In keeping with a shift in consciousness in a post-pandemic world, travellers will pick destinations that aren’t just secluded but also have a green glow to them, destinations that are truly eco-friendly and sustainable in every which way. A World Environment Day Special.
Traveldine’s list of India’s best-preserved eco destinations that define the future of travel.
Tso-moriri Wetland Conservation Reserve, Ladakh
Mountain lakes and wetlands make for a surreal landscape. The water at Tso-moriri is crystal clear; the birdlife lush, the snow on the edges is pristine white.
Tso-moriri, a protected wetland, is a designated Ramsar site under the Ramsar Convention, an intergovernmental environmental treaty established in 1971 by UNESCO. Perched at a vertiginous height of 4,595metres above sea level, this crystal clear lake is fed by multiple springs, little rivulets and snowmelt that drain into it from the nearby mountains.
It nestles like a little blue-green-white jewel within the Changthang highlands of eastern Ladakh, home to the pastoral nomadic Chang-pa tribe, who rear the prized Pashmina sheep and produce the finest cashmere or Pashmina in the world, from which shawls are woven. The tribe also grows barley.
The area around the wetlands is alive with calls of the graceful Tibetan gazelle, the Tibetan wolf, the red fox, the great Tibetan sheep, the Tibetan wild ass, and several Himalayan marmots, besides mouse hares, hares and voles. The hills resound to calls of the migratory birds.
But the species that dominates the landscape are the majestic snow leopards, the “ghosts of the mountains” as they are known, due to their elusive nature. The wetland attracts over 40 species of birds, among them the bar-headed goose and the threatened black-necked crane. The wetlands are under threat by too much tourism, which is why the Ladakhi administration has been regulating the flow of tourists, turning it into an eco-retreat zone.
WWF India is working at mitigating the impact of tourism with help of the residents of the neighbouring village of Korzok. The Tso-moriri Conservation Trust is tasked with managing tourism in the region. The wetlands are accessible only in the months of summer, between May and September.
- The Tso-moriri Lake Viewpoint is a small hilltop with a vantage view of the lake, the birdlife and the mountains . The turquoise colour of the lake is a constantly changing montage. That’s not because the water is blue. That is the action of the clear blue sky.
2. Close at hand is the Korzok Monastery in the eponymous village, along the northwest bank of the Tso-moriri Lake. The 300-year-old monastery was founded by Kunga Lodro Ningpo. He once ruled over the entire Ripshu valley, and Korzok was an important stop on the ancient Central Asian trade route that connected the eastern shores of China to Europe.
3. Today, the fame of the region is because of sprawling barley fields, which are tended to by the nomadic Chang-pa herdsmen and the monks staying in the monastery, and the soft-as-the-cloud cashmere wool from the Changthangi goats. Ladakh’s cashmere is globally famous because of how fine it is. The barley fields are said to be the highest cultivated land in the world.
4. Take an afternoon out for a conversation with the nomadic herdsmen, who live in tents and rear herds of goats, cows and yaks. They will offer you some yak milk tea and, maybe, sell you their precious cashmere wool.
4. Walk with the tribesmen for some distance as they follow ancient migration routes, moving between pastures and meadows, taking along herds of pashmina goats, sheep, yak, and horses they own.
5. Along the way to Tso-moriri, you will drive by Rupshu valley, a saline water lake that is located high up in the valley. It makes for a good stop because of the sweeping views of the mountains and the valley.
What you need: An Inner Line Permit, which costs Rs 420.
How to get there
Tso-moriri is 240kms or a seven hour drive from Leh. Travel to Leh by road from Srinagar or Manali, or fly in from Delhi, Srinagar, Jammu and Mumbai, and then take the road to the wetland.
Tsomoriri Hotel Lake View: With 26 well-furnished, cosy rooms, picture windows for the views of the lake, and architecture that blends with the native design language, it cannot get better than this.
The Ultimate Travelling Camp: In the summers, the Ultimate Travelling Camp sets up Chamba Camp Thiksey, a tent with all modern luxuries, within an idyllic meadow at the base of Thiksey monastery. From here, you can drive down to Tso-moriri.
Tso-moriri is one of the coldest high altitude deserts in the world, so cover up well. Ermenegildo Zegna has a lovely winter coat made using pre-existing fibres that are reworked for a new life. Ralph Lauren’s Purple Label has modernised the iconic pea coat with clean lines and a soft shoulder. Moncler’s Maya jacket revisits silhouettes from the brand’s archives with a contemporary approach and state-of-the-art feature. For women, several brands such as Dior and Gucci have an amazing range of winter jackets, among them a shearling-trimmed jacket that is equal parts cosy and cool.
Books to read before you go
A Journey in Ladakh: Encounters with Buddhism. Andrew Harvey
Considered a classic, A Journey in Ladakh is Andrew Harvey’s spiritual travelogue of his arduous journey to one of the most remote parts of the world, the highest and least populated region in India, cut off by snow for six months each year.
Ladakh: A Wanderer’s Spectacle. Nabarun Bhattacharya
The book is an ode to the natural brilliance of the land and the sheer determination of the people who inhabit it. The volume gives voice to the people of this cold desert, delineating how traditions of frugality and cooperation, coupled with detailed location-specific knowledge, has enabled Ladakhis to thrive.
Asia’s largest lake is a biodiversity haven and home to various species of migratory bird.
The vast, dream-like panorama is Odisha’s best-kept secret. The brackish water lagoon and estuary is a biodiversity hotspot, home to reportedly over a million migratory birds at different times. Birds such as purple moorhens, open-billed storks, snipes and black-winged stilts make up the birdlife here.
Sprawling over 1100sq.kms along the eastern coast, Chilika Lake flows across Puri, Khurda and Ganjam districts. The silence around the lake is meditative and enduring, broken only by the sound of the birds. Chilika is home to the endangered dolphin species, found particularly around the island of Satapada. The dolphin population has seen an uptick; the wildlife authorities in this coastal stretch have recorded 544 Irrawaddy, Bottle-nose and Humpback dolphins in 2021, against 233 last year.
Gliding down the Chilika Lake is a contemplative experience. Across the entire stretch, you will stumble upon pink flamingos that have migrated from Rann of Kutch and Iran. The shallow lake is separated from the Bay of Bengal by a 60km-long sandbar called Rajhansa.
- Grassroutes Journeys offers a half-day birding cruise in Chilika Lake with a local conservationist. You can spot birds such as black-tailed godwits, bar-headed geese and spot-billed pelicans.
- Go fishing for Chingudi prawns, said to be of great quality. It is cooked by local chefs in a variety of ways. Many dishes have the state’s unique blend of masala — a mix of mustard, cumin, nigella, fenugreek and aniseed.
- The lake is large enough to hosts several small islands. At Beacon Island, explore the obelisk and a small building that is said to have been built by a district collector during the British Raj, to warn the boats about submerged rocks.
- The Honeymoon Island harbours the endangered Barakudia limbless skunk. At Rajhans islands, Odisha Tourism has built beautiful Swiss Tents for accommodation. Walk along the shore and bask in the rising or setting sun, and go fishing on wooden boats.
5. Glide through the shallow waters of Mangalajodi. The northern pintails, northern shovelers, garganeys and ruddy shelducks maintain a respectable distance, while smaller waders such as little stints, bar-tailed godwits, ruffs and sandpipers are intimate sightings. In winters, there are sightings of the skulkers — a term for birds that largely remain within vegetation and are difficult to spot. One of the islands has been notified as the Chilika Wildlife Sanctuary, and is teeming with bird species such as flamingos, egrets, white-billed storks, white-bellied sea eagles, open-billed storks, spoonbills, spot-billed pelicans, herons, stilts, seagulls and kingfishers, to name a few.
6. The melancholic beach along Rajhansa, an island named after Raja-Hamsa, the royal swan, is worth a stopover. The swaying Casuarina trees, the crashing of waves along the isolated coast, and fishermen going for a catch of stuff-fish, crabs and shrimps are the only sights you will see.
7. Kalijai Island temple, on one of the islands, is the abode of Goddess Kalijai or Kali. The island temple comes to life when innumerable pilgrims travel there during the Makar Mela festival in January.
How to get there
From Bhubaneswar and Puri, there are day tours to Chilika. You can also drive down in your car from these cities.
The luxury boutique hotel is located at the edges of Chilika Lake. Its rooms open to stunning views of the Chilika Lagoon, along with lush landscaped gardens from private sit-out balconies. It is outfitted with all the modern amenities and comforts you would expect from a luxury resort.
Chilika Lake lies at the heart of Odisha, a region with extremely hot summers. Pack comfortable clothing. For women, modern-day kaftans are a chic fashion statement. Princess Diya Kumari Foundation, headed by the member of the erstwhile Jaipur royal family, Diya Kumari, has put out lovely Kochi kaftans that end above the knee and are best paired with sneakers. The beautifully soft mulmul is our favourite fabric for the hot weather. Delhi-based label Mulmul puts out an eclectic range of cotton kurtas that can be paired with denim. For men, the Good Vibe tees and the bright yellow Adidas Matchbreak super sneakers are a great choice.
Books to read before you go
Chilika: The Fishermen, the Catch and the Challenges. Soumen Ray
In this all-encompassing book, India’s largest coastal lake, the echoes of poetry, the reflection of festive lamps in the water, the biodiversity bounty, all segue to paint a vibrant portrait of a lake and a community that depends on it.
In August 2019, Sikkim was declared 100 per cent organic, winning the prestigious Future Policy Gold Award from the UN Food and Agriculture, beating over 51 nominations from across the world.
Its reformation into an environmentally responsible state began two decades ago. It was the first in India to officially adopt organic farming in 2003, ensuring the sustenance of soil fertility, healthy living, and decreasing the risk of health ailments. Chemical fertilizers were banned and farmers were encouraged to use organic manure.
The charming state is a traveller’s delight. Rustic in parts, agrarian in others, mountainous almost all over, and urban in the city of Gangtok, Sikkim is everything you desire in a world-class destination, without the chaos or the crowds. It is home to shimmering lakes, the blinding brilliance of the Himalayan range, and the undulating natural landscape.
- Explore Gangtok, once a Buddhist pilgrimage site, now a bustling city with views of the mountains. It juxtaposes two disparate worlds in a seeming whole: mountains, cafés and restaurants; a vibrant shopping experience; a glimpse into the lives of people who continue to follow ancient tribal traditions; and the urban infrastructure.
2. Close to Gangtok are virgin tea gardens sprawling over gentle hills. Café Fiction serves excellent coffee and cakes. Nimtho at MG Marg serves up local thalis and an à la carte menu of traditional dishes, such as nettle soup, shyapta (stir-fried, thinly sliced meat), and ningro churpi (fiddlehead fern cooked in local cheese).
3. Take time out to travel around Gangtok. Tsomgo or Changu Lake is at an altitude of 12,310ft. It receives its pristine blue water from melting snow. It is fringed by soaring peaks and mountain valleys.
4. Windswept plateaus, ancient monasteries, tranquil waterfalls and a view of the lofty Mt. Khangchendzongha define the Yuksom experience.
- Zuluk, a quaint little Sikkimese town, is home to wild woodlands that attract species such as wild dogs, Himalayan bear, and the endangered Red Panda.
- Singalila National Park, at 7,000ft above sea level, is a pasticcio of peaks, valleys and ravines, with views that span Mt. Khangchendzongha and Mt Everest.
How to get there
Fly in on one of the flights connecting India’s metros to Gangtok, and then travel by road to destinations across Sikkim.
MAYFAIR Spa Resort is an upscale option, with its on-shore casino, a beautiful coffee shop, and a tea lounge overlooking the mountains and the iconic Rumtek Monastery.
The people of India’s north-eastern states, including Sikkim are known for their eclectic style. Fashion in the northeast of India is a religion, and the young’s take on fashion is irreverent. But the Seven Sisters are also famous for their hand-woven textiles.
Your choices can be as eclectic as the choices of the region’s fashion-forward people. Dress young and hip in a Calvin Klein classic, a huge hit with the young of the northeast; a Forever 21 outfit; or any of the cool new athleisure favourites such as American Eagle, all paired with Converse. Or pick designer weaved wonders from Shenali Sema or Atsu Sekhose, both of whom come from the northeast.
Books to read before you go
Sons of Sikkim. Jigme N. Kazi
Sikkim has its version of royalty. Sons of Sikkim: The Rise and Fall of the Namgyal Dynasty of Sikkim, explores the times of the Namgyal Dynasty, which ruled the former Kingdom of Sikkim for more than 300 years.
Sikkim: Requiem for the Himalayan Kingdom. Andrew Duff
This is an incredible story of the mountain kingdom that survived the end of the British Empire. Sikkim: Requiem for the Himalayan Kingdom tells the remarkable story of Thondup, the last King of Sikkim, and his beautiful American queen, Hope Cooke, thrust unwittingly into the spotlight as they sought support for Sikkim’s independence after their wedding in 1963.
Nilgiri Bioreserve | Silent Valley National Park, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karanataka
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Silent Valley is like no other sanctuary in India. The sprawling reserve is home to several endangered species and indigenous trees, and shares its boundaries with three southern states.
On a game-drive across the biodiversity-rich reserve, travellers can take in herds of Indian elephants and hundreds of species of birds. Also called the Silent Valley because of the absence of the sound of the cicadas in these jungles, the biosphere shelters sacred groves that are protected by local tribal communities, such as the Todas, as a home to the divine.
Nilgiri Tahr or the mountain ungulate, which inhabits the fringes of the grassy plateaus and the cliffs bordering them, is facing extinction due to habitat loss and hunting.
Across the Mudumalai National Park walk several majestic species such as the regal Bengal tiger, the Indian elephant and the Asiatic wild dog. Silent Valley National Park is also the terrain of the lion-tailed macaque, a species indigenous to it.
1. The Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary is a bird-watchers paradise. On a morning spent tracking birdlife, enthusiasts will spot white-rumped vultures, white-breasted kingfishers, and brown hawk owls.
2. Nagarhole National Park’s biodiversity treasure includes crocodiles and water birds, besides the tiger. The chances of catching a glimpse of the tiger are high at Sathyamangalam Wildlife Sanctuary. End the wilderness trail with a jeep safari at Bandipur National Park, the last national park within the reserve.
It is impossible to explore the 5,000sq.ft large Silent Valley in one go, so large is its span. Located in rainforest territory, Palakkad, this lush stretch of forests and rivers is a revered space.
How to get there
Drive down from Kochi, which is 124kms away. The nearest airport is at Coimbatore from where the drive to Silent Valley is two hours long.
Sinclair’s Retreat, Ooty is one of the prettiest resorts in the region. Enveloped by the clouds at 8,000 feet, the highest point in southern India, the hotel commands a majestic view of the Ooty valley and the Blue Mountains.
The wise will tell you to keep it simple and understated in a forest. Fleece in winters or a safari jacket in summer over a tee are your best bets. Choose understated designers brands such as Raghavendra Rathore and David & Abraham. In menswear, Kunal Rawal’s eclectic jackets make for ideal forest wear.
Books to read before you go
Soul of the Nilgiris: A journey through the mountains. Ramya Reddy
This tome was nine years in the making. Soul of the Nilgiris is a tapestry of oral narratives, conversations, photographs, writings and more, drawn from historical accounts of the millennia-old land and its people. It looks at how the Blue Mountains have changed, ecologically and culturally.
Did you know that the world’s largest freshwater or riverine island is in India? Majuli floats like a little living microcosm at the edge of the mighty Brahmaputra River in Assam.
The island, unfortunately, is also falling prey to climate change as the river eats into the island slowly. Very soon, this riverine belt, home to several species of birds, will disappear. Head there before the river submerges it completely. The Majuli wetlands host migratory birds such as pelicans, storks, Siberian cranes and whistling teals every winter, besides wild geese and ducks.
- The island has two large towns, Kamalabari and Garamur, punctuated by several tiny villages across its 420sq.km. Majuli, within its river eco-system, encompasses nature in all its tranquil splendour; heritage in the form of Satras; and the Hindu Vaishnavite monasteries, many of them dating back to the 1600s. They are now centres for art, music and dance drama. The island’s tribal and farming communities live in tight agrarian communities.
- A drive or motorcycle ride down the island will unravel unmatched views of rice paddies, small villages and roads lined with bamboo archways. The island is home to textile artisans who sell their ware from roadside stalls.
Stay at Guwhati and take a road trip to Majuli. At the island, you can spend a night at La Maison de Ananda (The House of Happiness), with bamboo cottages on stilts and air-conditioned rooms in a new concrete block, is a quaint and peaceful hotel to stay in.
How to get there
Majuli is 20kms from the city of Jorhat and 326kms from the metro city of Guwahati. However, you cannot drive down to it directly. Fly to Guwahati or Jorhat, drive to the tiny town of Nimati Ghat, and then take a ferry to Majuli.
Majuli can be hot and humid, or balmy and tropical, depending on the season you go in. We recommend roughing it out, so the ideal clothing is shorts and t-shirts. The choice can be between H&M’s new basic collection, or if you are hung up on luxury, try Polo Ralph Lauren’s 2021 collection (for men) and Love Moschino’s sequined T-shirts (for women).
Books to read before you go
Colours of Majuli: A pictorial journey through the mystic river islands
The photographs in the book introduce you to Majuli’s many charms – its vibrant tribal community, life along the river, its lush green cover, its animals and birds, and a world that may soon disappear.
India’s first planned eco-tourism project, which won accolades from the World Tourism Organisation, is a composite of traditional jungle living and contemporary design.
The word translates to mean ‘Honey Hills’ in the Malayalam language. Thenmala is a forested region spread across acres of evergreen forests located at the foothills of the biodiversity hotspot, the Western Ghats.
- Across the town you will encounter striking views of the Ghats. At Thenmala, travellers can enjoy various activities across the Culture, Leisure and Adventure Zones.
- Around Thenmala are rubber and tea plantations, which are open to travellers.
- Explore the serene sculpture garden designed to leave the minimum impact on the natural surroundings.
- There are nature trails, lotus ponds and mountain biking trails across Thyemala.
- The Adventure Zone offers opportunities for rappelling, river crossing, valley crossing, Flying Fox and aerial skating.
How to get there
Road: The picturesque town in which the eco-friendly project has been built stands 66kms from Kollam city. The interstate National Highway-744 connects Kollam with Madurai in Tamil Nadu, while the State Highway-2 connects the rest of Kerala.
Air: Trivandrum International Airport is the nearest airport.
Thenmala Eco Resort: Fringed by deep forests of the Shendurney Wildlife Sanctuary, the resort had modern cottages with brick walls, wooden ceiling highlights, verandahs and great views.
Thenmala is the perfect destination to get out your cotton dresses and your designer mul beauties. Dresses and kurtas from Good Earth and Nicobar’s fashion labels, or Anavila’s kurta shirt, paired with sneakers, are ideal options. For menswear, I would plump for Rajesh Pratap Singh’s minimal pintuck kurtas.
Mawlynnong bills itself as ‘cleanest village in Asia’. But there is more to this Khasi tribe domain than just being spotless. It is also known for a particularly gentle way of life that is in sync with nature’s cycle.
Home to the fierce Khasi tribe, the village is ahead of the curve and environment-forward in many ways: the plastic dustbins have been replaced by bamboo ones, which hang from the poles of solar-powered light, and all waste and garbage produced, even dry leaves, go into the dustbin. Plastic bags are strictly prohibited, and those who fail to follow these rules are charged very heavily. Mawlynnong converts garbage into manure. People are encouraged to keep their neighbourhoods clean and plant trees.
Mawlynnong is home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site — the living root bridges. The aerial roots of a giant rubber tree grow over years to form a sinewy bridge hanging above the river. These bridges take years to self-construct and can accommodate 50 to 70 people at a time. All around them are intense green rainforests. The quiet of the brooding Mawlynnong’s jungles is only interrupted by the sound of the Mawlynnong waterfall.
Airbnb has some beautiful rentals in and around Mawlynnong, which are your best option in this remote island.
How to get there
By air, the nearest airport is located in Shillong, at a distance of 78kms from Mawlynnong village. From Shillong, hire a car and you drive down to the village.
My personal choices would be AM:PM’s light-as-air Chanderi shirts. For men, Antar Agni’s asymmetrical kurtas are chic options.
Book to read before you go
The Green Unknown: Travel in the Khasi Hills
The Green Unknown is about walking, without a map or a plan, across the Khasi Hills in the northeast Indian state of Meghalaya — a remote destination with jungle canyons and thousand-foot waterfalls, where it rains more than any other inhabited place in the world, where each village has its dialect or even its language, and where the people grow living bridges from the roots of trees.
Kalap lies seemingly forgotten in the upper Garhwal region of the northern state of Uttarakhand, at 7,800ft, amidst virgin pine and deodar forests. The views are of the deep gorge that has been cut open by the roaring River Supin and the Bandarpunch peaks, which according to local lore, are difficult to conquer.
Kalap has been developed as a sustainable eco-tourism destination by Tons Trails, a social enterprise working with the communities of the Tons Valley since 2013. The Tons team helps economically empower the locals through tourism.
- Walk down the mountain paths and at one point, you will catch a glimpse of the Bandarpunch Peak, at 6316m. Trek to the peak if you have the will, or get a basket filled with goodies and have a picnic in the forest clearing, in the shadow of the peak, or in the meadows that dot Kalap.
- Several people offer to take you on gentle treks around Kalap, where you will see shepherds guiding their flocks and a pristine river cutting through the gentle forest.
- Get one of the villagers to cook a local meal of gausahu (poppy seeds and jaggery) and Himalayan nettle.
- The 7-nights Nomad Trail is Kalap’s signature trail and follows the path of the nomadic shepherds who move from one pasture to another for their sheep and goats to graze on. This moderate level trek is conducted from April 15 to November 15.
- For adventure enthusiasts, there is the 9-nights Barad Sar trail, which will take you to the high-altitude glacial lake of Barad Sar. Located more than 14,000 feet above sea level, it is a sacred spot in the Tons Valley.
How to get there
Kalap is 210kms from Dehradun, the capital of Uttarakhand and 450kms from New Delhi. Fly to Dehradun and then drive down to Kalap.
The Tons Trails team will organise your stay in upscale homestays. Get in touch with them for the best options.
These are pristine, raw mountains. Ditch your fancy clothes and your equally fancier shoes, and opt for sneakers (they are cool these days) and brands such as Adidas and Nike have great versions). Get your sweatshirts, denim, tracks and shoes out for a spot of walking in the Himalayas. If brands matter, try one of the new-age athleisure brands such as Zella and Athleta for women, and Daniel Patrick and Fourlaps for men. Alternatively, brands such as Puma may have some interesting athleisure options.