Authored by Sinjana Ghosh
India is a land of chaotic charm; a country with a civilization dating back to 5500 BC, and a culture which is a pandemonic mix of the modern and the ancient worlds.
While many travelers visit India to experience spirituality, culture, and history, the country also has an incredible natural allure.
From the icy peaks of the Himalayas in the North, to the sun-kissed beaches in the South; from the dry deserts of the west to the wettest place on earth in the east, India is often rightly called the mini world.
The following are 10 of India’s greatest natural wonders, but visit now; with an evolving world climate, some of these sites may not exist for too long.
Natural Wonders in India for Your World Travel Bucketlist
If heaven on earth existed, it would exist here
Have you ever heard of Ladakh? Think vast stretches of sand desert leading up to perennial lakes, forests and stunning snow-covered mountains.
This is the most sparsely populated region in Kashmir, though the war-torn state of India is often referred to as the “heaven on earth” for its unparalleled natural beauty.
A quaint place that attracts wandering souls from all corners of the world, this is probably the only destination where you can take a camel safari in desert mountains, then dive into dreamy lakes, or trek across frozen rivers and snow-covered mountains.
If the opportunities for outdoor adventure aren’t enough, the forests of Ladakh are home to exotic flora and fauna including the breathtakingly beautiful snow leopard. Click here for a full list of things to do in Ladakh.
Cherrapunji in Meghalaya
The abode of clouds … literally
There is something truly unique about the way the Garo, Khasi and Jaintia hills of north-east India are positioned.
Verdant gorges and forested cliff tops at high altitude trap the wind, which in turn brings heavy rainfall. This makes Cherrapunji one of the wettest places on earth, and with clouds at nose level, Cherrapunji in the monsoon is a sight to behold.
This justifies the name of the state Meghalaya, which means an abode of clouds. Though the region is also famous for its living root bridges, a result of bio-engineering practiced by the locals.
The most famous root bridge is a 150-year old double-decker bridge that can bear 50 people at a time and is spectacular to watch. Though keep in mind that the one-of-its-kind two tiered bridge requires at least a few hours of trekking.
For those willing to make the trek, you will pass through valleys, caves, waterfalls, foggy mountains and ever green forests. The cliffs of Cherrapunji also offer stunning views of the plains of Bangladesh.
Image credit: Subharnab Majumdar (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
The beautiful woods of Bengal
Sundarbans, which literally translates to “Beautiful forest”, is the world’s largest mangrove forest. And while far lesser known than South America’s Amazon, this UNESCO natural heritage site offers just as much adventure.
Recognized for its breathtaking wilderness, Sundarbans is a globally important site given the number of endangered species it accommodates. It is home to a wealth of wildlife, and has the world’s largest population density of tigers.
It is a delta between three rivers, Ganga, Brahmaputra and Meghna, that runs through both India and Bangladesh, and is subject to a unique tidal phenomenon making it inhabitable for many aquatic and Terrestrial species.
Sadly, this unique landscape faces the risk of extinction given its low altitude and the effect of global warming.
The vanishing beach
This mysterious beach is one of the few places on earth where the sea recedes by 5km during the ebb, and returns during the high tide, twice on the same day.
You would be surprised to see people riding bikes by the waters edge during the day, and suddenly have the water disappear right in front of your eyes!
One of the most beautiful beaches of India, it is indeed a strange phenomenon.
Rann of Kutch, Gujarat
The great salt marshlands of the Thar desert in the region of Kutch are beautiful beyond words.
The largest salt deserts in the world, this site is known for its natural elegance as well as the cultural extravagance called the Rann Utsav (a carnival of music and dance in nature).
This is one of the few flooded grasslands and savannas in the world, and the only one in the Indo-Malayan region. Whether you visit for a magnificent sunrise or the sunset, or the breathtaking silver linings of the full moon, the Rann of Katch is an unforgettable sight.
Granite and the Grand Canyon of India
Almost every traveler has heard about and seen the breathtaking pictures of the Grand Canyons of US, but have you heard about Gandikota in India?
In a landscape marked by large granite mountains runs the Pennar river, and at a certain stretch, it just cuts through the mountains causing a 300 feet deep gorge.
This is one of the lesser known gems in India and offers a unique experience of exploring a fortress, rock-climbing, kayaking in the pristine waters of Pennar with the dry rocks on one side and dense green forests on the other.
The mysterious bridge
Also called Adam’s bridge, Ram Setu is a chain of limestone rocks connecting the Rameswaram island of India with the Mannar island of Sri Lanka. However this bridge is submerged under the sea.
According to Hindu Mythology, it was made by Lord Ram and his army of monkeys to bring back his abducted wife Sita. Scientific studies have concluded it to be a natural wonder, however, carbon dating of the rocks puts the age at 7,000-years-old, coinciding with the date of the events of Ramayana.
It is believed that the causeway was above sea level until the 14th century. Even now, the bridge can be clearly seen from the aerial shots and the ships from India to Sri Lanka have to take a roundabout route because the water on the causeway is too shallow.
While your options to see the Ram Setu are limited, the Dhanuskodi beach is a visual treat.
The Mythical Rocks of Hampi
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hampi is perhaps the largest open-air museum in the world. It is famous for the architectural ruins of the Vijayanagara empire but the unique landscape of rocks and boulders strewn around is no less intriguing.
On closer look you would spot bigger boulders precariously perched on smaller ones, and all sorts of crazy shapes. Hampi is, in fact, one of the oldest exposed surfaces on the planet which have not been modified by any tectonic movements or volcanic eruptions.
The rocks are results of millions (some quote billions) of years of erosion of few giant granite monoliths. These giant rocks were used by the architects and artists of the Vijayanagar empire to carve out some of the most stunning architectural sites in the world.
These days the rocky landscape calls backpackers from all around the world for bouldering and watching scintillating sunsets.
The Western Ghats
With the world’s longest mountain range in the North and the one of the oldest in the South, India is a heaven for mountaineers all over the planet.
With over 300 endangered flora and fauna in an area spread along a length of 1600 kilometers, the Western Ghats are a delight for nature and wildlife lovers. Its ecosystem drives the monsoon pattern in the country and moderates the tropical climate of the southern peninsula.
In 2012, the Western Ghats which stretch from Dang region in Maharashtra to Kanyakumari (the southern tip) in Tamil Nadu were declared UNESCO World Heritage Site. Once every 12 years the valleys in Munnar and Kodaikanal are filled with hues of blue and purple Neelakurinji flowers, one of the rarest floral species in the world.
Bandipur, Nagarhole, Wayanad, and Mudumalai are the four borderless national parks spread across three states in the Western Ghats which are home to the largest population of tigers on earth.
Extensive illegal mining and global warming threaten the biodiversity of this unique landscape, so visit while you can.
Witness the Volcanoes
The last on our list is far south, detached from mainland India, in the mystical island in the Andaman and Nicobar, the Barren Island.
As the name suggests, the 1.8 million-year-old island is indeed barren and uninhabited by humans. It is the only active volcano in South-east Asia where you can see steam rising from the peak of the green slopes.
You can witness this magnificent phenomenon on a boat ride from the nearest inhabited island, the Havelock Island. This is a special permit zone and while you are allowed to see the stunning volcanoes, no one can actually land on Barren Island.
Which of these have you seen, and which are on your bucket-list?
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