This year was all about healing and bouncing back. It was about stepping out after a year of being cooped up inside our homes. It was about discovering new destinations and putting the spotlight back on travel. So, Travel & Leisure India & South Asia asked its readers to vote for the most outstanding Domestic Destinations of their choice. And here are the winners.
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Winners of the best domestic destinations
Rajasthan, the land of royalty, is an evergreen destination. From palace hotels and luxurious train journeys to historical marvels, majestic mountains, and desert escapades, the state offers adventures aplenty. Explore the forts of Jaisalmer and Chittorgarh to uncover history, visit the Amber Palace and Udaipur’s City Palace to enjoy royal opulence, shop at its Johari and Bapu bazaars, head to the Pushkar, Kite, and Kumbalgarh festivals to soak in the state’s culture—there’s no dearth of experiences for the curious traveller. The state delights wildlife enthusiasts as well with Ranthambhore National Park and Keoladeo Ghana National Park.
Touted as ‘India’s best kept secret’, Odisha is a treasure trove of surprises. Visitors can embark on the Nirvana Trail that journeys through the Buddhist monuments of Dhauligiri, Lalitgiri, and Udaygiri. Make sure you tuck into the state’s unique cuisine, which features dishes like pakhala and chhena poda. Wildlife lovers will be delighted by the mesmerising Irrawaddy dolphins of Chilika Lake and the Olive Ridley turtles that nest at Gahirmatha Beach every year. Explore the state’s tribal arts and crafts like pattachitra and appliqué work at Pipili village. The famed Jagannath and Lingaraj temples are unmissable, as are the serene beaches on Odisha’s 480-kilometre-long coastline.
One of northeast India’s most popular tourist destinations, Sikkim’s offerings are testament to its award title. Nature’s bounty, punctuated by serene Buddhist monasteries, is seemingly endless in the state. The stunning Buddha Park and Rabdentse Ruins are verdant paradises. In the northern portion of Sikkim is the tranquil Gurudongmar Lake, while the Tsongmo Lake adorns East Sikkim. The Fambong Lho Wildlife Sanctuary, Varsey Rhododendron Sanctuary, and Khangchendzonga National Park are all bursting with wild wonders. All of these natural resources are valued and cared for by the people of Sikkim, which famously became the first fully organic state in the world five years ago.
It’s a well-known fact that Shillong has a cherry blossom festival every November. However, Meghalaya’s greenery spreads beyond its capital city. Garo Hills are home to abundant hoolock gibbons, the Nokrek Biosphere Reserve, and the Siju caves and rock formations. Jaintia Hills in the state’s eastern section houses the crystal-clear waters of Dawki Lake and the dreamy curtains of Krangshuri Falls. The highest summits of the state can be found in Khasi Hills, which boast destinations like Mawlynnong (one of Asia’s cleanest villages), the ‘living root bridge’ of Nohwet, Umiam Lake, and Sohra (Cherrapunjee).
Goa is synonymous with celebrations. It is the coolest place to get hitched—whether you’re looking for a grand party or an intimate gathering. With easy connections by air, rail, and road, the state is very convenient to reach. Both, North and South Goa, have sprawling, luxurious properties that offer couples the most enchanting spots to say “I do.” Beachside weddings make for a memorable romantic affair, and there are a host of options to choose from in Goa. It’s also the perfect place to squeeze in a last-minute bachelor’s party or a quick honeymoon after the nuptials.
For those who want luxurious weddings infused with tradition, there is no better place than Rajasthan. The state is steeped in grandeur, and its palace hotels and luxury properties leave no stone unturned to make wedding ceremonies gorgeous and glorious. Couples can choose from historic cities like Jaipur and Jodhpur, as well as desert destinations like Jaisalmer, for their nuptials. Winter weddings are mostly the order of the day here. Udaipur takes on a new level of charm when drenched in rain, making it the quintessential location for a Rajputana monsoon wedding.
‘God’s Own Country’ has always drawn newlyweds to begin their journeys in its cosy embrace. For couples seeking rejuvenation, Kerala offers the perfect ambience. From houseboats peppered along the backwaters of Alleppey and Lake Vembanad, to the soothing spa resorts offering Ayurvedic treatments, the state provides the rest one needs after frenzied wedding festivities. For couples who want to go the hill-station route, the tea gardens of Munnar beckon with a strong cuppa. Wildlife-loving couples can head to Thekkady’s sanctuaries and spice gardens, while culture enthusiasts can traverse the lanes and markets of Fort Kochi.
Honeymooners who want to celebrate their union with an old-school twist should head to Himachal Pradesh. For generations, this hill station has struck a chord with couples who find its quaint towns, snow-capped peaks, and misty ambience to be the perfect backdrop for their budding romance. Shimla, Manali, and Dalhousie have stood the test of time. For those seeking blessings of a higher power, Dharamsala is a veritable pitstop; Khajjiar, popularly known as ‘Mini Switzerland’, has rolling hills and a lake. Adventurous couples can paraglide in Bir-Billing or Solang Valley.
Uttarakhand’s status as a wellness hotspot is world-renowned because of its Ayurvedic spas and yoga retreats. This popularity is further enhanced by the misty mountains, snowy landscapes, and lush forests that envelope these centres. Places like Rishikesh and Haridwar are also blessed with a spiritual aura, thanks to an abundance of pilgrimage spots with great religious significance. The state’s unique combination of the Himalayas, River Ganga, mythical legends, and ancient healing practices leads to complete revitalisation of the body, mind, and soul.
Karnataka houses a multitude of centres for holistic healing, and treatments for various ailments. Ayurvedic spas and clinics can be found across the length and breadth of the state, where doctors prescribe massages as per individual needs. For instance, Gokarna houses some sought-after wellness retreats, apart from hip beaches and a singular bohemian vibe. Meanwhile, Udupi is a popular centre for naturopathy treatments. For yoga, there are various centres in Bengaluru, Mysuru, and Mangaluru.
Tamil Nadu has historically been the seat of various religions. Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam have all thrived in this region. The temples in the state are not just holy sites but also boast exemplary architecture. The 188 Shiva and Vishnu temples in Kumbakonam are sights to behold. The construction of Madurai’s Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple began almost 2,000 years ago, and additions made over time have led to a sprawling complex. There are various other temples of note located in Chennai, Rameshwaram, and Thanjavur too.
Uttar Pradesh boasts a glorious spiritual heritage. Prayagraj hosts the Kumbh Festival once every 12 years; the city of Varanasi is famous for its various ghats on the banks of River Ganga; and there are temples dedicated to Lord Krishna in Mathura-Vrindavan. Ayodhya is often visited for Ramkot and Hanuman Garhi—and only promises to get more attractive with the upcoming Ram Mandir. The state is also home to the Dewa Sharif Sufi shrine and Buddhist sites like Kapilvastu, Kaushambi, and Kushinagar.
Mayurbhanj is one of the best surprises of Odisha. It has spirituality, wildlife, and natural marvels to offer visitors. The Maa Ambika Temple in Baripada, whose deity is believed to be ‘the living goddess’, lights up during Durga Puja celebrations. The Jagannath Temple here, also known as the Haribaldev Temple, was constructed by Shri Baidyanath Bhanj in 1575 CE. It hosts the annual Car Festival the day after the main one in Puri. Similipal Biosphere Reserve is sprawled across 2,750 square kilometres and is among the Tiger Projects and National Parks of India. Other points of interest include Devkund and Bhimkund.
Located on the waters of the mighty Brahmaputra River, Majuli is the largest inhabited river island in the world. These credentials prove that there are many discoveries to be made in its unique but fragile ecosystem. The resident Mishing ethnic community, and the many Vaishnavite Satras (religious monasteries) set up by Srimanta Sankardeva, give the island a distinct cultural identity. The yearly Raas Leela and Ali aye liyang festival of the Mishing people are sights to behold. A site that calls for sustainable tourism, the island of Majuli is best explored on cycle tours.
Gujarat is blessed with four national parks and 21 wildlife sanctuaries. Its forests, waterfalls, and rivers contribute to a landscape that helps beasts of the wild thrive. Gir National Park is the home of the Asiatic lion, while the Wild Ass Sanctuary in the Little Rann of Kutch is where visitors can spot the chestnut-coloured Indian wild ass. From October to March, the latter region also sees a huge bird population, including flamingoes. The Velavadar Blackbuck National Park in Bhavnagar is unmissable for its signature species of antelope, while Jamnagar’s Marine National Park boasts dolphins, kingfishers, corals, and mangroves.
Madhya Pradesh is widely known as a haven for wildlife. Is it any wonder that Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book was inspired by the Pench National Park? A part of Project Tiger, it is also home to more than 285 types of birds and a large population of leopards. Seven of India’s nine vulture species are found in Panna National Park. The state also provides protection to the ghariyal, a reptile indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. Kanha is MP’s largest National Park, while Bandhavgarh boasts the highest density of royal Bengal tigers in the world.
For such a small state, Nagaland packs quite a cultural punch. It is home to 17 different tribes, each with its own cultural and social ethos. Owing to its diverse population, Nagaland’s calendar is full of festivals through the year. Common themes include spirits, fertility, social bonding, and purification. The best blend of all these elements is seen at the Hornbill Festival, which is organised every December at the heritage village in Kisama. During this season, traditional music, handicrafts, and dishes are enjoyed at the various morungs (traditional houses) built in the village.
To experience Maharashtra culturally, one has to visit all of its big bustling cities, make a trip along its long coastline, head up its mountains, and dig into its rich and diverse cuisine. From the busy streets of Mumbai and Pune to the seaside Koli villages and sprawling Konkan coast, the state is bursting at its seams with things to see and do. Colourful celebrations like Ganesh Mahotsav, Gudi Padwa, Elephanta Festival, and Ellora Festival only add to the fervour.
A trip to Ladakh is guaranteed to be a wild ride. During the summers, adventure sports like archery and polo are commonly played in Leh. River rafting can be enjoyed in the waters of the Indus and Zanskar rivers. In the winter months, the Chadar Trek—which is undertaken on a frozen River Zanskar—is very popular, and ice hockey and ice climbing are increasingly popular attractions. Overnight camping has also gained popularity on the banks of the pristine Pangong Tso.
Not only is Jammu & Kashmir gorgeous, it is also an adventure lover’s mecca. In Gulmarg, the Apharwat Peak, at an altitude of 4,115 metres, is known for its ski slopes that are said to be the longest and highest in Asia. Visitors can reach the summit using a cable car service. The Gulmarg ski area is also famous for snowboarding, tobogganing, snow scooters, and snow bobbing. Travellers can experience the world’s highest cable car at Kongdori. Daksum has trekking trails through coniferous forests and grassy meadows, and is perfect for camping and relaxing picnics too. Popular trekking routes from Sonmarg take visitors to Pahalgam.