Intrepid travel India – 5 places you must see
India is a country with endless stretches of wilderness that makes it a wonderland for any adventurous soul. Many of us burn to get off the well-worn tourist track and make our own footprints rather than follow everyone else’s. I have spent almost half a decade on the Indian subcontinent exploring every last nook and cranny I could. In my experience, some places stand out way more than others, and In my post on Intrepid travel India I want to share five of my favourite places, so you too can make your own awesome adventure.
Due to its incredibly varied landscapes, it is possible to trek in the high Himalaya and venture into lush tiger filled jungles all on one trip. There is a rich tapestry of culture to experience and so many different from our own. Centuries of history have made this land what it is today, and many of the best sights are far from the crowds. While it is impossible to list all the good stuff in just one post, I can tell you my absolute favourites, and here they are.
You will find I have given a brief overview of each destination and provided a link to my more detailed posts on each subject. This post is designed to whet your appetite and inspire you. So read on see what places appeals to you. I have visited each place in-depth for at least a week in each part. So I am in a position to share a well researched and sincere review for each. So without further ado, let us jump straight in.
The root bridges of Meghalaya
Number one on my list of places for Intrepid travel in India would always have been here. Why? Because it is truly spectacular! Yet it sounds so mundane to make a beeline to see a bunch of old bridges, right? However, these places are extra special.
These stunning bridges are made by threading the roots of the rubber fig tree Ficus elastica across one the many rivers in the area. The Khasi people who inhabit the hills in this great state have been making these bridges for generations and as far as we know these extraordinary creations are today the only sustainable structures that human beings have ever made. That is to say, it is the only known truly symbiotic relationship between the humans and the natural world, as the tree becomes more robust every year, and the people have a way to cross the raging rivers in the monsoon.
The hills here are some of the wettest places on earth with as much as 18 meters of rainfall in a single year. That is an amount of water that’s hard for most of us to get our heads around. What’s more most of this falls in a relatively short space of time. So for centuries, these bridges have been essential to the local communities.
To visit the area, almost everyone will come through Shillong. It is the capital of the state and a charming town to relax in for a few days. It takes time and planning to organise public transport from here so you will probably have to spend a sometime anyway.
Check out the two tourist information offices that are in the centre of town. One is straight across the road from the central bus station. They are accommodating and can give information that’s hard to obtain from elsewhere. There is a small park that houses wards lake and the stunning pinewood hotel just away from the centre of town. Stop for a cup of tea in this historical treasure. It can make a pleasant way to take up an afternoon while you wait.
To get to Shillong is pretty straight forward. There are many public busses from the bus stand near the railway station in Guwahati and Its only 2.5 hours Aizwal 16 hours, Dimnipur 10 hours and Cherrapunjee 2.5 hours.
There are also shared jeeps going all around the area, and they leave from just below the roundabout near the main square. The MTC bus stand is on jail road and very central to all of the hotels. To get to Mawlynnong from Shillong ( the bridge pictured above ), you have to go to a bustling car park that is downhill from the central part of town. If you get lost just ask someone, and they will point you in the right direction. There are only a couple of jeeps a day so find out when they leave before you turn up with your luggage.
Many hotels do not accept foreign tourists for whatever reason. Two hotels I know that does is Hotel rainbow and the Earlie Holiday Home. In Hotel RAinbow you can ger a cosy room for about 1000 to 2500 rupees. In the quirky Earle Holiday Home, there is a classic 1920s feel to it. The attached restaurant sells good food and is open till late. Rooms are from 800 upwards and very atmospheric if not basic.
This list is not exhaustive if you are not happy with either, but you will have to walk around a bit to find somewhere that will accept you. If you are native to the country, then there are oodles of places for you to stay and you can shop around for the best deals. Foreigners will have to settle for what they can get here.
The root bridge in Mawlynnong is one of the most famous. When you arrive at the village, there are many places to get a nights sleep. Still, they are very overpriced as the village has a rather ominous reputation for being the cleanest village in Asia and this has made it popular with domestic tourists.
Spend the night and go to the bridge in the morning to get the place alone and for the early morning lighting that gives it even more appeal and is best for photography.
There is plenty of beautiful countryside to stretch your legs in. You may need this as most busses leave in the morning so you may have to enjoy the day in the village as you would have missed your bus.
The other set of bridges are in an area called Cheranpunjee, they are scattered around, and it takes time and effort to visit them all. Most tourists stay in a town called Sohra, where there are a few guesthouses, and many are expensive.
It is a charming town with standing stones similar to that you would find in England. The downside to staying here is it is far away from the bridges. However, it is possible to hike to Nongriate from here. I have not done it myself but gear yourself up for a full days walk.
When I visit, I much prefer to be in Cherrapunjee Holiday Resort. It is ridiculously overpriced at 3700 for a room for full board. However, they have bunks in a dormitory, and they are only 750 rupees. I stay here because it is in a good place close to many other bridges and they are very experienced at organising stuff such as rooms in Nongriate that are hard to come by. There are only two guests houses in the village, and they get booked out quickly, so its good to have a connection.
The downside to staying here is you will need a private taxi from Sohra to drop you off and its quite far. There are many walks in the area, including one to a sharp drop in the mountains where you can look on the plains of Bangladesh below. Walking to Nongreate is a 2000 step walk down although I hear a road has been completed much to the villager’s dismay. The land is stunning here, particularly between December and the beginning of February when the water the calm and forms many colourful pools.
I would recommend the walk rather than the jeep as its very scenic and visiting the many tiny Christian hamlets along the way is something special. Budget a good week in this area to get a feel of it and to be able to absorb it all in. For a full breakdown of this area, check out the post called A Backpackers Guide to the Root Bridges of Meghalaya.
Majuli island Assam
Sitting in the middle of the Brahmaputra river lies Majuli island. It is a land of shifting sandbanks, Forests, farmland and timeless culture. The island is approximately 450 square km (but whos to say when it is continually moving.) It plays host to one of the best off the beaten track adventures you can have in India. Majuli is home to 22 Satras (ancient neo – Vaishnavite monasteries), and they offer a fascinating insight into local life. Majuli is home to a wide variety of animals including over 100 species of birds.
Three tribal communities call this island home the Misings, the Deoris and the Sonowal Kachoris. You will find many small traditional villages shimmering between the rice paddies, that you can hike or cycle too.
The villages are beautiful and bursting with traditional culture. Even getting from one village to another will leave you wide-eyed as you pass through the scenic farmland that’s punctuated by countless rivers, lakes and streams.
The people are warm and welcoming, and this island is where you can easily pass a week exploring. But don’t take to long to get here. According to reports, Majuli island will be gone entirely in a couple of decades due to erosion.
The gateway to the island is from a town called Jorhat. Many travellers will stay at Hotel Heaven as it is one of the few hotels in the area that accepts foreign tourists.
The hotel is definitely not heaven; however, the staff are friendly. They have a restaurant that sells tasty food, and they have Wifi. The rooms are between 800 and 1200 rupees for a nights sleep. The shared jeeps to the pier are from just outside the hotel.
Most people will not linger in Jorhat as it is a very unremarkable town with little to offer the tourist. But a short shared auto ride away is the Hoolongapar gibbon sanctuary.
Its is only 25 square km, so it is the perfect place to get up close and personal with these critically endangered primates. The park is also home to the capped languor and stump-tailed macaque among many other species. To reach there ask at the shared auto stand near the hotel. For details on this wonderful place, check out my post on the gibbon sanctuary.
To reach the island get an auto to the pier then its a 20 rupee boat journey for an hour and a half. Crossing the Brahmaputra river is a very scenic experience in itself. The boats leave at 8.30, Am 10.30 Am, 1.30 Pm and 3 pm, and the return journey is at 7.30 Am, 8.30 Am, 1.30 pm and 3 pm. There are places to get some snacks and have tea if you wind up turning up early. Bear in mind its quite away from Jorhat when you plan your journey.
Once on the island, you will need to find a place to sleep, and there is not as many of those as you might expect. I stayed at La Maison de Ananda in Garamur. Take a shared taxi or get on one of the packed out busses from the pier to get there. The hotel is quite pleasant, and there are different kinds of room in a traditional style. The cheaper ones are made of bamboo and on stilts, and that was just fine for me. The owners try to encourage birds by putting fruit out and waking up in the morning watching the beautiful tropical birds on my porch was just amazing.
There are some half-decent places to eat in town and the family you will be staying with serves fantastic traditional Assamese food in the evening. Snacks and breakfast are available anytime.
To get around the island hire a bicycle and if you want to go a bit further hire a motorbike, but take note the roads are in a deplorable condition as the whole island floods annually in the monsoon. So obviously don’t come to Majuli at this time.
The Satras are mostly within cycling distance, but some of the more traditional villages are quite far so you will need a motor. It takes some time to visit the island as there is so much to see and it is spread out, not to mention things here tend to happen in time rather than on time.
Again this rapidly disappearing gem of a destination deserves a full post of its own and if you want to find out more on Majuli then click here. Believe me when I say this place is well worth the time and effort it takes to get here.
The tiny village of Mandu has only a few streets, and you could walk from one side of it to another in a few minutes. So it is hard to envision this place was once the centre of the mighty Mogul empire. Mandus short reign of glory has left its mark everywhere that you look. There are many historical ruins that you can explore without the crowds. What the Moguls left behind are spread out on an incredibly scenic and fertile plateau. It is just not feasible to see all of this history laid out before you in only one day.
If these timeless ruins alone aren’t enough to bring you here, it is also incredibly culturally rich. Nothing reflects that more than coming to the Saturday Haat (Market.) The local tribe’s people that live in the area come far and wide to be here. This sort of market is hard to see elsewhere in India as they tend to be in way more remote locations. I found watching the people come and trade everything from the freshly caught catch of the day to plastic tableware to be utterly fascinating.
If Mandus history and culture are still not enough to convince you it is a good idea to come here, the countryside is also incredible. There are friendly villages you can walk to through some of the most picturesque countryside you could hope to find. Colossal Baobab trees punctuate the lush green fields, and countless lakes attract wildlife of all descriptions.
I found walking here to be therapeutic, and I would recommend this place to anyone wholeheartedly. This village deserves to be on my top 5 intrepid destinations India. If you like the sound of this place and want to find out more, I have written a separate post called three amazing things to do in Mandu.
The tribes of Jagdalpur
Jagdalpur is the capital of the Bastar region of Chhatisgarh and serves as a base to explore the area the eight tribes of Bastar call home. Visiting here is a very intense experience, and you will need a guide even to find any of the villages in the first place. There are some 3500 tribal villages in the area, and they are excellent craftsmen. The local Haats are an excellent place to start here and some you can visit by bus on your own steam. You will see locals trade cattle and bet on cockfighting over a cup of Mahuwa ( a potent local brew.)
Their culture is very different from elsewhere in the country. One of the more extraordinary customs, I found is the belief that if your sick you should put your hands in a fire ants nest and it will cure you. Presumably, because you will be in so much pain, you will forget about your fever. They also make a chutney from them.
Another unusual custom is when two young lovers like each other they go to a particular building to have a trial marriage and see how it goes and if it does not go well they find another better-suited partner.
As a whole, the locals speak little English and set mostly in very remote areas so you will need some help. I contacted Awesh Ali [email protected]. He has a fixed rate of 1500 rupees a day for himself and then you need to hire a taxi and pay for petrol if you are in a group of two and upwards. If you are on your own, he has a motorbike so you will cut out that cost. He is very knowledgeable, and I found him to have a good relationship with the people.
He speaks nine languages, so it is possible to have a meaningful interaction with the locals, and he can explain what you are seeing. For example, I saw a small shrine in the jungle, and he told me that it was where local people come to ask for a safe day in the forest. I would have never have understood that by myself. Trust me when I say he is well worth the money as that would have been just a pile of rocks without him to explain.
As for sleeping in town, there are few options. I stayed in Hotel Rainbow. It is a no-frills experience but they except foreign tourists. The restaurant is delicious, and I would recommend an AC room strongly if you come at any other time except the high summer as there is a problem with malaria and Dengue in the area. I caught Dengue here myself, and it is no fun, let me tell you.
The bus stand is 1.5km out of town realistically about 30 rupees in an auto, but I found bargaining to be very hard here. There are frequent buses to Raipur where you can connect from there.
There is only one train from Jagdalpur, and that is sleeper class only. It is a risk in itself so maybe get off in Koraput to stop being bitten in the night. Train number 18448 Hirakhand Express leaves at 3 pm, and 18 hours later you arrive in Bhubaneswar in Odisha, so an express train it is not. Many tribal people will be getting on with you for the first portion, and this can be very interesting. There were absolutely no ticket officers for this portion of the journey, and I cant see many of the people having valid tickets anyway. It is undoubtedly one of the more remarkable train journeys I have ever made on the subcontinent.
Thattekad bird sanctuary
This is an off the beaten track destination, and it is also a global birding hotspot, and even if you have never been into birds, you can not fail to be impressed by the share diversity of the wildlife here. The tiny park is only 25 square kilometres but, is home to a whopping 320 bird species, and many are very rare to find. On my visit I saw Sri Lankan bay owl, Spot bellied owl, Dwarf Kingfisher, White-breasted treepie, Sri Lankan frogmouth, Malabar parakeet, Malabar hornbill and many many more.
The area is set along a river with forests on each side and surrounded by some stunning farmlands. You don’t have to pay to enter the farmlands, so that makes for a nice walk at your leisure for a little extra birding. The real hotspot is far away from the park, and you will need to pay for transportation but is not very much. The numbers here are staggering, and as you meander over the ancient lava flows, you will find your head is continually craned upwards as you marvel at the riot of colour that flutters above you.
To stay here, there are limited options. I stayed in the jungle bird homestay that’s actually inside the park although you don’t have to pay if you don’t go inside the forest.
This delightful homestay is owned by a very knowledgable family and can arrange guided tours, and it pays to have one. The traditional Keralan food is fantastic, and there is lots of it.
You pay all-inclusive 1300 rupees, and the rooms are very comfortable indeed. The building overlooks a lake so you can see many bird species right from your porch and the giant Malabar squirrels are a delight to watch as you eat your food. For further information, check out www.junglebirdhomestay.blogspot.com.au.
To access the park is straight forward, it is on the main Ernakulam to Munnar highway. Get off at Kothamangalam and wait for a local bus to take you the rest of the way. If this sounds like it is for you, then don’t hesitate to check out my post on the bird sanctuary. There are many reasons to come here, and it makes an easy stopover so why wait?
Summary of my post on Intrepid travel India.
Even though India is the second-most populous country, there are endless opportunities to get off the beaten track and stretch your legs. This was just five off many destinations like this. I kept my suggestions varied as to appeal to as many readers as possible. I want to inspire your thoughts so you can start to plan your next big trip for yourselves. For me, nothing feels better than to be working towards making your dreams a reality, so here are my 5 suggestions.
I hope you have found this post useful and Look out for more posts like this. As usual, I would love your feedback on your experiences and anything I could be doing better. Please feel free to leave your comments in the box provided and happy travels my fellow intrepid travellers.
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