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7 Things to Experience in India That Aren’t the Taj Mahal

Posted on June 30, 2016 by Lavanya Sunkara & filed under Travel
The Taj Mahal, the palaces of Rajasthan, and the beaches of Goa all come to mind when traveling to India. But there’s more to this magnificent subcontinent that remains unexplored. From the monasteries of the Seven Sister States and the serene beaches of South India to the salt marshes of the Thar and the tea plantations of Assam, every corner of the country is replete with gorgeous vistas and awe-inspiring architecture. Treat yourself on the roads less traveled on your journey to a land of infinite diversity and beauty.

1. Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh

Situated at 12,500 feet above sea level, the Spiti Valley is a desert ravine surrounded by mountain ranges enveloped in snow. A visit to the Spiti is incomplete without touring Ki Monastery and Tabo Monastery; one of the oldest monasteries in the world, this sanctuary is perched on crags a thousand feet above the valley and is a favorite of the Dalai Lama. Sharing an international boundary with Tibet, its inhabitants follow Tibetan Buddhism and embrace the culture of their neighboring country. There’s plenty for adventure seekers, as the soaring peaks beckon you for hikes overlooking the moonscape terrain.

Spiti Valley India
Photo Credit: © iStock/f9photos

2. Tawang Monastery, Arunachal Pradesh

As part of the Seven Sister States, situated at the foothills of the mighty Himalayas in Northeastern India, Arunachal Pradesh is lush with scenic beauty and home to several monasteries, including The Tawang Monastery. Known in Tibetan as Galden Namgey Lhatse, which translates to "celestial paradise in a clear night," it is the largest monastery in India, and the second largest in Asia. For a thrilling experience after reflecting with the monks, take a 20-minute cable car ride over incredible views to Ani Gompa nunnery.

India Off the Beaten Path Travel Guide
Photo Credit: © iStock/Danielrao

3. Majuli, Assam

Nestled in the middle of the Brahmaputra River, Majuli, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is located 12 miles from Jorhat. This scenic island will leave you mesmerized by its shimmering rice fields and watery meadows. Go for the untouched beauty, cultural celebrations, bird watching, and friendly people. While the monsoon season is a beautiful time to visit, it’s also when the river erodes the edges of the island, making scientists believe it may disappear in the next 20 years.

Majuli India
Photo Credit: © iStock/Danielrao

4. Salt Desert of Rann, Gujarat

Located in the western end of Gujarat, the Salt Desert is known as Rann of Kutch. It is not only a spectacular seasonal marsh in the Thar Desert, but it’s also one of the biggest producers of salt in India, with an area of around 10,000 square miles. Visit during the Rann Utsav festival for a colorful introduction to this white desert that lasts two months starting in November. Meet local artisans and craftspeople, enjoy folk music, and relish live performances.

Salt Desert India
Photo Credit: © iStock/Rafal Cichawa

5. Araku Valley, Andhra Pradesh

The soothing hill station (mountain town) of Araku in Visakhapatnam, in the Eastern Ghats, is where the locals go to cool down from the scorching summer heat. Thick forests, rolling grasslands, lush orchards, and a pleasant climate define this southern gem. It’s most famous for its coffee plantations; its organic Araku Coffee is sold all over the world. The Tribal Museum portrays handicrafts and the lifestyles of those who inhabit the surrounding areas.

Araku Coffee Plantation India
Photo Credit: © iStock/MiaZeus

6. Coonoor, Tamil Nadu

The quiet Coonoor is located 44 miles from Coimbatore, 6,000 feet above sea level, and is the ideal base for your outdoor adventures in the Nilgiri Hills. One of the more popular trails is Lamb's Rock, overlooking the Coimbatore plains, providing a breathtaking view of the tea and coffee plantations below. The hill station is connected by the famous Nilgiri Mountain Railway between Coimbatore and Ooty, its popular neighbor full of crowds. Visit Sim’s Park, a small Botanical Garden that houses unique varieties of plants that can’t be found in the neighboring Hill Stations.

Coonoor India
Photo Credit: © iStock/stefanocapra

7. Gokarna, Karnataka

For pristine, unspoiled beaches, head to Gokarna, a relaxed temple town on the banks of the Arabian Sea. The town is popular among Hindu pilgrims, as it is home to one of Lord Shiva's ancient temples, Mahabaleshwar, that comes to life during important festivals, including Shivaratri and Ganesh Chaturthi. While the Gokarna beach itself is popular with locals, visit the Kundle, Om (named after its unique shape), Half Moon or Paradise beaches for some R&R in some seriously serene spots featuring endless coconut trees and clear blue skies.

Gokarna Hindu Temples
Photo Credit: © iStock/pius99

Whether you choose to get in touch with your spiritual side, sip some savory coffee, or simply want to experience the real India, we hope you find these attractions worthy of your consideration.

About the Author: Lavanya Sunkara is a writer based in New York. Her love of adventure has taken her all over the world from Australia to Zanzibar. When she's not traveling, she's hiking with her dog, and planning her next getaway. Follow her on twitter @Nature_Traveler. Read her articles at www.nature-traveler.com.
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