The 10 Best Small Towns in India
India has no dearth of interesting little towns, many of them in the hills in northern and northeastern India, with a few quite pretty and lively ones inland and down the west and southwest coast of the country as well. Of the lot, however, here the 10 most popular, most interesting, best small towns in India.
Small, picturesque hill station in northern India, established by the British in the mid 19th century as a summer retreat for British-India bureaucrats and army officers and personnel. Although deeply imbued with Hindu culture and accompanying temples and shrines, the town is brimming with Victorian architecture, Scottish churches and British-era bungalows dotted along graded streets on the hillsides. And as a popular tourist spot, the town boasts no fewer than 600 hotels and myriad markets and attractions to engage the visitor.
Location: Himachal Pradesh
Once a sleepy little hippie town, overgrown with hashish plants, Manali sits in hilly terrain above the Kullu Valley, brimming with boutique hotels, shops, restaurants, Hindu temples and shrines, and a ski area for winter play. In fact, it has emerged as one of India's most popular hill stations today, and one of the fastest growing resorts in the country. Scenery all around is gorgeous, with abundant walking trails through evergreens.
Location: Himachal Pradesh
Another popular hill station in northern India, built around a pear-shaped picture-postcard lake. And as with so many other Indian hill stations, Nainital, too, was founded by the Brits in the mid 19th century as a retreat to cool off from the Indian summer heat. There are several good hotels and lodges here to cater to the influx of visitors, together with a great many shops, boutiques, markets, cafés and restaurants. There are also a few hilltop perches above town for panoramic views of the outer Himalayan scenery, and wildlife parks within easy reach of the town.
A monstrously popular hill station at an average elevation of around 5,900 feet (1,800 m), overlooking the city of Dehradun. Established in 1832 by the British, the town is brimming with famous schools and colleges, as well as hotels and lodges catering to the summer tourist crush. In town, the hub of all activity is the Mall, with myriad shops and restaurants. Other places of interest include Gun Hill which offers great views of the town, as well as the numerous nature trails that lead to the abounding lakes and waterfalls, notable among them Kempty Falls. There's a small Tibetan temple and an old Christian church worth seeing too.
Small, fortified town in the northeast of the inland state of Rajasthan. Mandawa is famous for its glorious 18th-century fort and the scores of ostentatious, colorful Mughal-era havelis – private mansions – with their ornate architecture and miniatures-adorned painted interiors. Also worth seeing are the murals in the Thakurji Temple that depict the historic Mutiny of 1857. The town is really a must-see for anyone interested in Indian art and architecture.
Coastal town on the periphery Kerala's capital city, Thiruvananthapuram. Varkala is actually the only place on the largely flat south Indian coast of Kerala where cliffs meet the Arabian Sea, with water spouts and spas dotting the sides of the cliffs. Here, the 2,000-year old Janardana Swami Temple, which is also an Ayurvedic treatment center, is worth visiting, as are the nearby Papanasam Beach – a popular spot for paragliding – the 17th-century Anjengo Fort, the unique Varkala Tunnel, and a hilltop mausoleum dedicated to the social reformer Sree Narayana Guru.
Easily one of the most famous towns in India, known the world over for its tea, Darjeeling Tea, and romanticized in Hollywood's 2007 comedy-drama, Darjeeling Unlimited. The town sits in the beautiful, undulating Mahabharata Range of the Himalayas at an elevation of 6,700 ft (2,050 m), and is rife with colonial architecture, surrounded by tea estates, populated with British-style public schools and musicians of every stripe, and serviced by the 19th-century, steam-engine-driven narrow-gauge Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town is now a hugely popular tourist destination, with scores of hotels, restaurants and cafés, malls with shops and boutiques, and lively, colorful festivals throughout the year.
Location: West Bengal
Panaji is India's premier coastal resort town and the center of Goa's tourism. There are terraced hills, lovely beaches within a stone's throw of the city center, a good selection of hotels and restaurants, and enough that is reminiscent of the old Portuguese colonial era – cobbled streets with buildings with overhanging balconies, red-tiled roofs, pretty Portuguese-style villas, scores of catholic churches, and gulmohar- and acacia-lined avenues and a seaside promenade to amble along. The town has its fair share of cultural trappings too, and colorful festivals throughout the year. And in any given year, tourists typically outnumber residents by a ratio of 4 to 1.
[ Goa Travel Guide ]
Gangtok, a principal tourism hub in the northeastern Indian state of Sikkim, sits with its head in the clouds at an elevation of 5,800 feet in the Himalayan range, on the ancient trade route to Lhasa, Tibet. It is a picturesque town with distinctive, Sikkimese houses clinging to the mountainsides and multicolored skies overhanging the town. There are scores of good hotels and lodges here, and restaurants serving traditional Sikkimese and Chinese cuisine. The markets are filled with colorful shops selling handicrafts, country-made alcohol and locally-crafted watches and paintings on handmade fibrous paper. And views of the Himalayan mountains from virtually any vantage point in town are absolutely fabulous.
Ooty, or Ootacamund, is easily the most famous hill station on southern India, situated in the smoky blue haze of the Nilgiri Hills – also known as the Blue Mountains – in the state of Tamil Nadu. There's no dearth of scenic lures for visitors all around Ooty, including lakes, rivers, mountain trails, grasslands, groves of eucalyptus, colorful flora, even an historic railway with steam locomotives – the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site – and the English trappings of the British era are still palpable. In town you'll find a good selection of hotels and restaurants, along with shopping venues.
Location: Tamil Nadu
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