Historic villages, beautiful (stone) bodies, spirituality and tigers
Here are some more places I really like and feel make a good alternative to focusing on Rajasthan as I recommend in my first article on which places to see first in India. So, if you have limited time and want a little of everything you might like to add these places to the must-do golden triangle (that’s Delhi, Jaipur, Agra).
The quiet, slow-paced life of this quaint village on the banks of river Betwa will be welcome after having visited busy and crowded tourist centres. Infact, you don’t even need a car to explore it…it’s that intimate. So, what’s to do here? Well, this was the capital of a 16th century central Indian kingdom and so several beautiful structures exist here. The fort-palace complex, old temples and the memorials of kings are absolutely beautiful and have a rustic charm.
Apart from the historic sights, it is worthwhile to walk through the village, sip tea at roadside eateries, and chat with friendly local residents. Oh, and the best part is that it is not over-run with tourists.
This is a place where one night would suffice but two nights are even better to really unwind.
I cannot say enough about this destination probably because I cannot get over how stunning the temples are here.
Also located in central India, Khajuraho is also a quiet village, whose only claim to fame are the 10th-12th century temples. But that is quite a claim to fame. Out of the 85 Hindu and Jain temples built here, only around 25 survive. An unbelievable profusion of sophisticated and extremely high-quality sculptures adorns the temples. Humans, celestial beings, animals and gods and goddesses can be seen in these sculptures, looking very elegant and sensuous, going about their activities.
And yes, erotic scenes are also portrayed here. These are very explicit, and one can’t help but wonder what they are doing on temple walls. Well, once you are there, you will discover the possible reasons for this. Or you can read this and find out now and save yourself from touristy stories. These erotic ones comprise less than 10% of the total carvings but the temples have come to be called the ‘erotic temples’ of India. I guess sex sells.
The town itself is quiet, very walkable, and you can even rent cycles to explore the area.
Two nights are good here to enjoy the temples and the village. If you are in a rush, you can still see the temples in one day—it’s worth it.
How does one even begin to describe a place like Varanasi? It is something that you have to experience yourself to understand.
The holiest of holy cities for Hindus on the river Ganges is an ancient city that is steeped in spirituality, ritualism and acceptance of life’s truths. It is teeming with people yet is a place for solitude and reflection.
Participate in, and witness, the rituals that take place at the ghats, the steps that go down to the holy river. Watch people worship the rising sun as they did centuries ago. Walk through the lanes of the old city, wander on the ghats, sit at the river and just observe life. Whatever you do, this city will certainly make a deep impact on you.
Varanasi can be experienced in two days, but if you like the energy here you might like to hang around for longer.
There is always time to squeeze in a wild cat or two.
One of India’s most well-known national parks, Ranthambore has a great track record of successfully protecting and growing tiger populations.
Looking for tigers in India is an exciting game of tracking, driving, waiting, waiting some more, and listening. And keeping your eyes peeled. The thick jungles make the shy animal even more elusive. But when you spot one, it will give you a high like nothing else.
Other than the tiger, many other species of animals inhabit the park. Sambhar deer, spotted deer, langur monkeys, wild boar, leopards, sloth bears, and a huge variety of birds can be seen here. The game drives are absolutely exhilarating and it’s so refreshing to be in nature.
The Ranthambore Fort sits high above the park and makes for a pleasant hike. Being the former hunting grounds of the kings, the jungle is dotted with charming ruins.
If you have time you could also visit the very successful Dastkar centre that empowers women through self-employment. You can even buy the really excellent range of block-printed clothes, hand bags, crafts etc. that they make.
Two nights are good here, with atleast 2 game drives. If you want to maximize your chances of catching the big cat, book more game drives.