Cruise along the Konkan coast for a slice of susegad in Goa, or drive through Khardung La—one of the world’s highest motorable passes— to reach a village on India’s frontier. Here’s a round-up of the most offbeat and exciting driving itineraries for your trip to India. By Sushmita Srivastav, Rashima Nagpal & Shrimayee Thakur
LEH TO TURTUK
Nestled in the rugged mountains of Ladakh is the village of Turtuk
, known to be ‘the last village of India’. It is India’s last outpost before the border with Pakistan and is a hard, day-long trip from Leh. The journey to Turtuk takes one over Khardung La, one of the world’s highest motorable passes, and Nubra Valley, a vast desert landscape riddled with Bactrian camels. Visit the 16th-century Turtuk Palace that now serves as a museum and the Old Mosque in the village of Turtuk-Youl that features a unique blend of Persian and Buddhist architecture. Drop by the historic polo ground or follow hiking trails to the ruins of Brokpa Fort and a beautiful waterfall. The village is also the gateway to Siachen Glacier, one of the most difficult terrains on earth. For a glamping experience, stay at TIH Buckwheat Root Camp
, which offers luxury tents. Starts from INR 3,942/USD 53
CHANDIGARH TO PAMPORE
Kashmir is famous for its superior-quality saffron. But not many know of Pampore, a small town roughly 17 kilometres from Srinagar
that grows most of the region’s cash crop. Pampore falls on the way to Srinagar
—take the standard route via Pathankot, Udhampur, Patnitop, and Anantnag. Although the production of saffron has declined over the last decade, it’s still worth the drive from Chandigarh, especially during October and November. The farms are blanketed in bright purple saffron flowers, and you can witness the harvesting of the ‘red gold’. Stay at The LaLiT Grand Palace Srinagar
, built by Maharaja Pratap Singh in 1910. Starts from INR 16,000/USD 214.
GUWAHATI TO CHERRAPUNJEE
A road trip from Guwahati in Assam to Cherrapunjee in Meghalaya
offers views of undulating uplands, deep valleys ribboned with waterfalls, and greenery, not to mention the forever looming promise of rain. The four-hour-long drive to one of the wettest places on earth is no less than a slideshow of picture-perfect landscapes. Though tourists flock to the region during monsoon, the last few months of the year see smaller crowds. Spend a day or two here and visit Nohkalikai Falls, the living root bridges of Nongriat, Mawsmai Cave, and Mawsynram (81 kilometres away), which is now regarded as the wettest place on earth. Stay at Jiva Resort Cherrapunjee
. Starts from INR 3,000/USD 40.
PUNE TO MALSHEJ GHAT
Driving to Malshej Ghat through the Western Ghats
range that runs along the Konkan coast, and lingering in this sylvan valley might just be the holiday you need after months of isolation. Around three hours from Pune in Maharashtra, this mountain pass has an abundance of wildlife and waterfalls. Come monsoon, moderate showers make the valley and the journey from Pune even more alluring. Spend the day visiting Malshej Falls, climbing up to the sixth-century hill fort of Harishchandragad, trekking to Darkoba Peak, or simply trying to identify the myriad bird calls. Stay at Saj By The Lake
. Starts from INR 13,000/USD 174.
INDORE TO MANDU
The ancient town of Mandu is just 84 kilometres away from Madhya Pradesh’s most populous city of Indore, which can be reached by a short flight from most major Indian cities. Steeped in rich history, Mandu
is known for its Afghan architecture. The route from Indore to Mandu is dotted with baobab trees, and the drive takes around two and a half hours. Visit Jahaz Mahal or Ship Palace, built in the 15th century by Ghiyas-ud-din Khilji. This palace stands between two lakes and is so named because it resembles a ship floating on water. Other landmarks include Jami Masjid, Hoshang Shah’s Tomb, and Roopmati Pavilion. Base yourself in the town of Maheshwar (39 km), known for its grand tradition of weaving gorgeous handloom saris. Stay at the 18th-century Ahilya Fort Hotel
that sits above River Narmada. Starts from INR 8,000/USD 107.
MANGALURU TO GOKARNA
Gokarna is an emerging beach destination in Karnataka that offers the laid-back vibe of Goa without its crowds. Its pristine beaches and colourful temples make Gokarna ideal for both, peaceful retreats and spiritual travel. Fly to Mangaluru, home to one of the two international airports in Karnataka
. The four-hour journey from Mangaluru to Gokarna takes you through Udupi—known for its delicious cuisine and the famous Udupi Sri Krishna Matha Temple—and Murudeshwar, known for a towering Shiva statue (123-foot-tall) and the nearby Netrani Island, which is a popular spot for snorkelling. Once in Gokarna, stroll on Nirvana Beach, visit the majestic Jog Falls, one of the tallest in India, or explore the Yana Caves and the surrounding forests. Stay at SwaSwara
to experience holistic wellness. Three-night programmes start from INR 17,000/USD 233.
AHMEDABAD TO SAPUTARA
In the heart of the Western Ghats, Saputara is popular as Gujarat’s only hill station. Covered in lush greenery and often referred to as ‘nature’s womb’, it is a sight to behold. The road from Ahmedabad
to Saputara takes you through many significant cities: visit the grand Lukshmi Vilas Palace in Vadodara, marvel at the 100-year-old Golden Bridge in Bharuch, and follow in the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi at Dandi Beach in Navsari. In Saputara, visit the gorgeous Gira Waterfalls, and go boating on the serene Lake Saputara, which is surrounded by gardens. The Saputara Tribal Museum is close to the lake and offers a window to the rich culture of the Dang tribe. Just a few kilometres away, the Artist Village sells tribal artwork and handicrafts. Stay at the luxurious Club Mahindra Hatgad
, which offers rooms with panoramic views of the hills. Starts from INR 8,400/USD 112.
KOLKATA TO CHANDANNAGAR
Once upon a time, ferocious battles were fought between the French and the British to stake a claim on Chandannagar. Today, this quaint town of West Bengal
lies forgotten. Take a smooth two-hour drive from the din of Kolkata to rediscover this historic gem. The stunning promenade of The Strand, the 19th-century Sacred Heart Church, the canopy of Durgacharan Rakshit Ghat, the underground house of Patal Bari, and the Indo-French Cultural Centre and Museum
are all reminiscent of the town’s colonial past. The elaborate light installations that embellish pandals across the state during Durga Puja celebrations every year are crafted here, and you can spot the local artisans at work on your way. Stay at Itachuna Rajbari
, a 30-minute drive from Chandannagar. Starts from INR 2,900/USD 39.
GURUGRAM TO MORNI HILLS
The only hill station in Haryana, Morni Hills is five to six hours away from Gurugram
. It offers a mixed bag of activities, from adrenaline-pumping to relaxing. The thick foliage here harbours birds like quail, sandgrouse, and dove, making it a birdwatching haven. Visit the nearby Tikkar Tal for its two man-made lakes, or head to the Adventure Park for thrilling activities such as zip-lining and rock climbing. Perched on top of a hill, Morni Fort was built in the 17th century and offers a breathtaking view of the village. History buffs can visit Thakurdwar Temple, the first form of which is said to date back to the time of the Pandavas. Stay at Moksha Himalaya Spa Resort
, a 90-minute drive from Morni Hills. Starts from INR 17,000/USD 237.
PURI TO CHILIKA LAKE
One of Asia’s largest brackish water lagoons, Chilika Lake lies around 114 kilometres from Puri, and swells as wide as 1,100 square kilometres during monsoon. It is home to a unique endangered creature: the Irrawaddy dolphin. Located to the south of River Mahanadi in Odisha and separated from the Bay of Bengal by a 60-kilometre-long sandbar called Rajhans, the brackish lake dotted with wetlands makes for a great trip from Puri via Satapada. The lake sees a steady influx of naturalists, birdwatchers, and tourists every year. Spot the peculiar dolphin with its bulging forehead and short beak as you glide on the lake in a boat, and spend the rest of the day at the Nalabana Bird Sanctuary, where millions of Siberian flamingos and other migratory birds nest. Stay at Swosti Chilika Resort, located on the banks of the lake. Starts from INR 5,000/USD 67.
BENGALURU TO BANDIPUR
With 874 square kilometres of reserve forest, Bandipur National Park
is the perfect antidote to months of concrete confinement. From Bengaluru, if you take the route through Channapatna, Mandya, and Mysuru, you can reach Bandipur within five hours and experience wildlife and nature at the Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary and Kokkare Bellur Bird Sanctuary, both in Mandya. Make sure you cross the forest department gate in Bandipur before 8 pm and check yourselves into a luxe resort like The Serai, Bandipur
, located on the fringes of the reserve. Sign up for a 2.5-hour safari and dive right into the jungle early next morning. Starts from INR 13,000/USD 174.
DIBRUGARH TO NAMSAI
Begin this road adventure in the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh
by flying to Dibrugarh Airport in Assam from any metro city. With vast patches of green and yellow on either side, the route to Namsai is marked by occasional narrow streams gushing out of tributaries of River Brahmaputra, verdant tea estates, habitations of indigenous tribes, and jungles that are home to macaques. As if the road trip itself isn’t enchanting enough, Namsai is also home to the famous Golden Pagoda and the world’s largest bamboo statue of Buddha. Visit the nearby village of Chongkham to see the huts of the Idu Mishmi tribe and meet local Khampti women weaving pha noi (sarong) and sui (skirts) on handlooms. Stay at The Woodpecker’s Nest
, quaint property with a garden. Starts from INR 12,300/USD 164.
MUMBAI TO DIVAR ISLAND
Any list of road trips in India is incomplete without a mention of the classic Mumbai
-Goa getaway. But if you wish to go beyond the beachside fun, drive up to Old Goa via the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, load your car onto a ferry from the jetty near Viceroy’s Arch, and make your way to Divar Island. The route is marked by wide, smooth roads, and popular pit stops like Satara, Belgaum, and Bhimgad Wildlife Sanctuary. 0n the island, you find a sense of susegad—catch your dinner with local fishermen in River Mandovi, go birding in the nearby mangroves, and spend your evenings exploring colonial-era architecture on a bicycle or taking strolls on the beach. Mercure Goa Devaaya Retreat
, located on the island, offers holistic wellness. Starts from INR 6,000/USD 80.
CHENNAI TO YERCAUD
The only thing better than a six-hour-long southern sojourn through the breathtaking Shevaroy Hills in the Eastern Ghats is ending it in a quaint former British colony. The moment your wheels leave the urban jungle of Chennai
and whoosh past pit stops like Kanchipuram, Vellore, and Dharmapuri, the air becomes mistier, the route smoother, and the woods thicker. An hour’s uphill drive ahead of Salem and 20 hairpin bends bring you to Yercaud. Here, farms teem with coffee and spices, and colonial structures offer ample history lessons. Exercise your legs and breathe in the fresh air on verdant walking trails. Stay at the nature-friendly Grange Resort
. Starts from INR 3,500/USD 47.
RISHIKESH TO AULI
Many tourists fly down to Rishikesh in the quest for yoga and meditation retreats and often go back without exploring the hinterland. If you take the road to Auli, you pass through Paonta Sahib, Chakrata, and Dehradun
. The Garhwali hill station of Auli, endowed with a three-kilometre slope that includes a 500-metre heart-stopping drop, is counted as one of the best ski destinations in India. Take a cable car ride up to the top to see Nanda Devi (India’s second-highest peak), and soak up the spellbinding views of pines and oaks dressed in snow. If you seek more adventure, embark on a moderate snow trek to Gorson Bugyal. Stay at The Cliff Top Club
, perched at more than 3,048 metres above sea level. Starts from INR 12,000/USD 160.
NAGPUR TO CHIKHALDARA
Maharashtra’s Vidharbha region is usually not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of coffee plantations. But the high-altitude climes of Chikhaldara offer undulating landscapes peppered with aromatic coffee estates. Fly to Nagpur and negotiate some breathtaking curves over five hours to reach this former colonial hill station guarded by the towering Satpura Range. Base yourself at Amravati, which falls en route (154 kilometres from Nagpur), and drive to Chikhaldara to visit the Gawilgarh Fort built by the local shepherd clans that ruled during the 12th century and the Melghat Tiger Reserve (magicalmelghat.com) that boasts over 70 big cats. Spend your time gawking at giant windmills, standing under natural waterfalls, and picking strawberries at farms. Stay at The Grand Mehfil, Amravati
. Starts from INR 4,000/USD 53.
PUDUCHERRY TO THARANGAMBADI
When you set off from a place as dreamy as Puducherry
, it’s difficult to imagine arriving at a destination that is more alluring. But the fishing village of Tharangambadi (an erstwhile Danish colony) in Tamil Nadu will leave you speechless. Stop at Pichavaram on the way to discover hidden creeks in its mangrove forests on a country boat. Formerly and more popularly known as Tranquebar, Tharangambadi is a one-hour drive from Pichavaram, and its tongue-twisting name translates to ‘the land of singing waves’. Visit the tiny coastal town for simple indulgences like curling up on a hammock on a beach, visiting the peach-hued 17th-century Dansborg Fort, and strolling through lanes lined with Danish ruins, colourful villas, and bougainvillaea gardens. The Bungalow on the Beach
is a few steps away from Dansborg Fort. Starts from INR 5,600/USD 75.
KOCHI TO BISON VALLEY
Around two hours from Kochi
, Bison Valley is known among nature lovers for mesmerising views of the Western Ghats. Its forests were filled with the finest black pepper and cardamom, making it an important stop on the ancient spice trade route. It is believed that the kings and officers of East India Company came here to hunt bison, hence the name. Visit the various waterfalls nearby like Attukad and Chinnakanal, explore the local biodiversity at the Eravikulam National Park, and enjoy a lovely view of the nearby city of Munnar from Mount Carmel Church. Adventure lovers can trek to the top of Chokramudi Peak for a bird’s-eye view of tea plantations, Idukki Dam, and the Anamudi peak. Stay at SpiceTree Munnar
where experienced guides take you on a tour of the tea and cardamom plantations in the area. Starts from INR 12,500/USD 167.
RANCHI TO GIRIDIH
seldom finds itself on bucket lists, but those who consciously choose to travel to this unexplored state inevitably find themselves amid thick forests and placid lakes. The state is home to many monsoon destinations, and most of them are accessible from Ranchi, the capital city that is well connected to most Indian cities. One hidden gem is Giridih—4.5 hours away from Ranchi—a small town relatively free of tourists and brimming with beauty. Literally translating to ‘the land of hills and hillocks’, Giridih is ideal for a no-frills getaway. Navigate your way to Khandoli Hill, famous for its formation of metamorphic gneiss, visit the famous Shikharji Temple perched atop Parasnath Hill, and be enchanted by the silvery Usri Falls. Stay at Hotel Vrindavan Palace
, a modest accommodation option here. Starts from INR 2,200/USD 29.
JAIPUR TO NARLAI
Narlai is an idyllic village in the Aravalli Hills in Rajasthan
, close to both Udaipur and Jodhpur. From Jaipur, the hamlet is six hours away and makes for a good drive. On the way to Narlai, stop at Ajmer and check out the dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti. In Narlai, go on a jeep safari to spot leopards and chital, or head to Ranakpur to explore the Jain Temple that boasts 1,444 intricately carved white marble columns. Stay at Rawla Narlai Heritage Resort
, a 17th-century country manor. Starts from INR 9,300/USD 124.
BHOPAL TO ORCHHA
True to its name, which means ‘hidden palace’, Orchha
in Madhya Pradesh is a gem waiting to be explored. Shadowed by the glory of its neighbouring tourist destinations, it houses some of the country’s best-preserved medieval Bundelkhandi architecture. Arrive at the airport in Bhopal, from where a road trip of under seven hours lets you revel in the earthy essence of Orchha, especially palpable during monsoon. Take the route via Eran, and spend some time in the ancient town that is home to monuments dating back to the fifth century. You’ll know you’re in Orchha when the majestic Orchha Fort complex looms in the distance. With a laid-back lifestyle and options of walking, cycling, and rafting, this destination delights nature enthusiasts and history buffs alike. Stay at Orchha Palace Hotel & Convention Centre
, located in the heart of the city. Starts from INR 7,400/USD 99.
VISAKHAPATNAM TO LAMBASINGI
The world barely spared a glance for Lambasingi in Andhra Pradesh
until it witnessed snowfall for the ﬁrst time in 2012. The hamlet doesn’t exactly turn into a snow resort every year, but it still is the only place in South India with sub-zero temperature. Thankfully, it is still impervious to the hustle and bustle of tourists, and the four-hour drive from Visakhapatnam (Vizag) via Araku Valley is mostly bereft of people. The trance of coffee plantations, misty meadows, and cascading falls is broken by a pristine lake and a bird sanctuary. Though the village doesn’t have luxurious stay options, you can always drive back to Visakhapatnam or pitch a tent in the middle of nowhere! Stay at The Bheemli Resort
in Visakhapatnam. Starts from INR 4,999/USD 67.
DELHI TO HAMPTA
For those who come to Delhi, there’s always the promise of the Himalayas shining like a beacon on the darkest of nights. To get your fill of mountain air, drive to Hampta, a hamlet close to Manali in Himachal Pradesh
, where you can glamp in a unique geodesic glass dome and enjoy gourmet meals. Perched at a height of over 2,600 metres, the dome-shaped tents face the snow-peaked Dhauladhar range and overlook the pristine Hampta Valley—an excellent spot for hikes, nature trails, and picnics. The intrepid could also plan a trek to the Hampta Pass, at 4,200 metres, or visit the quaint igloo village of Sethan. Domes
from USD 10,000/USD 134.
MUMBAI TO KAAS PLATEAU
Did you know that Maharashtra has its own valley of flowers? Kaas Plateau, a six-hour drive from Mumbai, is the breeding ground for over 175 species of wildflowers. Otherwise a rocky terrain also known as Kaas Pathar, it transforms into a bed of multicoloured flowers, including the white habenaria
(ground orchids), the bright yellow sonki
, the smithia
(the Mickey Mouse flower), and the rare ceropegia
, towards the end of monsoon. This floral biodiversity hotspot has even been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The region also has an eponymous lake. The best part? To maintain the sanctity of the place, a limited number of people are allowed to visit in a day. So, book
in advance. Le Méridien Mahabaleshwar Resort & Spa
is a five-star resort located an hour’s drive from the plateau. Starts from INR 9,680/USD 129.
KOLKATA TO SUNDARBAN MANGROVES
The beauty of the City of Joy lies in its chaos. But chaos may not be the best thing in times of social distancing. So, pack your bags for a trip to the mangroves of Sundarbans
. A three-hour road trip to Godhkali Ferry Ghat offers scenes of the countryside veiled in mist. From here, the world’s largest mangrove forest is 90 minutes by boat. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sundarban National Park is a massive river delta with mangroves, mudflats, and networks of narrow creeks and water channels where Royal Bengal tigers, sunbathing crocodiles, and tree-climbing crabs reign. Ditch the usual itinerary and make the four-deck M V Paramhamsa Cruise
your home for three days. Cruise package starts from INR 15,000/USD301 per person.