India is a diverse country with so many different cultures and religious beliefs. There are dozens of religions in India. Every religion has several pilgrimage sites in India. People visit religious sites related to their religion but sometimes visiting any religious place is an enriching experience. Whatever religious beliefs we have by the end of the day, everyone is looking for spiritual awakening. It doesn’t matter which religion we follow, what matters most is what we can experience after visiting a pilgrimage place.
There is a tradition of going for pilgrimage in India. In earlier days it used to be a big family affair and members from three generations used to travel together to pilgrimages. Though families are smaller now still people travel to pilgrimage places for spiritual awakening. So many western travelers also visit India in search of spirituality. India is a country of deep religious beliefs so there is no dearth of places.
Some religious places in India allow people from all faiths and some not. Some places allow only people of their religion inside the main worship area but they allow everyone in the premise. It is not necessary to visit the main sanctum, you can see a lot and experience the energy of that place without going into the main sanctum. Every traveler has many other things to do in these pilgrimage places.
Top 10 Religious and Pilgrimage sites in India
Here is my list of important pilgrimage sites in India for cultural and spiritual experience.
Golden Temple Amritsar
This is one of my favorite places in India. Golden temple is also known as Harmandir Sahib, which means Adobe of God and temple for everyone. It is the most important place of worship for the Sikhs but lots of Hindus also prey here with equal devotion. Golden temple is open for people of all religious beliefs.
It was established by fifth Guru Arjan Dev in the 16th century and a Muslim Pir (Saint) laid the foundation stone of it.
Golden temple’s main sanctum has a covering of pure gold on it’s inner and outer walls. The main sanctum is surrounded by a pond which is known as Sarovar. There are four entry gates to Golden temple which signifies it’s openness for everyone from all directions. The temple premise is cleaned continuously and I can say that it is one of the cleanest religious places in India.
One of the most interesting experiences in the Golden temple is eating at Guru Ramdass langar, where food is served 24×7 to everyone. The kitchen of the Golden temple serves 50,000 people every day and on special occasions or festivals, they serve 1,00,000 people every day.
It is one of the top pilgrimage sites in India to understand the culture.
Varanasi and Sarnath
Varanasi is one of the oldest living cities in the world. It has narrow lanes, chaotic traffic but at the same time, it pulls pilgrims as well as common travelers looking for spiritual and religious experiences. From ancient times Varanasi is one of the most visited pilgrimage sites and it was known as Kashi. People used to come here for salvation and attaining nirvana.
Varanasi has some of the most popular temples of India and the Jyotirling of Kashi Vishwanath temple is one of them.
The river Ganga is another most important place in Varanasi and you can have spiritual experiences on the Ghats of Ganga. The Ganga aarti every evening at Dhasmavedh ghat is the most popular activity to watch and experience in Varanasi.
If you are from India or a foreign traveler, a visit to Varanasi is a must to experience the spiritual, religious and cultural side of India.
Sarnath is 14 km from Varanasi. It’s an important Buddhist pilgrimage site in India. Sarnath is the place where Buddha gave his first sermon to his five disciples under the tree.
There are several shires dedicated to Lord Buddha in Sarnath but the holy tree and stupa built by Ashoka are the most important places. There is a feeling of calm and spirituality in the small town of Sarnath. It is a total contrast in comparison to Varanasi.
Visit Sarnath to experience peace during Varanasi travel.
Pushkar and Ajmer
The twin towns of Ajmer and Pushkar are very popular among Indian as well as international travelers.
Dargah of Sufi Saint Khwaja Moinuddin Christi is a pilgrimage site for Muslims as well as for Hindus. People of every religion visit here because it is believed that if you pray at Dargah then your wishes will be fulfilled. Dargah remains full of devotees from morning till night. There are different aura and spiritual feelings in the dargah.
During the annual “Urs” festival, the environment gets charged up with devotees and it gets very crowded. If you don’t like crowds then it is not the right time to visit Ajmer.
The holy town of Pushkar is only 14 km from Ajmer. According to mythology if you take a dip in holy Sarovar (lake) of Pushkar then you will get nirvana. People from all across India come here to take a dip in the Pushkar Sarovar. Another important place in Pushkar is the temple of Lord Brahma. There is the only temple of Brahma in the world due to a curse.
Though Pushkar is a small town still its culture is very cosmopolitan. It’s very popular among foreign travelers.
The annual Pushkar camel festival is the busiest time of the year. The small town of Pushkar attracts thousands of people from neighboring villages and towns. Lots of international and Indian travelers from cities also visit this festival to experience a different side of India. The festivities of the camel fair are very different than any other place in India.
Read more about Visiting Ajmer and Pushkar
Haridwar and Rishikesh
These two towns near the foothills of Himalayas are the most visited pilgrimage sites in North India. Both towns are on the bank of river Ganga.
Haridwar has several small and big temples. But the importance of Haridwar is because of Har ki Pauri ghat on the banks of Ganga. According to mythology during the fight between Devas and Demons after Samundar Manthan, few drops of nectar fell in Haridwar. This makes Haridwar one of those four places in India where “Kumbha Mela” is celebrated after a few years.
Other than this the morning and evening Aarti on the Har ki Pauri ghat is a surreal experience in Haridwar.
Rishikesh is only 20 km from Haridwar and it’s one the most spiritual places in India. There are several ashrams in Rishikesh where you can do meditation and learn yoga to have a spiritual experience.
Rishikesh is quite peaceful and Ganga is also clean. The spiritual feeling in Rishikesh can’t be explained in words and one should visit here to experience it.
Read more about the things to do in Rishikesh and Haridwar
Vrindavan and Mathura
Vrindavan is an important pilgrimage site in India due to its association with Lord Krishna.
There are several temples in Mathura but Krishna Janambhumi is the most important place. There are a few more places around it that one can visit during their trip.
Personally, for me, Vrindavan has more spiritual vibes. There are several temples in Vrindavan but the Iskon temple, Banke Bihari temple and Prem Mandir are must-visit places.
Read more about a trip to Mathura and Vrindavan
Monasteries of Ladakh
The land of High passes is one of those places if you want to experience Buddhism in Monastries. There are several monasteries in Ladakh region. Some of the monasteries are near Leh, while some are a day’s travel away.
These monasteries are more than religious places and spending some time these can be spiritually awakening for anyone.
Some of the must-visit monasteries are Hemis Monastery, Thiksey Monastery, Diskit Monastery, Lekir Monastery, Spituk Monastery, Stakna Monastery, Alchi Monastery, Sumda Chun Monastery, and Shey Monastery. Thiksey monastery you can visit while going to Pangong Lake from Leh. Diskit monastery is in Nubra valley.
Most of the Monasteries are located on the hilltop and that’s why the environment is very peaceful. The beautiful surroundings of these monasteries make the visit even more enjoyable.
The monasteries have a beautiful interior, incredible architecture that has a mix of Buddhist and Tibetan design. These places are peaceful and that’s why the best places to attain peace of mind with meditation and prayer.
These are some useful tips before you plan a trip to Ladakh.
Whenever someone mentions Goa, the first thought that comes to mind is beaches and party places.
Goa is a popular beach destination but it has some of the best churches and cathedrals in India. The Basilica of Bom Jesus is the most significant pilgrimage site for Catholic Christians. Even if you are not Christian it is one of the must-visit places in Goa.
The basilica is located in Old Goa which was the former capital of Portuguese India. The Basilica holds the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier in a silver casket. Every 12 years there is a festival held when the casket is lowered and kept for close viewing. It is believed that St Xavier’s mortal remains have healing powers.
The other important churches are St Assisi, Sa cathedral, Lady of immaculate.
The small town of Rameshwaram is located on Pamban Island and connected with India through a railway & road bridge. The most important places here are the Ramaswamy temple which is also known as the shore temple and the small village of Dhanushkodi.
Rameshwaram is one of the most important places in the Ramayana. According to mythology Lord Rama established and preyed to the Shiva lingam here before his war with Lanka’s king Ravana.
Foreigners are not allowed inside the sanctum but they can buy the ticket and visit the corridors around it. These long corridors have pillars with colorful paintings. One of the most amazing places and corridors looks endless.
A visit to Dhanushkodi is worth it when you are in Rameshwaram. The ghost town of Dhanushkodi is 18 km from Rameshwaram. Sri Lanka is only 30 km from Dhanushkodi though there is no connectivity between two. Dhanushkodi is believed to be the place where Rama made a stone bridge with the help of his monkey army before the war with Ravana.
It’s also known as Athens of East. The most important place to visit in Madurai is the Meenakshi temple. The temple is surrounded by high walls and has four entry gates.
The four outer gopurams are the tallest structure in the temple compound and can be seen from other parts of the city.
The temple is dedicated to goddess Parvati and Lord Shiva. Meenakshi temple is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in South India. Though people from all over India visit it.
In terms of architecture, this temple is unique. There are thousands of colorful sculptures on gopurams and walls, which are the main attraction of the temple.
Foreigners are not allowed inside the main sanctum but they can visit the temple compound. They can also see the Idol of gods during night palanquin procession when Idols of Shiva and Parvati ceremoniously put in the night chamber.
Madurai is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in India. Most of the people visit it while going to Rameshwaram.
Read more about places to visit in Madurai.
It is at the Southernmost tip of mainland India. The name Kanyakumari came from the principal deity or goddess of the city. There is a temple of Goddess Kanyakumari near the seashore and Hindu pilgrims visit it.
Other than the temple of the goddess, Kanyakumari is more popular due to its association with Swami Vivekananda. There is a rock, which is half a km from the shore. In 1892 Swami Vivekananda swam to this rock and meditated on it for 3 days. Here he took a resolution to serve mankind for the rest of his life.
Swami Vivekananda introduced the Western world to meditation in modern times. Now there is a memorial on the rock in his memory and it is known as Vivekananda rock memorial. The rock memorial is accessed by 10 minutes ferry ride.
Other than this there is a Vivekananda center in Kanyakumari, here you can stay by paying a nominal amount. This place is next to the seashore and very peaceful for practicing yoga or meditation.
It is not only a popular pilgrimage site, but it’s also an important place for spirituality seekers.
These are some of the most interesting pilgrimage sites in India. Each one is different from another and gives a different experience. One should never miss a chance to visit these places to experience the religious and spiritual side of India.