By Prateeksha Pathak
When it comes to planning a trip, one is always stuck between mountains or beaches, tropical climate or snow-capped peaks. There is one country that has something for everyone, India! We have heard tourists waxing eloquent about the beauty of Taj Mahal or finding solace in the land of spirituality. However, India is not just limited to those. As a local, I will tell you about 10 offbeat things you must do when you visit India. From trekking to admiring ancient architecture, from going on gastronomical adventures to enjoying peaceful moments at the beach, this list has something for everyone.
- Delight your taste buds in Delhi
When it comes to food and hospitality, India will not disappoint you. Known as the land of spices, it offers the largest wholesale spice market of Asia: Khari Baoli in Old Delhi. After visiting the market, it’s time to step into the world of gastronomical ecstasy. The lanes of Old Delhi house some hidden gems to delight your taste buds. Start by visiting the kebab makers near Jama Masjid in Old Delhi to devour a plate of kebabs for only a few pennies. You could move towards Chandni Chowk to try some street food, and finally head to one of the local eateries to try a plate full of stuffed naan and lentils to get a taste of what locals enjoy eating.
- Head towards the Himalayas for an Adventurous Trek
For the ones who long for an adrenaline rush, head to the Himalayas for adventurous hike. There is a trek suitable for everyone, from beginners to the ones who have made mountains their second home. If you are hiking for the first time, you could head to the Parvati Valley or Mukteshwar and enjoy the views while climbing mountains. For those who are more adept, I recommend doing the winter trek in Ladakh, or the Chadar Trek, which is available only for a month in winters, when the Zanskar Valley is covered with ice. A trek in Ladakh is no small feat, and it is worth every bit of the hype.
- A Road Trip in the North East of India
Quiet monastery towns, glacial lakes, roads within nature, waterfalls at every turn, and friendly people – what else could one ask for! The north-east states of India are not the most popular among tourists, but they should be on every traveller’s radar. The roads may not be the most well maintained, but the scenic beauty more than makes up for the discomfort. When you enter the north-east, you will find yourself in nature’s lap, relaxing among the hills, never wanting to go back. The states have maintained their serenity and beauty by implementing some policies like the banning plastic and strict traffic rules. This just makes travelling so much easier and one becomes a part of the community within a day after interacting with some of the friendliest people in India, and participating in keeping their land serene. Head towards the north east to experience something most people have missed in their trips to India, and you will make memories to share with everyone for years.
- Enjoy the beaches of Goa and tranquillity of Pondicherry
For the party lovers, Goa has a lot to offer. From beach parties, cruises and casinos to celebrating festivals with the locals, the state boasts a diverse range of experiences. You could rent an apartment, a condo or a beach hut and spend some time near the beaches of Goa. I would suggest visiting the lesser known ones such as the Querim beach and the Ashwem and Morjim beaches to enjoy some moments of blissful peace after a night of dancing. For party animals, night life in Goa is something you should not miss. On the other hand, if you prefer peace and serenity, we suggest going to Pondicherry. Quiet beaches, meditation centres, relaxing spas, French boutique hotels, and little bakeries define the little town. You could enjoy the serenity of nature and praise the influence of French and Portuguese architecture during you stay. Whichever way you go, India will not disappoint you.
- Take a spiritual dip in Amritsar
Known for its spirituality, this country in the East is perfect for those who come here in search of the true meaning of life and transience. Experience spirituality in the holy town of Amritsar by visiting Shri Harminder Sahib, or Darbar Sahib, or more popularly known as the Golden Temple. The temple was founded in 1577 by the fourth Sikh guru, Guru Ramdas Ji and was designed by the fifth Sikh guru, Guru Arjan Singh ji. The main premises of the temple has been covered by gold foil, giving it the popular name “The Golden Temple”. Visit the temple to experience devotion and spirituality. After visiting the shrine, participate in langar, or free communal meal. The langar seva aims to feed anyone who visits the shrine without considering their nationality, gender or religious affiliation, making the temple a marker of humility and universal brotherhood.
- Relish the taste of royalty in Rajasthan
Nothing will give you a taste of royalty like the castles of Rajasthan. From the floating Jal Mandir in Udaipur, to the exquisite forts of Jaipur and Jodhpur, you will get a glimpse of how royal families in India lived during the medieval times. Architecture of Hindu Rajput rulers and communities is strikingly different from their popular Mughal counterparts. After this visual treat, we suggest you head to Chokhi Dhani in Jaipur or Natraj Dining Hall in Udaipur for a traditional Rajasthani thali. Spicy curries, creamy lentils, baked dough balls dipped in ghee, or Batis, and mouth-watering desserts will give you a taste of delightful royal life of the past, and would definitely leave you craving for more.
- Listen to Qawwalis in Ajmer Dargah and Hazrat Nizammuddin Dargah
Qawwali is a type of Sufi devotional music that originated in Persia in the 8th century, and came to India in the 11th century as the concept of sama, or religious concerts, was introduced in the subcontinent. Emerging in the Sindh and Punjab regions of India and Pakistan, these devotional concerts gained popularity soon and started being performed in other regions as well. Performed by qawwals, with one or two lead singers, the songs are mostly performed in Urdu or Punjabi. Qawwali concerts are meant to be a communal experience; with a group sitting together on the floor, humming and repeating devotional verses to create a feeling of ecstasy. Head to the Ajmer Sharif Dargah in Rajasthan, Hazrat Nizammuddin Dargah in Delhi, or Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai to enjoy this spiritual experience.
- Agra from a different lens
While planning your trip to India, the Taj Mahal would definitely be on your list. Visiting one of the most popular UNESCO heritage sites is definitely worth the hype. The beauty of this monument of love will leave you awe-struck. However, Agra has so much more to offer. Do pay a visit to Itmad-ud Daulah, Aram Bagh, Diwan-e-Aam and Kaanch Mahal in the city of Agra to admire the beauty of Mughal architecture and its evolution through different ages. While you are in Agra, take a day and also travel to Fatehpur Sikri to admire the architecture built by Akbar. These visits to the city will give you a glimpse of vastness of Mughal architecture and its evolution, detaching it from being synonymous with the Taj.
- Museums in India
India has a long, rich, and diverse history. The country has tried to preserve this through a variety of museums, from the National Museum that houses artefacts, terracotta objects, coins, jewellery and other markers from different civilizations, to more intriguing ones such as the Crafts Museum, Dolls Museum, the Science Museum and even a toilet museum. Head to one of these to look at the history of this diverse multi-cultural nation.
- A holiday in Kashmir
Popularly known as the Paradise on Earth, the Valley of Kashmir justifies its name completely. During the summer months, you will observe flowers in full bloom, delicious red apples dangling from the trees, peaches being harvested and walnuts starting to ripen. During the winter months, the same Valley is covered with snow, surrounded by tourists visiting the Amarnath Shrine and in a devotional, yet touristy atmosphere. Whichever season you choose, Kashmiri hospitality will always warm your heart and soul. The beauty of the Valley and warmth of its people will touch you deeply and ensure that you return for another memorable stay.