India like you've never seen before - 30 Offbeat places from #30DaysofAnotherIndia

Sunday, January 31, 2016

For the longest time, I shied away from traveling in India because popular culture led me to believe India is all about religions, festivals, sadhus and cows. None of which interest me as a photographer or traveler. Only when I started traveling in 2008, I discovered India's silent places. Places full of character yet devoid of the crowd that has become synonymous with our country. In my quest my avoid throngs of people as much as possible, I started straying away as far as possible from the mainstream and thus began my journey to discover another India, one whose profile changed like traffic signals on a busy intersection within a span of few kilometers!

I've been thinking of a long term project for Instagram for a while now. I still haven't come up with a perfect one but I'd like to share another side of India that I've seen during my travels to begin with. In this 30 part series, I have profiled some of the most stunning and offbeat places I've come across during my travels in Black & White on Instagram but I'm posting the color images here on the blog.

Get yourself a cup of coffee because this is one long post with plenty of photos.

Also see: The project featured on Hindustan Times - India, framed: This Republic Day, tour the country with Instagram storytellers

#1 Pushkarani at Hampi

Pushkarini at Hampi, Karnataka

My first tryst with stepwells was in 2010 in Rajasthan and Gujarat when I inadvertently stumbled upon an ancient stepwell in Shekhawati region of Rajasthan. I was aware of Chand Baori by then but always thought it was an exception rather than a rule. However, a quick research told me stepwells were popular all over the northern part of the country.

2 years later when I stumbled upon this gorgeous stepwell at Hampi was when I realized that south India was full of them as well, albeit an alteration of the style and the purpose. Popularly known as Kalyani or Pushkarini, there are more stepwells in south than I can dare to count. From not even being aware of stepwells' existence to becoming one of my favorite architectural marvels, is how India can surprise you!

#2 of Ayyankere, Chikmagalur, Karnataka

Ayyankere, Chikmagalur, Karnataka

This image holds the record for the number of times people asked me if this was India! Few years ago I had seen this breathtaking picture of a serene lake at sunset with a footbridge over it. Surrounded by lush greenery, the image looked totally out of this world and I was quick in assuming it couldn't be India. Turned out it was India. To be more specific, it was in Chikmagalur region of Karnataka. In my own backyard!

So after years of hiking and cycling in Chikmagalur area, on one particular trip I was set upon finding this gem of a lake and arrived at Ayyankere reservoir which is in the outskirts of Chikamagalur. The lake at sunset looked as stunning as I had imagined it to be and I was more than content with the find. However, months later, I find out that this lake and the one in the image were not the same.

I was supposed to be looking for Hirekolale Lake in Chikmagalur but I stumbled upon Ayyankere Lake in the same region.

So then I wonder. India, how much more awesome can you be?

#3 Chitrakot Falls, Bastar, Chhattisgarh

Niagara of India - Chitrakot Waterfalls, Chhattisgarh

Out of all the fake Niagara namesakes in India, Chitrakot Falls in Chhattisgarh is probably the only one that fits the bill. Entire River Indravati tumbling down an abrupt dip in the riverbed from a height of over 100ft is a sight to behold, especially in the monsoons. If Chhattisgarh was a revelation, it was largely due to Chitrakot Falls, it was so not what I had imagined the state to be.

#4 White Rann, Kutch, Gujarat

White Rann, Kutch, Gujarat

I've dreamt of the salt flats of Salar De Uyuni for embarrassingly too long before realizing one of the world's largest salt flats were hiding right under the nose of the super famous state of Rajasthan. Also, this was so not what I had imagined Thar desert to be.

#5 Maguri Beel, Tinsukia, Assam

Maguri Beel, Dibru Saikhowa National Park

Part of the Dibru Saikhowa Important Bird Area, Maguri Beel is a wetland complex teeming with avifauna including waterfowl and grassland birds. It's not part of the national park but right outside it. After a very eventful few days in Arunachal and Assam, our driver suggested he'll take us to a secret place full of birds near Dibrugarh on our last day of the trip.

We arrived at Maguri Beel not knowing much and without much expectations but the lake is surely throbbing with aquatic and avi fauna. We took a leisurely boat ride at sunset on this vast lake where we saw hundreds of birds around us who would fly away no sooner we would even inch towards them. It was fitting end to a great trip to northeast which was full of new finds.

Only after getting back did I learn that Maguri Beel is a hot favorite among ornithologists and birding enthusiasts. A secret only the birding community was privy to, until our driver brought us here that is! 

#6 Kolukkumalai Tea Estate, Theni district, Tamilnadu

Kolukkumalai, Tamilnadu

I have to tell you, I am not a big fan of Tea Estates. All it does is to remind me of the dense wilderness that was cut down to make way for the estates. However, this particular tea estate managed to catch my interest. After all how many times have I seen a tea garden dwarfed by rugged mountains, deep valleys and dense wilderness right by the side of the plantations?

At 8000ft, this has to be the world’s highest tea estate and seems the tea grown here possessing a special flavour and freshness because of the high altitude. The backbreaking journey to reach the Kolukkumalai tea estate is totally worth the effort for the views are extraordinary. On a stormy day, we climbed over a mountain side and cross over to the other side at the top to reach Kolukkumalai. From here, we could see the mountains and villages in Tamilnadu. The tea factory here has been standing since 1930s and is still in use to produce tea in the orthodox seven step process. The sad part is almost all of the produce is exported. I had a cup of tea and it tasted divine, but considering the cold and the rain, any hot cup of tea would’ve delighted my taste buds.

At a distance of 32kms from Munnar, the last 10kms ride through this estate is quite bumpy and backbreaking but the views totally make up for it. Strictly only 4 wheel drives can tread on this trail. Jeeps are available at the start of the trail to reach this estate.

#7 India's only ape found in Hoollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary in Assam

Hoollongapar Sanctuary, Assam

There’s a small patch of dense forest, roughly 20 sq. kms, surrounded by sprawling tea estates and human settlements in the north eastern state of Assam in India, which happens to be an unlikely home for the only ape species found in India, the Hoolock Gibbon. While the great apes (Chimpanzees, Gorillas, Orangutans) have always been popular, I wasn’t aware of Gibbons, also known as the lesser apes, until this visit. Surviving only in small pockets in the remote jungles of Bangladesh, Myanmar and north east India, this forest is the probably the only accessible place to observe Hoolock Gibbons with ease.

In Assam’s Hoollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary, I spent a day walking through the forest with a guard and tracking the curious apes. Despite the onslaught of human encroachment, the jungle was surprisingly dense with prolific upper, middle and lower canopies. We managed to see two separate families of Hoolock Gibbons on our walk swinging high up in the canopy.

The now endangered Western Hoolock Gibbon has suffered intense hunting and habitat loss that led to a staggering decline in their numbers over the last 3 to 4 decades, making this small patch of forest very important. In a country obsessed with the Tiger, it is sad that little awareness is raised about other such unique creatures, which is a pity because the Hoolock Gibbons are vital seed dispersers and more importantly a beautiful species that I was lucky enough to observe in their natural habitat.

#8 The Dolmens of Marayoor, Kerala

Marayoor Dolmens, Kerala

To begin with, dolmens are prehistoric structures believed to ancient burial chambers. Characterized by four stones and a fifth cap stone on the top, these structures are found across the world but the origins and intentions of building these remain unclear till date. In Marayoor, believed to be as old as 10,000 B.C, these are locally known as Muniyaras and several dolmens can be seen on a stone hill to the left of the Pambar River.

We reached Marayoor almost as the sun set, passing through the spectacular natural sandalwood reserve. A school is at the base of the hill and strewn all across the hill are ancient dolmens. As it rained intermittently, I walked barefoot on the cold stone to explore several of these fascinating yet dilapidated stone structures. Surrounded by high mountains on all sides, with crazy wind blowing and the constant drizzle, it was a mesmerizing evening, to be in presence of something built by our early ancestors belonging to Iron Age or Stone Age!

A church prominently stood, brightly painted, amidst the greenery of Marayoor, the clouds were playing with the mountain tops, Pambar River was flowing down below and loud bhajans from a temple nearby filled my ears even as the winds howled. Just behind the mountain are primitive tribes who believe in animism resisting contact and fostering their own traditions and culture. Standing on the hill top, it was a magical heady mix of nature, beauty, religion and beliefs that transcended timelines. In short, that evening was spectacular.

At a distance of 40kms from Munnar, Marayoor is a must visit for those interested in its rich ancient heritage and natural beauty. Without the context, the primitive stone structures and the rock paintings by the Pambar river might look ordinary but they are hardly so.

#9 Siju Cave, Garo Hills, Meghalaya

Thirumalai Nayakkar Mahal, Madurai

Sitting in a small hut by the side of a swollen Simsang River in South Garo Hills of Meghalaya, we waited for the rain to subside so we could enter a flooded cave - one of the longest of India. But when it comes to damp and dingy places where creatures of the dark thrive, I’m a lost cause. However, curiosity prevailed for a short while when I summoned up courage to enter the mammoth Siju Cave, locally known as Dabakhol (translating to Bat Cave), an awe-inspiring system of deep labyrinths with a perennial stream running right through it.

Arriving at the mouth of the cave from where the stream gushed down, I gripped my friend’s hand firmly in fear as we waded through the waters. Behind us, the faint glow of daylight diminished as we moved further towards the pitch black oblivion. The only noise resonating in the chamber was the muffled sound of flowing water.

On our way back, I asked Plinder, our guide, how deep he must have explored before. He said a kilometer. I asked him how deep we must’ve gone, he chuckled and said maybe 300 meters. Before I could drown in embarassment, I found comfort in the fact that it’s not everyday you find caves in India where shrines haven’t been built or glaring lights haven’t been put up. Here in Siju, subterranean adventure is as pristine as it comes.

#10 Thirumala Nayak Palace, Madurai, Tamilnadu

New York Times has just included Tamilnadu in it's world list of 50 odd places to visit in 2016, Tamilnadu finally gets some due! The 17th century Thirumala Nayak Palace built in stunning Indo-Sarcenic style is a fine example of all the hidden jewels scattered across the state.

Overshadowed by the towering Madurai Meenakshi Temple, this palace gets little attention but it's no less spectacular. At some point when the original palace was four times bigger than what remains today, it was considered to be one of the wonder of south it seems. 

#11 Kugti Wildlife Sanctuary, Himachal Pradesh

Kugti Wildlife Sanctuary, Himachal Pradesh

It was year 2010 and trekking in India was just going mainstream. Between all the well known and popular trekking trails, this one exploratory trek across Kugti Pass caught my eye. Despite having no major peaks in view, I was thrilled to be entering a virtually unknown territory.

Kugti Wildlife Sanctuary in Chamba district is as pristine as it comes with lush jungles and gurgling glacial streams. Kugti Pass is almost solely used by the local gaddi shepherds of the region to cross from Chamba into Lahaul districts. Till date, it remains the only trek in my 7 year hiking-career where I didn't encounter another hiking group for the entire duration from start to finish. Definitely one of the most offbeat and remote regions I've been to.

#12 The village that straddles an International Border, Longwa, Nagaland

Longwa, Nagaland

Sitting atop a ridge of a far ahead mountain, Longwa commands a grand view of the valleys and mountains around at the Indo-Burmese border. I was hanging out with the children of this remote frontier village around a warm bonfire thinking of a little piece of trivia that stuck with me.

Earlier that evening, I was told the house of the Angh, the village chief, is longitudinally split between the two countries and that the international border actually cuts across the house and the village! The joke around here is that the Angh dines in India and sleeps in Myanmar. I wasn't very convinced of the border story.

However, the next morning I did actually hike upto the border pillar that's one of the 2500 odd pillars placed all along the border in the north east region. Carved into the small concrete column, was “BP 154, 1970-71”, one side in Hindi and the other side in Burmese language. It was true, the international border did cut across the village and the Angh’s house! Fascinating as it was to me, it didn’t matter much to the Konyaks though. They woke up one day in 1970 to the news of the demarcation but how do you split an age-old community suddenly between two countries?

#13 Kala Patthar, Little Andaman, Andaman & Nicobar Islands

Little Andaman, Andaman & Nicobar Islands

You probably know dozens who've been to Andaman but you can count on your fingers those who've been to this super remote island! 😉

Little Andaman, fourth largest in the Andaman archipelago, is the most beautiful according to me. From vast stretches of pristine beaches to the bluest of waters from the open ocean, Little Andaman is a treasure that few even think of exploring.

#14 Painted Havelis of Shekhawati, Rajasthan

Painted Havelis of Shekhawati

The breeding ground of most of India's super rich, the glories of Shekhwati have fallen into a surprising disgrace and neglect over the years. Once thriving from abundant trade passing through northern Rajasthan and with the riches from Marvaris settled elsewhere in the country, opulent havelis were constructed and filled with paintings to the last inch depicting epic stories and life of 19th century. Slowly, for reasons we clearly don't understand, the entire region fell into despair and is now nothing but a cluster of ruins scattered in the desert.

#15 Eastern Ghats, around Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh

Venkateswara National Park, Tirupati

I've lived in Tirupati for almost 8 years and had no idea the hills famous for the temple were hiding gorgeous gorges like this between them. Eastern Ghats do not get nearly a quarter of the attention Western Ghats get but these barren rocky hills are no less spectacular actually. Full of sedimentary rock gorges with infinite pools and streams glowing through them, this entire region is none like I have ever seen in India.

Since I have been here only thrice, I don't have more images to do justice to Eastern Ghat's beauty. But to get a true sense of the grandeur of this least explored region of the country, check the really old posts of Chennai Trekking Club website, you'll be completely surprised. Trust me!

#16 West Siang District, Arunachal Pradesh 

Wild Frontiers of Along, Arunachal Pradesh

Most people heading to Arunachal inevitably go towards Tawang in the western corner. Naturally, I decided whenever it is I head to that state, I'll go anywhere but Tawang. In the November of 2014, I found myself entering the state through the remote border crossing at Likabali towards Along in West Siang district.

The entire West Siang district is one of the most remote and least visited districts in Arunachal. From lush jungles of Aalo to the barren highlands of Mechuka, the place enchants you like a charm. Rarely do expectations which you have built up in your mind match reality, but that's the thing about Arunachal. It's not a regular place. It's a special place where nature gods still thrive and our only hope is it continues to be so. For such pristine wilderness is hard to come by!

#17 Rainbow Waterfalls, Khasi Hills, Meghalaya

Rainbow Waterfalls, Nongriat

Many people visit the Riwai Living Root bridge in Mawlynnong. Few hike to the Double Decker Living Root Bridge in Nongriat. But only a handful actually go and explore the beautifully remote village of Nongriat and its surroundings.

Situated deep inside the forests of Khasi Hills, Nongriat is a small 30-house village which is also home to the Umshiang(Double Decker) Living Root Bridge. There are no roads to reach this place and only a 2 hour hike down a steep trail leads to here. Beyond the village are pristine pools, more living root bridges, lush jungles and incredible waterfalls.

Rainbow Waterfalls are situated almost 3 hours away from the village. The hike going through dense and moist jungle is an adventure in itself and the first glimpse of the ginormous waterfalls is a sight to behold. An entire stream actually tumbles down one mountain into the valley as you can see in the picture. While it has a local name, the waterfalls have been named Rainbow Waterfalls by the foreigners who've come here because you can see a rainbow form at the base of the waterfalls on sunny days. No points for guessing this remote corner is actually super popular with adventurous foreigners.

#18 River Aghanashini meets Arabian Sea, West Coast, Karnataka

West Coast on Arabian Sea, Karnataka

Both Karnataka and India's coastline are one of the gravely underrated destinations. However, at least in the hiking circuit, the charm of the west coast is not entirely lost upon us. The popular Gokarna to Honnavar stretch gets most footfall but the next section of the hike from Ankola to Gokarna is no less scenic either with stunning views like this.

#19 Aara Devi Top, Almora, Uttarakhand

Aara Devi Top, Almora, Uttarakhand

Sitting on a lonely perch in the middle of bright red Rhododendron bloom, I was surprised at myself that how could it be that I’m seeing the best Himalayan view here and now despite having trekked deep in the Himalayas for over half a decade! I was on a simple 2 day trek to an old temple in the vicinity of the famous hill stations of Almora and Kausani, ironically not the area I would have chosen for a stunning 180 degree panorama! But as it turns out, this famous temple that only the locals know about and frequent, also happens to have the best view of the entire Himalayan Range in Kumaon.

Last year, I was spending some quiet time in the foothills of Kumaon when my local guide and I were discussing what to do next. He suggested there’s a nice trek to a temple called Aara Devi through pristine pine forest and along the ridges with splendid views of the Himalayan range. The temple bit escaped me but the mention of Himalayas caught my attention. I was game for it but only if my guide could arrange for an overnight stay at the top because frankly speaking, far away Himalayan views were not my thing considering I was a so called “hardcore” trekker. At least a sunset and sunrise view would up the ante, that is how I justified going on the hike. And what a treat it turned out to be!

But the reason I was so blown away by this Himalayan view rather the other close encounters was that it was only here I could see the bigger picture and the true beauty of the Himalayas. Sitting in the foothills, I saw the valleys slowly give way to small mountains covered in pine forests which further slowly gave way to the snow capped peak rising higher towards the sky.

#20 Rosary Church, Shettihalli, Karnataka

Rosary Church, Shettihalli, Karnataka

I've written enough about it so I won't babble on any more but suffice to say this was one of the earliest moments in my travel career that set me on the quest for the offbeat in the following years.

And if you need to read more on this church, you'll find it all on my blog!

#21 Somewhere in North Sikkim

North Sikkim in Monsoons

Who goes to Sikkim in pouring monsoons?
Those who want to see surreal views like this! 😉

#22 Orchha, Bundelkhand, Madhya Pradesh

Orchha, Madhya Pradesh

Most of us seem to have a ridiculous fascination with ruins. Then, it comes as a big surprise that the immensely fascinating ruins of the ancient city of Orchha that was never conquered, hence supremely well preserved, doesn't fall under the radar of most travellers.

Originally intending to spend just a day here like most suggested, I arrived here on the banks of Betwa River to lose my mind completely to the lovely ruins and people of Orchha that falls somewhere between Agra and Khajuraho circuit. With a mixed Mughal and Rajput-style architecture, the cenotaphs, chattris, palaces and temples of Orchha are vastly diverse and incredibly interesting. In the end I spent 4 days wandering in the ruins of the ancient city and still hadn't my fill of it. Would love love love to go back here!

#23 Biligiri Ranganatha Swamy Temple Hills Wildlife Sanctuary, Karnataka

BR Hills, KGudi, Karnataka

Where Eastern Ghats meet the Western Ghats!

Situated in BR Hills of Karnataka, 86 km from Mysore, this little-known wildlife sanctuary is home to at least 44 tigers, 75 leopards, 600 elephants but it’s not easy to get a glimpse of the fauna because of the limited safari tracks and hilly landscape. Thanks to the lack of fame, the sanctuary remains a pristine place, without any unwanted commercialisation. Along with the relative obscurity, thriving wildlife and spectacular scenery ranging from lush forests on one side and the barren hill sides on the other, BR Hills is just the place for a nature loving traveller who longs to escape the din of city life as well as popular tourist hubs.

#24 Spangur Gap in China. Seen from Chushul Sector, Ladakh, India

Spangur Gap, Ladakh

While Ladakh may be one of the most beautiful and peaceful places in India, it has also played host to some of the most fierce battles in one of the world's highest and harshest battleground!

The gap between the two mountains you see in the picture is called Spangur Gap. It was under India's control till 1962 when the Chinese occupied it in the Sino-Indian War of 1962 as the Indian army withdrew in order to bolster defences of the nearby Indian village of Chushul, from where this image was shot.

#25 Rock Cut Caves at Bojjanna Konda, Vishakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh

Bojjanna Konda, Anakapalle

What comes to mind when you think Buddhist heritage sites in India? Bodh Gaya? Sarnath? Sanchi?

Well have I got the surprise for you?! Actually even I was quite surprised with this find which was less than 45kms from Vishakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh. Called Bojjanna Konda and Lingala Konda(stupas were wrongly assumed to be lingas), these sites are believed to date between 4th and 9th Century A.D.

Well preserved rock cut caves, carvings, temples and some ginormous stupas are located at this site yet there's hardly any information available about these places. Actually, there are several buddhist sites around Vishakhapatnam between the dense forests that I have visited during my childhood. Unfortunately, the sites still remain neglected and there's little information available still. Hope that'll change in future.

Or perhaps I should do more research about this! It would be the ultimate offbeat find in case I do. 😉

#26 Banjar Valley, Hidden World in the Himalayan Foothills, Himachal Pradesh

Banjar Valley, Himachal Pradesh

Chaini Watchtower, the one that you see rising over the ridge is more than 40 meters high, built entirely out of stone and intersecting timber logs without any cementing material. That tower has been standing for more than 1500 years, even survived the debilitating Kangra Earthquake of 1905!

Welcome to wonderland! 
Lofty peaks and massive snowfields are probably the first things that comes to mind when we think Himalayas. I've often raced to the ambitious heights of upper Himalayas every chance I got but recently I spent a marvellous week in a heavenly valley in the lower Himalayas. And that got me wondering why I've ignored the verdant mountains and atmospheric hamlets all this time. 
Jibhi is a small settlement in the north Indian state of Himachal Pradesh in a remote valley known as Banjar where neither the ancient traditional culture nor the lush mountains have been ravaged by the modern advancements. I spent a week here fishing in the trout-filled pristine streams that run amok in the valley and hiking in wild flower laden oak forests above 10000ft that looked absolutely magical in mist. I was lost for words staring into the rare glory rainbow(Brocken Spectre) that formed around me when I was exploring the green meadows near an ancient fort. I stood mesmerized watching the numerous layers of pine filled ridges spread in front of me and the double rainbow that almost always forms near Jibhi Waterfall at sunrise. Apart from the immense natural beauty, this region also happens to be one of the very few areas in India where the traditional architecture and atmosphere is still preserved.

I was immensely torn whether I should write about this place or keep the secret to myself. In the end, for some money and for greater good, I spilled all the secrets of this place, watch out for the article! 

#27 Physically Fenced India-Bangladesh Border in Meghalaya

Indo-Bangladesh Border, Meghalaya

For a majority of us, the imaginary lines of borders physically don’t mean much, apart from being a small inconvenience while crossing countries. But I was pretty much dumbfounded when I found myself travelling along what is to become the world’s largest and one of the weirdest fenced borders, between India and Bangladesh.

A friend and I had randomly chosen this forgotten route on Google Maps which goes through dense forests and sleepy frontier hamlets along the Indo-Bangladesh border to reach Garo Hills in remote Meghalaya. We couldn't even get a single driver to drive us on this obscure route, so we had to get two. One left us at Khasi district border. The other picked us up from Garo district border. No one comes here except for the locals living on his god-forsaken stretch. For all intents and purposes this route doesn't exist but what an adventure it turned out to be!

From first seeing the 10 feet high black fence to crossing over and driving in no mans land(legally), the route threw many surprises at us, the least of which was stunning scenery and its palpable remoteness. The biggest of which was that there were pockets of India in Bangladesh and vice versa, called enclaves. A historic treaty was signed just last year by the PM that cleared up the mess finally.

Most of the time, the fenced border was to our left that meant we were in India and at times, the border would to be our right and we would be driving through small hamlets which either were in Bangladesh or in no mans land.

As bizarre as a journey could get!

#28 The Farthest end of Tso Moriri, Ladakh, J&K

Kiangdom, Tso Moriri, Ladakh

Hundreds of thousands of people visit Ladakh every year.

Only few thousands of those probably visit Tso Moriri, which kind of gets a second preference over the more famous and accessible Pangong Tso.

Only a handful actually hike all the way till the end of Tso Moriri towards the mountains of Himachal Pradesh.

The other end of Tso Moriri, 20kms away from Karzok village is a lovely place with the greenest grass patches, home to plenty of super cute marmots, territory of the Kiangs, base for migrating birds and above all pristine, reminiscent of what the shores of Pangong used to be like before all the mass commercialisation.

#29 Armenian Church on Armenian Street in wait-for-it, CHENNAI!

Armenian Church, Chennai

Armenian Street, surprisingly, is the name of a busy lane in Chennai! Hidden behind high walls on the same lane, is a 300-year-old, historically significant Armenian Church built in 1772 that I visited one summer. The church was constructed in the Armenian cemetery where the graves of 350 Armenians were laid to rest. Ironically, neither does the street have any Armenian settlers nor does the church have a flock today. However, remnants of a thriving Armenian community that left behind vestiges of their long and pleasant association with erstwhile Madras can be found everywhere in the city. Having lived in the city for years, this came as quite a big shock to me.

Starting 1600s the presence of Armenians in Madras was prominently recorded and felt. The Armenians settled in India were traders who had come through the overland route over the Hindu Kush mountain range. Since they were excellent traders, the society prospered wherever they settled. The British who were trading in cotton exports didn’t see the silk and gem trading Armenians as a competition and offered them patronage in Madras.

One of the graves inside the Armenian church cemetery is of Reverend Haroutiun Shmavonian, considered to be the father of Armenian Journalism. The first Armenian periodical in the world, Azdarar, was printed by him out of Madras. The same community also drafted the first version of democratic constitution in early 18th century envisioning an independent Armenia here in Madras - a thought whose time wouldn’t come until the next two centuries.

Apart from the inconspicuous church and the street name, it’s almost as if the Armenians were never there. But if we look closely, the people have disappeared but their legacies are everywhere in Madras.

Who would've guessed!

#30 Dosmoche: Wintery New Year's Festival at Likir, Ladakh, J&K

Dosmoche, Ladakh

Dosmoche festival is a social and religious fair and was instituted by the Kings of Ladakh on the pattern of the famous Mon-Lam or Great Prayer ceremony of Lhasa. The festival is widely celebrated at the majestic Leh palace in Leh town and Liker monastery in lower Ladakh.

When I landed in Ladakh last winter to try my luck at spotting a Snow Leopard, I accidentally found myself amidst the gorgeous mask dances of Dosmoche. Festivals in Ladakh are a riot, full of tourists, so I never bothered. But this time, serendipitously, I was able to see the entire festival up close with just a handful of other photographers around, in the stunning location of Likir in the dead of winter.

I've been to different parts of Ladakh six times now yet every single time there's something or the other that keeps taking me by surprise. No wonder then, Ladakh feels like home because there's a haunting familiarity yet there's always the anticipation of good times.

Ladakh, just like India, never disappoints. Both, are gifts that keep on giving!

With this post from my favorite part of the country, I end the #30DaysofAnotherIndia series! Hope you enjoyed the virtual journey to the remote corners of the country and have added a few to your bucket list. Let me know what you thought about the 30 places I profiled on this project in the comments.

So, how many of these places have you been to?
And which ones have been most fascinating to you? 
Tell me in the comments. 

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  1. Been to spots in Hampi, Orrcha and Shekhawati. But this list is absolutely brilliant. Thank you so much for this! Can one join you on one of these travels??

    1. Even i would like to go on travel ....can we make a group on fb who r interested in travelling ....anoothi

    2. Hi,
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    3. Thanks Vardhna, Orccha and Shekhawati are few of my top favorites in this list. :) I usually travel for long days without an agenda, so taking someone with me isn't practical always. In case I can take/need someone with me, I'll post on my social media channels.

    4. Hi all here! I have been associated with india travel nd tourism for 30+ years nd I design nd organise customised trips. I do explorer tours, wildlife, culture, photography, all-women tours and also road-trips. Contact me at

  2. I have been all the places listed in karanataka ... And I thought only I explored (all of those).... Glad to meet you :).... Thanks for sharing details of other parts of the country... Have visited some of those... Many more to see.

    1. Ha ha, Karnataka is the best! So much to see there, 7 years and I still haven't seen half of it. I used to hike/cycle a lot over weekends from Bangalore, so came across a lot of these hidden gems. :)

  3. Your post is great...India has always been beautiful...I hope you know now and its not like what image you build up in your mind before...It's good to visit places before judging them..

    1. I know what you mean but unfortunately when you are constantly and dedicatedly fed a singular perspective, it's hard to not have any preconceptions.

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. Hey Neelima, superb list. Do revisit the Thanjavur temple and the Chettinad mansions.

    1. Chettinad mansions on my list for so so so long now! :( Should make it happen this year.

  6. Very nice pictures. Excellent compositions.

  7. This s superb who all interested to go places in a group

  8. What a pleasure going through this post. Beautiful how I was able to relate to so many places quoted here, the loftiness of Himalayas, the magnificent Mughal architecture, the Rann of Katch and the Thar Desert etc. as my native country Pakistan shares it with India. :)
    Loved travelling online through India, wish to travel the gorgeous land in person someday. Keep making the good stuff!

    1. Oh I totally know what you mean, we share the same landscape and history. I have felt a similar vicarious pleasure going through beautiful images of Pakistan. Too bad we can't travel across border to see the glory in person but hoping someday it might happen! Thanks for stopping by, Tehreem. :)

  9. Neelima: I have shared 30 Places with my group, known as India XVI. We were American Peace Corps Volunteers 1965-67, working in poultry management. Today we are 70-somethings, about 65 men and women still living; we enjoyed a 50th Reunion last September. I was fortunate to travel India, Nepal and Ceylon back then, but never like your banquet of samplings. If you go into the travel business, please give me a look up. And see my eBook of village life around Jaipur 50 years back, all digitized slides with a little fiction sprinkled in to tie them together.
    Michael gannett, gannettm(at) and other India photos

    1. Hi Mike, Enjoyed seeing old pics of India from your album.. Thanks for sharing.. :)

    2. Mike, absolutely gorgeous pictures! For most of us , born in the 80s, your pictures seem like stumbling upon a time capsule. I've spent hours scrolling through your collections. It must have been such a different experience, traveling in the 60s compared the over-commercialized fare travel has become today. Thank you for stopping by! :)

  10. These photos look as though they have been shot for National Geographic. Or perhaps they are stock photos in their singular beauty. They are surpassed only by the journey that they capture, a journey that is only now being begun.

    1. So nice of you to say that, thank so much! :) Indeed, the journey has only begun and it will take more than a single lifetime to travel through India in its entirety.

  11. Great photos Neelima. Happy travelling!

  12. One of the best blogposts on unexplored india. Thanks for the list neelima

  13. Wow this list is can check out another offbeat experience for the Valentine's weekend
    I went to a musical trip with these guys. They are good

  14. great post n pictures! u must explore more of north India..particularly Uttar Pradesh, J&K and even Rajasthan and Odisha and ofcourse West Bengal they have alot of off beat places worth exploring

    1. All on my list, hopefully this year! :) Thank you, Manasi.

  15. Fantastic travel list Neelima..way to go..kudos for exploring your passion

  16. Beautiful Photos and Places,that was Gorgeous,really i like that places,really great work Neelima,thanks for sharing us..

    1. Thanks Samantha, I immensely enjoyed putting this list together as well. :)

  17. Beautiful! and truly off-beat! Amazing work @Neelima.


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