A new year calls for a brand-new bucket list! Choose from these 21 lesser-explored destinations—within India or air bubbles—and #discovertheundiscovered. By Rashima Nagpal
1. RAS AL KHAIMAH, UAE
The northernmost emirate in the UAE, Ras Al Khaimah is the perfect getaway post a travel drought. It is home to the country’s highest peak, Jebel Jais (1,934 metres). Here, you can find Jebel Jais Flight (in pic), the world’s longest zipline; the Jais Sky Tour, featuring seven ziplines flying over grand cliffs and canyons; and the recently launched Bear Grylls Explorer Camp, offering branded survival experiences. You can gaze at the majestic Hajar Mountains from Jais Viewing Deck Park, which houses 1484 by Puro—the highest restaurant in the UAE. Located at the base of the Hajar Mountains, Suwaidi Pearl Farm is the region’s first cultured pearl farm. The emirate is also home to several historical and archaeological sites such as Julfar, Shimal, Jazirah Al Hamra, and Dhaya, all recognised by the UNESCO’s Tentative List of Heritage Sites.
2. SASKATCHEWAN, CANADA
Saskatchewan is a rugged and bucolic province of Canada. Made up of vast prairies in the south, rocky terrain in the north, and modest cities such as the capital Regina, it is perfect for an unhurried countryside holiday. At the heart of the province lies the million-acre Prince Albert National Park, ideal for lakeside picnics and hiking in summer, and cross-country skiing during the mild winter months. At the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in the capital, one can trace the natural history of the country, and the town of Saskatoon exhibits the avant-garde culture of the destination.
3. MANAMA, BAHRAIN
Manama is the gateway to the Kingdom of Bahrain. The capital has a modern landscape but also houses a treasure trove of history. The Al Fateh Grand Mosque (in pic) features suras engraved in the Kufic script, a three-and-a-half tonne Swarovski crystal chandelier from Austria, 952 hand-blown glass lamps from France, and a huge fibreglass dome. Bahrain National Museum displays artefacts from the Dilmun civilisation, which flourished in the region circa 2000 BCE. The city is at its liveliest in the narrow alleys of Manama Souk, where you can buy everything from spices to pearls.
4. KYUSHU, JAPAN
Blessed with a subtropical climate, beautiful beaches, active volcanoes, natural hot-spring zones like Kurokawa Onsen, Beppu Onsen, and Yufuin Onsen, and Instagram-worthy locations such as the Takachiho Gorge (in pic), Kyushu is an underrated destination that promises thrill and relaxation in equal measure. The island also has sites of historical interest. The city of Fukuoka, for instance, is home to museums, mega malls, and an eighth-century Shinto shrine, Kushida-jinja. The isle of Yakushima, off the southern coast of Kyushu, is a ferry ride away from Kagoshima city and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site perfect for outdoor adventures. For the ultimate adventure, you can go hiking on Mount Aso, the largest active volcano in Japan.
5. DOHA, QATAR
Wander through the atmospheric Souq Waqif (in pic), marvel at the world-class Museum of Islamic Art, or head out to Katara Cultural Village to explore beautiful theatres, concert halls, and exhibition galleries. With a new metro system and the 2022 FIFA World Cup looming on the horizon, Doha is one of the most dynamic cities in the Gulf. Locally recommended activities include eating at Turkey Central, which is popular for its mixed grills and mezze platters, camping at Al Wakrah Beach—just 10 kilometres out of the city—and a pitstop at Doha Corniche for the best views of the skyline.
6. BUCHAREST, ROMANIA
Known for its tree-lined boulevards and Belle Époque buildings, Bucharest is Romania’s largest city and capital. Nicknamed ‘Little Paris’ in the 1900s for its high life, the city is a bustling metropolis today. Stroll along the Calea Victoriei Avenue, from Piata Victoriei to Piata Natiunilor Unite, to discover some of the most stunning buildings in the city, including Cantacuzino Palace, Revolution Square, Military Club, and National History Museum. The city offers something for everybody: a tour of the world’s largest parliament building, a feast of local food in Old Town, an evening at National Museum of Art, countless tiny chapels, and more.
7. UMBRIA, ITALY
Landlocked by Tuscany, Lazio, and Le Marche, Umbria is the only Italian region that doesn’t have a coastline or a border with another country. Called the country’s green heart, Umbria is known for its medieval hill towns, dense forests, and local cuisine (think full-bodied wines and truffles). The capital, Perugia, gives you a lesson in the Etruscan culture, pottery, and the history of olive oil, among other things. From the Gothic-style Orvieto Cathedral to the frescoclad Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, the art and architecture, too, is on par with popular European regions but lacks their crowds.
8. GLASGOW, UK
Ditch the cliches of London for a charming alternative: Glasgow. With its underground clubs and centuries-old pubs, street markets and museums, the Scottish port city surprises you at every turn. Affectionately called ‘Glesga’ by the locals, the city offers a range of brewery tours and a thriving art and music scene, backed by prestigious institutions such as the Scottish Opera, Scottish Ballet, and National Theatre of Scotland. There’s no dearth of old-world charm either; the city’s subway system dates back to 1896 and Glasgow Cathedral to the 12th century—making it the oldest cathedral on mainland Scotland.
9. WAYANAD, KERALA
Spared from the tourists that flock to Alappuzha and Munnar, Wayanad enjoys a sense of serenity. This rural hill town is fit for a laid-back stay on a tea estate or coffee plantation. The Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary is a part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve and harbours Asiatic elephants, Indian bison, tigers, and leopards, among other wild creatures. Wayanad’s landscape is blessed with paddy fields, skinny betel nut trees, tall bamboo, spiky ginger fields, slender eucalyptus trees, rubber trees, and fragrant cardamom plantations.
10. ZANSKAR, LADAKH
Rugged and remote, this Buddhist valley is one of India’s best-kept secrets. Historically one of the two main capitals of the Zanskar Kingdom, Padum is no more than a cluster of some shops and houses. As in most of Ladakh, the notable sights here are timeless monasteries—Karsha, Stongdey, Sani, and Phugtal. But the sheer otherworldliness of the landscape is what makes the journey special. During summer, Zanskar can be reached by road as well as on treks; in winter, the Zanskar River (in pic) freezes and the valley opens up for the gruelling Chadar Trek.
11. SUNDARBANS, INDIA & BANGLADESH
A boat trip to the Sundarbans, the largest contiguous mangrove forest in the world, promises both, idyll and thrill. The forest covers about 10,000 square kilometres and straddles India and Bangladesh. Apart from being home to the Irrawaddy dolphin, the estuarine crocodile, and the critically endangered river terrapin, it is the only mangrove forest to harbour the Royal Bengal Tiger. The wetlands are accessible from Kolkata in India, but visiting the reserve forest in Bangladesh offers scenic hamlets en route.
12. BURGUNDY, FRANCE
A historical region in east-central France, Burgundy is famous for its legendary wines. An alternative to the popular Champagne region, the countryside in Burgundy welcomes you with endless vineyards, a network of canals, and medieval villages dotted with grand châteaux, some of which have now become luxury hotels. The capital, Dijon, boasts impeccable architectural heritage, including the Palace of the Dukes, where the distinguished Muséedes Beaux-Arts (Museum of Fine Arts) was established in 1787. Burgundy’s four departments—Côte d’Or, Yonne, Saône-et-Loire, and Nièvre—cater to your love for the great outdoors with activities ranging from cycling to hot-air-balloon rides.
13. ORCHHA, MADHYA PRADESH
A recent addition to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Cities, Orchha is finally getting the attention it deserves. A flourishing period of nearly 300 years gifted the medieval town magnificent specimens of Mughal-influenced Rajput architecture, including mahals and royal cenotaphs (in pic). A highway divides the city in two halves—to the west is the Orchha Fort, built on the banks of the River Betwa; to the east is a cluster of temples and havelis. Visitors can enjoy the surrounding countryside on foot or bicycle, and even go rafting on the River Betwa.
14. SERENGETI NATIONAL PARK, TANZANIA
Named after siringit, the Masai word for ‘endless plains’, Serengeti National Park is one of the oldest existing ecosystems on Earth and is considered one of the seven wonders of Africa. The Big Five that define the ultimate African safari—lion, rhino, leopard, elephant, and Cape buffalo—roam freely here. The riverine forests are a haven for hippos and crocodiles, and the migration of millions of wildebeest and zebra makes for an annual spectacle. There are over 500 species of migratory birds to be spotted in Serengeti, which offers one of the best safari experiences in the world.
15. THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS
Often overshadowed by Amsterdam, The Hague warrants a visit for art and history aficionados. The government of the Netherlands is run from the historic Binnenhof, a complex of buildings in the city centre. Within its Gothic Inner Court lie some of the country’s best museums: while Escher in Het Paleis pays homage to the eponymous Dutch artist, Mauritshuis is home to the Royal Cabinet of Paintings, which includes paintings from the Dutch Golden Age. Moreover, a wave of restaurants is lighting up The Hague’s culinary scene. For instance, the seaside Scheveningen district serves the best seafood.
16. PARO, BHUTAN
A valley town situated west of Thimphu, Paro is a sacred sanctuary. Its biggest claim to fame is the Taktsang Palphug (Tiger’s Nest monastery), which clings to a cliff above the upper Paro Valley. A hike of five to eight hours takes you to the site. While the monastery has existed for centuries, the main street in Paro came about in 1985. As you drive in from the airport, Paro Dzong (in pic), a 17th-century fortress and monastery, welcomes you. Above it is the Ta-dzong, or watchtower, which was renovated in 1968 to house the National Museum.
17. SIMIEN MOUNTAINS, ETHIOPIA
A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979, the Simien Mountains National Park in Ethiopia is surprisingly less explored. The landscape features a rugged mountain range made up of vertiginous cliff faces, and the exotic wildlife includes Gelada monkeys, Simien fox, and the endemic Walia ibex. At 4,500 metres, Ras Dashen is the highest mountain in Ethiopia and the fifth highest in Africa—and an intrepid trekker’s dream. The traditional lifestyle of the population and their adaptations to the harsh climate and terrain are revelations to any visitor.
18. ARAKU VALLEY, ANDHRA PRADESH
A unique train ride or a three-hour drive from Vishakhapatnam through the picturesque Eastern Ghats takes you to Andhra Pradesh’s Araku Valley. The region is home to some isolated tribal communities, and their traditional art and culture are beautifully exhibited at the Tribal Museum in Araku town. Thanks to its lofty mountains, lush forests, milky waterfalls, and a thriving organic-coffee culture, Araku Valley is quickly climbing the chart of destinations in South India. The 150 million-year-old Borra Caves (in pic), 35 kilometers from the valley, are thrilling to explore, while the Araku Balloon Festival lets visitors get a bird’s-eye-view of the landscape.
19. BINSAR, UTTARAKHAND
At an impressive altitude of 2,420 metres, Binsar is one of the most scenic yet lesser-explored destinations in the Kumaon Himalayas. Located 95 kilometres away from Nainital, it is home to the expansive Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary, a paradise for birdwatchers. Various walking trails, flanked with towering oaks and rhododendrons, lead up to surreal vantage points. More often than not, majestic views of snowcapped peaks such as Chaukhamba, Trishul, and Nanda Devi give you company. An easy escape from the national capital region, Binsar is also a great opportunity to explore the rural Kumaoni culture.
20. TAWANG, ARUNACHAL PRADESH
Tawang district holds in its secluded chest natural and cultural treasures. The Gudpi and Chong-Chugmi ranges, Tawang Chu River, and Tawang Valley are stunning. With the altitude ranging between 1,830 and 6,700 metres, the region is ripe for adventure. Gorichen Peak is the highest mountain in the state and offers a challenge to trekkers; there are 101 lakes in and around Se La. The journey to Tawang is an adventure in itself, with hairpin bends, dense forests, and chilly passes. The Tawang Monastery is the largest one in India and plays host to the Dungyur and Torgya festivals.
21. ANDAMAN AND NICOBAR ISLANDS
The Union Territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands offers pristine white-sand beaches and colourful marine life. Havelock is the most popular island, whether you’re looking to laze around, go scuba diving, or do a bit of both. It can be reached from the capital, Port Blair, which also offers easy access to Neil Island, Baratang Island, Cinque Island, and Little Andaman. The fact that only 36 of the archipelago’s 572 islands are inhabited, and a fraction of these accessible to travellers, means the destination enjoys an exotic status.
Related: Plan Your Next #IntimateTravel Vacation At These Offbeat Destinations In India