List Words : Various contributors | 21 December

10 of India's best-kept travel secrets

Not one secret India but ten - with advice from India experts we help you find the hidden subcontinent

1. Ride royal horses near, Udaipur, Rajasthan

The region around Udaipur is famous for its noble Marwari horses, and the Ravla Khempur hotel, 50km north-east of the city, is home to celebrated horse breeder Hemant Deval. The rooms at the Ravla are comfortable, each with its own gokhara (bay window), while the homegrown and traditional food is prepared under the keen supervision of Hemant’s mother. The family also do a lot to help the local community.

What’s really unique here is the horse show – Hemant’s steeds perform a special dance, set to tribal music. In the past, horses performed these dances at special occasions. Today, this is one of the few places they can still be seen. Ravla is very much untouched by commercial tourism – here, you can still experience the true essence of rural India.



2. Find good grub in Delhi

For the best Mughlai cuisine go to Karim’s (at Jama Masjid or Nizamuddin; karimhoteldelhi.com), where recipes dating from the times of the Mughals have been closely guarded by generations of chefs.

3.See big cats in Satpura, Madhya Pradesh

Created in 1981 but absent from guidebooks, rugged Satpura is one of India’s least-known reserves. Many big species are found here – tiger, panther, sambar and crocodile, to name a few. It’s hoped that in 2009 Satpura will become a designated tiger reserve, ensuring the further protection of its landscape and big cats.

4. Meander along the Konkan Coast, Maharashtra

The 400km of tropical coastline separating Mumbai and Goa are among the least-visited parts of the subcontinent. Tourist hotels are virtually non-existent, and roads are narrow and meandering – though there is a train (the Konkan Railway) that will take you to quiet outposts.

The palm-fringed shore forms a near continuous string of beaches – many of them entirely deserted, and overlooked by 17th- and 18th-century citadels. Stop off at the Ganesh temple in Ganpatipule before continuing south to Kolhapur, an ancient Hindu pilgrimage site famous for traditional Marathi kusti (wrestling), conducted by strapping blokes in dirt pits.

5. Trek off-season in the Western Ghats

Walk in the Western Ghats during the monsoon (June-Sep) when the hills are at their best: cool and lush, with heavy waterfalls, wildflowers and magical mists.

6. Take tea with bandits, Chambal Valley, Rajasthan

Once a notorious badland riddled with hoodlums, eastern Rajasthan’s Chambal Valley – an atmospheric tumble of ravines and gullies – is inching onto the travel map. And, as well as its 247 bird species and mugger crocs, it’s the crime that’s the attraction: local authorities are planning to launch a Dacoit (Bandit) Trail, with guided tours of this untamed area led by the former bandits themselves.You can already visit the rugged landscape and its villages. Hear the locals tell colourful crime stories and drink chai with the bandits themselves.

7. Party in Assam

Don’t miss the Ras Festival on Majuli – the world’s largest river island, sitting in the Brahmaputra River. Held every November, virtually every islander joins in the celebration of Krishna.



8. Walk with the yeti in Meghalaya

Numerous sightings of a 3m-tall mande barung (forest man) have been made in the Garo Hills. This year a mysterious hair promised much, but DNA tests ultimately linked it to a stray goral (goat) rather than a lowland Bigfoot. The search continues…

9. Meet the tribes in Orissa

There are 62 different Adivasi (tribal groups) living in the rural reaches of Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh. They live largely untouched by modern civilisation, and each has its own customs and costumes.

The best way to meet them is at their weekly markets, where they congregate to exchange their harvest and local brew for items of daily need. Head to the gateway towns of Baliguda, Rayagada and Jeypore to access these gatherings: for example, go to Chatikona (40km north of Rayagada) on a Wednesday to join in the bartering with colourfully garbed villagers. Travel sensitively – don’t take photos unless you have permission, and use a local guide who will be able to fill you in on these fascinating peoples.

10. Chill out on the Andaman Islands

Closer to South-East Asia than the subcontinent, the 572 Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a true alternative to India. The Nicobars are off-limits, only a handful of islands in the whole archipelago are open to the few tourists that do make it out there.

The 2004 tsunami devastated island tourism, but the Andamans have bounced back and are open for business – the diving is reportedly as good as ever. Fly or sail into capital Port Blair, then drift on to Havelock Island for birdwatching and beach-lazing before heading for Neil Island – the place to cycle through paddy fields, snorkel above reefs and count the other travellers on one hand.