7 Ways to Experience the “Real” India.

Rajasthan village photos

Since I moved to Delhi  in mid 2011 and started travelling in India, I’ve come across experiences that redefine the “real” India; experiences that lie quietly off the tourist trails, and let you fall in love with the hospitality and beauty of this incredible country:

1. Rent a village for a night.

You read that right! In the villages of the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve in Uttarakhand, every family has two homes; one in a lower altitude village for winter, another in a higher altitude village for summer. That means when the village folk move up during the summer, we city folk can rent out an entire village for a sojourn in the Himalayas. Stone houses, cobbled walkways, majestic mountain views, and the promise of a peaceful escape are part of the rental platter.   

2. Savor “Indian hospitality” in a pind.

A day begins in Punjab with the aroma of hot aloo paranthas dripping with white butter, accompanied by a big glass of lassi, mixed with the aroma of our soil. There are no pretences here, no exchange of money for hospitality. Choose any small village (pind) on the countryside of Punjab, and watch the winter sun illuminate the fields of sarson, let the fresh countryside air intoxicate your lungs, and soak in the famous country hospitality that Punjab is known for.

Indian village photos, village life in India, Indian village women photos
At a pind in Punjab.

3.     Become a monk for a month.

Give new meaning to spiritual travel, by committing to becoming a monk or a nun for a month. Curated around Tibetan Buddhism, the trail starts in the Tibetan colony of Delhi, moves to the scenic Himalayan villages of Spiti, and ends at the seat of HH the Dalai Lama. Besides learning about the Buddhist way of life, the kindness, curiosity and camaraderie of the monks and nuns will redefine happiness for you.

Buddhist monastery in India, monk for a month, India monastery
Kee monastery in Spiti.

4.     Camp by a salt lake in Rajasthan.

Between the royal heritage and the golden desert of Rajasthan, its smaller treasures lie untouched, like the salt lakes between Jodhpur and Jaisalmer. Stretching over 50 km, salt is the bread and butter of villages along the stark desert region, and a photographer’s delight at sunset, casting almost magical reflections in the water. Venture deeper into the region to discover sand dunes and desert villages that are blissfully off the tourist circuit of Rajasthan.

Salt lake Rajasthan, Rajasthan villages, village in Rajasthan
Sunset at the salt lakes between Jodhpur and Jaisalmer.

5.     Witness the union of the backwaters with the Arabian Sea.

It’s true that God’s own country still has place for mere mortals who want to get off the tourist trail, and settle for nothing less than virgin beaches and backwaters without a ton of houseboats. In the Kannur and Kasaragod regions of North Kerala, delight in the union of the Arabian Sea with the backwaters, across a sandy beach along the coast of Kerala. Eagles and migratory birds are equally drawn to this union, and traditional North Kerala food is a delight for all taste buds.

Kerala off the beaten path, Kerala homestays, Kerala village stays
The backwaters meeting the sea, in Kannur.

6.     Ride a two-wheeler along the west coast.

If you’re craving for a sun, sand and sea break that takes you away from the crowds of Goa, take that bumpy overnight bus to Diu, because sheer bliss awaits. Rent a scooter, drive along the gorgeous Arabian Sea, lose yourself among groves of Hoka trees, find a charming café to while away time, and forget, just for a few days, that civilization beyond the occasional local exists.

Diu photos, Diu photo gallery, diu India
The coastal roads of Diu.

7.     Live like royalty in the Himalayas.

The British really did know how to live, and beautiful colonial bungalows set on quiet slopes, overlooking majestic views of the Himalayas, are evidence. While most of these in Shimla have been converted into hotels that could burn a hole in your wallet, heritage homestays invite those who look harder. At a colonial English villa or Dak Bungalow in Himachal Pradesh or Uttarakhand, you can step into the shoes of royalty, indulge in magnificent mountain views, sample local cuisine, and pamper yourself with the hospitality of a mountain family.

Himachal homestay, heritage homestay, Indian homestays
A heritage homestay in Himachal Pradesh.

I originally wrote this article for The Alternative.


What are the most unique travel experiences you’ve had in India? Which of the above have you already done?


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  1. That’s a nice help from you. But, could you please tell me:what you don’t want for your delhi project, so that I could cut them off? I mean like, pictures of India Gate, which is known to everyone. Right?

    1. Can you please email me a link to your portfolio? I’ll go through it and see if there’s something relevant to what I’m writing about next 🙂

  2. the salt lake pics are astounding! should make it there soon. The idea of renting a village should be interesting too, now only if I could find people to populate it with me;) the nun trail sounds intriguing! let me see when I can afford to fall off the calendar for a month. to try that! will definitely help me get some writing done 🙂 did you check out my satpura piece?

    1. You should really go to the salt lakes, they’re near Bhap village. Really stunning!

      I haven’t done the village renting / monk for a month, so I did help do some ground research for setting up the latter. Off to check out your Satpura story now 🙂

  3. Very nice article. I would love to go to punjab and Uttarakhand.
    Hermitage- Khanapur, Belgaum, karnataka was also a nice experience of rural India for me and group of badami, pattadakal, aihole again in karnataka, Shanitinikatan – tagore’s place in West Bengal in off season, are some more travel destinations for people who want to travel the untravelled India.

    1. I loved Hermitage too! Shall google the rest of the options, especially the Karnataka ones, since I might be heading there soon.

  4. Rent a village ? Now that’s what will be called a deal. Completely unheard and very interesting.

    1. I know, I’ve been fascinated since I heard about the possibility too 🙂

  5. Wow, these are some beautiful-sounding experiences I had never heard of! Renting an entire village – amazing! Thanks for sharing these! 🙂

  6. I want to live like a monk in a monastery and also experience being treated like royalty in a palace !

  7. Shivya, how could you miss out Pranpur? Cant get more real than that!

    1. Of course, included it in my 2011 rediscovery of India list, so these are different ideas!

  8. sreeraj nair says:

    Your blog is great…. Am not a frequent traveler. but i love to travel a lot….can you tell me how do you plan for such trips…??

  9. I am genuinely pleased to glance at this website posts
    which contains lots of helpful facts, thanks for providing such data.

  10. Renting a village seems to be the most popular of all.. Would be keeping in mind while travelling there.. Wish the same model could have been there in villages throughout India 🙂

    1. Haha. We citified folks are displacing enough village people anyway :p

  11. Wow I love these great ideas for getting to know the real India away from the hassles of the big touristy sites. Thanks for sharing and giving me some more inspiration for my next India trip!

  12. I would love to visit all of them.. If only I had company..

  13. khadijasultan says:

    wow .very interesting visit .so I like beautiful places .I want to go india and see indian beauty.

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