sunrise over Loktak Lake, a peaceful offbeat destination in Manipur state, Northeast India.

 

Majuli, Assam (Northeast India)

Top off the beaten track destinations in India - A fisherman and boat in Majuli - Lost With Purpose travel blog

One of many fishing boats (and fishermen!) found on Majuli.

Fact: I love Majuli. I’ve been there several times—it was my safe space after a confusing breakup on the road—and I’m positive I’ll be back again one day.

Majuli island, set amongst the flowing waters of the Brahmaputra river in Assam state, was once the world’s largest river island. Unfortunately, it’s rapidly eroding due to increased floods from climate change and other external factors.

Despite its disappearance, the island is still rich in both culture and nature. Its perfectly flat and lush network of dirt paths are perfect for bicycles, and you can easily while away the days visiting the numerous satras (Hindu monasteries) scattered across the island. Each satra specializes in an art form—such as mask making or dance—so you don’t have to worry about getting bored.

Read more: Majuli, India’s disappearing island

A traditional hand painted mask at one of the many Vaishnavite satras, Hindu monasteries, on Majuli river island in Assam, Northeast India.

 

Mechuka, Arunachal Pradesh (Northeast India)

Top off the beaten path destinations in India - Mountain vistas in Mechuka, Arunachal Pradesh - Lost With Purpose travel blog

No matter where you look in Mechuka, you’ll be greeted by views like this!

Mechuka was my final stop in Arunachal Pradesh, and a more fitting end to my Arunachal journey could not exist.

The Tibetan town is set in an idyllic green valley at the base of the mountains dividing China and India. There are breathtaking views in literally every direction, and plenty of walking paths going in whatever direction suits your fancy.

I never had plans in Mechuka. Instead, every day I simply picked a direction and kept on walking through hill and dale until I was too tired to continue… and the mountains never disappointed.

Read more: The ultimate guide to backpacking Arunachal Pradesh

Running through the epic vistas of Mechuka, a mountain town in Arunachal Pradesh, Northeast India. One of the most beautiful and off the beaten track destinations we've visited to date!

 

Map of off the beaten track destinations in India

Convinced to head out your door once more? Use this map to plan your off the beaten track Indian adventure! Click on the map to view an interactive Google Map in a new window.

Did I miss anything? Do you have a favorite off the beaten path destination in India? Tell me in the comments!

Feeling the love for India? Yo—me, too. Here’s why I fell in love with India.

Alex Reynolds

American by birth, British by passport, Filipina by appearance. Addicted to ice cream. Enjoys climbing trees, dislikes falling out. Has great fondness for goats which is usually not reciprocated.

More about Alex

33 thoughts on “My favorite off the beaten track destinations in India

    Garhwali Nath says:

    Thnx for sharing such a great article… really helpfull.

    Sebastiaan says:

    You’re most welcome!

    Nils says:

    Well written introduction. I am sick of people, travelling South-East Asia and explaining, they have “done” a country. How arrogant. You can only get a glimps, and your destinations are a good way to start! Well done.

    Sebastiaan says:

    Thanks a lot. Yeah we agree, we try to avoid term “done” as much as possible. As if places and people are just there for you to check of your box 🙁

    Kiara Gallop says:

    Totally agree! It’s impossible to “do” a country in a matter of weeks, especially one the size of India. I’ve spent months in countries such as Peru, Bolivia, and Thailand, and still left feeling as though I’d only scratched the surface.

    I’ve actually just returned from a 10-day trek in Kerala (unfortunately I’m currently working a full-time day job so I have to fit my leave around it), and one of the things I loved about it was that we hiked through a lot of rural areas where we didn’t see any other tourists. It was a totally different India to the one I experienced when I explored Agra, Delhi, and Jaipur, and it’s definitely left me hungry for more! I’ve saved your post for future reference when I come to book my next trip to India. The Assam region looks beautiful 🙂

    Aga says:

    Wonderful post! India is so diverse and there’s so much to explore!

    Sebastiaan says:

    Thanks a lot. And yeah, it can take a lifetime to properly explore this country.

    Simon Leroy says:

    Waiting for my train to Guwahati, before shillong and Meghalaya!
    Thanks for your posts, really helped me to spot the best places to see in NE in a limited time 🙂

    Sebastiaan says:

    Glad to hear it’s useful. Enjoy the Northeast!

    Jeni says:

    Great read on Gujarat, spending January there with our 3 kids any other suggestions on must see places would be appreciated (kids very experienced travellers and have spent more than a year in India so comfortable in all environments)

    Sebastiaan says:

    Honestly, all places we went to in Gujarat were great. Ahmedabad has just been declared a UNESCO city, so definitely worth a visit. There’s an ancient Islamic city near Bardoda, called Champaner, which is interesting if that’s your cup of tea. There are also several sun temples, which are quite elaborate, and Bhuj is interesting, especially if you like fabrics.

    Linda says:

    Thanks for sharing

    Sebastiaan says:

    You’re most welcome!

    MuhammadYusuf says:

    Well, my top 5 is like that (I dont’t rank the places, it’s just a list)
    1) Kalinjar Fort (UP) 2) Yusmarg (J&K) 3) Ayodhya (UP) 4) Nawalgarh/Fatehpur/Mandawa (Rajasthan) 5) Murshidabad (West Bengal)
    I dunno if Kinnaur valley in Himachal Pradesh is off the beaten track enough…

    Sebastiaan says:

    Cool! We’ll look into these and maybe visit a few places you mention 🙂

    farenexus says:

    Great I like your articel.great research in Gujrat.keep it up

    Alex says:

    Gujarat is still one of my favorite states—researching there wasn’t such a pain 😉

    Navbharat Today says:

    Thanks for sharing about goa.
    Awesome blog great research.
    Helpful for travelers

    Rose says:

    Please try Ladakh in Jammu/Kashmir – especially Leh, Diskit , Sarchu and Pangong lake.

    Alex says:

    I’ve spent a bit of time in and around Leh, but would happily go back to Ladakh any time! Next summer, perhaps 🙂

    tanya says:

    Heading to a wedding in Hyderabad but know nothing about it, so nice to hear it’s a cool place. After this thinking of heading towards Bangalore passing through the places you highlight in Karnataka. Thanks!

    Yvonnevanderlaan.nl says:

    Oh, I love this post. So much travel inspiration for future trips to India. 🙂 Although I’ve visited a few of these places myself. I would love to see Gujarat next time. And Ladakh is also high on the list.. but I’m not sure whether it would be doable with (young) kids or not.. Happy travels!

    I think young kids could handle Ladakh, as long as you give them time to acclimate to the high altitude and make sure to keep them hydrated 🙂

    Usha says:

    A very interesting article. Have been to Palitana in Gujarat many times and it is my favourite. There is Gir forest , the Runn of kutch, and the Girnar mountain in Gujarat which are popular.
    The nearby state of Rajasthan has many palaces, the very popular Ranthambore National Park and temples, the most popular being Ranakput temple.

    Yes, I’ve heard of Ranthambore many times, though I’ve never been. Rann of Kutch I have visited, though!

    Marj says:

    Great site!

    Chris Slack says:

    I love India! When someone asks how to describe India, I say it assaults all of your senses all at the same time. It’s an amazing cultural experience like no other in the world. I loved all of your suggestions and look forward to seeing some of these when I visit again.

    One of my favorite places in India I visited was where I actually met more local tourists than foreign tourists in Gokarna. I had never heard of this beach region before, but fell in love with its chill atmosphere and stunning rocky beaches. It had a much slower pace than Goa and I was lucky enough to make some good friends too.

    Yep, I spent some time in Gokarna as well. Very chill, it’s a good place to hang out on the beach without all of the aggressive tourism that goes on in parts of Goa.

    Shashi Mohanty. says:

    Have you covered some of the interiors of Odisha in India where some pre historic tribes live? This region is beautiful. Odisha has some majestic temples like the Sun temple in Konark. Lovely beaches and famous car festival of Puri.

    No I haven’t seen much of Odisha—that’s where I want to go next! I’ve only been to Puri to see Konark and chill on the beach for a bit.

    Wouter says:

    I’m wondering why Nongriat and it’s surroundings did not make it to your list. It’s one of the most beautiful natural sites I’ve seen in India. Too touristy? When I was there last fall it was packed with domestic tourists but foreigners were quite rare.
    Tip: there’s other villages in the same forest where you can stay and be the only visitor.

    Wonderful list, the views are absolutely stunning in northern India, thanks for sharing!

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