Exploring my inner self, in solitude and days of singlehood, I don’t know when it turned me into a travel buff, always looking for new experiences, culture, and food. Naturally, photography just became a constant companion, even when I was alone on a solo trip, with or without a DSLR camera. As my journey started a bit late in life due to career priorities, I could not get a chance to explore enough of the country I live in and am profoundly proud of.
This India wish list is just a gentle reminder to myself how much I still need to see and explore in the same country where I live, before heading to any exotic locations abroad. For brevity, I have limited this list to only must-go places in India as others have written enough about countless places you can visit in India.
Starting with the mountains, I have definitely not seen even iota of what India has to offer. Other than Darjeeling, Naldehra (Shimla), Coonoor (Ooty) and Chikmagalur (Karnataka), the list is completely blank. If I had only two such week-long vacations to see the best of the mountains in India, my preference would be:
As I have been to some of the most beautiful beaches of Andaman, Maharashtra (Malgund) and Karnataka (Gokarna), the one and only beach in India I strongly crave to see and experience is that of Lakshadweep.
*Given another chance, I would also like to see St. Mary’s Island near Udupi in Karnataka which is around 865 Km (15.5 hours by train) from Mumbai and Dhanushkodi in Tamil Nadu.
Although I am not very fascinated with waterfalls, I have been yearning to visit Shimoga in Karnataka during monsoon, to experience the vastness of some of India’s highest waterfalls Kunchikal and Jog Falls. Earlier, I had visited Chitrakote Falls in Chhattisgarh, which is considered as Niagara Falls of India and Dhuandhar Falls in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh. Both of these waterfalls are truly worth the visit if you have not seen enough waterfalls in India. KSTDC Hotel Mayura Gerusoppa is the best place to stay because of its proximity to the Jog Falls offering a live view.
*If in Goa, I would also like to see Doodhsagar Falls.
When it comes to the vast unending expanse of deserted land, the two most obvious choices in India would be Thar Desert of Rajasthan, for which one must visit Jaisalmer and salt desert of Runn of Kutchh which is the largest salt desert in the world. The best time to visit these places is January-February as one can also enjoy Desert Festival (Jaisalmer) and Rann Utsav. However, you need to check the dates of these festivals before booking your tickets.
If you have a week-long vacation to explore Rajasthan, the best itinerary could probably be heading to Jodhpur first (which is more accessible by flight) and then travelling overnight to Jaisalmer (around 300 Km) by bus or train. From Jaisalmer, you can also go to Bikaner (330 Km) and come back to Jodhpur (255 Km) again to catch the flight back. If in Bikaner, you may also be lucky to catch its popular Camel Festival.
For Runn of Kutchh, you need to reach Bhuj (Gujarat) which you can reach by train if travelling from Mumbai (around 860 Km) or by flight from any part of India. The best time to land in this salt desert is a full moon day on Rann Utsav from November to February. If you are travelling on your own, you may have to also get a permit from Police Station in Bhirandiyari (requires a photocopy of your ID proof) which opens around 11:00 a.m. Alternatively, an online permit can also be obtained from here. When in Kutchh, you may also consider visiting Kalo Dungar (Black Hill), Flamingo city, Nirona village (for unique art forms), Mandvi (beach city) which are very near.
I developed a very keen interest in birding when I visited Nalsarovar and Thol bird sanctuaries in Gujarat; so much that I also invested in buying a pair of binoculars from Nikon. I am still very tempted to visit Bharatpur National Park in Rajasthan, followed by Chilika Lake in Odisha, to see some beautiful migratory birds coming to stay in India. However, this plan is on hold till I get a super zoom lens (150-600mm) to capture the birds up-close. My earlier trips to Nalsarovar and Thol in Gujarat were not a great experience in terms of bird photography for the same reason.
Bharatpur is very near to Delhi (less than 300 Km) and easily accessible by train from there. You can spot more than 300 species of birds here, including migratory birds (if you plan a visit in winter).
- Bharatpur National Park
- Chilika Lake
When it comes to cities, the one thing that tempts me the most is their unique local food and distinct forms of art, hard to find elsewhere. Thankfully, my career has given me an opportunity to live and relish the flavours of many cities of India, starting with Calcutta where I studied law to Delhi, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Mumbai. I also made it a point to visit Mysore when I was in Bangalore. It was easy to tick off Ahmedabad and Jaipur, as these two cities are not very far from Mumbai. In addition, I have also been to Varanasi and Shillong long back and Chandigarh recently. However, I am yet to visit some of the amazingly flavourful cities in India, to experience their local food, art, and culture. If I have to visit only three cities in India that I have never been to, my preference would be:
- Pondicherry (aka French Riviera of the East)
- Lucknow (aka City of Nawabs)
- Varanasi (aka City of Lights)
Although I am more interested in birds than wild animals, if I have to visit only two national parks in India, it would be Marine National Park in Kutchh (Gujarat) and Kaziranga National Park in Assam.
Marine National Park of Kutchh is near Jamnagar in Gujrat, which is 800 Km (16 hours by train) from Mumbai and around 300 Km from Ahmedabad. The key attractions of this place are Pirotan and Narara islands, coral reefs, marine life diversity, and migratory birds (if you travel in winter). The best time to come here would be from November to February, between two high tides so that you can go for a coral walk. However, visiting these islands would require a permit from the State’s Forest Department, Customs Department, and the Port. You should also check the tide timings for entry and exit.
Kaziranga is a world heritage site declared by UNESCO famous for its single-horned Rhino, Elephant Safaris. The best zones to enjoy Elephant Safaris are Kohora and Bagori Range. You can also spot many other wild animals here, including tigers and birds. Needless to say, there are many other excitingly adventurous national parks in India like Bandhavgarh and Kanha in Madhya Pradesh, Kabini in Karnataka, Ranthambore in Rajasthan, Jim Corbett in Uttarakhand, to name a few, that you can consider.
Other Unique Destinations
The above list covers most of what is still unseen for me in India. However, there are few places, that is long due in my travel bucket list.
Firstly, Poovar Island in Kerala which offers the best of many worlds, Kerala’s serene backwaters, a lake, a river, the sea and a beach, all at one place. This is the fusion point where the Neyyar river joins the Arabian Sea. If you can stay in Poovar Island Resort, you can experience the luxury of water villas, with the sea on one side and Ghats on the other side, opening out to a golden sandy beach.
The second place would be Majuli in Assam, which is the world’s largest river island. Mostly inhabited by Tribals, it is the cultural capital of Assam. It also has a festival called Raas which I am very curious to see and capture. If in Assam, I would also like to see their popular festival, Bihu in its original form.
The other such destination would be either Udaipur in Rajasthan or Orchha in Madhya Pradesh. Udaipur does not require any description. It is crowning jewel of the state, more popularly known as city of lakes and Venice of the East, because of its seven lakes. No wonder, colonel James Tod of the East India Company, described Udaipur as “the most romantic place in the Indian sub continent”.
Orchha is famous for Mughal-influenced Rajput architecture which you can see in its magnificent palaces, grand temples and royal chhatris (cenotaphs). It also has a river called Betwa which splits into seven channels, also known as Satdhara.