Unlike last year, 2017 has plenty of long weekends, perfect for exploring India—and there’s plenty to discover. From new safari hotspots and secluded beaches (yes, there are still a few) to cultural escapes in the northeast and down south—this list is all about exploring the country’s still undiscovered secrets. Go on, start planning now.
Goa’s easy beach vibe and the Andaman’s fluorescent blue waters come together in the southern coastal town of Rameshwaram. This lesser-explored beach retreat is ideal for kayaking, snorkelling, and kite boarding—all fun ways to explore the Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park between Rameswaram Island and the port city of Tuticorin. Local outfits like Quest Expeditions organise kayaking and snorkelling trips to nearby coves and islets, introducing visitors to colourful corals and marine life such as sea turtles and dolphins. Make a detour to the nearby ghost town of Dhanushkodi, a half hour drive away. Ruined by a cyclone in 1964, Dhanushkodi has remained abandoned ever since—only the shell of a church remains standing today.
There’s never been a better time to go tiger-spotting. Thanks to anti-poaching efforts by conservationists and rangers, tiger numbers have shot up from 3,200 in 2010 to 3,890 in 2015—and about two-thirds of these cats can be found in India. See the striped star up close at Bandhavgarh, which has one of the highest tiger densities of any reserve. The forest also has a cluster of man-made caves, some of which are prehistoric. Tigers also roam Kanha, the largest and most picturesque park in Madhya Pradesh, with vast grasslands and fragrant mahua trees. Get a ringside view at the luxurious Banjaar Tola. More here.
Sikkim has a lot going for it. Its lush forests, piercing blue lakes and mountains are a must-visit for nature lovers, more so after the Khangchendzongpa National Park was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 2016. The protected area covers quarter of Sikkim’s total area and is crowned by Mount Khangchendzonga, the third-highest peak in the world. Sikkim also became India’s first organic state in 2016, which means all produce is grown without chemical pesticides. To soak in its great outdoors, try the 10-day Goecha La trek. In the summer, the trail flowers with five different types of rhododendron, painting the hill sides deep and vivid crimson. Sikkim’s local cuisine too, is incredibly interesting—think fermented soups of soy and spinach, wild ferns and mushrooms, and pancakes stuffed with homemade cheese and leafy greens. More here.