Despite India’s vastness, foreign travellers tend to clump together in a relatively small number of well-known regions or cities, leaving plenty of destinations to the more intrepid few who are willing to take the challenge of escaping the tourist trail. Here’s a selection of our favourites:
Walk up the 3500 steps to Palitana, considered the holiest of all Jain sites, and you won’t be disappointed: a fairy-tale marble wonderland of hundreds of gleaming spiralling peach-and-white turrets, with spectacular views over the surrounding countryside.
Once you’ve walked all the way back down, you’ll easily have earned yourself a mouth-watering unlimited thali, another of Gujarat’s highlights.
The several-thousand year old ritual involves locals wearing startling face paint and dressing in elaborate costumes with colossal red headdresses. Their bodies inhabited by deities, the participants dance with increasing passion for hours on end and perform phenomenal, godlike feats, such as rolling in hot ashes.
The tiny island is one of the most important Hindu pilgrimage sites in southern India, yet barely visited by tourists. Turquoise waters lap at pristine beaches surrounding the island, and glorious temples dot the scenery inland.
The Ramanathaswamy Temple, dedicated Shiva, the god of destruction, is the main event, with mesmerizing pillared walkways and brightly coloured patterned ceilings. Pretty much year-round strong winds make this an excellent kitesurfing destination too.
That is, except Little Andaman (actually one of the biggest), the least-visited island of the archipelago and the furthest south tourists can travel.
A tropical climate, crystal-clear waters, stunning reefs, thick jungle bursting with wildlife and the best surfing conditions on the Subcontinent make this remote haven worth the admittedly long and difficult journey.
Surrounded by peaks with an average on 4500m, the scenery is unfailingly dazzling: hanging glaciers, barley fields covered in layers of crisp snow, vast rocky plains and monasteries balanced precariously on rugged mounds.
Buddhist culture, similar to that of Tibet, permeates the peaceful, welcoming communities of the mud-brick hamlets clinging to the mountainsides, and trekking here allows a glimpse into a way of life that's barely changed in centuries.
Exceptionally rich in biodiversity, with an impressive collection of flora and fauna, the protected area spans a huge range of altitudes, from verdant river valleys at 200m to snow-capped peaks at 4500m.
Don’t forget your binoculars – remote and wild, the virgin forests here are ideal territory for elusive big wildlife such as tigers, snow leopards, red pandas and the endangered Hoolock Gibbons.
On the banks of the holy Narmada River, Maheshwar is an important pilgrimage point for Hindus, and was mentioned in the epic ancient stories of the Mahabharata and Ramayana.
The enthralling town is lined with temples and colourful houses overlooked by a grand eighteenth-century fort. A wander down to the ghats makes for a very absorbing stroll – you’ll find a hub of spiritual activity, with pilgrims bathing in the holy waters while orange-clad sadhus sit on the shore praying.