World ? Asia ? India

India: The Best Outdoor Adventures

  • Watch Cows Sunbathing with Tourists on the Beach (Goa): While there's plenty of marijuana doing the rounds in Goa, you don't have to smoke a thing to be amused by the mellow cows that wander onto the beach and chill out among the tanning tourists and hawkers. Chewing their cud while seemingly gazing out to sea, these cows really take the Goan motto, "Sossegade" ("Take it easy"), to heart.

  • Ply the Backwaters on a Kettuvallam (Alleppey & Kumarakom, Kerala): Aboard your private houseboat, you aimlessly drift past villages, temples, and churches, watching as village children, unperturbed by your drifting presence, play at the water's edge, and elephants and water buffalo wade at will. Though the facilities might strike the well-heeled as basic, you're looked after by a private team (guide, cook, and pilot) who manage to be both discreetly invisible and at your beck and call.

  • Quench Your Thirst with Fresh Coconut Water on a Tropical Island (Lakshadweep): One of India's best-kept secrets, the 36 atolls and coral reefs that make up the remote union territory of Lakshadweep are rated among the best diving destinations in Asia. Only 10 of the islands are populated, almost exclusively by Malayalam-speaking Muslims who make their living from fishing and harvesting coconuts. These relaxed islanders are supremely welcoming, happily climbing a towering coconut tree to help you quench your thirst.

  • Wake to Hear a Herd of Elephants Approaching (Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, Kerala): The best way to experience this park -- famous for its herds of wild elephants -- is on a trek with the privately run Periyar Tiger Trail. Accompanied by a naturalist and a game ranger armed with a rifle, you are taken farther into the tourist zone than any other operator is allowed to penetrate. What's more, you are looked after by a team of reformed poachers, who skillfully track and spot animals, carry all the gear, strike camp, cook, clean, and -- most importantly -- stand sentinel throughout the night when the danger of being trampled by elephants becomes a serious risk.

  • Immortalize a Wild Tiger from the Back of an Elephant (Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh): With the densest population of tigers of any park in India, you are practically guaranteed a sighting at this relatively low-key, remote part of Madhya Pradesh. But it's the approach that's so exciting -- elephant mahouts set off at dawn to track the royal cats. As soon as they've spotted one, you rendezvous with your pachyderm, who then takes you within striking distance of this most royal of cats. The tiger -- unperturbed by the presence of an elephant -- will then strike a pose of utter indifference for your camera.

  • Pick a Picture-Perfect Beach (Goa, Kerala): India has some of the world's best beaches, most of them on the Malabar Coast. Easily accessed, Asvem (northern Goa) is an idyllic haven, while just south of Goa, Morjim has been drawing Olive Ridley turtles to its shores for centuries. Both beaches are off the well-beaten tourist track. Palolem (southern Goa), a gorgeous crescent of sand backed by coconut palms and a handful of laid-back shacks where you can feast on fresh fish and bottles of cold beer, is another of India's loveliest beaches. From here, time allowing, you should head over the border to beautiful and remote Om Beach (Gokam, Karnataka). In Kerala, the competition is equally stiff, but we award the picture-perfect prize to the beaches at Marari and Surya Samudra resorts. The absolute stunners, if you can get that far, are at Bangaram and Agatti, in Lakshadweep.

  • Find Divinity in Devbhumi, "Land of the Gods" (Spiti to Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh): The stark, rust-colored, snowcapped slopes in the Indo-Tibetan regions of Kinnaur, Spiti, and Lahaul are the stuff adventurers' dreams are made of, offering sublime mountainscapes, flower-filled valleys, terrifying roads, atmospheric Tibetan Buddhist gompas (monasteries), and high-altitude villages that seem to cling to the mountainsides. The region is one of the most profoundly beautiful in the world, but the drive is not for the fainthearted.

  • Get a Rush While Rafting Down the Zanskar (Ladakh): White-water rafting on the Zanskar is not only exhilarating and challenging, but you pass through the most incredibly desolate, scenic gorges and stupendous cliffs. A full river journey takes at least 12 days round-trip from Leh, so this is only for the truly committed -- though there are slightly tamer options closer to Leh.

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