Discover India’s lesser known unique destinations with RAUL DIAS
This Independence week, we urge you to forget about planning that next international getaway and look inwards. Confused? Here’s a quartet of India’s lesser known destinations, each offering a unique experience you won’t find anywhere else.
Shani Shingnapur, Maharashtra
Where honesty is alive and kicking. Imagine an idyllic little place somewhere in rural Maharashtra where the houses are totally devoid of any doors whatsoever. In their place you only find door frames. A village that has never seen crime and where not a single incident of theft has ever been officially reported. Now, before you begin to disregard this as pure fiction, let us assure that such a place truly exists. Yes, the village of Shani Shingnapur that’s situated in the state’s Ahmednagar district is not just known for its popular temple of Shani, the Hindu god associated with the planet Saturn, but also for the above-mentioned lack of doors. Apparently, the villagers believe that due to the fear of Lord Shani, none of the structures, be it dwelling houses, huts, shops, even the local post office, situated within a one-kilometre radius of his temple have either doors or locks. It is believed that anyone attempting to steal will be prevented from doing so by the god who will send his wrath down upon any such person who will be immediately struck down. So popular is this temple that it is visited daily — and specially on Saturdays — by thousands of devotees praying for Lord Shani’s favour.
Getting There: Shani Shingnapur is a short 35km away by road from Ahmednagar city.
Where colonial grandeur meets classical dance. Known as ‘The Crown of Kerala’ thanks to it lying slap bang in the middle of the Western Ghats in the east, Kozhikode and Wayanad districts in the south, Lakshadweep Sea in the west and Kasargod in the north, Kannur is one of those hidden gems simply waiting to be discovered. Also called Cannanore by its Portuguese colonists, this is an idyllic coastal city, boasting some of the best beaches in Kerala. It is also famous for having the imposing St. Angelo Fort that was built in 1505 by Dom Francisco de Almeida, the first Portuguese Viceroy of India. Kannur was also home to Kerala’s only Muslim royalty called the Arakkals. Interestingly, Kannur is popularly known as ‘The City of Looms and Lores’. This is because of two important aspects of Kannur. One, the city has a thriving loom industry functioning in the district. Two, fans of Indian dances, here’s a tip for you: Make sure to visit Kannur anytime from months of November and April as you can see the Theyyam ritual dance performances that this place is famous for in its many temples.
Getting there: Kannur is well-connected to the rest of India via rail with the Kannur train station being a popular stop.
Kannauj, Uttar Pradesh
Where fragrance is everywhere. Though it is one of the oldest cities in Uttar Pradesh (UP), very little is known about Kannauj by most. Travellers often give it a miss in favour of the ‘Golden Triangle’ of the famed trio of Lucknow, Varanasi and the hallowed Agra! But the next time you find yourself in UP, treat your olfactory senses to a virtual celebration and visit Kannauj — India’s perfume capital. A small town on the banks of the river Ganga that has been guarding the secret of traditional Indian perfumes for centuries, Kannauj is the place where the lost art of ittar making is very much practised almost everywhere. Situated on the once historical scent trade route that brought perfumes from India to the Middle East, Kannauj’s perfumeries were famed for their magnificent ittars, specially the petrichor fragrant of the geeli mitti or wet earth, giving this town the moniker of ‘Grasse of the East’. The perfumers of Kannauj also made the scented oils Mughal Emperors were so obsessed with. But thankfully, you can still find an entire range of perfumers here ready to customise for you your very own little vial of fragrance.
Getting There: Kannauj is 125km away by road from UP’s capital Lucknow via Agra.
Asia’s Cleanest Village with a Living Wonder. Never mind the rather tongue-twister of a name and get ready for this place to totally blow your mind away! Nestled in the verdant East Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya, overlooking Bangladesh is the bucolic village of Mawlynnong that truly sets the bar very high with its cleanliness initiatives and not to mention natural beauty. Not only are the streets and laneways of the village spotless and litter-free with waste collected in bins made of bamboo that are then directed to a pit to be later used as manure, but unpleasant habits like smoking and the use of polythene is totally banned. A community initiative mandates that all residents should participate in cleaning up the village. And this superb initiative has not gone unnoticed. The travel magazine Discover India declared the village as the cleanest in Asia in 2003, and the cleanest in India in 2005. But it’s not all about cleanliness that will draw you to Mawlynnong. Don’t miss out on attractions like the 1,100-year-old living bridge made from tree roots that show us the far-sighted vision of the village’s past generations. Other must-sees are ‘balancing rock’ and another rock formation called ‘shark’s jaw’. Do all this, and much more, while taking in the pollution-free air and mingling with the ever-smiling villagers who are only too proud and happy to show you their village.
Getting There: Mawlynnong is a 90km drive from the south of the state capital Shillong.
Raul Dias is a Mumbai-based food and travel writer and restaurant reviewer. Follow Raul on Instagram @rauldias123