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5 outdoor adventures in India that are great for body and soul

Whether you’re a snorkeller, surfer, safari-lover – or just want to try something new, India offers some truly life-affirming adventures. Here's our favourites...

 Adventuers in India (Shutterstock)

When it comes to ‘wellness’, practising meditation and mindfulness is just the tip of the iceberg. As every Wanderlust reader knows, there’s nothing more life-affirming than a heart-pumping, mind-clearing dose of the great outdoors – and India has countless adventures to choose from.

Whether you’re a snorkeller, surfer, safari-lover – or just want to try something new – here’s where to set your sights...

1. Snorkelling and sea kayaking

Rafting on the Ganges in Rishikesh (Shutterstock)

Rafting on the Ganges in Rishikesh (Shutterstock)

The Andaman and Nicobar islands reveal a whole new side of India. Here, you’ll find beautiful beaches where elephants bathe, and seagrass meadows where dugongs graze – plus over 560 varieties of pristine coral reef. Indeed, the reefs cover a whopping 2,000 square kilometres of the archipelago, with diving and snorkelling spots for all abilities: a chance to spy whale sharks, sea turtles, mantas and more.

Meanwhile, Goa is all about adventures on the ocean – such as sea kayaking, parascending and surfing. In the midst of a busy South India itinerary, we recommend taking a few days out to try a new skill on the waves: not only does it focus the mind and challenge the body, but those beach views really are glorious.

For an adrenaline kick, look to the Brahmaputra Valley for wild river kayaking, Assam for river rafting and Arunachal Pradesh for wild river kayaking; or Rishikesh (Uttarakhand), for white-water rafting on the Ganges and Water Skiing in Srinagar (J&K). 

 

2. Ballooning and paragliding

See Amber Fort from a hot air balloon (Shutterstock)

See Amber Fort from a hot air balloon (Shutterstock)

With your head in the clouds and Rajasthan’s palaces and peaks at your feet, a hot air balloon ride is a soul-stirring way to start the day – an adrenaline thrill, yes, but also a humbling glimpse of this immense land. It’s also wonderfully serendipitous: the wind takes you wherever it pleases, so every journey is unique. Flights depart at sunrise from locations around Jaipur, such as the Amber Fort and Samode Palace.

Meanwhile, the peaks of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand provide perfect conditions for paragliding – with lofty takeoffs, strong lifts, and awe-inspiring views in abundance. Look to Manali (Himachal Pradesh), Rishikesh and Mussoorie (both Uttarakhand) for tandem flights with expert pilots.

3. Trekking and mountaineering

Hike in Uttarakhand's Himalaya (Shutterstock)

Hike in Uttarakhand's Himalaya (Shutterstock)

India has hikes for every ability, of every duration – from refreshing waterfall walks in Coorg (Karnataka), to multi-day yomps between hill forts in Ahmednagar (Maharashtra). But if it’s mountains you crave, only one area will do: the mighty Himalayas.

The Indian Himalayan Region spans 11 different states and territories, covering a land of immense scale and splendour – so it can be hard to know where to begin. But Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh have oodles to offer adventurous souls – including the Gangotri Glacier Trek (Uttarakhand), a four-day jaunt to the glacier that feeds the Ganges; and the Pin Parvati Pass (Himachal Pradesh) where seasoned mountaineers spend two weeks traversing marshlands, mountains and (perhaps most thrillingly) a rickety pulley bridge over the Parvati River gorge. White knuckles guaranteed.

Kashmir, too, is a peak-bagger’s dream – home to big-name challenges (the Great Lakes Trek, Stok-Kangri Climb and Mount Harmukh) as well as short-but-spectacular routes (such as the one-day Mohanmarg Trek, and the 4km hike from Sonamarg to Thajiwas Glacier). To learn more, see Incredible India’s trekking guides.

4. Rock climbing

The boulders of Hampi (Shutterstock)

The boulders of Hampi (Shutterstock)

As any rock climber will tell you, physical strength is only half the battle when you’re pushing for the top: big muscles mean nothing without a calm and methodical mind. Climbing is meditation for the adventurous – and, once you’ve scaled your first face, you’ll be hooked for life.

In India, climbing honeypots include the burly boulders of Hampi (Karnataka), piled high like a giant’s Jenga game; or the frozen faces of the Spiti Valley (Himachal Pradesh), sandwiched between snow-capped peaks. And while Badami (Karnataka) is famous for its rock-cut temples – which date back to the sixth century – climbers come here for the sandstone cliffs, with their finger-wide nooks and breath-stealing views of Agastya Lake.

5. Snowy safaris

Skiing in Kashmir  (Shutterstock)

Skiing in Kashmir (Shutterstock)

A snow leopard ’safari’ is no ordinary trip: indeed, until a few years ago, spotting one of these rare creatures was almost impossible for visitors. But as their numbers have swelled, sighting the ‘ghost of the mountains’ has become a tantalising prospect around the mountain-bound village of Kibber (Himachal Pradesh). You’ll need to brave icy conditions, tackle treacherous mountain roads, and sit – almost certainly for hours – with no guarantee of a glimpse. But when a snow leopard saunters into view, padding slowly through this most inhospitable of terrain, all those discomforts just melt away.

The wider region, as well as Uttarakhand, Himachal and Kashmir, offers more traditional snowy adventures. You can ski in Auli (Uttarakhand), Gulmarg (J&K), Solang Nala (Himachal Pradesh). Or why not try snowshoeing in Sonamarg, and riding the Gulmarg Gondola (one of the world’s highest) to play in pristine Himalayan powder. A winter wellness break never felt so adventurous.

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