Discover the unusual side of India
India is a vast country with an infinite number of places to see. Many travel guides often suggest the same activities. That’s why I’ve selected a few different places to discover off the beaten track, with some unusual, strange, surprising and even shocking or weird cultural anecdotes to spice things up. So here’s the article we’ll be calling “Only in India”!
Insure your trip to India
- Attend the Thaipusam festival
- The crematoria of Varanasi
- Mayong, the town of witchcraft
- Visit the Karni Mata, the Rat Temple
- Shetpal, the snake village
- The Motorbike Temple
- Explore the haunted village of Kuldhara
- Watching the Jorbeer vultures of Jorbeer
- The silent towers of Mumbai
- The unusual performances of the sadhus
- The Kamasutra temples of Khajurâho
- The skeletons of Lake Roopkund
- The red rains of Idukki
- Auroville, the experimental township
- Chilkoor Balaji : the temple of visas
- The white paradise of Kishangarh
- Bhang: an Indian psychotropic drug
- Krishna's piece of butter
- Kodhini, the village of twins
- The mummy of the Gue stupa
- The magnetic hill of Ladakh
- India-Pakistan border closure ceremony
- Eating amongst the dead
- The floating market of Srinagar
- Kaala Bandar : the terrifying creature of Delhi
- The monkey-men of Delhi
- The "suicide" village of birds
- Bibi Ka Maqbara : The miniature replica of the Taj Mahal
- The living root bridges of the Meghalaya
- Channapatna : the dog temple
- The Maha Kumbh Mela festival
- Meet the aghoris
Attend the Thaipusam festival
State: Tamil Nadu
The festival of Thaipusam is widely celebrated in Tamil Nadu (by the Tamil people) and neighbouring regions. The religious festival celebrates the birth of Murugan, one of the sons of Shiva and Parvati, and his victory over a demoness. During the processions, devotees pierce various parts of their bodies, such as their tongues and cheeks, reminiscent of the weapon used by the young deity to slay his adversary. I saw this festival in Malaysia in the incredible temple of the Batu caves where I saw many people in a trance and others with hooks on their bloody backs. Very impressive!
The crematoria of Varanasi
State: Uttar Pradesh
UNESCO Intangible World Heritage Site
The holy city of Varanasi, also called Banaras, is known for its very important Shivaist temple, which houses one of the 12 sacred jyotirlingas, and also for the open-air cremations that take place on the banks of the Ganges. In other words, you can watch cremations in public, for all to see. It’s a mystical and unusual place that you should definitely visit in India. At least, if your heart’s set on seeing this sort of thing.
Mayong, the town of witchcraft
Mayong is a village in the state of Assam. It is known as the place where black magic, witchcraft and necromancy are most practised in India. This mystical place is full of legends. Hearing stories of humans being transformed into animals, bewitchments or finding fetishes is not something surprising in Mayong. But it would be unfair to think that only darkness reigns in this strange village, as it is also associated with white magic, medicine and ayurveda.
Visit the Karni Mata, the Rat Temple
The Rat Temple is one of the many unusual places to discover on a trip to Rajasthan. Dedicated to Karni Mata who was a Hindu sage known to be one of the incarnations of the goddess Durga, the religious edifice is overrun by rats and has a history correlated with this woman. As a result, they are worshipped and venerated by the faithful!
Shetpal, the snake village
Shetpal is a small rural village known for an unusual curiosity: having spaces dedicated to wild snakes in every home. Although snakes are revered animals in Hinduism, particularly the cobra that Shiva wears around his neck, most Indians generally prefer to see them away from their homes… Except in Shetpal, where the villagers allow them to enter the houses and have their own place! Crazy, isn’t it?
The Motorbike Temple
What a strange place! Om Banna is a temple where a motorbike is worshipped! No, I’m joking, but it’s still a deity… Let me flash this. A man was killed on his vehicle on the road to Jodhpur. His motorbike was taken to the police station but magically returned to the scene of the accident during the night. After putting chains on it and emptying its tank, it was back again. The locals saw the divine in this episode. Since then, a motorbike has taken pride of place in the temple and its driver is revered. You can read more about the story in my Jodhpur travel guide.
Explore the haunted village of Kuldhara
Kuldhara is an abandoned village near Jaisalmer. For reasons as yet unknown, it was completely abandoned almost a century ago. Some say that a curse befell Kuldhara and others that there may have been genocide. Over time, the village has acquired the reputation of being one of the most haunted places in India. I’ve been there and it’s an incredible place to visit on a trip to Rajasthan, as here you can see what an ancient Thar Desert village looked like without any trace of modernity, and so immerse yourself in the past.
Watching the Jorbeer vultures of Jorbeer
Still in Rajasthan, but this time in Bikaner, is a rather special site, somewhere between disgusting and fascinating. All the animal carcasses from butchers or dead cows from the surrounding area are dumped on a wasteland in the locality of Jorbeer. A disgusting, pestilential and gloomy place indeed, but one that attracts an absolutely crazy ornithofauna. Hundreds of vultures, eagles, griffons and other birds of prey come to prey on the corpses. Find out more in my guide to places to see in Bikaner.
The silent towers of Mumbai
The previous site reminds me of another… The famous Towers of Silence. Originating in the religion of Zoroastrianism in Persia (in modern-day Iran), these large buildings were built to house the dead and allow their bodies to decompose instead of being burnt or buried. Birds of prey are involved in this process, coming to feed on them and accelerating decomposition. This practice was suppressed in Iran when the Islamic Republic came to power. Many Zoroastrians now live in India to carry on their traditions. Most of the towers are in Maharashtra, including Mumbai, which has 3 in one location, but others exist as far away as Bangalore. See a photo here. Do not open it if you are sensitive. (photo credit: skeptoid.com)
The unusual performances of the sadhus
The Naga Sadhus are followers of a branch of Hinduism with a very advanced teaching. They are known to perform certain rites that are unusual and even crazy in the eyes of Westerners. For example, one of them involves lifting heavy stones using the penis. Unusual performances of this kind are more commonly seen at the Khumb Mela in Prayagraj.
The Kamasutra temples of Khajurâho
State: Madhya Pradesh
UNESCO World Heritage Site
The historic complex of unusual temples at Khajurâho, another unusual site, and surely one of the most beautiful places to visit in India! It was once the capital of a very important dynasty in India, which was able to preserve its heritage in the face of the Mughal conquests. Its erotic-looking religious buildings depicting the Kâmasûtra attract thousands of tourists every year. Why not include it on your next itinerary?
The skeletons of Lake Roopkund
Located in a remote area of Uttarakhand at an altitude of more than 5,000 metres, the mysterious Roopkund lake is known for the hundreds of human bones found all around it. To date, the only hypothesis put forward is that a violent hailstorm killed this large group of people. The place is now considered haunted by local residents.
The red rains of Idukki
Something completely unusual and strange happened in 2001 in the Idukki district of Kerala in southern India: red rain! The local people saw it as a supernatural and divine phenomenon, thinking they were seeing blood. According to one study, the colour could have come from the spores of a specific type of algae, while others speculate that it could have been caused by a meteorite explosion. Few images are available due to the absence of cameras at the time.
Auroville, the experimental township
State: Tamil Nadu
Auroville is an experimental town in Tamil Nadu founded in 1968 by a French woman. This unusual place aims to give its inhabitants free will by advocating peace and equality, and excluding all forms of hierarchy and social and cultural codes. It’s a place that’s no less controversial for all that. Some foreign travellers come back with different experiences, in line with what the organisation promotes, while others see it as a utopia and a swindle. A significant proportion of the Indian population feels no differently, due to the rejection of their own culture.
Chilkoor Balaji : the temple of visas
We know that India worships a lot of things, to the point of building all the temples possible to worship their deities. But you would never have thought that a temple would be used by Indians in the hope of obtaining a visa to go abroad. Located near Hyderabad, devotees come to worship the deity Venkatesa in his temple to ask him for this favour, and the place is now very popular with anyone wanting to try their luck abroad. Incredible India!
The white paradise of Kishangarh
Near Ajmer in Rajasthan, Kishangarh is known for its large white marble industry. For many years, residues of this material were dumped all over the town because of a poor waste management system. A wasteland was then designated as a waste disposal site and, over the years, the grout accumulated to the point of forming a completely white landscape!
Bhang: an Indian psychotropic drug
Bhang is a preparation made from cannabis flowers and leaves and various plants and aromas. Widely used for festivals, rituals and offerings, it can be found in most Indian towns and cities. Although it is mainly used for religious purposes, many Indians also consume it for recreational purposes. You can see many street vendors selling bhang on the banks of the Ganges in Varanasi during celebrations, and anywhere else in the city throughout the year, where it is particularly prevalent.
India Travel Guide
Krishna’s piece of butter
State: Tamil Nadu
UNESCO World Heritage Site
This enormous 250-tonne rock, which seems to have landed from nowhere, is in fact a piece of butter dropped by Krishna, according to local beliefs. It is located on a important UNESCO World Heritage Site and can be seen in the state of Tamil Nadu.. This butterball is not there bu chance.. Weird, isn’t it?
Kodhini, the village of twins
State: Tamil Nadu
Aussi étonnant que cela puisse paraître, le village de Kodhini est l’endroit où il y a le taux de jumelage le plus important au monde alors que paradoxalement, le pays à le taux de gémellité le plus bas de la planète. De nombreux jumeaux vivent à cet endroit, ce qui en fait un lieu complétement insolite à découvrir.
The mummy of the Gue stupa
State: Himachal Pradesh
Gue is a small village in Himachal Pradesh with an amazing stupa (monastery) housing the mummy of a 500-year-old Buddhist monk in a perfect state of preservation. It’s an unusual and astonishing place in an absolutely magnificent setting.
The magnetic hill of Ladakh
This peculiar and curious place in the far north of Ladakh has the particularity of exerting gravitational pressure. In fact, the slope down which a vehicle is supposed to be travelling involuntarily reverses – it actually moves forward! There are many similar places on Earth. You may have heard of a more famous site in Portugal near the town of Bom Jesus de Braga. Nothing supernatural about it though, it’s all a question of physics.
India-Pakistan border closure ceremony
The tensions and poor relations between India and Pakistan are not news. Having travelled for over 6 months in India, I’ve had time to realise that many Indians don’t like Pakistanis, but I don’t know what they think of Indians. A ceremony of good understanding between the two territories has been held for several decades on the border between Attari and Wagah near Amritsar: the two respective countries proudly parade in a ceremony to represent their nation every evening and greet each other by shaking hands, between rivalry and fraternity.
Eating amongst the dead
What a crazy idea… #OnlyinIndia we said! And before you even think about eating amongst the dead, what kind of idea is it to build a restaurant in a cemetery? Well, that’s what Krishnan Kutti has done in Ahmedabad! This man acquired a plot of land before realising that Sufi saints were buried there. His solution? Redecorate the tombs, enhance them and build the establishment on top of them. As a result, customers at the Lucky New Restaurant eat lunch with the dead. Definitely something you only see in India!
The floating market of Srinagar
State: Jammu and Kashmir
Srinagar is the capital of Jammu and Kashmir. It is therefore a popular town, but with a unique activity to discover: its floating market, which is one of the few to be found in India. An unusual place that can be visited daily all year round, provided the water isn’t frozen in winter, of course!
Kaala Bandar : the terrifying creature of Delhi
It’s a story that has stirred the capital of India! In 2001, hundreds of sighting reports were filed by New Delhi residents after encountering or spotting a mysterious, even paranormal creature. Many hysterical locals claimed to have seen a terrifying-looking black ape-man with long claws and red eyes. This thing was jumping from building to building, injuring dozens of people and killing some of them. There were devices in place to catch the monster, which was all over the newspapers. Urban legend or reality? I would say… Everything is possible in India!
The monkey-men of Delhi
To continue on the same theme, I’m going to give you another case study. You know, the area around the Delhi Parliament is overrun with monkeys. I already knew about this and wanted to see it with my own eyes, which I did a few years ago. Too bad for me, I found out about this a little too late! Faced with this problem with primates, the city of New Delhi came up with the idea of hiring men dressed as scary monkeys to convince the invaders that the territory was occupied! In the “Only in India” family I’d like… the monkey man! 😂
The “suicide” village of birds
Strange and morbid title, isn’t it? Well, it’s very real, and it happens in the village of Jatinga, where birds die when they collide with buildings or trees, and much more frequently between September and November, when there are large migratory movements. The phenomenon tends to occur at night, and while the locals see it as an obscure, supernatural force, more Cartesian people and scientists have put forward the hypothesis of a magnetic phenomenon, but the reason for this has still not been identified to this day.
Bibi Ka Maqbara : The miniature replica of the Taj Mahal
Bibi Ka Maqbara is a miniaturised version of India’s iconic monument, the Taj Mahal. It is also a mausoleum, but half the size and built not by the Mughal emperor Jahan but by one of Aurangzeb’s sons for one of his wives. It can be visited in Aurangabad in the state of Maharashtra.
The living root bridges of the Meghalaya
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Meghalaya is a wild and lush state in India. Filled with forests, one of its special features is the natural, living root bridges created by the Khasi and Jaintia ethnic groups. Located mainly in the Shillong Plateau, this off-the-beaten-track destination could well convince you to organise a trip to this region that is completely different from the rest of India.
Channapatna : the dog temple
After seeing the monkey temple, the rat temple, the visa temple, the snake village (…), I imagine you’ll need more to be surprised, but this one is still pretty unusual! Like many animals, dogs are also revered in India, and they can be worshipped in a temple at Channapatna in Karnataka. In religion, they are the guardians of heaven and hell.
The Maha Kumbh Mela festival
State: Uttar Pradesh
UNESCO Intangible World Heritage Site
The Maha Kumhb Mela is the largest festival in the world in terms of participants. It’s an event that takes place every 144 years. I understand that you’re not going to put it on your itinerary, given that the last event was in 2013. Still, it’s not a scary thing for Indians who believe in reincarnation! You can find out more in my travel guide for visiting Prayagraj. Nevertheless, you can take part in the next Kumbh Mela, which is a twelfth of a fraction of the Maha Kumbh Mela and attracts millions of pilgrims. It is the most important festival in India and one of the biggest on the planet.
Meet the aghoris
Aghoris can be compared to nagas sadhus in that they belong to an advanced branch of Hinduism with a harsh and fastidious teaching, but they are nevertheless completely different. These people (mostly men) are known for their practices, which may seem bizarre or even twisted from an outsider’s point of view. These sages are associated with spiritual practices such as cannibalism, necrophilia and a whole host of extravagant rituals. However, labels and clichés about the Aghoris abound. You can read my Varanasi travel guide to get a better understanding of this cultural curiosity.
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