You could spend an entire lifetime in India and still miss out on some parts of what the country’s diverse culture, breathtaking architecture, and natural topography have to offer. Some are so unique and grand that they’ve made headlines globally. This Republic Day, we’re celebrating all the things that the country made headlines for as well as unique experiences you can only have in India. By Eshita Srinivas
For years, travellers have made elaborate bucket lists with experiences like diving in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia or taking in the majestic sight of the Grand Canyon in the USA. However, there are plenty of awe-inspiring experiences, monuments, and destinations closer to home. Beyond stunning white sand beaches, expansive desert, and towering mountains, here’s a roundup of bucket list experiences that you can only have in India.
Bucket-list worthy experiences you can have only in India
Buy special postcards from the world’s only floating post office
For over two centuries, a postman travelling in a houseboat has been delivering letters and couriers to people who live on the Dal lake in Srinagar. The world’s only floating post office has all the services of its on-ground counterpart, with a few embellishments. It uses a special shikhara (houseboat) seal, along with a boatman on the envelope. During the peak tourist season, thousands flock to the spot to take pictures, buy special covers, postcards, and stamps. Even in a time when emails and text messages have almost entirely replaced letter-writing, this floating post office continues to serve as a beautiful reminder of a bygone era.
Drive down the world’s highest motorable road
Connecting Leh to the Pangong Lake and several important towns in the Chumar sector of Eastern Ladakh along the way, the Chisumle-Demchok road stands at 18,600 feet. The highest motorable road in the world, this path was built by the 58 Engineer Regiment of the Indian Army. While it makes travel more convenient, by no means is it any less challenging. In fact, temperatures here can drop to minus 40 degrees celsius during peak winters, and oxygen levels are low as well. The road is also at a higher altitude than the Mount Everest South Base Camp in Delhi (17,598 feet), so if you’re up for a bit of adventure and stunning views, head here.
Walk across a living bridge in the wettest inhabited place on earth
Mawsynram in Meghalaya receives over 10,000 millimetres of rain per year, and labourers who work outside need to wear full-body umbrellas made from bamboo and banana leaf to shield themselves from it. A cherished experience here is to cross a “living bridge” here. For centuries, locals have been training the roots of rubber trees to grow into natural bridges, which serve as a sustainable, long-lasting alternative to man-made wooden structures that would rot in a few years. The bridges get stronger, more substantial as the roots grow and are stunning to behold.
Skate around at Asia’s biggest natural, outdoor rink
Winters in Shimla bring the all-familiar excitement amongst locals and tourists around skating. The region is home to Asia’s biggest and South Asia’s only natural ice skating rink, the area of which is reportedly equal to the size of five tennis courts. In late November and early December, ice skating enthusiasts flock to the rink to get a few sessions in. Located in Lakkar Bazar, weather conditions often dictate the possibility of skating, and the freezing temperatures make the experience both challenging and thrilling.
Visit the observatory that houses Asia’s largest telescope
Vainu Bappu Observatory in Yelagiri, Tamil Nadu houses the largest telescope in Asia, with a diameter of 2.3 metres. The telescope is powerful enough to resolve a 23 paise coin kept 40 kilometres away. Visitors here indulge their inner astrophile by peering at the night sky and learning all they can about the telescope as well as the research conducted by scientists in the observatory.
Watch players hit a six at the world’s largest sports stadium
Cricket is a religion in the country, so it’s only fair that India is home to the largest sports stadium in the world. The Narendra Modi Stadium, formerly known as the Sardar Patel Stadium, is built on the banks of the Sabarmati river, on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. It can accommodate a whopping 54,000 spectators and was built on a 50-acre land. Several iconic cricketing moments have happened here. This was where Sunil Gavaskar hit the 10,000 run mark in test cricket in 1987 and where Kapil Dev took his 432nd wicket in test cricket and became the leading wicket-taker in 1994. Three ODIs have been scheduled between India and West Indies at this stadium in February this year.
Take in the sweet fragrance of rare land lilies that cannot grow elsewhere
Every year, sometime around mid-May and early June, the winds in Manipur carry the sweet smell of the state flower Shirui lily. The flora grows 8,500 feet above sea level and made headlines because, despite repeated efforts by scientists, it could not be cultivated anywhere else in the world. The bell-shaped flower with delicate petals can be spotted only in Manipur’s Shirui Hills, and when in full bloom, is a sight to behold.
Explore the world’s second-longest man-made wall
A UNESCO world heritage site that also happens to be the second-longest man-made wall after The Great Wall of China, the Kumbhalgarh fort is just a two-hour ride away from the city of Udaipur. 36 kilometres long, it’s surrounded by peaks of the Aravalli range and houses 360 temples. Historically, the fort is known as the birthplace of Rajput king Pratap Singh. While most forts were built for comfort or entertainment, this one was purely for defence and has 7 gates and a large lamp that reportedly consumed several kilograms of clarified butter to burn. Most recommend a visit here at night when it’s lit up.
Snap a picture of the world’s tallest statue
Standing at the height of 182 metres, the Statue of Unity in Gujarat is the tallest in the world. Dedicated to the Indian independence leader Vallabhai Patel, it stands proud on a river island named Sadhu Bet in Rajpipla. Around the statue are attractions like the cactus park, river rafting, and jungle safari, but visitors most recommend heading to the top of the viewing gallery for breathtaking sights.
Navigate your way through the world’s largest human gathering
Millions of devotees gather, over a period of eight weeks, at the confluence of four sacred rivers once in three to 12 years to take a dip in the holy waters and cleanse themselves of all sins. Kumbh Mela is held alternatively in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Uttarakhand. To cope with the large influx of devotees, tourists, and visitors, authorities need to build mass kitchens and thousands of portable toilets. Although there are four types of this festival, the largest is believed to be held once every 12 years in Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh and is often marked by religious chanting, entertainment, cultural programs, and tents set up by the river. In 2019, when over 30 million devotees attended the event, images were captured from space by India’s high-resolution Earth-imaging satellite CartoSat-2.
Trek to the world’s highest and coldest battlefield
The trek to Siachen Glacier is organised by the Indian army every year, between August and September. Approximately 30 civilians get recommended by the Indian Mountaineering Foundation for this journey, which happens to be the only opportunity to visit the world’s highest and coldest battlefield. The trek begins at Leh, through the Siachen Base Camp, and onto the Kumar Camp, which is at 16,000 feet above sea level.
Which of these do you most look forward to post-pandemic?