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Set in the spectacular hills of the lower Himalayas, about 31 miles from Jammu, this small town serves as a jumping-off point for one of the world's great pilgrimages. Indian spiritual legend says that those who visit the holy cave shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi will be granted any righteous wish they make. Devotees hike roughly eight miles to the shrine, which is located at 5,300 feet. Scenic helicopter flights also transport visitors to the site, which draws more than five million people annually.
The Ladakh capital city of Leh lies near the eastern parts of Jammu and Kashmir, on the crossroads of the historic "Silk Route" from Sinkiang to West Asia and to the plains of India. The humbling monasteries of Shey, Hemis, Alchi, Thikse and Lamayuru will nurture your spiritual needs, and the landscape of Leh provides for a number of adventure activities including mountaineering, white-water rafting and trekking along the Markha Valley.
The holy city of Rishikesh, in the base of the Himalayas, holds deep cultural and spiritual significance for local Hindus. Sacred rivers and mountains set the scene for yoga and reflective hikes, and rafting here is an absolute must. The Beatles got in touch with their Eastern spiritual side here, writing several songs during a 1968 stint at a local ashram.
Coastal charm meets cultural heritage in the sacred city of Puri, where pilgrims flock annually to celebrate the Ratha Yatra. Besides world-famous temples, Puri boasts beaches and markets that buzz year-round, while the wetland landscape beyond the city retains its wild edge.
East meets West in this sun-soaked state, where Indian culture intertwines with Portuguese influences left over from a 500-year occupation. The beaches have long served as a magnet for serene hedonists. To the north, the tourist-centric scene is prevalent, with an international flair that is now skewing more hip than hippie. Travel south for stretches of unspoiled sand and an escape from large resorts. Temples, mosques and wildlife sanctuaries provide diversions from the beach.
The holy city of Tirupati draws tourists and religious pilgrims alike, who flock to the Ancient Lord Venkateswara Temple, known for its elabourate Dravidian style and gold-plated cupola. Prayers are offered daily at this popular temple, which sits high in the Tirumala hills. Several other temples dot the town, and the lush countryside contains numerous waterfalls. Tirupati is also home to a rare, naturally-occurring pre-Jurassic stone arch that is 25 feet long and 10 feet high, one of only three of these geological features in the world.
Kodaikanal has an endangered animal called the grizzled giant squirrel. To us, that alone is reason to book a trip ("grizzled giant squirrel" might be the best animal name ever). Perched on the woodsy southern crest of the Palani Hills, nearly 7,000 feet above sea level, this popular lakeside resort town is a magnet for nature lovers. Wander the peaceful slopes, keeping an eye out for birds, exotic flowers and, of course, grizzled giant squirrels.
Sparsely-populated beaches that give way to an ocean brimming with interesting marine life and coral gardens are just one of the reasons to visit the beautiful Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Ghandi Park, Sippighat Farm and the century-old Cellular Jail (now a pilgrimage destination) provide glimpses into the past and present of these peaceful islands with a mysterious and multicultural past.
Want to make your co-workers insanely jealous? Just casually drop "I’m holiday making in the Maldives this year" into conversation, preferably in the dead of winter. Or better yet, go there without mentioning it to anyone—then send them a "Wish you were here!" postcard.