India is a little intimidating. Actually, if you’re being honest, it’s a lot intimidating. Since it’s home to 1.3 billion people and some of the largest cities in the world (Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, etc.), you, the usually fearless traveler, don’t know how to dip a toe into the South Asian country. Here are eight places, from north to south, that will help you ease into this uncharted territory. You’ll be ready to tackle those cities before you know it.
Dal Lake: The Kashmir Valley is known for its summer houses and lavish houseboats. One of them has been turned into an eco-retreat with spacious bedrooms, communal dining and living areas, and a rooftop sundeck.
Chharabra: The Western Himalayas are surrounded by cedar forests, snow-capped peaks, hill stations, and lots of temples. A grand hotel, which used to be the summer residence of Lord Kitchener, looks like a Bavarian castle.
Almora: India’s border along Nepal and Tibet is still unspoiled and rarely visited. A long journey will bring you to a breathtaking stone-and-glass lodge.
Pali: Temples and forts will lure you to the country’s largest state. Luxury tents with an Art Deco vibe and leopard drives will make you linger in western India.
Mandrem: India’s smallest state was made famous by hippies and full-moon parties. Goa has aged well with new low-key hotels and restaurants.
Coonoor: The cooler weather and dense forests of the Nilgiris District spread across three states. You find the silence you’ve been craving at a hotel in the hills.
Cherai: The Malabar Coast has been India’s first port of call for traders for centuries. Vypin, the Princess of the Arabian Sea, is an island with golden-sand beaches facing the sea.
Rameswaram: Pamban Island is home to one of the two holiest places in India. Millions of Hindus flock to the temple, walk down a corridor lined with 1,000 sculpted pillars, and ask for penance as pails of holy water are poured over their heads.