India is rich in travel gems. You can visit the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort, boat down the River Ganges and tour the slums in Mumbai and yet India has so much more to offer just round the next corner (well, a bus/train/plane ride away).
If you want to get off the beaten track and explore the best-kept secrets of India we’ve unearthed 12 hidden gems you should definitely go out your way to find. We admit, some of them aren’t that easy to get to (cue rickety train rides and trekking on foot) but they’re all well worth the journey and after all, that’s kind of the point.
12 Hidden Gems to Find in India
Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh
If Varanasi is a bit crowded for you, then head to Maheshwar in Madhya Pradesh. Known as the Varanasi of Central India, this small holy town is located on the banks of the Narmada river and is dedicated to the deity Lord Shiva. A highly spiritual place, Maheshwar draws in pilgrims and holy men to its many ancient temples and ghats. Take a sunset boat ride down the river banks and explore the city’s famous textile markets.
How to get there: Maheshwar is a two hours drive from Indore, which is accessible by train or plane. It’s best accessed by private driver but there is also a bus for budget travellers
Orchha, Madhya Pradesh
Never mind the Taj Mahal, have you heard of the Raj Mahal? While you’re passing through Madhya Pradesh, head to the medieval city of Orchha to explore this 17th Century palace inside and out. Now a small farming town, many people pass Orchha by on the way to the Khajuraho temples, but stop off for a night or two and explore this peaceful hidden part of India.
How to get there: Take a train from Delhi to Jhansi Junction, then take a taxi or autorickshaw.
Ok, so Ladakh isn’t really that unknown, but it’s certainly away from main the tourist trail. Meaning “land of high passes” Ladakh is located in between the Kunlun and Himalayan Mountain ranges. It’s remote, rugged and beautiful, with a mixture of Buddhist and Muslim inhabitants and a strong Tibetan culture. Head to the traveller-friendly and picturesque town of Leh to explore the Tibetan-style palace and Shanti Stupa, or trek the jagged Hidden Valleys of Ladakh.
How to get there: You can fly directly to Leh from Delhi, Srinagar and Jammu (but beware of altitude sickness!). Buses also run from Srinagar and Manali to Leh, whilst the roads are open from June to mid-October.
Spiti Valley, Himalayas
If Ladakh isn’t quite rugged enough for you, Spiti should do the job. A desert mountain valley located high in the Himalayas, the Spiti Valley is one of the least populated, peaceful places in India. Villages are few and far between but you’ll still spot little monasteries perched precariously on crags thousands of feet above.
The beautiful Spiti Valley
How to get there: Accessible all year round by road from Manali or Kaza. Get a good driver and explore some of the most challenging roads in India, if you can stomach it!
Take in the view of the world’s third highest mountain, Kanchenjunga, from the Buddhist-dominated capital of Sikkim. Breathe in the clear air and take the uneven staircase up precipitous ridges to Gangtok. Relax with the other travellers in laid-back cafes and meander through the shop-lined streets, as you plan your next trekking adventure in the state of Sikkim.
Tsomgo Lake near Gangtok
How to get there: All foreign travellers need to get a free 15-day permit to enter Sikkim. Take a shared Jeeps or bus from Siliguri.
Meghalaya, Northeast India
In the far north-east of India, not far from Assam, Meghalaya is a state where women own the land. Meghalaya is one of the few places in the world with a matrilineal system – families take the mother’s surname and the wife owns the home. Visited by few foreign tourists, the cool, wet mountain state of Meghalaya is made up of rainforests, living root bridges, huge caves, wildlife sanctuaries and great community-based eco tourism.
How to get there: Fly to Guwahati from Kolkata and get a taxi to Shillong.
Based in the middle of the Brahmaputra River, India’s largest river island, Majuli is unashamedly picturesque. Totally exposed to the elements, Majuli has unparalleled natural beauty but is getting smaller by the day. Covered in bright green rice fields and dotted with 22 spiritual Satras (neo-monasteries), activities include birdwatching tours and observing festivals and dances.
How to get there: Get the ferry from Nimatighat or charter your own boat for a day trip.
If you’ve had enough of Goa’s palm-lined beaches (as if!), take a train-ride inland to Hampi and explore these amazing ruins. Set in a spell-binding landscape of giant red rock boulders, palm grove forests and green rice paddies, the ancient and majestic temples leave you wondering how such a place could have existed so long ago. As a World Heritage Site, Hampi does attract a tourist crowd, but if you stay on the other side of the river from the bazaar (accessible only by paddle boat!) you’ll be able to relax in the paddy fields and watch sunset over the red rock plains.
How to get there: Take a train to Hospet from Goa, Bangalore or Hyderabad. From there you can get a bus to Hampi bus station or get an autorickshaw for 30 minutes.
Hampi & monkey
When you explore this part of Kerala you will discover gloriously hidden beaches and unspoilt local culture. Also known by it’s Portuguese name of Cannanore, Kannur is a quiet coastal city with some of the best beaches in Kerala. Famous for the Theyyam ritual dance, you can see the performance in many different temples in Kannur between the months of November and April.
How to get there: Kannur train station has connections with all major cities in India, including Mumbai, Kochi, Bangalore and Chennai.
Pichavaram Mangrove Forest, Tamil Nadu
If you’re travelling through Tamil Nadu in South India, try to stop by to see the world’s second largest Mangrove Forest at Pichavaram. Spread over nearly 3,000 acres joining the Bay of Bengal, the forest is home to 200 species of birds as well as marine life and otters. Take a paddle boat through the mangrove forest canals – but go in the cooler hours of the day as it can get pretty hot!
How to get there: From Pondicherry or Chennai, take the train to Chidambaram from where you can access the park by road.
For a unique rail journey, take the train from Mumbai to scenic Matheran. Set amongst the green Sahyadri Hills, the Matheran Railway is a small narrow gauge railway connecting Matheran to Neral in the plains. You’ll find no cars or motorbikes in Matheran, making it a really peaceful place to visit. Take the toy train up to Matheran Hill Station for the best views and sunsets.
How to get there: Take the train from Mumbai!
Dudhsagar Falls, Goa
Goa isn’t all beaches and party towns – it’s also full of National Parks, lakes, springs and waterfalls -the best of which is Dudhsagar Falls on the border of Karnataka. The water falls from a hight of 310 meters and is bright white creating a truly beautiful spectical.
How to get there: Get the train to Colem from Margao.