This is the second article in the series – ‘Top 10 Places to Visit in India’. If you have just stumbled upon this directly, I would urge you to go through the first part. In the first part we discovered 5 places to visit in India that are not too commercialized (except the Taj Mahal, but you have to see it!) and convey the true spirit of India – in its entire beauty. If you know about the Indian map, you will realize all the above places actually belong to the North and North-Eastern part of India and most of them are in the mountains. But India has a very rich geographical terrain. There are plains, lakes, river basins, plateaus, beaches and even oceans. The journey of India would be incomplete without traveling through the palaces and serene beaches in the west as well as the calm backwaters and evergreen tea plantations in the south.
6. Relax in the beaches at Goa
Situated on the western coast of India, surrounded by the Arabian Sea on one side, Goa is the most popular tourist destination in India visited annually by 2 million foreigners. But what is the magical charm of Goa that attracts so many tourists? The soothing serenity of its beaches, the laid-back lifestyle of the locals and the exciting nightlife provide the special ingredients that make a visit to Goa so worthwhile. Being a Portuguese colony for over five centuries, you can see its influence in the crumbling architecture of buildings and mixed cuisine. Imagine lying on a beach-bed sipping 'feni' – locally brewed beer and being served with French fries and taking a nap in between and repeating the same process, and you have reached Goa. However, if you are the adventurous type you can try kayaking, water-scooter riding, parasailing or snorkeling. It's best to avoid the mainstream, popular beaches like Baga and Calangute and instead go for Palolem or Candolim beach where you can avoid hordes of travellers and enjoy reading a book peacefully in a beach hut. However, Goa can be quite packed during holidays especially around Christmas and if you are the quieter type you can head to Gokarna. Gokarna, at a ride of 6 hours from Goa by road, has the same charm as Goa but more peaceful and lighter on the purse.
7. Go scuba diving in Andaman
If you are not fulfilled with the beaches of Goa and are looking for that extra that can make your experience legendary, fly to the Andamans. At 1370 km from the mainland, Andaman is as remote as you can go. Because of the remoteness, the beaches here bask in the glory of untouched and pristine beauty with white waters and even whiter sand. The thrill of speeding in a motorboat with water, water everywhere as far as you can see is incomparable. The entire archipelago consists of 300 islands, but only a dozen are open to the tourists with Havelock being the most popular island and is has become famous as a honeymoon destination. It has the best locations for scuba-diving and snorkeling as the area is rich in corals and the crystal clear water is great for spotting fishes.
8. Stay in a boathouse in the backwaters of Kerala
‘God’s own country’ as the locals describe it, Kerala has been named by the National Geographic’s Traveller magazine as one of the “ten paradises of the world” and “50 must destinations of a lifetime” whereas Travel and Leisure rates it as “One of the 100 great trips for the 21st century”. The focus of the Kerala government on tourism has brought Kerala into one of the hotspots for international visitors in India to the effect that 10 percent of the state’s revenue is contributed by tourism. The aura of tea and spice gardens, the charm of traditional Indian arts like Kathakali (a traditional dance form) and Kalaripayattu (an Indian martial art), the thrill of watching snake-boat races, the laid-back silence of the backwaters, the relaxing ayurvedic massage, the water-spraying friendly elephants and mouth-watering South Indian cuisine – Kerala has it all and some more. If you haven’t been to Venice, you can experience it here in Alleppey also known as the ‘Venice of the East’ – a golden streak of land woven with rivers, lakes, lagoons and canals. So get a relaxing ayurvedic message to take away the tiredness of journey and prepare for more exciting places to come.
9. Embrace the tea gardens in Darjeeling
A trip to hill stations in India is incomplete without getting yourself lost in the soul-quenching green of the all-pervading tea gardens. There are many hill stations like Munnar, Manali, Gangtok where one can experience the beauty of tea gardens but if you want to completely immerse yourself in the experience Darjeeling is the place to be. Then never ending slope of tea-plantation, the colorful outfits and baskets of the locals picking tea leaves, the soothing aroma of tea from the leaves and the mist rising from the ground giving it a mystical quality is a sight to behold. While you are here do take a ride to the nearest tea factory where you can not only see how packaged tea is prepared from tea leaves but also get a chance to taste the various variety of tea – some of them you wouldn’t have even heard of. Also, a must is the toy train ride. The ride in the small train running on a steam engine as it glides through the winding paths on a hilly terrain, the smile of the locals when you wave at them from the toy train car and the oohs from the passengers when it passes through the tunnels are synonymous of Darjeeling.
10. Live like a king in Udaipur
Located in the state of Rajasthan in the western part of India, Udaipur is famous for two things – the luxurious palaces and the innumerable lakes. In fact, it is known as the ‘City of Lakes’. These palaces were constructed by the earlier kings and royals of Udaipur and after their demise they have been converted into five star tourist resorts, though museums are still there containing everything from their razor edged, 5 kg swords which could sever the head of a horse with one blow to their 20 kg ultra-thick bullet proof armor. The best way to enjoy it would be at the Taj Palace resorts in the middle of a lake. There are chauffeured boat services that take you in and out of the palace. The view from the balcony is exquisite where you can wake up to lotus gardens on the lakes. Also the dinner inside the walls of the palace where you are served finest delicacies on never-ending royal mahogany wood tables with yellow shimmering light from intricately designed chandeliers takes you back to the royal era.
This is where our incredible journey ends in India. Though I have covered top 10 places to visit, still there is so much to see in India, I doubt if I have done full justice to it. Still I can think of places like the Dal Lake in Kashmir – the lake with floating flower gardens and Lakshadweep – a group of islands with its own, rare marine ecosystem which deserve a visit. Although we have just covered 10 places from the imposing mountains of Leh in the North to the soothing backwaters of Kerala in the South, from the lush green tea gardens of Darjeeling in the East to the luxurious palaces of Udaipur in the east, from the exquisite beauty of the man-made architecture in Taj Mahal to the spellbinding natural beauty in the Valley of Flowers, I have a feeling this enchanting experience will leave you gasping for more and you will keep coming back to India to explore it riches. May be then it might be a time to look at the top 20 or even the top 100 things to do in India. Till then alvida, ta ta, shabba khair, bye bye.