11 Holy Places to Experience in India

Aakanksha posted on 01 January

If you’re wondering what part of the country to explore next, we suggest signing up for one of these places for a holy experience. Whether you’re looking to seek peace and blessings, meditate, or simply want to experience Indian culture in all its glory, these places do not disappoint.

Vaishno Devi

Situated in the Trikuta Hills of Katra {Jammu}, the shrine of Mata Vaishno Devi resides in a holy cave estimated to be a million years old. According to popular belief, no one can visit the shrine unless they get a call or bulawa from the Mata herself. The shrine sees the maximum amount of devotees during the Navratras, so it may take you many hours to reach up there. There are provisions for fresh food and accommodation for pilgrims along the way.

Driving Time: 11 hours {approx.}

Nearest Airport: Jammu

Religious Establishments

Katra, Jammu and Kashmir

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Haridwar

This is where the Ganges emerges from the Himalayas. Located in the Haridwar district of Uttarakhand, it is regarded as one of the seven holiest Hindu places, as it is believed to be one of the sites where drops of amrit {the elixir of immortality} were accidentally spilled by the Garuda {celestial bird}. The peak season to go here is between May and October, when hoards of pilgrims come to take a dip in the holy water. The Magh Mela religious festival also takes place here.

Driving Time: 6 hours {approx.}

Nearest Airport: Jolly Grant Airport, Dehradun

Other

Haridwar, Uttarakhand

    Pushkar

    At an elevation of 510 metres, Pushkar is located 14km away from Ajmer, Rajasthan. The town is built around a holy lake which is believed to have emerged when Lord Brahma dropped a lotus flower there. Home to 400 temples {including the few Brahma temples} and 52 bathing ghats, one can always hear a hum of devotional music reverberating in this area. There’s also a street bazaar selling interesting things. Pushkar is also known for its banana pancakes. If you go in October, you can also catch a glimpse of the Camel Fair.

    Driving Time: 8 hours {approx.}

    Nearest Airport: Jaipur

    Shravanabelagola

    Best visited between October and March, this city is an important Jain pilgrimage site. Literally translated to white pond, Shravanabelagola is named after the pond in the middle of the town. You can visit the 28 Jain temples spread across the place, visit the statue of Lord Gommateshwara, and also enjoy the scenic beauty.

    Driving Time: 33 hours {approx.}

    Nearest Airport: Bangalore

    Other

    Shravanabelagola, Karnataka

      Tirupati and Tirumala

      These two places in  the Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh are most often visited together. The temples and shrines here are presided over by the deity Sri Venkateshwara. The star spots are Sri Venkateshwara’s temple on the Tirumala hill, the shrine of Govindaraja in the town of Tirupati, and the shrine of Padmavati, situated in Tiruchanur. Tirumala has a tradition hair offerings to appease God. The city has thus become home to one of the largest collections of hair, which is later turned into wigs.

      Driving Distance: 33 hours

      Nearest Airport: Renigunta Airport

      Other

      Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh

        Dargah of Moinuddin Chishti

        The former abode of Sufi saint {and Imam, Scholar and Philospher} Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer, this now contains his tomb. People come to pay their respects with flowers, sweets and a chadar, from all over the country. The main attractions on the premises are the Buland Darwaza {the two gates} and the mausoleum. They have qawwali performances on certain days of the week in the evenings, so do ask if you want to hear melodies in praise of the Prophet.

        Driving Time: 8 hours {approx.}

        Nearest Airport: Jaipur

        Monument

        111, Faiz Manzil, Nathwan Shah, Khadim Mohalla, Dargah Sharif, Ajmer, Rajasthan

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        Bodh Gaya

        This region in Bihar is the site where, 2600 years ago Prince Siddhartha attained enlightenment under a Bodhi tree and became Buddha. It is a popular place for people who want to sit in peace and pray, study, or meditate. The Tibetan monks from McLeodganj visit between November and March, so this is perhaps the best time to experience Bodh Gaya in all its glory. If you’re lucky, you may even get to meet the Dalai Lama.

        Driving Time: 16 hours {approx.}

        Nearest Airport: Gaya Airport

        Other

        Bodh Gaya, Distt. Gaya, Bihar

          Harmandir Sahib

          More popularly known as the Golden Temple, Harmandir Sahib is considered the holiest Sikh gurudwara. The four entrances to the gurudwara signify the openness of the Sikhs to people of all religions, regions, castes. Anyone can enter the premises to pray and pay their respects to the enshrined Guru Granth Sahib {the holiest Sikh text}. Build at a level lower than the surrounding land level in Amritsar, the temple aims to promote equality and humility. The gurudwara is visited by over 100,000 people on a daily basis, and offers some of the most expertly made halwa as prasad. Amritsar is also often visited by people interested in watching the change of guards at the Wagah border, and for its delicious food {sarson ka saag, Amritsari machhi etc}.

          Driving Time: 9 hours {approx.}

          Nearest Airport: Shree Guru Ram Dass Jee International Airport, Amritsar

          Basilica of Bom Jesus

          This church in Old Goa houses the mortal remains of St Francis Xavier, who died in China in 1552. It is said that his body was buried in three different countries and although exhumed, was found fresh and uncorrupt. Basilica of Bom Jesus puts his body on display every 10 years, usually between December and January, a ceremony that attracts a lot of devotees from across the country. In addition to the religious importance, the church is also one of the best examples of baroque architecture from the Portuguese era.

          Driving Time: 35 hours {approx.}

          Nearest Airport: Goa

          Monument

          Old Goa Road, Near Gandhi Circle, Bainguinim, Goa

          Chardham

          Chardham includes the four pilgrimage sites that are considered the most sacred amongst Hindus, and some consider it vital to visit these at least once during one’s lifetime; it comprises Badrinath, Dwarka, Puri and Rameswaram. Usually this journey is taken from the west to the east: starting from Yamunotri, then proceeding to Gangotri and finally to Kedarnath and Badrinath. Highlights include the Badrinath Temple, Dwarakadheesh Temple, Ramanathaswamy Temple and the Jagannath Temple, amongst many others.

          Driving Time: 10 hours approx {to Yamnotri}

          Nearest Airport: Jolly Grant Airport, Dehradun

          Other

          Badrinath, Uttarakhand

            Varanasi

            Varanasi or Benares is frequented often by those wishing to cremate their loved ones and perform the final funeral rites. It is considered to be very auspicious for the dead as it is believed they attain moksha {liberation from the birth and death cycle} here. Home to almost 2000 temples {the Kashi Temple being the most known} and several bathing ghats, it rarely comes as a surprise that Varanasi is considered to be one of the holiest cities of India. People flock here throughout the year to bathe in the Ganges, thereby purifying themselves of all their sins. The ghats are chock full of colour and culture and always make for a breath-taking sight.

            Driving Time: 13 hours {approx.}

            Nearest Airport: Varanasi

            Other

            Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh