India has aroused the fascination of westerners since ancient times. So great was the ancient lore of that then mysterious land, that Alexander the Great nearly broke his army in his attempt to follow in the footsteps of Hercules. Lucky for the Indophiles of today, there is no need to cross deserts or brave the stormy oceans.
However, the very accessibility that modern travel provides makes it ever more difficult for the traveler to seek the “real” India, that is, one as yet unspoilt and not flooded with legions of other foreign tourists. Fortunately for the traveler seeking a unique experience, India is a big enough place that many areas have escaped the notice of the herd.
For example, the Lakshadweep islands, formerly known as the Laccadives, are India’s own hidden tropical island paradise. With 16 coral atolls, these islands offer stunning natural beaches, excellent weather year round, except of course during the monsoon months, when any kind of outdoor activity is to be avoided. Since tourism has been promoted there, the usual tropical seaside diversions of diving, and yachting are all to found in abundance. While there is a steady crowd of visitors to the islands, the tourist volume is nothing compared to similar Asian destinations like Phuket in Thailand! Since Lakshwadeep is very close to Kerala, there are various resorts in Kumarakom Kerala that offer tours to Lakshwadeep.
If sandy beaches are not your thing, then a visit to the Ladakh region of Kashmir in the Himalayas offers a truly unforgettable journey. Nestled high up in the Himalayas with a typical altitude of over 10,000 feet, this region is perfect for nature lovers, outdoorsmen, and cultural visitors alike. Despite efforts to attract visitors, the entire Kashmir region is shunned by most visitors, due to the simmering conflict over the area with Pakistan and China. This lack of visitors, as well as the fact that the closed borders between the disputing nations makes regular trade impossible, adds to the impression of a lace frozen in time. In many villages, the only indication that we are living in modern times is the inevitable Indian Army garrison. The Ladakh region is, unlike the rest of Kashmir, predominantly inhabited by Buddhists. The picturesque mountainsides are dotted with thousand year old Buddhist temples and monasteries.
Such a rugged and beautiful region was already popular with westerners in the days of the Raj. Under British colonial rule, most British officers spent their entire yearly leave time hiking the trail from Srinagar to the Himalayan foothills, where the magnificent sight of K2, the second highest mountain on earth can be seen. A network of stations that grew along this route to provide a variety of sporting activities still exist today, and it can still be traveled, although due to the unstable situation in western Kashmir, it is best to take the route through relatively tranquil Ladakh.
Natasha Dogre first visited India in 2003, and has been living in India for the last 6 years. She teaches yoga and works in travel for The Paul, a 5 star hotel in Bangalore. You can reach her on Natasha.dogre@gmail(dot)com to know more.