Spiritual India, rich in holy places, traditions and rituals, offers much for those seeking knowledge and awareness. Visit these popular sacred destinations of various faiths to maximize your spiritual experience in India.
Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh.
Varanasi is one of the seven sacred Hindu cities with a very ancient history. Known as the city of Lord Shiva, the god of creation and destruction, it’s believed that anyone who dies here will be liberated from the cycle of reincarnation. The fascinating thing about this mystical city is that its rituals are revealed openly along the many riverside ghats. It's an intense city that attracts Hindu pilgrims and foreigners alike. Plan you trip there with this Varanasi travel guide.
Ancient Haridwar (the "Gateway to God") is another of the holiest places in India, and one of the oldest living cities. Located at the foothills of the Himalayas in Uttarakhand, it's particularly popular with Hindu pilgrims who come to take a dip in the holy waters of the fast-flowing Ganges River and wash away their sins. Unlike Varanasi, the water is clean and fresh in Haridwar. The evening Ganga Aarti holds a special appeal. Another popular attraction is the Mansa Devi Temple. The largest religious gathering in the world, the Kumbh Mela, is held in Haridwar as well. Plan your trip there with this Haridwar travel guide.
Rishikesh, the birthplace of yoga, is a popular place to come and meditate, do yoga, and learn about other aspects of Hinduism. It’s situated a short distance upriver from Haridwar, surrounded by hills on three sides. Rishikesh lures those seeking knowledge and peace with its numerous ashrams and yoga institutes. It especially draws spiritual-seeking foreigners, while Haridwar holds more significance for Hindu pilgrims. Because of their close proximity, many people come to Rishikesh and Haridwar in the same visit. Plan your trip there with this Rishikesh travel guide. There are Rishikesh hotels and guesthouses for all budgets so you can find a great place to stay.
Amritsar, in the state of Punjab, was founded in 1577 by Guru Ram Das, the fourth guru of Sikhs. It’s the spiritual capital of the Sikhs and gained its name, meaning "Holy Pool of Nectar", from the body of water around the Golden Temple. The exquisite Golden Temple attracts pilgrims from all over the world. It looks particularly arresting at night when it’s beautifully lit up, with its imposing pure gold dome illuminated. The Wagah Border is a popular side trip from Amritsar. Plan your trip there with this Amritsar travel guide.
Bodhgaya is the most important Buddhist pilgrimage place in the world. Located in the state of Bihar, it’s here that Lord Buddha became enlightened during intense meditation under a Bodhi tree. The exact spot is now marked by the sprawling Mahabodhi Temple complex. The town is also home to dozens of Buddhist monasteries. Those who are interested will find plenty of meditation and Buddhism courses and retreats on offer. You can visit Bodhgaya on the Mahaparinirvan Express Buddhist Train or plan your trip there with this Bihar travel guide.
Puri is one of the top places to visit in Odisha, and one of the four holy Char Dham — sacred abodes associated with Lord Vishnu (the Hindu god of preservation) in India. Lord Vishnu is said to descend to earth during times of trouble to eradicate evil and restore cosmic order. He currently resides in Puri, in the form of Lord Jagannath, to provide protection during the Kali Yuga (dark age). Hindus believe that visiting all the Char Dham will cleanse them of sin, so that they can achieve moksha (liberation from rebirth). According to Hindu mythology, Lord Vishnu dines at Puri (he bathes at Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu, gets dressed and anointed at Dwarka in Gujarat, and meditates at Badrinath in Uttarakhand). Hence, a great deal of significance is given to food at the Jagannath temple. Unfortunately, only Hindus are allowed to go inside the temple. However, the surrounding area is fascinating, with many small temples, shops, and an area where thousands of clay pots are stored and transported daily to cook in food for the deities. Explore it on this insightful three-hour guided tour of the Puri Old City conducted by local responsible tourism company Grass Routes Journeys. You can also find out more in this guide to the Jagannath temple in Puri.
Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu
Located around four hours from Chennai in Tamil Nadu, Tiruvannamalai attracts spiritual seekers to its Sri Ramana Ashram and Hindu pilgrims who walk around holy Mount Arunachala and pray at Arunachaleswar Temple, where Lord Shiva is worshiped as the element of fire. Mount Arunachala is called the "most silent place on earth" as its powerful energy has the astonishing ability to quieten the mind. Meditate in a cave up the mountain and discover it for yourself. If you would like to connect with a remarkable guide and healer, Ashok from Bougainvillea Tours is highly recommended.