Beyond the Taj Mahal: Alternate Destinations Worth Considering in India

Allison Sodha

Many travelers are initially drawn to India for its extensive history and culture, including a visit the famed Taj Mahal. And the numbers prove that over 72% of foreign tourists include a visit to the iconic monument of love in Agra. As Destination Specialists, it is our responsibility to not only be experts in the places we sell, but also be informed of alternate locations that offer similar elements of the more popular and well-known locations. When planning an itinerary, many of our clients inquire as to whether or not a popular site or city is worth visiting. We usually communicate that it is popular for a reason. Can the inundation of tourists detract from the experience? Possibly. Does the fact that so many people visit indicate it is worth it? Probably. However, only after learning more about our client's travel preferences and special interests can we make a fair recommendation.

If you are a tourist who usually stays within the comfortable intersection of popular and well-traveled, here are a few alternate destinations to consider on your next trip to India:

Destination: Goa

Alternate: Kerala

Known for beautiful beaches and an active nightlife, Goa provides a unique cultural integration of Indian and European heritage. Because Portuguese merchants settled in Goa in the 15th century, the city has a distinctive Western influence. However, it also has a reputation for being inundated with late-night revelry and tourists galore. Those seeking a quieter atmosphere may prefer Kerala. Mararikulam and Kovalam are two coastal areas of Kerala that offer comparative coastlines, with less noise and crowds. Another advantage is that Kerala offers backwater canals, wildlife sanctuaries, tea plantations, and Ayurveda spas – all within a relatively easy distance by car or train.

Ayurveda Spa, Kerala Ayurveda Spa, Kerala

Destination: Varanasi

Alternate: Haridwar

Varanasi, also called Benares, is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. Located on the Ganges River, it is also one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in India. Travelers often visit the temples, participate in an evening Aarti ceremony on the ghats, and experience a sunrise boat ride to view the prayers and baths. Sarnath, where Buddha preached first sermon after enlightenment, is also nearby. Because Varanasi is on many group tour itineraries, visiting can mean throngs of tourists, and from March – September, very hot temperatures. If your clients have an interest in experiencing the spiritual side of India, without the masses, suggest Haridwar. Also a pilgrimage destination on the Ganges River, Haridwar is located at the base of the Himalayas and is an easy 5-hour train ride from Delhi. It is usually not overpopulated with tourists (with the exception of planned events) and can easily be explored independently. The river is cleaner, being closer to the source, and guests can still experience an evening Aarti ceremony. Rishikesh, considered the heart of yoga in North India, is also an easy 45-minute drive from Haridwar.

Destination: Tamil Nadu

Alternate: Orissa (Odisha)

With over 31,000 temples, Tamil Nadu is considered the Land of Temples. There is also a fierce preservation of Tamil classical music and dance forms, including Bharatnatyam. Madurai is Tamil Nadu’s 2nd largest city and renowned for the Sri Meenakshi Temple, where more than 10,000 tourists and worshipers arrive daily. There is also the “Temple Trio” of Tanjore, Ramashwaram, and Trichy - three cities of great religious significance that include the Ganesh Temple, Chola Temples, and Ram Setu Bridge. With less internal travel time and fewer tourists, we suggest the state of Orissa. The capital of Bhubaneswar, with an intricate history dating back 3000 years, houses the Lingraj Temple, Mukteshwar Temple and Parashurmeshwar Temple. A short drive from Bhubaneswar is Puri, a beautiful coastal town and one of the seven holiest Hindu cities in India. The Konark Sun Temple, located 35km from Puri, is the most well-known and intricate World Heritage Site in the area. Puri also has a unique positioning, where both sunrise and sunset can be viewed on the beaches.

Konark Sun Temple, Orissa Konark Sun Temple, Orissa

Topics: India, Featured Tours

Allison Sodha

Written by Allison Sodha

As the President of Sodha Travel and author of Go! Girl Guides India, Allison has spent almost two decades exploring South Asia. She has a passion for creating experiences fueled by a deeper understanding of local communities.