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9 (almost) secret oases of calm in India
India and rest? What sounds like a bad joke is actually possible, because among the crowds, chaos, garbage and horn concerts, there are always enchanting oases of calm hidden in India. You just have to know where to find them. Here are tips on nine (mostly) unknown travel destinations to consider for your next India itinerary!
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Table of Contents
India expert Doreen has compiled the locations. She worked in India for half a year and during that time she traveled a lot. As Isolde MaReisen, she writes on her fernsuchtblog.de about traveling through India and gives a lot of insider tips, also about other countries like Myanmar, Malaysia or South Africa. There are also helpful backpacker tips, travel pictures and delicious recipes from all over the world. You can also find them on Facebook or Google+.
Oases of calm in India
For many globetrotters, India is both a dream and a nightmare. And you already know that a trip through India can be anything but relaxing. After all, we are talking about a country that is so huge, so densely populated, so mystical and so chaotic like hardly any other. That's why you should always allow yourself a little rest on your journey through “Incredible India”.
Isn't that possible? That works very well! And here:
Valley of Flowers - the gentle side of the Himalayas
Far in the north of India, on the border with Nepal and Tibet, India shows a completely different side. The snow-capped peaks, rugged cliffs and glaciers of the Himalayan Mountains form an impressive contrast to the otherwise chaotic, hectic and dry India. But if you accept the effort and the long journey time to travel to the Indian state of Uttarakhand, you will find a wonderful oasis of calm there: the Valley of Flowers.
In my opinion, the Valley of Flowers is one of the most beautiful trekking routes that nature fans in India can embark on. The starting point is the small town of Ghovindghat, which you can reach, for example, from Rishikesh as part of a 10-hour drive with a chartered pick-up. The drive there is anything but boring, because the road winds its way through the mountains and offers terrifying views into deep gorges. A trip to the Valley of Flowers should be well planned, because the connecting road is not passable all year round due to ice and snow.
Ghovindghat as a small town does not have much to offer and only serves hikers as a starting point for the tour into the Valley of Flowers and as a last supply station. Start early with the ascent to the mountain village of Ghangeria, because the path is steep, stony and requires physical fitness. On the way you can enjoy the soothing solitude of the mountains, because you will rarely meet foreign tourists (if at all) on the way, but gray-bearded pilgrims and rickety donkeys.
The hike leads past thundering waterfalls, crosses rivers and dark forests. Your destination, the mountain village of Ghangeria, consists only of a small settlement with two accommodations and a campsite for hikers. Warm water and electricity are in short supply here. From Ghangeria it is only a stone's throw to the Valley of Flowers, which is around 3,960 meters above sea level in the mountains. Here you become part of an almost untouched ecosystem. The valley is littered with rare, exotic flowers in every imaginable color. And with a little luck you will come across black bears, deer and a multitude of birds and insects here, far away from mass tourism and civilization.
Ooty - tea plantations and colonial charm
Ootacamund (colloquially: Ooty) is located at around 2,400 meters above sea level in the Nilgiri Mountains in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and is the perfect place to escape the stifling hot air of Indian cities. The city was founded by the English. The numerous colonial buildings and beautiful botanical gardens are remaining relics from the colonial era. Today Ooty is primarily known as the home of Nilgiri tea, a strong copper-colored tea that is served with milk, lemon and sugar.
The area around Ooty is not as popular and touristically developed as the tea plantations of Munnar, but that's exactly why the Nilgiri Mountains are so magically quiet. From January to April and from July to August it is harvest time on the local tea plantations. Then you can hear the distinctive rattling of the hand-operated tea-picking equipment in the mountains around Ooty from afar.
Hardworking Indian women work on the plantations and harvest the tea leaves without any mechanical assistance. On the winding streets there are small tea rooms here and there where you can try and buy the admittedly idiosyncratic tea. Ooty is particularly suitable for those who like to be out in nature and the mountains. Activities such as horse riding, rowing boats and hiking are on the program. Make sure you take warm clothes with you, however, because it can get quite fresh in the Nilgiri Mountains.
Mamallapuram - Monument to the stonemasons
Just 60 kilometers from the turbulent Indian city of Chennai in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, there is a magical little coastal town that has long been forgotten: Mamallapuram.
Mamallapuram was only recently rediscovered and in 1985 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its diverse architectural monuments. Generations of stonemasons once set a unique monument here.
Already on the connecting road from Chennai to Mamallapuram, numerous craftsmen's yards have settled to the right and left of the road, from which the whirring of saws and files can be heard. It is very busy in the artisan yards. Without mouth or eye protection and completely covered with white dust, the stonemasons crouch in front of huge granite and marble blocks and create statues, sculptures and columns with filigree precision work.
Mamallapuram is one of the most important archaeological sites in South India. In the temple area there are 14 cave temples, various stone temples and, among many other reliefs, the largest bas-relief in the world. The temples and reliefs were carved directly into the rock, but the humid sea climate has meanwhile taken a toll on the works of art. Another breathtaking structure is located directly on the beach, the coastal temple Jalasayana. Nevertheless, Mamallapuram has rarely made it onto the India travel route so far.
But it is not only the unique stone temples and rock reliefs that have put Mamallapuram on the list of the most beautiful oases of peace in India. Mamallapuram is a total work of art. Far away from mass tourism and all-inclusive hotels, travelers will find peace and relaxation on the beautiful sandy beaches. The streets of the small town are also lively in the evening. There are very cozy terrace restaurants with South Indian delicacies and small shops where you can stock up on handicrafts. In the evenings there are frequent power outages, when the local stonemasons sit with candles in front of their granite blocks and play chess in the middle of the street. The sound of the sea in combination with the cozy flair of the south Indian small town and the stonemasonry create a unique ambience far away from horn concerts and chaos!
Monkey Temple in Jaipur - Above the roofs of the pink city
The Galwar Bagh Temple is rarely visited by tourists, the number of other architectural highlights in the pink city of Jaipur in the state of Rajasthan is too large. But if you still have some breath after the Amber Fort, the Palace of the Winds and the Jantar Mantar, then you should take the little detour and experience the sunset from the Galwar Bagh Temple.
The Galwar Bagh Temple is enthroned on a rugged rock about 2.5 kilometers outside of the old town of Jaipur. Due to the numerous monkeys that inhabit the rocky landscape and the temple, Galwar Bagh is also known as the monkey temple. You should be careful, however, because the monkeys are cheeky, vehemently demand food and also like to steal your sunglasses from your head.
The Galwar Bagh Temple in itself is not beautiful to speak of, nor is it well-kept or has unusual architectural details. Rather, it is the view over the pulsating, chaotic city of Jaipur, which you can enjoy here undisturbed and far away from large tour groups. The monkey temple is also culturally interesting, because while the pink city is slowly coming to rest, Hindu women and men perform religious ablutions at the monkey temple or make offerings to the five-legged cow that lives here.
Mount Abu - trekking and wild bears
Even if Mount Abu is only a stone's throw away from the classic India travel route, only a few western tourists allow themselves a detour to the only mountain resort in Rajasthan. It is much more the Indians themselves who visit Mount Abu with its around 80 temples as a weekend excursion or a honey moon trip.
At an altitude of 1,200 meters, Mount Abu has a wonderfully pleasant climate and after all the smog and dirt in the Indian cities, travelers can take a deep breath here. Nature lovers get their money's worth at Mount Abu. Numerous hiking routes with different levels of difficulty, from easy hikes to crevice climbing, lead across the mountain range. And with a little luck you can spot wild bears on Mount Abu. Local guides, whom you can hire at almost any accommodation, will help you with the search.
In the city center there is also an idyllic lake where you can relax and rent a paddle boat. There are no horn concerts or traffic noise around Mount Abu. But a wonderful flora and fauna. The magnificent Dilwara Jain marble temple is also an absolute highlight. Pay particular attention to the detailed columns and the artfully crafted ceilings. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed.
Andaman Islands - the pearl of India
Ride a moped through lonely roads through rice plantations and original villages? Enjoy the turquoise blue water on deserted dream beaches without prying eyes? Stroll under coconut-lined palm trees and sleep in a simple wooden hut right on the beach? You can also find all of this in India, on the Andaman Islands, which are still halfway unknown and spared from mass tourism.
The Andaman Islands are separated from the Indian mainland by around 2-3 hours of flight time. When planning your trip, please note that foreign tourists only receive a 30-day visa for the archipelago. Flights go, for example, from Chennai or Kolkatta to Port Blair, the capital of the archipelago. However, Port Blair is anything but an island dream, because here too the rubbish dominates the cityscape. That's why you shouldn't stay too long in Port Blair and drive directly from the small airport to the pier to take a ferry to one of the neighboring islands.
Most tourists are drawn to the island of Havelock, three hours away. Backpackers will find simple bamboo huts right on the beach and dreamy white sandy beaches. The offshore reef invites you to snorkel and dive. It is teeming with fish, manta rays, turtles and reef sharks. Tourists can also rent mopeds or bicycles to explore the island. Here you will find small villages surrounded by rice plantations, mangroves and tropical forests. And with a bit of luck you will also come across a swimming elephant on Havelock Island.
If you want to discover the true beauty of the Andaman archipelago, you should not only visit Havelock Island but also one of the less developed islands such as Neill Island or Long Island. The Andaman Archipelago consists of 572 islands, but only 36 of them are inhabited. In addition, only a few western tourists are allowed to visit, as most of the islands are reserved for the indigenous people there.
The best travel credit card for India
You can save a lot of money on your travels with the right credit card. Here you can find out which cards you can use to withdraw cash free of charge worldwide and pay in local currency at no additional cost. And who is currently the only provider who reimburses you for the foreign fees at the machine, for example in Thailand or Vietnam.
Here is the credit card comparison
Rishikesh - meditation, yoga and ashrams
At the foot of the Himalayas in the Indian state of Uttarakhand there is a place that cannot be surpassed in terms of peace and quiet: Rishikesh. The Indian capital of yoga and meditation is located directly on the banks of the holy Ganges, embedded in a breathtaking mountain panorama. As soon as you set foot in the “city of seers”, you will hear the sound of bells, the murmur of pilgrims and the rustling of the Ganges. You will be amazed how quickly you can leave chaotic India far behind you.
There is a lot to discover in Rishikesh. Friends of the yoga cult and meditation can rent one of the numerous ashrams for a few days. Then morning yoga sessions, various forms of meditation and of course a bath in the icy water of the holy Ganges are on the program. But don't worry, in Rishikesh the Ganges is still wonderfully clear, turquoise blue and clean, as it has just risen from the mighty Himalayan mountains. In the morning and at sunset you can watch the many believers and pilgrims in their religious rituals and daily prayers, the so-called pujas, undisturbed at the ghats of Rishikesh.
In the background, the famous Lakshman Jhula Bridge swings grotesquely from right to left as the locals, numerous cows and monkeys cross the Ganges. In Rishikesh you will meet a colorful mix of people, including self-confessed enlightened people, hippies straight out of a picture book, yoga fanatics in alternative clothing, backpackers, saddhus and monks. Many celebrities also travel to Rishikesh to find enlightenment, including Clint Eastwood and once the Beatles.
Rishikesh is also a place for nature lovers, hikers and adrenaline junkies. Wonderful treks with different levels of difficulty lead across the local mountains, past imposing waterfalls, sleepy mountain villages, abandoned temples and lush green rice plantations. If you need a little more action, you will definitely enjoy one of the spectacular rafting tours.
Backwaters Kerala - by houseboat through South India
The backwaters in the southern Indian state of Kerala have long since ceased to be an insider tip. If you want to leave the chaotic cities, smog and indefinable smells of India behind you, you will find peace, relaxation and lots of nature in the tropical idyll of the backwaters.
The backwaters are a 1,500 kilometer long waterway system in southern India. Around 30 percent of the area of Kerala is covered with water. And it is precisely this that is best explored as part of a multi-day houseboat tour. Kettuvallams are the names of the floating wooden accommodations with which you can set off on the winding network of waterways through the southern Indian hinterland. These are rented including a boat guide and cook who serves delicious local dishes such as fish curry and rice variations during the trip.
The houseboats come in different sizes, from couple kettuvallam to family kettuvallam, and a wide variety of equipment, from simple to luxurious with TV and pool. The duration of the houseboat tour on the backwaters in Kerala can also be varied. However, if you want to experience the real backwaters, you should not limit yourself to the one-day standard tourist route and plan several days.
During a houseboat tour on the backwaters, you will find one thing above all: peace and quiet. Because apart from looking and marveling, there is not much to do. It goes past lush green rice plantations, fully covered banana trees, huge palm trees and sleepy villages. While the children waving happily and going to school in school uniforms in wooden boats, the housewives stand up to their tummies in the water and wash clothes and dishes in the river. The men mainly work on the plantations, transport crops across the water or fish in the river.
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What sounds kind of French is in fact an oasis of calm in the west Indian state of Gujarat. Champaner is a historic city where you will usually look in vain for other western tourists.The Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2004.
Especially in the monsoon season, when the fog hangs low, the mountains of Pavagadh exude a mystical atmosphere. There are all kinds of Hindu and Muslim buildings to marvel at, from mosques, minarets, temples, citadels to tombs, embedded in a hilly forest landscape. Of course, the structures cannot be compared to the Taj Mahal of Agra or the Amber Fort, but you will find peace and solitude here - a rare gift in India!
In the small town of Champaner at the foot of the Pavagadh mountains, things are quite rough and pristine. Women can be tattooed on the street with questionable devices and under even more questionable hygienic conditions, while a herd of sheep crosses the market square 2 meters away. A decorated and painted cow stands in the midst of numerous offerings.
Where did you find relaxation on your trip to India? Reports from your favorite oases of calm in chaotic India!
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About the author
Stefan has been traveling to the countries of Southeast Asia since 2006 and often spends several months there. In 2013 he founded Fascination Southeast Asia and since then has also written several eBooks and books on the subject (including the insider travel guide “555 Tips for Bangkok”). Between his travels he lives and works in Düsseldorf.
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