9 unexpected adventures in India

(CNN) — India is immense; not solely in size and spirit, but also in possibilities.
If you’re traveling here, a visit to the Taj Mahal — the iconic white marble mausoleum and UNESCO World Heritage site — is likely on the top of your list. And you’re probably familiar with other popular activities such as cruising the backwaters of Kerala on a houseboat, deepening your yoga practice in Rishikesh, and witnessing colorful festivals throughout the country.
And then of course there’s the northern region Rajasthan, most often associated with its royal palaces, mighty forts and flashes of color in the “Pink City” of Jaipur and the “Blue City” of Jodhpur.

But sometimes the best travel experiences are those that are lesser known and further afield. Here are nine unique adventures to take you off the typical tourist trail — after you’ve had a chance to marvel at the Taj Mahal, of course.

Take a hike in tiger territory

Wildlife filmmaker Naresh Bedi takes us on a tour of Jim Corbett National Park, India’s oldest national park and a top safari destination.

Thanks to conservation efforts in recent years, the number of tigers — and opportunities to spot them — in the central state of Madhya Pradesh is on the rise.

Track paw prints and scan the trees for wildlife by day then fall asleep to the sounds of the forest by night.

Or, if you’re keen to try a half-day walk on the wild side but prefer a luxurious resort to return to, head for lebua Corbett — a jungle resort located on the rim of India’s oldest national park, the Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand.

Visit a salt desert

When monsoon season ends in October and the water evaporates from the low-lying salt marsh in the Rann of Kutch, a layer of salt is left behind — forming one of the largest salt deserts in the world.

This sparkling saline-covered landscape is especially magical under a full moon.

Located in the western state of Gujarat, it’s quite removed from the well-trodden tourist trail (though domestic tourism to the region has grown in recent years), so you’ll want to stay at least a few days to explore the history and culture of the area.

The Bhuj House, a restored Parsi heritage home about 90 minutes from the Great Rann of Kutch, provides a peek into the intriguing past of a house and city once inhabited by Parsis — followers of the Persian prophet Zoroaster — that sought refuge in Gujarat during the 8th to 10th century AD.

Cycle at high altitude

Seasoned cyclists ready to escape the crowds and take a ride to new heights can join a high altitude adventure with Cycleit.

On this 11-day, 383-mile Trans-Himalayan expedition, strength and endurance are tested daily as participants tackle high gradient climbs, navigate hairpin turns and changing terrain, and pedal some of the world’s highest motorable passes — including Khardungla, at 17,582 feet.

Tour the world’s largest estuarine mangrove forest

The West Bengal Sundarbans is the world's largest mangrove forest of its kind.

The West Bengal Sundarbans is the world’s largest mangrove forest of its kind.

Sunderban Tiger Camp

Keep an eye out for crocodiles, spotted deer, more than 250 species of birds and endangered Bengal tigers as you cruise the West Bengal Sundarbans — the largest mangrove forest of its kind in the world — by boat.

Make a stop at the watchtowers and take a stroll on the caged canopy walkway to get a view of the forest and wildlife safely from above.

Due to the unique natural environment, remote location and presence of tigers, life in the Sundarbans is unlike anything you’ll experience elsewhere in India.

Changing water levels during monsoon season can make for a difficult and even impossible journey, so it’s best to avoid travel to the area during the months of July to September.

Go ice climbing on Himalayan waterfalls

Outdoor enthusiasts undeterred by freezing temperatures can try their hand (and feet) at ice climbing in Himachal Pradesh.

Hearty, extreme weather adventurers who prefer to travel across — rather than up — frozen waterways can join the eight-day Indus Valley Frozen River Trek instead, for a chance to appreciate the harsh yet spectacular Himalayan environment that few visitors experience.

Check out the cherry blossoms

Japan isn’t the only place travelers can enjoy a burst of cherry blossoms in full bloom.

India has its own indigenous cherry trees in a number of regions — which means multiple chances to kick back under a pink and white canopy.

The India International Cherry Blossom Festival, complete with cultural activities, guided walks, and live music, is held in early November in the northeastern hill station of Shillong where the blossoms can typically be seen from late October through November.
In the spring, cherry and apple blossoms paint the hills of Astaan Marag in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. Tailor-made trips with eco-luxury houseboats, gondola rides and optional glamping to can be arranged by AB Chapri Retreats.

Watch the sun rise and set from the same place

Tamil Nadu

Tamil Nadu offers one of the most magical sunrises/sunsets in India.

Tamil Nadu Tourism

Worlds — or, rather, waters — collide in Kanyakumari, a coastal town at the southernmost edge of India where the Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal meet.

Start and end your day at the water’s edge as you witness the sun rise and set from the same spot.

Named for the Goddess Kanya Kumari, this area of Tamil Nadu is of spiritual significance and regularly visited by pilgrims who come to meditate, cleanse themselves in the sacred waters, and make offerings at the Kumari Amman Temple.

As the town is a bit off the typical foreign traveler’s path (but popular with domestic tourists), consider arranging guided activities through an Indian-owned travel curator such as Sacred Dot that can offer local knowledge and deeper context to the area’s history and culture, tailor the trip to your specific interests, and provide the logistical support to get you there.

Track snow leopards and search for red pandas

India is home to some incredible — and sometimes elusive — wildlife, including the adorable, endangered red panda and the rare and brightly-colored tragopan pheasant.

Trek through the forests of Sikkim with Jungle Travels India for a chance to spot these stunning creatures.

The remote Himalayan setting and the shy nature that’s earned these cunning cats the nickname “gray ghost” makes the sight of one all the more exciting.

And snow leopards aren’t the only ones roaming the snow-covered landscape: keep an eye out for yak, ibex, Himalayan blue sheep and Tibetan wolf as well.

Sleep in a mobile camp

Lack of infrastructure and access may hinder visitors from venturing to the truly remote areas of India, where rarely visited historical sites, rural villages, tribal markets, nature trails and wildlife await.

Kaafila — meaning “caravan” — has created a solution: bespoke slow travel journeys complete with three-course meals and comfortable mobile camps that are set up and broken down (and even mule-packed, if necessary) by a team of locals.

The nomadic nature of a mobile camp itinerary means that each day brings new views and new opportunities to experience the India that few experience.

This article originally appeared here