Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh
India’s centre of spiritual energy, Varanasi is located on the banks of River Ganges in Uttar Pradesh. Varanasi, also called Banaras or Kashi, is renowned for its musical and educational heritage, exceptional silks, and colourful Ghats. The city is one of the oldest permanent inhabited places on earth. Varanasi has a unique standing in India’s Hindu cultural identity.
Varanasi is the primary holy place of the Sapta Puris, and sees millions of visitors, pilgrims, and tourists. It is believed that dying here leads to moksha. People from all over India come to dip in the Ganges, and cremate their loved ones. The Varanasi Ghats are the most famous and prominent feature of the city. One can spend the whole day sitting on the Ghats and crowd-watching or admiring the stunning sunsets.
Bodh Gaya, Bihar
One of Buddhism’s most important pilgrimage sites, Bodh Gaya in Bihar is where Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment and became Buddha. During his travels to understand life, Buddha came to the Gaya district of Bihar. Here he sat under a large fig tree and upon meditation, achieved enlightenment. This is where he discovered the Noble eight-fold path, also known as the Middle Path or Middle Way, which demonstrates a balanced life. The tree became famous as the Bodhi Tree.
The Mahabodhi Temple in Gaya is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This monastic rural town is a tranquil place, visited by thousands of people every year to meditate and study, especially on Buddha Purnima (Buddha’s birthday).
Amritsar Golden Temple, Punjab
The Golden Temple and the surrounding complex in Amritsar, Punjab, is the most sacred Sikh Gurudwara in not just India, but the whole world. The official name of the temple is Harmandir Sahib, also known as Darbar Sahib. It was founded by the fifth Sikh guru, Guru Arjan and completed in 1604. The atmosphere at the gurudwara is one of intense spirituality and peace.
The most stunning feature is the Amrit Sarovar, a holy tank, with its pristine waters that are said to have healing powers. The central temple is situated at the end of a causeway on the tank. The architectural beauty of the temple with its gold and marble structure is matchless. Thousands of people from all walks of life visit the Golden Temple every day.
Haridwar is one of the holiest and busiest pilgrimage sites of India. This city in Uttarakhand is the gateway through which the holy river Ganges emerges from the Himalayan Mountains and flows into the Northern Plains.
Considered as one of the Sapta Puris (seven holy places), Haridwar is visited by thousands of pilgrims every year. It is a place where one can attain moksha(liberation) from the cycle of life, by washing away their sins in the holy river Ganges. Despite the chaotic crowds, the city is a peaceful place to visit.
Lotus Temple, New Delhi
The Bahá’í House of Worship in Delhi (1986) is a unique structure that draws many visitors. Popularly known as the Lotus Temple for its flower-like shape, it functions as the Bahá’í Mother Temple of the whole Indian subcontinent. The house is open to all people regardless of their backgrounds and faiths.
The structure of the Lotus Temple has 27 free-standing petals arranged in groups of three. It also has nine pools around it, depicting a lotus on a lake. Other than the spectacular architecture, the temple is notable for its peace and quiet, especially in a city like Delhi.
Vaishno Devi Temple, Jammu & Kashmir
Located in the three-peaked Trikuta Mountain in Jammu and Kashmir, the Vaishno Devi Temple is the second most visited temple in the country after Tirupati Balaji Mandir. The shrine of the Mother Goddess is reached after a 13 km trek from the town of Katra.
The arduous journey can be taken through horses, human palanquins, or helicopters. Walking to the bhawan takes around 90 minutes. Crores of people visit the temple of the Goddess, who is believed to fulfill all wishes. Even for non-religious people, the panoramic beauty of the place is a good enough reason to visit.
Ajmer Sharif Dargah, Rajasthan
Ajmer Sharif Dargah or Dargah Sharif is a Sufi shrine of Moinuddin Chisti, an Islamic Imam and philosopher. The shrine contains the saint’s grave and is one of the important Muslim pilgrimage sites. The dargah receives the most visitors on 6th and 7th of the seventh Islamic month, Rajab, on the death anniversary of the saint.
The complex is famous for its three elaborate gates built by three rulers. The Nizam Gate was built by Mir Osman Ali Khan, Hyderabad’s last Nizam; Shahjahani Gate by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan; and Buland Darwaza by Sultan Mahmood Khilji.
Kedarnath Temple, Uttarakhand
The Kedarnath Temple is one of the four Chota Char Dhams (Small Four Abodes), located near the Mandakini River in Kedarnath, Uttarakhand. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and can be reached by a 14 km trek from Gaurikund. It’s the most important of the twelve Jyotirlingas, and is believed to have been built by the Pandavas, which was then rebuilt by Adi Sankaracharya in 8th century C.E.
There’s a statue of Nandi, Lord Shiva’s mount, in front of the structure. The temple is surrounded by glaciers and snowy peaks. It can only be visited from April to around November, till the Kartik Purnima. The temple is revered by Hindus, and many come from far and wide to visit it.
Sacred Heart Cathedral, New Delhi
Located right next to the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, the Sacred Heart Cathedral is a Roman Catholic Church, one of the oldest in the city. It belongs to the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church. It was founded in 1929 and designed by Henry Alexander Medd, a British architect.
The Church is notable for its Italian architecture and bright red and white colours. The alter of pure marble, the white pillared facade, arcaded turrets, a large apse with a fresco of the Last Supper – all these serve to make this cathedral one of the icons of Delhi.
The city of Rishikesh is located on the Himalayan foothills in Uttarakhand. Rishikesh is a name of Lord Vishnu meaning ‘Lord of Senses’, and is a famous spiritual centre of India. It is also known as the ‘Yoga Capital of the World’. Since antiquity, Hindu saints and sages have been visiting and settling in Rishikesh.
People from all over the world visit Rishikesh to learn Yoga and meditation in its chilly, refreshing mountain air. The Ganges rapids in the city are also popular for river rafting. Trekkers and backpackers stop by Rishikesh on their way to the higher regions of Himalayas. Another famous spot in this place is the Triveni Ghat, especially in the evenings during the aarti.
Hemkund Sahib, Uttarakhand
Hemkund Sahib is another very famous Sikh pilgrimage and worship site in North India. Located in the Himalayan Mountains in Uttarakhand, at a height of almost 4,700 m, Hemkund is dedicated to the tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh. The structure is surrounded by seven mountains, rendering it a picturesque quality.
Hemkund is also reached after a trek of 13 km from the town of Govindghat, or Gobinddham. The village of Gangharia (Gobinddham) is a stop on the trek, from where visitors also love to trek 5 km to the famous Valley of Flowers. Hemkund is only accessible from May to September, when the weather is friendly.
Hazratbal Shrine, Jammu & Kashmir
Located in Srinagar in the state of Jammu and Kshmir, the Hazratbal Shrine is one of the primary Muslim Pilgrimage Sites, famous for its relic. The relic, Moi-e-Muqqadas, is a hair of Prophet Muhammad (SAW). The shrine is on the banks of Dal Lake with eye-catching views of the surrounding mountains, as well as the lake.
The shrine is made of shining white marble which gleams in the sunlight. The mosque is distinct from others as it’s the only one with a dome. The hair’s journey to Kashmir was a long one, and it was even lost and recovered once in 1963. The Hazratbal Shrine receives thousands of pilgrims each year.
Bangla Sahib Gurudwara, New Delhi
Delhi’s largest and most important Sikh place of worship, Gurudwara Bangla Sahib is located in Connaught Place in the capital. The shrine was established in dedication to Guru Har Krishan, the eight Sikh Guru. The shrine was initially a bungalow of Raja Jai Singh, a 17th century Indian ruler. It was turned into a gurudwara after Guru Har Krishan died while helping people during a cholera and smallpox epidemic.
It is one of the most famous gurudwaras in India. Hundreds of people visit it every day, and partake of the langar, in which free vegetarian food is prepared and given to all visitors to the gurudwara. Many love to volunteer in the making and serving of the food. The complex is a favourite for those who like some peace and quiet in the city.
Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh
Located 13 km from Varanasi, the deer park in Sarnath is the place where Gautama Buddha first taught about Buddhism and Dharma to his five companions. The foremost of these disciples, Kondanna attained enlightenment in Sarnath after Buddha’s teachings. He founded the first Buddhist monastic community. Sarnath is one of the four main Buddhist pilgrimage sites in the world, apart from Bodh Gaya, Lumbini, and Kushinagar.
Buddhists from all over the world visit Sarnath annually. Sarnath is also a significant pilgrimage site of Jainism, as the eleventh Tirthankara, Shreyansanath was born there. There’s a temple dedicated to him, which is visited by many Jains.
Dilwara Temples, Rajasthan
One of the most exquisite temple complexes in the world, the Dilwara Jain Temples are near Rajasthan’s only hill station, Mount Abu. The marble temples are renowned the world over for their exceptional carvings and beautiful vistas of the mountains. The complex has five temples dedicated to various Tirthankaras of Jainism – Parshvanath, Luna Vasahi, Mahavir Swami, Vimal Vasahi, and Pithalhar.
The grace and simplistic beauty of the Dilwara temples has led to them being considered the finest Jain temples in the world, and pinnacle of architectural perfection. People of all faiths and backgrounds love to visit these temples. It’s impossible not to fawn over these near translucent marble structures.