A list of our favorite places to go “off the beaten track” in India. Selected over almost a year of travel, 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. Even after nine months—and more soon to come—we’ve only covered a small fraction of this majestic country.
With so much to see and do, it can be hard to decide where to travel in India! Although many people stick to the tried and tested destinations, such as the Golden Triangle, Goa, and the Hummus Trail, there’s so much more to see beyond the 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 our 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 hippies.
Lost With Purpose’s favorite destinations off the beaten track in India
Kannur, Kerala (South India)
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 we’ve seen. Said to predate Hinduism, chosen men channel ancient deities through dance. It’s an otherworldly ritual, and certainly not something to be missed.
Post: Theyyam, a dance of gods
Bijapur and Bidar, Karnataka (South India)
Most travelers bus it to Hampi or the coast, giving very little thought to the rest of Karnataka. But in the northeast corner of the state are two cities that are a must for history buffs: Bijapur and Bidar.
Walking around these cities is like being transported back in time. Large onion domes dot the skyline, as Islamic history comes alive in the multitudes of madrasas, mosques, and shrines lurking around both cities. Neither are particularly popular with foreign tourists, and locals are happy to have a chat or a cup of chai. By far my favorite places in Karnataka.
Hyderabad, Telangana (East India)
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, whose Nawab was the richest man alive during its glory days, a stroll around its old city will reveal crumbling havelis, palaces converted into government buildings, and what is perhaps the tastiest non-veg (and veg) food one can have in India.
Palitana, Gujarat (West India)
Palitana is home to one of Jainism’s holiest of pilgrimage sites, and joining throngs of devout Jains on part of their pilgrimage was one of the highlights of our time in India. The thousand plus temples are gorgeous, the people friendly, and watching the sun rise over the literal mountain of bright temples was a sight we have yet to beat.
Rani Ki Vav, Gujarat (West India)
Rajasthan is famous for its stepwells—wide wells constructed so people could more easily access water—but we found the stepwells of Gujarat far more impressive. Rani Ki Vav, outside of Patan town, is the crown jewel of the lot, and without a doubt one of the most impressive works of art and architecture we saw in India. Despite being 900 years old, the stepwell is in excellent condition, thanks to being lost under layers of sand for hundreds of years.
Diu, Gujarat (West India)
We could probably mention all places we visited in Gujarat, from Laxmi Villas in Baroda to the Patola workshop in Patan. But Diu is something special.
This small island, technically administered from Delhi, was a Portuguese colony, and it shows. And unlike its more famous cousin Goa, very few tourists make it here. With its orderly streets and fresh sea breeze, it’s the perfect place to relax and recharge after the more hectic travels on the mainland. The fact that beer is tax-free helps, too!
Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh (Central India)
Considered the birthplace or Ram, and made famous by the destruction of the Babri Masjid, Ayodhya holds a special place in UP politics and Hindu nationalists’ hearts. Most tourists skip Ayodhya in preference for it famous neighbor Varanasi, but I liked Ayodhya much more.
Not only is it the birthplace or Ram, it’s also the birthplace of several Jain holy men, and was part of the Mughal Empire. The narrow side streets of Ayodyha are thus a feast for the eyes, with temples, shrines, and lattice work galore. The ghats aren’t as impressive as the ones in Varanasi, but the calm and friendly people more than make up for it.
Loktak Lake, Manipur (Northeast India)
We struggled to narrow down our 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 in their wooden boats, read a book to the sound of buzzing dragonflies and fresh fruit falling from the trees, or 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.
Majuli, Assam (Northeast India)
Majuli island, set amongst the flowing waters of the Brahmaputra, was once the world’s largest river island. Unfortunately, it’s rapidly eroding due to increased floods from climate change and other external factors.
Nevertheless, the island is rich in both cultural and natural attractions. You can easily spend a few days exploring the lush island by bicycle, visiting the numerous satras (Hindu monasteries) scattered throughout in between admiring the island’s natural beauty. Each satra specializes in an art form, such as mask making or dance, so you’re guaranteed to never be bored.
Mechuka, Arunachal Pradesh (Northeast India)
Mechuka was our final stop in Arunachal Pradesh, and a more fitting end to our journey could not exist. The Tibetan town is set in a perfectly green valley at the base of the mountains dividing China and India. There are breathtaking views no matter where you look, and plenty of walking paths going in whatever direction suits your fancy. Each day, we picked a direction and just kept on walking through the hills until we were too tired to continue, and that was all we needed.
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 in a new window.
Did we miss anything? Have a favorite off the beaten path destination in India? Let us know in the comments!
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