Our Where Locals Go series features under-the-radar holiday destinations that are often overlooked by visitors but cherished by locals. Here, we ask four experts on India for their top picks.
With attractions like the Taj Mahal and Jaipur’s pink palaces, the dreamy beaches of Goa and Kerala and the vibrant cities of Delhi and Mumbai, India has long been a magnet for every type of traveler under the sun.
Yet, beyond these well-trodden paths, India offers a wealth of lesser-visited destinations waiting to be explored. These are not your typical international tourist hotspots but rather the places where locals travel.
Here, four Indian writers unveil their favorite holiday destinations within their homeland. From the mystical heights of the Indian Himalayas to the laid-back shores of the Konkan region, these are the places where you can experience India like a true local.
Summer escape to apple-growing hinterlands of Himachal Pradesh: Kothkai
Puneetinder Kaur Sidhu grew up in the plains of Punjab, is a mountain girl at heart, and has had a life-long romance with the Himalayas.
Kotkhai, nestled in the apple-growing region of the Lesser Himalayas, is a serene haven just 70 kilometers away from Shimla, Himachal Pradesh’s state capital. Come summer, this rural idyll, dotted with traditional slate-roofed wooden houses, becomes my escape from urban chaos; it has been over 30 years since my first visit as a college student and I regularly wind up here for a fix of quiet. Misty valley views, fruit-laden orchards, lazily chomping cows, and crowing roosters are an added bonus.
I usually stay at the family-run Himalayan Orchard, a farm-stay perched at the top end of a sprawling apple orchard in Rukhla village. It’s embraced by a dense deodar forest, offering numerous well-marked hiking trails to explore. During my downtime here, I indulge in mushroom foraging, fruit-picking, perusing a well-stocked library, or simply savoring the sunset over the valley with my favorite sundowner in hand.
The sustainable farm-fresh food is yet another big draw of Himalayan Orchard. I suspect I return as much for the local specialty siddu, a steamed jaggery or lentil-filled bun paired with ghee (clarified butter), as I do for their home-grown crunchy greens, herbed sausages, home-made jams, freshly-baked bread, and artisanal cheese.
When visiting, set aside expectations of resort-like activities. Instead, depending on the time of your visit, consider driving up to Shararoo Pass for an unparalleled view of the Jorkandan, Chanshal and Swargrohini peaks. Take the opportunity to connect with the nomadic Gujjars (cowherds), who establish their camps in these hills during the summer months. You might also chance upon a vibrant fair held in honor of the village deity. This is where you can truly immerse yourself in the authentic local experience.
Snow-clad peaks and glacier-fed lakes in the Indian Himalayas: Munsiyari
Shivya Nath grew up in Dehradun, and is a travel writer and sustainable tourism consultant.
Having grown up in a valley at the base of the Indian Himalayas, I share a bond with these mountains that no amount of globetrotting can sever. The one region that keeps calling me back is Munsiyari, in my home state of Uttarakhand. Situated close to the Tibet and Nepal borders in the Greater Himalayan region, Munsiyari is accessible by a winding 11-hour drive from the nearest train station (in Kathgodam) and airport (in Pantnagar) – which means it remains off the radar except for slow travelers, nature lovers and serious hikers from across India.
Those who do make the long journey are rewarded with breathtaking views of the five snow-clad Panchachuli peaks, forest bathing in the region’s old-growth teak forests, scarlet rhododendron blooms in the spring, the gushing glacier-fed Gori Ganga river, and hikes and treks for travelers of all abilities.
What draws me back year after year is a nature-based tourism initiative called Himalayan Ark. This initiative beautifully bridges the realms of conservation, sustainable livelihoods, and tourism. It presents opportunities to stay in homestays led by local women and offers a unique chance to embark on hikes guided by high-altitude female guides—a rarity in the region and the tourism industry.
I’m always delighted to try traditional recipes here, like dubke, a stew made from locally grown black soybean, and bhang ki chutney, a spicy dip made with hemp seeds.
I often go back in the summer, when locals come together for the unique Himal Kalasutra Festival, featuring birdwatching excursions, film screenings and storytelling sessions and culminates in the traditional Mesar Mela, featuring local folklore, music and dance. While the festivities are geared towards locals, travelers are wholeheartedly invited to join—and often, the difference between the two groups is hard to tell by the end.
Old-fashioned fishing villages and standout cuisine: Alibaug
Meher Mirza is a food, travel and culture writer based in Mumbai.
Alibaug, a short ferry ride from Mumbai, beckons beach lovers like me. But beyond its coastal allure lies a rich history that blends indigenous roots with influences from Buddhist, Rashtrakuta, Shilahara, Khilji, Maratha, Portuguese, and British legacies.
As the number of wealthy visitors swells (even Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan has a bungalow here), the town has become increasingly dotted with upmarket stores, art galleries and restaurants. Luxury villas, affordable AirBnBs, and even a posh hotel chain – The Radisson Blu – abound. Amongst the nicer places I’ve stayed at is Villa Beira Mar, a pet-friendly poolside villa with five bedrooms (at eye-watering prices).
Its fishing communities enjoy an underrepresented sliver of Maharashtrian cooking – amongst others, rakti (made from the congealed blood of goat), murya (seawater fish) and popti (poultry and vegetables slow-smoked in an earthen pot) are regional specialities to try.
But since I can’t elbow my way into an Alibaug homestead, I settle for the unpretentious Sanman restaurant, where the chef’s Midas touch stretches to all things seafood – vividly-spiced clams, a stack of bombil (Bombay duck) fried to cornflake crispness, and after, the tiny packets of tender coconut jelly. The ever-reliable Kiki’s Café and Deli, serving a bacchanal of Indian, Italian, and Middle Eastern dishes, is always a good spot to try too.
Alibaug’s beaches are beautiful but this is a great spot for history enthusiasts too. Its landscape is adorned with crumbling structures, once formidable fortresses of the Marathas and Portuguese, now silent reminders of bygone eras. Among them, the 16th-century Revdanda fort, initially constructed by the Portuguese and later wielded by the Marathas and British, is especially worth pootling around. Additionally, the town boasts a sprinkling of ancient temples and vernacular-style bungalows, adding to its rich historical tapestry.
A peaceful abode in the Kumaon Himalaya: Kasar Devi
Shubham Mansingka is a travel blogger from Kullu Valley who loves offbeat adventures.
The Kumaon hills have their fair share of holidaymakers flocking to renowned hill station towns like Mussoorie, Nainital, and Mukteshwar. However, nestled quietly near Almora, the cultural capital of the Kumaon region in Uttarakhand, you’ll discover Kasar Devi—an unassuming town that remains a cherished secret among seasoned travelers.
My own journey to Kasar Devi began nine years ago on a scorching summer afternoon when I was looking to escape the crowds on a long weekend. Since that initial visit, I’ve returned countless times and even spent a quarter of a year living in a charming forest cottage during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Throughout my visits, I have stayed at various accommodations, ranging from rustic village guesthouses to stylish boutique properties, but it’s The Kumaon that stands out for me, a striking building that seamlessly blends bold modern design with traditional materials. The views are pretty special too.
There is a variety of charming home-run cafes to choose from, I’m drawn back time and again to Ayurvaid Kalmatia, where they prepare fresh, made-to-order cuisine. It’s a holistic resort so after dining, you can enjoy one of their renowned rejuvenating Ayurvedic treatments. Occasionally, I venture into Almora bazaar to relish the local delicacies, including the irresistible “baal mithai” and “singhaudi,” both signature sweets available at Kheem Singh Rautela Sweets.
A stroll through Kasar Devi unveils breathtaking vistas of towering Himalayan peaks, including the majestic Mount Trishul and Nanda Devi, both soaring above 7,000 meters. Here, every walk transforms into a potential hiking adventure, with some leading to ancient temples, concealed waterfalls, or even the chance to spot a graceful deer. I often stumble upon a peaceful green meadow during my explorations, which provides the perfect setting for an impromptu picnic surrounded by nature’s beauty.
One of my favorite trails starts from Papershali, meandering through pine and rhododendron groves, ultimately leading to the quaint farming village of Balta Badi, where the green fields glisten in the afternoon sunshine. An evening hike to the 6th-century Kasar Devi Temple is a must, where you can witness a breathtaking sunset after your prayers or moments of contemplation.