With its grand palaces, ancient ruins and dramatic natural landscapes, India is bursting with beauty. There is an almost endless number of paradise-like places to marvel at on a trip here, whether you want to roam off the beaten track in search of remote national parks, or make a beeline for popular destinations like the ancient city of Hampi or the magical backwaters of Kerala. Read on for our roundup of the most beautiful places in India…
First up on the list of the most beautiful places in India is the spectacular Lakshadweep Islands, located 155 miles off the coast of Kerala, just above the Maldives. This is a true island Eden with 36 heavenly islands and islets, tranquil lagoons, translucent waters, white sandy beaches, and coral reefs teeming with marine life. To preserve the fragile ecosystem of the archipelago, the Indian government limits access to travellers, issuing a set number of permits which reinforces the exclusive character of the place.
Pangong Tso, Ladakh
Nestled at an altitude of 13,944 feet and stretching more than 62 miles long, the Pangong Tso salt lake perfectly embodies the majesty of Ladakh's landscapes. Its peaceful crystalline waters (which freeze over during the winter despite their high salt content) are surrounded by imposing mountains, creating a scene of rare beauty that draws in photographers from around the world. While two-thirds of the lake belongs to China, the final third, which belongs to India, is the most accessible. You can reach this stunning site in around five hours in a 4x4 from the town of Leh. A special permit is required to access the lake so plan ahead if you want to include this natural wonder in your itinerary.
Valley of Flowers, Uttarakhand
Nestled within the Garhwal mountains in northern India’s Uttarakhand state, the Valley of Flowers is a dreamscape of lush meadows blanked in an incredible diversity of flower species. Covering a six-mile area and surrounded on both sides by towering peaks, this remote high-altitude paradise definitely deserves a spot in any roundup of the most beautiful places in India. While the valley was once used as a grazing area, it now has national park status and is reserved for scientific study and tourism. It is particularly beautiful from July to September when the flowers are in full bloom.
Rann of Kutch, Gujarat
Divided between the Kutch district of Gujarat state in northwestern India and the Sindh province in southeastern Pakistan, the Rann of Kutch is a vast seasonal salt marsh reputed to be the largest salt desert in the world. The dazzling white plains of this otherworldly site are home to a variety of wildlife species including wild donkeys, wolves and antelopes as well as a multitude of birds that populate the marshes.
Nestled in the hills and valleys of Karnataka, Hampi - the city of ruins - is an architectural jewel surrounded by nature. This UNESCO World Heritage site forms part of the ancient capital of the Vijayanagara Empire which was established in the 14th century and went on to control the cotton and spice trade of the entire region. The city was then fabulously rich and covered an area of 26 miles. When the empire collapsed in the 16th century, the city was abandoned, leaving the remarkable buildings to ruin.
Mandu, Madhya Pradesh
In a remote corner of southern Madhya Pradesh, perched on a vast plateau in the Vindhya mountains, lies the ancient Muslim capital of Mandu. The site dates back to the 15th century and still retains superb vestiges of that era from the palaces and mosques, to the tombs and bâoli (reservoir). The atmosphere is wonderfully nostalgic and romantic, the ruins are grandiose and the legends numerous. And at night, the plateau is populated by leopards and panthers.
The Backwaters of Kumarakom, Kerala
On the shores of Lake Vembanad, you’ll find the charming town of Kumarakom. This is the ideal starting point for a cruise on the Kerala backwaters - a network of lagoons, canals, and lakes stretching in the lowlands between the coast and the Western Ghats mountain range. This is a unique and preserved ecosystem where rice is cultivated and traditional fishing practices take place. Don’t miss the chance to step aboard lovingly refurbished houseboats and grain barges for a serene cruise complete with views of swaying palm trees and hardworking fishermen.
Perched in the hills of Meghalaya, the small village of Mawlynnong has earned a unique reputation as Asia’s cleanest village. Here, everyone participates in the cleaning of the streets and common spaces, the youngest are made aware of the importance of cleaning, and the gardeners are responsible for the maintenance of the fauna. As you explore the village, soak up the peaceful atmosphere as you wander past the exotic vegetation, traditional bamboo houses and natural bridges made from tree roots.
Madikeri, Coorg Karnataka
Madikeri, nicknamed the ‘Scotland of India’, is the capital of the mountainous Coorg region. This quaint town is the perfect base from which to explore the area’s lush national parks and fragrant spice and coffee plantations. The people of the Coorg region are known for their warm hospitality so enjoy a friendly and laid-back stay in this peaceful part of the country.
Chilika Lake, Odisha
Located about 30 miles from the coastal city of Puri and nestled among rice fields, swamps, and coconut trees, is Chilika Lake, the largest lagoon in India. This unique ecosystem, separated from the ocean by a narrow strip of land, is fed by fresh water from the rivers and cleaned by saltwater from the sea. This is a place where fishermen set their nets on thin bamboo poles, migratory birds flock for the winter and the rare Irrawaddy dolphins play in the waters.