Our country is full of natural beauty, deep-rooted culture and diverse customs and traditions. Here, each state has a unique offering. And road trips are the best way to explore these states and their tourist destinations. Such road trips present every traveller with a fair share of fun and adventure and memories of a lifetime. There are scenic highways in India that make this road journey a pleasurable one.
Whether it’s a solo trip, a romantic getaway or a family vacation, you can plan a road trip through India’s most scenic highways. Starting from North to down in the South, here are five highways that should be added to your travel bucket. Also listed are some of the best tourist destinations and eateries on these highways to halt and soak in the local history and culture.
Up in the North is one of the most scenic highways that will leave you speechless. Manali to Leh highway stretches 479 kilometres. It takes around two days to cover the distance, but the journey is worth your while. Manali to Leh is a visual feast but is open only during summers and mid-October. On this route, Rohtang Pass will be your first stop.
Rohtang Pass is the highest pass on the eastern Pir Panjal Range of the Himalayas. Rohtang route has small villages like Palchhan, Kothi, Gulaba, Marhi and Rani Nallah. Palchhan and Marhi have small eateries for tea or breakfast. You can admire stunning views at the Solang Valley, VPO Palchan and Gulaba Viewpoint, Kothi.
After Rohtang Pass, you must stop at Keylong to enjoy the lush greenery, followed by scenic peaks and panoramic views at Jispa, around 10,000 feet above sea level. Darcha and Baralacha La are famous trekking and camping destinations. However, you cannot miss the Zingzing Bar between Jispa and Sarchu. This place is known for its peaceful ambience. En-route Manali to Leh is Gata Loops, another tourist destination; many road trip enthusiasts swear by its beauty.
You should also include Lachulung La, Pang and one of the highest motorable mountain passes, Tanglang La, in your itinerary. As you come closer to Leh, there are few more beautiful villages like Upshi and Karu. And the final destination Leh is resplendent with scenic views, rich culture and traditional monasteries. On your road trip from Manali to Leh, you can find wholesome meals at these eateries: Gufa Hotel, Teling Rolling Stones Camping and Restaurant, Jispa, Chuzin Cafe, Choglamsar and Pangong Restaurant, Leh.
Towards the far east is Meghalaya, the second wettest place on earth. And its Shillong to Cherrapunjee drive is something you should experience in your lifetime. The scenic highway is roughly a 55-kilometre drive that can be covered in one and a half to two hours. The winding curves, misty clouds, the slight drizzle, greenery and waterfalls create a view to die for!
On your way to Cherrapunjee, many tourist attractions await you, the first stop being Shillong Peak. This highest point of Shillong offers a bird’s eye view of the city. Elephanta Falls, named after a rock shaped like an elephant, is another tourist spot. Mawkdok Bridge, Dympep Valley View Point and Wakaba Falls are few more sites that offer a postcard-perfect view.
Though your itinerary will be incomplete without visiting Seven Sisters Falls, Eco Park, Nohkalikai Falls and Double Decker Living Root bridges in Cherrapunji. Do visit the Café Cherrapunji housed in a colonial bungalow. If you are a vegetarian, you will relish the food served at Jiva Veg and Orange Roots.
Guwahati to Tawang is another scenic highway that should be on every traveller’s list. This scenic drive in the Northeast with its hairpin bends is one of the most challenging yet rewarding journeys. The road stretches across roughly 520 kilometres and can be covered in 14 to 17 hours. The first halt on this scenic highway is Tezpur. This small town has Cole Park, Bhairabi Temple, Bamuni Hills and few more attractions for a day visit.
Depending on your schedule, you can visit the Nameri National Park. As you approach the next stop, Bhalukpong, the drive becomes even better with the scenic vistas. Here, you can see the Tipi Orchid Centre and indulge in water activities at the Jia Bharali River. After Bhalukpong, you should be moving towards Dirang with its waterfalls and lush greenery, a treat to the sore eyes.
Here, you can explore the riverside, the Sangti Valley, and other attractions such as Khastung Gompa and Thubsung Dhargyeling Monastery. From Dirang, you will be traversing through the Sela Pass to reach Tawang. While here, do not miss the Tawang Monastery, Gorichen Peak, Nuranang Waterfalls and Jaswant Garh, a memorial for the Indian soldiers.
Guwahati to Tawang highway has limited eateries or dhabas. You may find few stalls serving Maggi and piping hot momos perfect for the cold weather. Indian Army canteens at Sela Pass and Jaswant Garh are other respites for the hungry travellers.
Down South is one of the most popular and safest highways – Chennai to Pondicherry. Known as the East Coast Road, this is roughly a 160-km drive that takes around three to four hours. This scenic highway along the Bay of Bengal’s coastline offers a feast to the eyes with ocean views on one side. There are also some tourist spots that you could visit on this scenic highway drive.
When starting from Chennai, Cholamandal Artists’ Village is a must-visit if you are an art lover. The vast space has art galleries displaying paintings and sculptures and regular live performances in their open-air theatre. En-route, you could also visit the famous Madras Crocodile Bank Trust, a space dedicated to protecting crocodiles.
After this, Mahabalipuram should be your next stop. Here, you cannot miss this UNESCO heritage site with ancient temples, sculptures and more importantly, the gravity-defying boulder named ‘Krishna’s Butterball’.
Depending on your time, you could also enjoy a relaxing boat ride at Muttukadu. As you approach Pondicherry, do visit the universal township, Auroville, and its Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Here, the meditation centre, Maitri Mandir, a glistening golden dome sitting in the vast expanse of land, is a sight to behold.
En-route you can replenish yourself with delicious cuisines available at Nautilus, Masala Café and Sea Shore Garden Beach Restaurant in Mahabalipuram. Pondicherry is dotted with quaint restaurants. Among these, Café des Arts, The Promenade restaurant and Bread & Chocolate (in Auroville) are worth trying.
If you love hills and lush greenery, then the drive from Vishakapatnam to Araku Valley will surely thrill you. This scenic highway stretches across roughly 114 kilometres and can be covered in three to four hours. The gently curving roads on the hilly elevation make for a relaxing drive. Situated around 900 meters above sea level, Araku Valley mainly has a tribal population. The valley is famous for its coffee plantations and claims to have India’s first tribal produced organic coffee brand.
The first stop should be the Padmapuram Gardens, a well-manicured space with various plants and flowers. The garden also has a souvenir shop selling locally grown coffee. On this route, Sangda waterfalls and Dumbriguda waterfalls are famous among trekkers. The Tribal Museum in Araku Valley is another must-visit attraction that gives a glimpse into local tribal culture and tradition. However, Borra Caves is the main highlight of Araku Valley. These million-year-old limestone caves are one of the largest caves in Asia!
If you are a non-vegetarian, you cannot leave Araku Valley without trying the famous tribal speciality – Bongu Chicken or Bamboo Chicken. The chicken is marinated with local herbs, wrapped with a green bamboo stalk and cooked on fire without oil! You can also grab a sumptuous meal at Star Annapurna Restaurant and Vasundhara Restaurant.
To sum it up, these scenic highways present you with splendid views and a peek into India’s diversity. After reading about these fantastic tourist destinations, you would immediately want to plan your next trip. Happy journey!