The queue for getting tourist visas is getting longer by the day. The Travel Agents Association of India recently said visas for Europe are increasingly hard to get as some Schengen embassies are not operating at full capacity. VFS Global, which manages visa services for many countries, said it is experiencing stretched visa processing timelines from India. The US Embassy will resume tourist and visitor B1-B2 visa appointments in India from September after the rush for student visas has ended.
If you want to travel abroad just to explore some unexplored places (and which also look good on your Instagram or Facebook page), there are enough and more in India. Many of these are quite approachable—near major cities, so renting a vehicle will be easy and there are enough hotels around. These places also have lovely and secluded roads around to drive. Remember, tourism rejuvenates the economy and supports local jobs, so you will be doing your countrymen good.
Gangotri and the Mahabharata: A 500-km drive from Delhi (can be easily done from morning to evening, thanks to the smooth NH34 in Uttarakhand) will take you to Harsil, a sleepy town near Gangotri. In one frame the peaks you will see here are Bandarpunch (where Lord Hanuman extinguished his burning tail), Swargarohini (stairway to heaven followed by the Pandavas) and Kalanag (looks like a black cobra).
Hotels: Harsil and Barsu.
Osian and the windmills: This small town, about 70 km from Jodhpur and 560 km from Delhi, is famous for its Hindu and Jain temples from the early medieval period. If you love driving, the area around has secluded roads, and lovely views of majestic windmills atop hillocks.
Rainforests of Goa: Goa lives by the sea, but if you want to see a Goa not shown in films or party-songs, head towards the Karnataka border. Dudhsagar Falls is famous, but a detour takes you to Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary and Mollem National Park, where the rainforests are so thick, it can be haunting.
Hotels: Panaji, and by the sea.
Gudibande Fort: Move over Nandi Hills. Almost 90 km north of Bengaluru is a gem called Gudibande. The area is so unfrequented by tourists that you won’t see plastic waste (so, keep it as pristine as you find it). There is a 17th century fort here, constructed by chieftain Byre Gowda, and the beautiful and blue Bhairasagara lake.
Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary: Most eastward road trips that start from Kochi end in Munnar, but just 50 km beyond is the Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary (175 km from Kochi). This place is the habitat of the near-threatened grizzled giant squirrel. You can contribute by raising awareness, and money.
Jawai Bandh: About 650 km from Delhi and 850 km from Mumbai, in southwest Rajasthan, lies the Jawai bandh (dam). While Jawai is famous for its wild leopards and crocodiles, and sightings are almost confirmed during jeep safaris organised by local operators, it’s the home of these carnivores that sets the geography apart. Here you will find oldest surface rocks in India.
Hotels: Sumerpur, Ranakpur, Udaipur.
White Rann: Thanks to the annual Rann Utsav festival (December to February) near Dhordo village in Gujarat, this place gets a fair share of tourists. But if you have your own/rental car, you can explore the shockingly beautiful, and still empty, landscape.
Hotels: Bhuj, and tents in Rann.
Lake hopping in Western Ghats: Forget the Lake District of England or the Finger Lakes of upstate New York or even Como in Italy, there is a beautiful lake district two hours east of Mumbai by road (in Mulshi and Vehle tehsils). Roads are exceptionally good, mostly empty, and take you to lakes including the Pawna, Mulshi, Temghar, Hadshi, Salter and numerous others.
Hotels: Resorts by these lakes.
Deep inside Uttarakhand and Himachal: Because of the government’s focus on highway construction, places such as Munsiyari in Uttarakhand and Kalpa in Himachal that earlier took more than two days of driving to reach from Delhi, are now a day-and-a-half long away.
Konark to Satapada, via Puri: It’s a 90 km, two-hour drive along the coast of Bay of Bengal. Best time is early morning when you can see the sunrise from literally under the sea. In Satapada, you can see Irrawaddy Dolphins leaping in the waters of the Chilika Lake.
Hotels: Konark and Puri.
(This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it shows that India offers far more than what you see on the map.)