Off the beaten track tours in India
Escape the bustling major cities and fellow tourists, and take an off-the-beaten track adventure into India’s spell-binding rural heartlands. You don’t need to leave your creature comforts behind, as we know the perfect bolt-holes to stay at night, yet you will have the opportunity to witness India’s amazing culture and natural beauty in all its authenticity by day. Whether you are an old India-hand returning to the subcontinent yet again, or just have a passion for getting away from the major sights, our India team at Scott Dunn are specialists in crafting private tailor-made itineraries to all the remarkable hidden corners of India.
Rural villages & local culture
Move away from the fast changing Indian cities and into the rural villages in India where time has almost stood still for centuries, seeing sari-clad women and dhoti-wearing men living life much as they have for generations. Stop at a local market or see farmers working the fields using time-old techniques. The pace of life is reassuringly gentle, as you see a side of India that can only make you smile. In Rajasthan, visit the Bishnoi tribes to the south of Jodhpur and stay at Mihir Garh, or walk through the wonderful villages around Amanbagh which is located two hours from Jaipur. To the north explore the little visited town of Nagaur and stay at the delightful Ranvas. We adore the tented camp of Chattra Sagar located between Jaipur and Udaipur and exploring the local area around it, as too Shahpura Bagh to the south. Another favourite is Nawla Narlai to the north of Udaipur. Move to the south of India and experience the magical culture of Chettinad in Tamil Nadu and we suggest staying at Visalam. In Kerala, we love staying at Phillip Kuttys Farm provides you with a wonderful homestay experience. These are just a few examples of areas where you can really have the destination to yourself and can tailor any holiday to India to incorporate these sorts of experiences.
Into the mountains of India…
India has some of the most amazing views that you could possibly imagine, and the communities who live and work on its slopes are some of the friendliest you will ever meet. Getting deeper off the beaten path in the Himalayas, Nilgiris or Western Ghats is something that instantly rewards the inquisitive traveller. Just imagine the amazing road journeys you can go on, maybe passing a verdant tea plantation and continuing to a luxury hotel perfectly perched in the hills with Himalayan peaks all around it. Let’s start with the Himalayas, the mighty mountain range that covers the whole of India’s northern border. We love the Shakti Village Walk concept in Ladakh, Kumaon and Sikkim, where they have taken over traditional village houses and lovingly turned them into luxury bolt-holes for guests. By day, you can explore these remote areas, being the only tourist in the area, before returning to your village house at night being looked after by your own exclusive team of hosts, cooks, porters and guides. Quite simply, this is the definitive answer to what luxury can feel like so far off the beaten track where you have the destination all to yourself. Further up in Uttarkhand, you find 360 Leti, the quintessential Himalayan retreat with stunning views. In Shimla, we recommend the luxurious Wildflower Hall and perfect to bolt onto a Rajasthan itinerary. Up in Ladakh, the Ultimate Travelling Camp operates from May to September and is positioned right under Thiksey Monastery. Why not also consider the private Sukoon Houseboat on Lake Dal in Srinagar in addition to a journey through Ladakh? Sikkim is located on the other side of Nepal and do consider the delightful Glenburn Tea Estate, one of our favourite Himalayan hotels. In southern India we adore the delightful Rajakkad Retreat in Tamil Nadu and Windermere Estate in Munnar.
The Ancient Kingdoms of India
India is awash with ancient civilisations that have left amazing sites of antiquity. We simply can’t run through it all, but if you are interested in delving into India’s past and hearing about the colourful stories which result from it, we can tailor any itinerary to include visits to a range of historical sites. Here are our top picks: Karnataka is ideal for those who love their history, and Hampi certainly doesn’t disappoint. To the south, explore the area around Chikmagalur and use this as a base to explore the ruins of Halebid, Belur and Hassan. The state of Tamil Nadu is packed with history, made famous by the 10th century Chola kingdom and a journey through the region is ideal for a second time visit to India, or as a longer extension to a journey to Kerala. Let’s move north, and you can explore the fascinating caves of Ajanta and Allora. You find more World Heritage sites in India around the city of Bhopal, where you can explore the Buddhist remains of Sanchi, the rock-cut caves of Udaigiri and the Gupta ruins of Gyarapur and Udayapur. Find pre-historic cave paintings Bhimbetka and the eleventh century Shiva temple at Bhojpur – needless to say your history fix will certainly be quenched around Bhopal. Also in Madhya Pradesh, explore the amazing erotic Chandela Temples of Khajuraho which act as the perfect staging point for the tiger parks to the south.
Go beyond the well-known cities and discover some of India’s lesser known towns and cities. Maybe head to Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh, once the cradle of culture and the arts in India. Do consider heading to Amritsar, home to the Golden Temple, one of the most impressive buildings in Northern India. Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh has an amazing collection of World Heritage Sites around it (see Ancient Kingdoms of India). In Rajasthan, the superb desert city of Jaisalmer is well worth including and is noted for its impressive sandstone fort. In southern India we loved visiting Mysore, famous for its superb Maharajas palace, vibrant markets and hearing about the stories of Tipu Sultan and his wars against the East India Company. The cities of Madurai, Tanjore and Trichy in Tamil Nadu are ideal for those with a keen interest in temple architecture. Further north you find Pondicherry which was once the base of the French East India Company.
Move beyond the touristy beaches and Goa and find India’s hidden beaches. In the middle of the Indian Ocean you have the Andaman Islands, ideal for those who love diving and a destination that is very much off the beaten track with flights from Calcutta or Chennai. In Kerala, head north and stay in Bekal at the Vivanta by Taj or the idyllic resort of Neeleshwar. Tucked away close to Marari, you find the boutique Beach Symphony Hotel or the delightful Surya Samudra in Kovalam.
Rural palace & heritage hotels
One of the most amazing experiences you can have in India is to stay in a rural fort or palace hotel. Ramathra Fort is located midway between Agra and Ranthambore National Park. Samode Palace is around 45 minutes north of Jaipur, and is a superb palace hotel. Devi Garh is one of our favourites, located around an hour north of Udaipur giving you an opportunity to dip into the city and return to the countryside at night. Ahilya Fort is possibly the definitive off-the-beaten-track gem and is located two hours south of Indore in Central India. Overlooking the Narmada River, it is perfect for those wanting to see a corner of India that few tourists consider.
Rural retreats with a dash of wildlife
If you like wildlife, but don’t want an out and out wildlife tour visiting the main tiger parks then we have a few little gems up our sleeves. Chambal Safari is located around an hour away from Agra and is ideal for birdwatchers, but also you can spot gharial crocodiles, Gangetic dolphins, water turtles and otters. Jawai is a wonderful luxury camp in Rajasthan is one of the best places in India to spot leopard so perfect to include on a cultural holiday to India. The Sarai at Toria is located close to Panna National Park which has a wonderful range of wildlife and also close to the Chandela Temples of Khajuraho.
Spa and wellness retreats
India is famous for its ancient wellness techniques such as Ayurveda, and some of the world’s best destination spas and wellness retreats can be found here. In the Himalayas, look at Ananda in the Himalayas. To the south and especially for those who want yoga, consider Shreyas near Bangalore or Neeleshwar Hermitage on the Keralan coast.