The rose-tinted dawn silhouette of the Taj Mahal is one of India’s most iconic sights, reprinted in countless publications across the globe. But away from the most well-known attractions, the country offers many more incredible views – and some of them come without any tourists at all. Below, we round up some of the best
Lepakshi temple complex, Andhra Pradesh
Some of India’s temples throng with tourists, but this crumbling complex 130km from Bangalore is surprisingly serene. Set next to a tiny village, its cluster of 16th-century monuments from the Vijayanagara kingdom include the vast Veerabhadra Temple, with its ornate carvings and painted ceilings. Despite being easily accessible on a 2.5 hour car journey from Bangalore, the pilgrimage site is often largely empty save for wandering dogs and mischievous monkeys.
Ziro Valley, Arunachal Pradesh
Its September music festival may be raucous but, during any other month, this fertile eastern Himalayan landscape of terraced paddy fields, sleepy villages and pine forest is amongst the most tranquil in India. The valley features on UNESCO’s tentative World Heritage List thanks to the nature-worshipping Apatani civilisation who embrace a truly sustainable way of life and celebrate their unique culture with vibrant festivals. Explore lakes, temples and sprawling views over the lush landscape.
With Bounty-ad sand bordered by neon-blue water, the 36 islands of Lakshadweep are straight out of a holiday brochure but, as tourists need permits to visit and these can be difficult to arrange, most foreigners tend to stay away. Surrounded by reef dotted with tropical fish, these islands off the coast of Kerala have been compared to the Maldives, though life on the white-sand dollops remains rooted in centuries-old culture and tradition. Take a plane to the tiny airport on Agatti Island to start your explorations, then journey by speedboat to the handful of other spots in the archipelago that are open to tourism.
Rajasthan is known for big-hitting attractions including Jaipur’s palaces and Udaipur’s lake, but the historic city of Bikaner can be overlooked. Once an important stop on the trade route between Central Asia and the Gujurat coast, its now home to pink-tinged palace hotels, ornate, scarlet-hued merchant’s houses (havelis) and the delicate, soaring facade of Junagadh Fort. Among the narrow lanes of the Old City, you can catch glimpses of everyday life in the city, stopping for chai or samosas as you go. The city is also famous for its bazars, selling all many of boldly coloured goods, from embroidered blankets to traditional sweets.
Diskit Monastery, Leh
More than 3,000 metres above ground level in the Himalayas, Diskit is a town where birdsong hangs in the air and a sprawling 14th-century monastery clings to the landscape. The winding roads here are largely empty and it’s an easy drive to the monastery, where a huge maitreya buddha soars above the scene, surveying the valley below.
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Image credits: Beautiful stone pillars in Lepakshi in the state of Andhra Pradesh in India by Lekhu Stocks © Shutterstock; Countryside rice field in Ziro Arunachal Pradesh in India by explorewithinfo © Shutterstock; Lakshadweep in India by sixpixx © Shutterstock; Fortress in Bikaner in India by Alok Sharma via Unsplash; Diskit Buddha by Janam Parikh via Pexels.