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Top 14 destinations in 2014

Spiti's dramatic landscape is nothing short of spectacular.
Image courtesy: Nikhil Khemani

Fourteen splendid long weekends this year is nothing short of a miracle. Let us help you cash-in on these by telling you about the top 14 destinations within India that should not be missed.

Spiti, Himachal Pradesh: Stunning swathes of brown, barren stretches kiss the vast deep blue skies, interrupted by soaring mountains and an incredibly blue river. This rugged landscape reminds you of Ladakh. Visually splendid and spiritually inspiring, this land of Buddhism is also dotted with chortens (Buddhist shrines) and has one of the world’s oldest monasteries.

Dalhousie, Himachal Pradesh: With its plunging pine clad valleys and distant mountain views, Dalhousie is another of those cool hill retreats left behind by the British. Action-seekers may shun this sleepy hill station for its slow pace of life, but lovers of solitude find heaven in the former sanatorium. Dalhousie’s host of thickly wooded trails, magnificent views, and salubrious climes are exactly what the doctor ordered.

Enchanting backwater landscape of Kerala.
Image courtesy: Kerala Tourism Board

Backwaters, Kerala: It is not every day you come across a place as sublime as Kerala’s backwaters: 900km of interconnected rivers, lakes and glassy lagoons lined with lush tropical flora. And if you do, there likely won’t be a way to experience it that’s quite as serene and intimate as a few days on a teak-and-palm-thatched houseboat. Float along the water – while nibbling on seafood so fresh it’s still almost wriggling – and forget about life on land for a while.

Tirthan Valley, Himachal Pradesh: It’s that quaint corner of Himalayan seclusion, that’s tucked away in close proximity to the Great Himalayan National Park, the country’s youngest national park. Echoing with birdsong and gurgling streams, flooded with trout and angling opportunities, Tirthan Valley is blessed with a pristine forest cover lorded over by lofty mountains.

Replete with legend, Dona Paula offers a breathtaking view of the Arabian Sea.

Goa: With amazing seafood, sunshine, clear stretches of gorgeous beaches and greenery, Goa is a haven for visitors. Whatever you choose to do on your vacation – whether it’s extreme water sports or lazy days by the sea – this beach destination is sure to cast a spell on you. And it will entice you to return again and again, offering something new on every visit.

Chikmagalur, Karnataka: Besides its historic links with coffee, Chikmagalur is a scenic getaway with a plethora of destinations. For the spiritually inclined there are the Horanadu and Belavadi temples. Nature and adventure lovers have options aplenty, among them Hebbe Falls and rafting on the Bhadra River. Chikmagalur is also home to Mullayangiri, Karnataka’s highest peak, and a popular trekking option from Bengaluru.

Boulders form a dramatic backdrop to Hampi's ruins.
Image courtesy: Anirban Mahapatra

Hampi, Karnataka: Unreal and bewitching, the forlorn ruins of Hampi dot an unearthly landscape that will leave you spellbound the moment you cast your eyes on it. Heaps of giant boulders perch precariously over miles of undulating terrain, their rusty hues offset by jade-green palm groves, banana plantations and paddy fields. A World Heritage Site, Hampi is a place where you can lose yourself among wistful ruins, or simply be mesmerised by the vagaries of nature.

A typical Chettinadu mansion with a huge courtyard.
Image courtesy: Department of Tourism Tamil Nadu

Chettinadu, Tamil Nadu: Visit Chettinadu to experience the rich cultural heritage of the prosperous Chettiar merchants who hail from the area. Marvel at their palatial mansions, allow the fragrant aroma of the famed Chettinadu cuisine, garnished with hand-pounded spices, to whet your appetite and then head off to the antique shops for some leisurely shopping to pick up a timeless relic from a bygone era.

Mary Budden Estate matches the grace, silence and beauty of Binsar.
Image courtesy: Mary Budden Estate

Binsar, Uttarakhand: A slice of heaven in Kumaon, Binsar invites you to its pristine forests of pine, oak and cedar, which are a paradise for birdwatchers and hikers. Easy picturesque walks to local villages, or up hills that offer breathtaking views, are part of Binsar’s delights. Don’t forget to check out the Mary Budden Estate here, a plush homestay in a renovated 150-year-old cottage.

Jaisalmer, Rajasthan: Rising like a sandcastle from the deserts of Rajasthan, the ‘Land of Kings’, Jaisalmer’s 12th-century citadel looks more like something from a dream than reality. The enormous golden sandstone fort, with its crenellated ramparts and undulating towers, is a fantastical structure, even while camouflaged against the desert sand. Inside, an ornate royal palace, fairytale havelis, intricately carved Jain temples and narrow lanes conspire to create the world’s best place to get lost.

Andamans offers tourists a number of unrealistically gorgeous beaches.
Image courtesy: Prahlad Kakkar

Andaman Islands: The Andamans beckon travellers to discover the hidden beauty of their tiny, remote islands. This archipelago is an idyllic paradise with pristine beaches and underwater explorations that provide encounters with a unique marine ecology.

Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh: Call it Kashi, Banaras or Varanasi, you will be in one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited cities, and one of Hinduism’s holiest. Stunningly beautiful ghats line the Ganga, presenting a colourful, chaotic yet sacred panorama. A dawn boat ride is something you’ll never forget. And the street food, in keeping with the city, is divine.

The barren salt flats of Kutch.
Image courtesy: Gujarat Tourism Board

Kutch, Gujarat: Kutch, India’s wild west, is a geographic phenomenon. The flat, tortoise-shaped land (kachbo means tortoise in Gujarati), edged by the Gulf of Kutch and Great and Little Ranns, is a seasonal island. During the dry season, the Ranns are vast expanses of hard, dried mud. Come the monsoon, they’re flooded first by seawater, then by fresh river water. The salt in the soil makes the low-lying marsh area almost completely barren. Only on scattered ‘islands’ above the salt level is there coarse grass which provides fodder for the region’s wildlife.

Bandhavgarh, Madhya Pradesh: If your sole reason for visiting a national park in India is to see a tiger, look no further. A couple of days at Bandhavgarh almost guarantees you a tiger sighting in this relatively small park that boasts the highest density of tigers in India. As well as the star attraction, there are also more than 40 leopards (although they are rarely seen) and more commonly sighted animals such as deer, wild boar and langur.