A bird’s eye view of Khonoma Image Credit: Shutterstock

1. Daringbadi, Orissa

Astounding natural beauty has rightly earned Daringbadi the sobriquet the Kashmir of Odisha. The lush locale gets its name from Daring Sahab, who was the British officer in charge of this area during India’s pre-independence era. Perched on the Eastern Ghats at 3,000 feet it boasts of up to 70 per cent forest cover, predominantly made up of pine trees, and is dotted with stunning waterfalls, coffee and pepper plantations, and scenic trekking trails that guide you through its valleys and hills. Home to several exotic bird species, Daringbadi can be an ornithologist’s delight as well.

The Midubanda waterfall at Daringbadi Image Credit: Shutterstock

Be sure to plan a visit to the Emu Farm Sanctuary and see these rare birds in their element. Also home to the indigenous Kutia Kondha tribe, try and include a visit to the village as part of your itinerary.

Hotspots: Butterfly Park, Belghar Wildlife Sanctuary, Chilika Lake, Khasada and Putudi Waterfall, Daringbadi Waterfall, Midubanda Waterfall, Harabhangi Dam and Rushikulya River.

Where to stay: Experience glamping in a deluxe tent in an eco-resort nestled in a forest overlooking lush mountains.

How to reach: Biju Patnaik International Airport in Bhuwaneshwar is 291 kilometres from Darigbadi. Private cabs and cars are easily available from the airport.

2. Khonoma, Nagaland

The Angami tribes of Nagaland are the only people who practice wet-rice cultivation on terraced slopes. These green terraces, coupled with the tall mountains, the clouds playing hide-and-seek atop peaks and the 600 homes of the village looking like colourful candies peppering the slopes, make Khonoma a picture-perfect setting for a relaxing holiday.

Just 20 kilometres away from Nagaland’s capital Kohima, Khonoma enjoys a history in environmental protection. While its indigenous warriors fiercly resisted the British between 1830 and 1880 in their quest to protect the region’s natural reserves, the same tribe has in recent years been resisting a powerful timber merchant nexus to protect its forests from rampant deforestation. Khonoma is also home to a mind-boggling variety of flora and fauna, and the Khonoma Nature Conservation and Tragopan Sanctuary (KNCTS), for instance was set up in 1998 to protect the endangered Blyth’s Tragopan or grey-bellied pheasant.

All these activites have allowed Khonoma to lead the environmental movement by example, allowing it to become the first Green Village of Asia.

Hotspots: KNCTS conservation reserve, Dzuleke Village, Khonoma Dzükou Valley, Mount Japfü, war memorials and museums

Where to stay: Luxe hotels and comfortable homestays – both options are available.

How to reach: Dimapur Airport is a well-connected domestic airport that is 40 kilometres away from Khonoma.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

3. Panna Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh

With the Ken River flowing serenely through, a safari through the dense, deciduous forest on a misty winter morning in the Panna Tiger Reserve, can be a nature photographer’s fantasy come true. Be they tigers or leopards, wolves, rare birds or reptiles, there are surprises in store at every bend. Spectacular waterfalls jump over gorges and disappear into plunge pools, not allowing one to put down the camera even for an instant.

Located in the Vindhyan Hills, Panna boasts of one of the world’s most successful tiger reintroduction programmes, which led from a tiger population that was nil in 2009, to close to 60 of the magnificient beasts roaming its forests today. Spot one of them on your trip if you are lucky, or train your camera on a family of cheetal, chinkara or nilgai, or a sloth bear, perhaps; There is no paucity of fauna at Panna. And if your day trips has not satiated your desire, opt for a night safari as well.

Hotspots: Dundhwa Seha Falls, the Pandav Falls with its large caves where the Pandavas from the Mahabharata had supposedly stayed during their exile. The striking Kimasan Water Falls is a must visit so is the famous site of Khajuraho which is close by.

Where to stay: There is accommodation inside the tiger reserve. Also eco-friendly resorts and homestays are available.

How to reach: Nearest Airport is Khajuraho Airport which is just 40 kilometres away.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

4. Lakshadweep

The turquoise waters and pristine white beaches of Lakshadweep can easily give Maldives and Mauritius stiff competition. With its well-preserved ecology because of the lesser tourist footfall, Lakshadweep is a haven for water-sports enthusiasts. Snorkelling, kayaking, scuba diving, deep sea fishing and island excursions are a must when visiting this dreamy locale. India’s smallest Union Territory is an archipelago of 36 islands, of which only 10 islands are inhabited, so silence and solitude are ample for those valuing the same. Lakshadweep boasts of a rich marine life that includes shoals of fish and vibrant corals.

Hotspots: Exotic fish and corals at Kalpeni Island, fishing at Kadamat Island, nightlife at Minicoy Island, marine museum at Kavaratti Island. Apart from water sports at Agatti Island, cycling is also fun.

Where to stay: There are resorts with beautiful villas on the beach made of bamboo walls and thatched roofs.

How to reach: A flight from Cochin International airport will take you to Agatti Aerodrome in Lakshadweep.

A scenic view of fields surrounding Chitkul village Image Credit: Shutterstock

5. Chitkul, Himachal Pradesh

Situated at a height of 11,320 feet, Chitkul looks like an artist’s canvas. Part of Kinnaur district in Himachal Pradesh, Chitkul’s charming wooden houses with slanting slate or tin roofs, its local people in traditional attire, apple orchards, mountain streams meeting the dynamic Baspa River, all paint an ethereal ambience. And while you are there taking in nature’s bounty, don’t forget to breathe. For a recent study by the Centre of Atmospheric Sciences in IIT Delhi also reveals that Chitkul has the cleanest air in India.

Chitkul is also the last village in India on the Himachal Pradesh border, where you can go without a permit so be sure you sample authentic Himachali cuisine at Akhri Dhaba – the last food joint before the India-China border. Those more adventurous can opt for the Borasu Pass Trek or The Har Ki Dun trek, taking explorers through glacial lakes and walnut forests.

Hotspots: Sangla Valley, Kamru Fort, apple orchards of Batseri, Tibetan Wood Carving Centre and Brelingi Gompa.

Where to stay: Cosy homestays, hotels with authentic Himachali architecture and comfortable camping options are available.

How to reach: Bhuntar Airport in Kullu is 224 kilometres away from Chitkul.

The Bhutanatha Temple, next to Agasthya Lake, Badami Image Credit: Shutterstock

6. Badami, Karnataka

The reign of the Chalukya dynasty marked Karnataka’s golden period, and Badami as its capital profited immensely from this. Carved out of red sandstone rock, Badami’s architecture dates back to the sixth century, and is a wonder one can’t help but appreciate. The Agastya Lake, which many believe offers healing powers, is also central to stunning cave temples spread around it, and the Bhootnath Temple that stands atop a platform on water. The Archeological Museum is visible on the other side of the lake.

Badami can be a heritage buff’s dream, steeped as it is in culture and history. Choose to take a guided tour in Badami, or a spot of rock climbing to take in those magnificent views as you summit one of the surrounding hills.

Hotspots: Badami Fort, Masjid built by Tipu Sultan, Akka Tangi Falls, Ravan Pahad and Malegitti Shivalaya Fort. The famed monuments of Aihole and Pattadakal are also just a A few hours away from Badami.

Where to stay: Heritage resorts, government hotels and homestays offer excellent stays.

How to reach: Hubli airport, at a distance of 105 kilometres is closest to Badami.

Bundi Palace, Rajasthan Image Credit: Shutterstock

7. Bundi, Rajasthan

Compared to tourism hotspots like Jaipur and Udaipur in Rajasthan, Bundi is lesser known but has as much or more to offer, so much so that a week would possibly not suffice to explore the town and tourist hotspots nearby. With the Aravalli Range on one side and rivers, lakes, guava and orange orchards and a sanctuary on the other, Bundi offers breathtaking views.

Add to this its architectural treasure trove, with formidable forts, magnificent palaces, more than 50 ornate stepwells, beautiful gardens and giant gates and Bundi is a magical place. It is also here at the Sukh Mahal that Rudyard Kipling wrote his novel Kim. The famed author was in absolute awe of Bundi, and once you are there you will discover why.

Hotspots: Stepwells like Rani Ji Ki Baori, Dhabai Kund, and Nagar Sagar Kund. Check out Taragarh Fort, Garh Palace, 84 Pillared Cinotaph, Lake Jait Sagar and Lake Nawal Sagar.

Where to stay: Enjoy the experience of staying in a haveli or in a palace that has been converted into a hotel.

How to reach: Sanganer Airport of Jaipur is 200 kilometres away from Bundi.