Why not try something different this Valentine’s Day?
Phugtal Gompa, Jammu & Kashmir
Possibly the remotest monastery in Zanskar, Phugtal Gompa is also one of the most spectacularly located – it is set in a mountain cave on the sheer mountain face of a gorge through which a tributary of the Tsarap River (also known as the Lingti or Lungnak) flows. The gompa traces its history back to the 12th century and has at least one old chapel with relatively well-preserved frescoes. Since there’s no road to get there, trekking to Phugtal – possible in one long day, better in two – is easiest using the south-bank trail from Padum. Rather than returning to Padum, many trekking groups continue to Darcha on the Manali Road (around four days) but you’ll need proper gear and a guide to cross the 4980m Shingo La.
Velneshwar Beach, Maharashtra
This can be covered en route to Ganpatipule, but it’s more enjoyable as a detour because it gives you a chance to take the backwater ride on the ferryboat – twice. Famous for its pastel-coloured Shiva temple, this fishing village ambles along at a quiet pace until March every year when all tranquility is disrupted for the Maha Shivratri fair. The beach hasn’t really made it to any major tourism map yet, which is probably why, when you go here, you may be the only one there.
Moorang, Himachal Pradesh
A land seeped in mythology, Kinnaur is believed to be home to the mystical Kinners (of Kinnaur); part human, part god. It is said that the Pandavas chose this remote region to spend their last year of exile. Indeed, the prevailing polyandrous traditions among tribal communities, as well as most primordial edifices, are assigned to their mythical presence here. One of these, the Pandava Fort, reportedly built by them at Moorang village (about 40km from Kalpa) is remarkable for its distinct mud silhouette crowning a rocky hilltop. It comes into view at Jangi, your veer-off point from NH22 towards Moorang (10km), and it takes the better part of the day to get here from Kalpa. You should visit the fort that is presently home to the local deity, Ormig Devta.
Chopta is the prettiest spot on the Ukhimath-Chamoli road that connects Kedarnath with Badrinath via a clearly more picturesque, somewhat shorter route. This sleepy little place, 35km up from Ukimath, is really just a bend in a very narrow, thickly forested mountain road. It’s the quaintest place you are likely to see en route, along with the famed bugyals (meadows) of the state peeking through towering trees, framed by snowy mountains in the distance. Chopta is the springboard for a 5km trek to Chandrashila Peak and Tungnath – one of the Panch Kedar (sacred Shiva temples) in Garhwal, including Kedarnath, Rudranath, Madmaheshwar and Kalpeshwar. You can opt for a pony to carry you up.
Tharangambadi, Tamil Nadu
Not many know that the Danes discovered this part of the world well before the French or British. Tharangambadi (formerly Tranquebar) – the ‘land of the singing waves’ – lies 15 km north of Karaikal and was established by the Danish East India Company in 1620 as a trading post. The oldest, most imposing structure here is the atmospheric Fort Dansborg, which, today, is home to a fascinating museum containing porcelain figurines, crockery, yellowed manuscripts and other relics.
Mahakuta & Banashankari, Karnataka
Mahakuta is located 14km from Badami, and is connected to it by a secret, eucalyptus-lined 3km pathway, the gateway of which is flanked by skeletal figures of Kala and Kali. The main attraction of this walled complex is the Mahakuteshvar Temple, the surrounding 7th-century shrines and the large tank fed by a natural spring. Situated just 5km from Badami, Banashankari Temple is not as old as the rest of the temples of the region, but holds great importance for pilgrims. The structure has used some of the late Chalukyan columns, but the most awe-inspiring feature is its lamp-studded tower, which is lit only on special occasions.