‘Which one is your favorite place?’, people often ask me. And when I take time to think about one, they are like, ‘Come on, there’s got to be a favorite’. And I think harder but I can’t seem to place one as favorite over others. Because it’s just not the places but what you have done within those places, matters. There are so many of us whose idea about a perfect holiday is just to crash in some good, luxury resort, order wine & good creamy food & watch TV for hours with absolutely no disturbance. And I get that. I am guilty of doing this once in a while too when the mortal world becomes too much to take, and you are not ready to quit yet, and not want to face any other human being for more than 10 mins. at a stretch; that kind of holiday happens.
That being done, for a larger part of a year, my travelling gene gets super active that makes me take long walks, eat tons of food, wake up early to catch the coveted Sunrises, chase blooming flowers, explore the ruins, wonder at the architecture & take the guide’s word for who’s made it and why, and try to shop for something local. A few years back, I decided to abandon all foreign trips till the time I tour to all 29 states of India. And my corporate-cultivated mind decided to put a timeline to it i.e. the end of 2020. Honestly, with only 16 states done, this seems to be a super stretch goal, but I am not calling it quits yet. Life has a way of suprising you when you least expects it, and I am counting on ‘Life’ for this one. So, here I am listing out 12 lifetime experiences from 16 states of Incredible India that should definitey be on your bucket list. This, by the way, is not an exhaustive list & I would probably have missed innumerable sights and scenes of India, and yet the following is also something that you should definitely check:
1. Steal the scenes from the Tulip Gardens of Kashmir
Imagine what heaven would look like, and then imagine the most beautiful, fragrant and colorful spot in heaven – that’s Tulip Gardens for you. You glow inside these gardens, and become a part of a masterpiece that God had painted on a fine day with brighter colors. And it just keeps getting better with hills around, changing temperature, therapeutic Kehwa & assortment of baked breads. I tell you very few things in Life can come close to this.
2. Go bonkers in the Thar of Jaisalmer
From the cold, romantic climate of Kashmir, Rajasthan sounds arid and dry. It also sounds royal, regal & rustic. It all is, and more. Ride a camel through the deep sand dunes of Sam & inhale the royal air while watching the Sun set. If you are the adventurous one who is high on adrenaline, do some dune-bashing in a Jeep. Camp in the desert at night, witness the sparkling, starry night, enjoy the folk music and dance show & eat daal-baati-churma. And if you are the movie buff, watch the cult Sridevi starring Lamhe.
3. Fly up to the highest points of Gulmarg via the Gondola ride
This one is ethereal. Snow-clad mountains everywhere, people sledging here and there and guides pointing their finger towards a distant spot while telling you that everything beyond that point is Pak-occupied-Kashmir. And when you see Tricolor hoisted some stones away, it fills you with Pride and love for your country. And all these years that you have spent in this ancient country suddenly begin to make sense. While the sight in itself is celestial, the Gondola ride to-and-fro blows your mind . Nothing like it, really!
4. Save some space for the flower that blooms once-in-12-years: Neelakurinji
You have heard of Ooty? You have been to Nilgiris? If not, Google it. You will be dazzled by the pictures. Nilgiris have got their name after the simple lookining flower, Neelakurinji. The flower looks simple but looks exquisite. What’s fantastic is the fact that the flower blooms once in 12 years, and creates out-of-this-world scenes when all the hills around that place are carpeted with this Blue flower, Neelakurinji.
It bloomed in 2018 and will bloom in 2030 the next time. Put it in your bucket list.
5. Watch the Blue expanse of Pangong Lake
Some experiences, places and events are built up in your mind so much that when you actually are in it, you go, ‘huh! What’s the big deal about it?’. I was so excited about visiting Pangong that I was a bit scared that the place might not live up to the hype I have created in my mind. But it did. It was Blue-licious, lake-tastic, Pangong-amazing. What I am essentially saying is – that I loved Pangong so much that there are no words to explain its sheer brilliance.
6. Go paragliding in BirBilling
The very moment when the parachute caught the wind, and my feet lifted from the ground, I almost felt like a bird. I did. Yes, I did. And that’s when I realised what it means to be free like a bird. And if you want to have a flight, it should definitely come from a certain height. And what could be a better place for this than the second highest paragliding site in the world, BirBilling. Go for paragliding & see how high you get.
7. Drink Tea amidst the Tea gardens of Munnar while enjoying all possible shades of Green
This is my favorite, top of the list things to do. Munnar with its graded hills & impossible-to-concieve shades of Green, activate neural networks that probably weren’t there in your brain before you stepped in Munnar. And if you sip tea amidst the hills, there’s not a single sense of yours that’s not indulged – skin for the cool air touches and runs away before you could catch it; tea for the taste, Green for the eyes, and the melange of sounds for the ears, and let’s not forget the Caffeinated, crisp smells that waft in and out by seconds.
8. Eat your heart’s contents in Lucknow & wash it over with the epic Thandai
This place is a foodie’s paradise with Kebabs, Mutton dishes, Nihari and what not? The non-vegetarians can eat round the clock and still not be able to taste all the dishes – that’s how huge Lucknowi food platter is. The interesting thing is that vegetarians don’t have to disheartened either for they can dig in Aloo-Kachori, Basket Chaat, Paranthas, Kulfi and the famous – Thandai.
The tour to Bada Imambara & the shopping for Chiken are added bonus.
9. Go for the evening boat ride along the Ghats of Varanasi – the oldest city in the world
I have never understood why a boat ride in a rickety, old style boat feels so good. Given that there are no life-jackets, deep waters and boatmen with questionable credentials on such rides, it should evoke fear, anxiety and worry. But it doesn’t. It just feels right. It feels out-of-the-routine. And on some evenings, you yearn for the ride to never come to an end.
Add ancient Ghaats, a view into Lifestages, and a world view of human emotions – you have the Varanasi boat ride ready for you. Early mornings and late evenings are the best.
10. Spend a few days amongst the ruins of Vijaynagara empire in Hampi & do listen to the musical pillars
Did you know that there are a few musical pillars in one of the temples in India that play music if you touch/ rub them. Nobody knows how these sounds are created and played, and the pillars have gained the status of acoustic marvels. These pillars are in Hampi along with the stepped wells, tall statues of Lord Ganesha and UgraNarsimha, points for gorgeous sunsets, remote trails, elephants who would bless you lovenigly and remnants of a bygone era. The entire place has ruins placed at every nook and corner as if the soul of the town is still stuck in yesteryears while the beings have moved forward with time.
Enjoy the Beige, the Brown and the boulders of beaming Hampi
11. Bow your head before Lord Buddha of Diskit monastery
Ladakh is full of monasteries, each of which is unique in its own way, each of which gives you something that you can take away with yourself for all the years to come, each of which blesses you if you come with a clean heart and a curious soul. I, however, was taken aback, in the true sense of the word, when I reached Diskit. The towering status of Lord Buddha captivates you like an adorable baby – the one that you don’t want to take your eyes off from. And yet, the look in Lord’s eyes is so powerful that you could feel it in your bones. I did. I kept moving around, trying to absorb in the surrounding views which were majestic too. But I keep looking back to the figure of Lord Buddha. I just couldn’t see, register or remember anything else. I also made a request/ wish which was very childish. In a few years, we will know whether it will come true or not, but even if it doesn’t, I can’t forget how I felt in there. And if I ever go back to Ladakh, Diskit will be one of the prime reasons behind that.
12. Ride the route to and breathe in the thin air at, Khardungla
This post might seem tilted towards Ladakh or Kashmir or both, and rightly so. If you feel that way too, you know where you should be planning your next holiday to.
Ladakh is a truckload of experiences, and a mere mention of two or three places doesn’t sum up the place well. And yet I am trying the impossible. Other than the Blue-divine Pangong Lake experience and being a part of an energy ball at Diskit, the closest I have come to being alive with no baggage was when I crossed Khardungla – thw highest motorable pass in the world at a height of 18,380 ft plus. The air gets thinner at that height, and Oxygen levels deplete at a faster pace. You get dizzy. You all from the metropolitan cities who feel previliged & entitled for reasons unknown as if the world owes you something – well, news for you – even you feel dizzy and uneasy up there. And that’s why I love Khardungla. It treats everyone the same. It treats everyone right. Just like it should be. Try it.