India has a rich culture and religion is an important part of it. Due to this, we have numerous big and small temples across India. The temples in India still have a very strong influence on the socio-economic structure of the country. Every temple has different rules for devotees and people coming to pay their respect. Most of the temples of India are dedicated to different forms or incarnations of Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva, and Goddesses. The temples of north India are different from temples in south of India.
I have visited several temples across India to experience the rich heritage and culture of India. Visiting every temple across India gave me new experiences and learnings. In this post, I have compiled a list of must-visit temples in India. Many of them based on my personal experience and some of these are recommended by fellow travel bloggers from India and abroad.
These temples are a good starting point to know which are the best temples of North, east and western parts of India. There is another list of must-visit temples of South India in my next post.
Temples of North India
Golden Temple Amritsar, Punjab
This is one of my favorite religious places in India. Golden temple is also known as Harmandir Sahib and Darbar Sahib. This temple is one of the holiest places for Sikhs but this temple is opened for people of all religions.
Golden temple was built more than 400 years ago. The construction of the temple was started by fifth guru Arjan Dev, he asked a Muslim Pir (Spiritual leader) to lay the foundation stone and it was completed by Guru Ramdas in 1577.
There is a copy of “Adi Granth Guru Granth Sahib” (Holy book of Sikhism) in the main sanctum of Golden temple. This book is prayed in Golden temple as idol worship is prohibited in Sikhism.
There is an elaborate ceremony every morning and evening when “Guru Granth Sahib” is bought in the main area of Golden temple. Every night it is taken to the Akal Takht, where it is put on sleep.
The main sanctum of Golden temple is covered with a thick foil of gold and hence it is named. The main sanctum is surrounded by an artificial pond and a pathway connects sanctum with the circumambulation path around the pool.
The golden temple has four entrances in four directions. There are several buildings around the sanctum and pool called Sarovar. Akal Takhat, a clock tower, the offices of the Gurdwara Committee, a Museum and langar (a free Sikh community-run kitchen) are some of the most prominent buildings in Golden temple complex. Gurudawara committee provides free accommodation on a first come first serve basis to the visitors.
People of all religions and caste can visit the Golden temple. It remains open from 3.00 AM to 10.00 PM every day. Community kitchen remains open 24 Hours and anyone can eat here. Every day more than 50,000 people eat “Langar” here and on festivals it doubles or triples.
There is no strict rule for clothing but since it is a religious place so cover legs and arms. Covering the head is mandatory before entering the Golden temple.
When in Amritsar visit Attari Wagah border for evening ceremony.
Kashi Vishwanath Varanasi
This is one of the most popular Jyotirling of Lord Shiva. Kashi Vishwanath is in India’s holiest city Varanasi and situated on the ghats of river Ganga near Manikarnika ghat. Temple was rebuilt in 1780 by Rani Ahilya Bai Holkar. Kashi Vishwanath temple was surrounded by narrow lanes but in early 2018 the houses and old temples were demolished.
In this newly acquired land, the process of beautification and expansion of the temple is under process. This step was taken to accommodate tourists rush in Varanasi and for easy access to the Ganga river from the temple.
The spires and dome of the temple are covered with 1 tonne of gold, which was denoted by Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab. Silver is used inside of the main sanctum for decoration and other purposes, it was denoted by Bhosle kings from Maharastra.
The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and he is worshipped here in the form of Lingam. Milk, flowers, leaves, and sweets are offered in the temple. Hugh statue of Nandi bull presented by King of Nepal, Gyanwapi well, and a colonnade with 40 pillars are the other important places to visit in the temple premise.
Kashi Vishwanath temple opens every morning at 3.00 AM and closes at 11.00 PM. In between temple closes for different aartis and rituals. If you want to attend an aarti then you need to pre-book it on the temple’s website.
If you don’t want to stand the queues for darshan than you can book for instant darshan by paying 300 INR to temple trust. Mobile phones, cameras, leather items, and other electronic items are not allowed inside the temple.
Since it is a place of worship so cover legs and shoulders. Women are advised to wear Indian attire to avoid any issue while entering the temple.
Foreigners are not allowed inside the temple but this rule is not strictly followed. During my visit, a group of foreign travelers was allowed inside the temple premise though they didn’t enter the main sanctum. Foreigners are required to show their passport for entering the temple.
Checkout, these safety and travel tips for Varanasi.
Gangotri temple in Uttarakhand
This one is recommended by Samantha Shea. She is a 20-something Polish-American currently on an indefinite backpacking adventure through India and its neighbors. She shares guides and stories about some of the lesser-visited places on her blog Intentionaldetours.
Gangotri Town, nestled far up in the mountains of India’s northern state of Uttarakhand, is said to be the sacred spot where the holy Ganges River descended upon the earth. Its temple of the same name is dedicated to the Goddess Ganga, and during the 6-7 months of the year, that weather permits visitation attracts thousands of pilgrims daily.
While Gangotri’s beginnings are ancient, it’s the physical form is more recent- the temple was constructed in the early 18th century by Gorkha commander Amar Singh Thapa, and its structure reflects Nagara architecture common of the period- including a pristine white granite exterior and surrounding platform.
But when and how to visit? Gangotri usually opens up in April but could be pushed to May in years of heavy snowfall. The temple usually closes for the year around the time of Diwali and is packed during Char Dham Yatra.
The Char Dham is an annual pilgrimage undertaken by Hindus to four sacred temples within Uttarakhand, of which Gangotri is one of. The pilgrimage begins the day the temples open and usually ends in June before the monsoon drenches the mountains and landslides block the treacherous roads.
Anyone can visit Gangotri at any time, but if you’re not participating in the Yatra it might be best to wait until after the monsoon to avoid crowds. Females should keep a scarf handy to cover their heads while visiting, and ALL tourists shouldn’t underestimate the power of altitude! At over 11,000 feet, altitude sickness is very real here- as is the cold, so don’t forget a jacket no matter which month you come!
To reach Gangotri, you’ll first have to stop at Uttarkashi, a nearby hill station. From Uttarkashi, shared jeeps leave every morning until about 11 am- shared jeeps cost about 200-300 rupees per person and only leave when stuffed to capacity. The ride takes about 4-5 hours including a few chai stops. Pro tip: Try to get there early if you want a decent seat.
Kedarnath Temple in Uttarakhand
This one is recommended by Shivani Sharma. She is working in a multinational company and blogs her travel experiences at The Wandering Core.
Kedarnath is one of the twelve Jyotirlingas in India & Nepal, the Kedarnath temple is one of the holiest temples of Lord Shiva. It is said to have been built by Pandavas after the war of Mahabharata. The temple is located at an altitude of 3500 meters with an extremely difficult trek.
The temple is open only during the summer months of May – September, the exact opening date may vary. Visit the temple either in the very early days of opening or during September.
Avoid the monsoon months of June end till August, as it can make the trek strenuous. Made up of grey stones, the temple bore the brunt of 2013 unprecedented floods and yet the temple was only one of the buildings that were left standing. The floods caused extreme devastation to the region, even the previous, comparatively easier, trek route was destroyed.
The newer trek is picking the pace slowly, the development is slow because of intense weather conditions. The current trek is 16 km long each side and takes you through different terrains. With ponies and Pithus available, those with not the appropriate fitness can also complete the trek. The base camp is in Sonmarg from where you reach Gaurikund, the starting point of the trek. You can base yourself in Sonmarg or Phata (with helipad) and then reach to Gaurikund.
It is slightly difficult to reach Phata, especially from Delhi. I recommend heading to Rishikesh first, then either hire a cab or take a bus for your Delhi to Kedarnath trip. The former is, however, is an expensive option but buses are not too comfortable. So take your pick accordingly. Pack raincoats, an umbrella, and sunscreen for the harsh sun at that altitude.
Don’t forget good trekking boots, even if you intend to hire a pony. I fell while crossing a bridge and sprained my ankle, and the rest of my trip was almost ruined. There are medical camps every few distances, but, better be prepared.
Even if you’re not a trekker, it is a hike worth taking, so go plan a trip to Kedarnath.
Lakshmi Narayan Temple, Delhi
This temple is recommended by Alexa Meisler from52 Perfect Days. Alexa is an entrepreneur, online journalist, podcaster and brand ambassador. She is the founder of 52 Perfect Days.
Lakshmi Narayan Mandir temple was constructed by Raja Baldev Das between 1933 and 1938. The Hindu temple is also known by the name of Birla Mandir of New Delhi. The Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi agreed to inaugurate this temple on one condition which it would open to all religions.
The main temple is dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Narayan (Krishna), with smaller temples on the grounds dedicated to gods and goddesses, like Shiva, Ganesha, Hanuman, Buddha, Durga, and Shakti. It’s the first of the 14 Birla temples built across India and per Gandhi’s wish, it is open to people of all faiths to offer prayers.
The three-tier temple, besides housing idols of various gods and goddesses, is decorated with beautiful wall carvings depicting ancient Indian folklore. The most important section is the Krishna Palace (God of Salutation). There’s an infinite view of the idol in the mirror placed behind it. The temple grounds also boasts lush gardens and sparkling fountains.
Birla Mandir is also famous for the festival of Janmashtami (birth of the Hindu deity Krishna) which is celebrated in the Monsoon season each year. The 2020 Festival Date is Tuesday, 11 August.
You’ll be asked to leave your shoes, cameras, and phones outside the temple on this visit. This is a test of trust (at least to most Westerners) to walk away from valuables. It also means you are not allowed to take photos inside the temple.
The Laxminarayan Mandir is open every day of a week from 7 am-12 pm and 2 pm-9 pm.
Temples of Eastern India
Kamakhaya temple in Guwahati
This temple is recommended by Anwesha Guha from Going places with Anwesha. She is from Kolkata and living in Bangalore. She blogs about her travel experiences.
Kamakhya temple also known as Kamrup – Kamakhya is a unique temple located on the Nilachal hills in the city of Guwahati, the capital of the Indian state of Assam.
Legend has it that Sati after fighting with her husband Lord Shiva, reached her father’s house to be a part of his grand Yagna, only to get insulted. Not able to hear insult of her husband, an enraged Sati jumped into the very sacrificial fire and gave her life. Upon hearing the news of his wife’s demise, lord Shiva’s rage was beyond control. Carrying his wife’s burnt body, he went on a rampage with his ‘Tandav‘ or the dance of destruction.
Vishnu took it upon himself to stop lord Shiva’s ‘Tandav’ and cut Sati’s body in 108 pieces that fell in different parts of India. Kamakhya temple is built on the spot where Sati’s womb and vagina have fallen.
Another legend says that when Kamadeva woke lord Shiva from his deep meditation, he was burnt to ashes by Lord Shiva’s rage. Later, when he was brought back, Kamadeva was devoid of his usual charm and beauty.
To regain his good looks, lord Shiva asked Kamadeva to build a temple in memory of Sati where her vagina fell. Thus, he regained his lost virility by dutifully building the Kamakhya temple with the help of Lord Vishwakarma.
This temple is considered as one of the oldest of the 51 Shakti Pithas on earth. The period from the 8th-17th century saw many changes in the current structure of the temple and gave rise to a fusion of indigenous style comprising a hemispherical dome on a cruciform base. It’s often called the Nilachal type.
The temple consists of four chambers: Garbhagriha (the inner sanctum) and three mandapas called Calanta, Pancharatna, and Natamandira.
While there is no idol of Shakti inside the temple complex, a Yoni (the female genitalia) like depression located in the dark inner sanctum of the temple is worshiped as goddess Kamakhya herself. This depression is always filled with water from a nearby underground perennial spring.
Maa Kamakhya or Kameswari is considered as the ‘Bleeding Goddess’ and this temple is a celebration of this Shakti (power) within every woman.
Like most Hindu temples, foreigners can enter the Kamakhya temple. While the dress code is not very strict, it indicates to cover bare shoulders and legs.
If you visit in June, then you can witness the Ambubachi Mela. The word ‘Ambu’ means water and ‘Bachi’ means flowing. It’s the celebration of the menstruation of the Mother Earth. During this time, Kamakhya Temple is closed for 3 days, so you cannot do Darshan but can roam around to enjoy the Ambubachi Mela.
When the temple opens on 4th day, there will be a huge crowd waiting to enter the temple complex. It’s best to avoid that time and come for Darshan later in the evening. Curiously, during this time, the Brahmaputra river turns red. There is no scientific explanation for this phenomenon.
Jagannath temple in Puri, Orissa
This one is recommended by Andrew Kim. He is a content writer and travel enthusiast at RoadGoat. Roadgoat is an online travel community that lets you travel everywhere.
Jagannath temple in Puri, Odisha, is one of the most significant temples for the Hindu religion. Located just two hours south of Bhubaneshwar, Odisha’s capital, Puri’s Jagannath temple boasts one of the oldest architecture and religious history in India. With construction dating back to the 12th century, the Jagannath Temple has three wooden idols symbolizing Lord Jagannath, the main deity of the region, and his siblings.
The worship in the Jagannath temple is a unifying force for many in the region and promotes the values of tolerance, peace, and tranquility.
Jagannath temple can be visited anytime between 5 AM to midnight, but to avoid big crowds it is advised to visit around early 7 AM after the first aarti ritual, or at night time. Nighttime view of the temple sheds even more tranquil ambiance to the blissful temple.
Annually, around June and July, you can experience the Odisha’s iconic Ratha Yatra festival within the temple complex, and watch the temple’s unique idols being carried around in hand-crafted chariots.
Throughout the year, the entry to the temple compound is free, but non-Hindus are not allowed to enter the inner sanctum of the temple which is reserved for Hindu worships only. Still, the guided tour around the temple complex will reveal all the significant details of the architecture and the symbols harbored by the historic landmark.
For around five rupees, you can experience dining at the famous temple kitchen, where traditional food is prepared in the same way it was centuries ago – it is a great way to immerse in the culture of the temple site.
Dakshineshwar Kali temple Calcutta, West Bengal
This temple is one of the favorites of Shalini Garnaik. She is a curious gal bitten by wander bug. She blogs at eager2travel and shares her travel stories, hacks, and tips for the road.
Dakshineswar Kali Temple is located on the banks of the Hooghly River in Kolkata. It is one of the famous Adi Shakti Peethas of India where the face of Goddess Adi Shakti is said to have fallen.
The presiding deity is Bhavatarini a form of Goddess Kali, meaning she who liberates the devotees from the samsara.
The temple was founded around the middle of the 19th century by Rani Rashmoni of Janbazar. It is said that night before her pilgrimage to Varanasi, she had a vision of Goddess Adi Shakti saying her to build the temple here. The idol was installed on the holy Snana Yatra on 31st May 1855.
The temple is built-in traditional Navaratna or nine spires style of Bengal architecture, the three-storeyed south facing temple has nine spires distributed in the upper two stories. It also has 12 identical Shiva temples.
The Garbha Griha houses the idol of Goddess Kali, standing on the chest of almighty Shiva and the two idols are placed on a thousand-petaled lotus made of silver.
To the North-east of the temple complex, a Vishnu Temple is present. The idol of Krishna and Radha is present here. They rest on a beautiful silver throne.
The timings of the temple are from 5 am to 8 pm. It is better to go early in the morning to avoid the crowds. The queue can be very long. Foreigners are also allowed into the temple.
Dress decently as it is a temple. You can take a ferry ride to Belur Math.
Photography is strictly prohibited inside the temple and mobile phones are not allowed inside the temple. You can buy idols, photos, a sacred thread and many souvenirs from the shop outside.
Lingaraja Temple in Bhuvneshwar, Orissa
This one is recommended by Shivani Sharma. She is working in a multinational company and blogs her travel experiences at The Wandering Core.
The capital of the Eastern state Odisha, Bhubaneshwar is known as the city of temples. The most distinguished one of them is The Lingaraja Temple, devoted to Lord Shiva.
Lingaraja Temple is one of the oldest temples and also the largest in the capital going back to the 11th century. Lingaraja temple is said to be built by the kings of the Somavamshi dynasty who ruled the current day Odisha in the 9th century till the 12th century. One thing to notice here is that non-Hindus are not allowed in the main shrine of the temple.
There is no rule book for dressing up while visiting the temple, but it is nice to dress moderately. Also, photography isn’t allowed in the temple, so leave your phones/cameras outside.
Designed in Kalinga architectural style, the temple has a central tower as high as 180 meters visible from far off locations in the city. The outer walls of the main shrine are made up of sandstone, with wide courtyards and numerous smaller temples surrounding it. The other temples on the premises are of various other Hindu deities and you may visit them when here.
As it is a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, the temple celebrates Shivratri with much zeal. Visit the temple at the time, and take part in the festivities. After an entire day of fasting, prayers are held in the evening with the offerings of bel leaves. The rest of the evening is spent in prayers which may even last all night long.
Lingaraja temple is one of the top places to visit in Bhubaneshwar, which is why it is well connected to other parts of the country, with an international airport and road/rail connectivity too.
Plan a trip to the city of temples and explore this beautiful state.
Temples of Western India
Galta Ji Temple, Jaipur
This one is recommended by Arv. He is a Jaipur based blogger who write on a Jaipur blog – JaipurThruMyLens. It is one of the most detailed blogs on Jaipur. His blog covers all offbeat and hidden gems of Jaipur as well as all popular tourist places.
Galta Ji is a historic Hindu pilgrim in Jaipur. It is also popular as Jaipur Monkey Temple among the tourists the world over. It consists of ancient temples dedicated to Lord Rama, Krishna, Shiva, and Hanuman.
This temple complex is nestled away from Jaipur in a valley. As per the local legend, Galta Ji is named after a sage Rishi Galav. The current temples were constructed during the 18th century.
It is believed that Galta Ji was developed by a Ramanandi sage Krishnadas Payohari and later became a prominent religious center for Ramanandi Hindus. It is one of the Shakti Peeths in India. Temples at Galta Ji follow the typical Hindu architectural style of Jaipur – spireless mansion style building.
Galta Ji is open from sunrise to sunset. The best time to visit Galtaji in the evening or morning around Aarti time.
The temple can be visited by Indians and foreigners, there is no entry fee. However, any offerings made in the donation box helps maintain the temple complex. Photography incurs a nominal fee of Rs 50 which can be paid near the entrance gate and a receipt is issued.
The visitors are advised to dress conservatively. Females are advised not to wear short dresses. Kindly remove footwear before entering the temple premises.
Given the sheer number of monkeys in the temple complex, it is best not to carry any edible items. There have been incidents of monkey attacks as many devotees make offerings to monkeys. There is no need to panic, just make sure you put away edible items in your bag.
Checkout, my Jaipur itinerary to visit other popular places.
Somnath Temple, Gujarat
This temple is the first Jyotirling of Lord Shiva and he is worshipped here in the form of lingam. Somanath temple is situated in the town of the same name. It is located on the seashore at an elevated platform.
This temple was destructed 17 times by invaders and they plundered all the valuable items from here. Reconstruction of the present-day temple was ordered by Sardar Patel and after his death, it was completed by Munshi who was union minister in the Indian government.
The outer walls of the main sanctum and other spired in the temple were plain for several decades but later on, sculptures were made on these. There is an open area around in temple premise where devotees can sit on benches.
The Arabian sea is on one side of the temple and other side pictures with statues were made, which depict different mythological stories. There are a light and sound show every evening to give a glimpse into the history of Somnath temple.
Temple remains open from 6.00 AM till 9.00 PM. There are 3 aartis every day, the first one is at 7.00 AM, second at Noon and the third one at 7.00 PM. Anyone inside the temple premise can attend the aarti. Foreigners are not allowed inside the temple since 2015.
Mobile phones, cameras, leather items like bags or belts are also not allowed inside the temple. They have lockers outside the temple, where you can keep your valuables. Any offering like a flower, water, and incense sticks is also not allowed inside the temple. If you want to offer something to the Lingam form of God Shiva than you can buy these from the counter inside the temple.
There are no dress codes but it is advisable to cover legs and shoulders since its a religious place.
Checkout, my detailed guide of Somnath temple and other places around it.
Shree Swaminarayan Bhuj, Gujarat
This is one of the newest temples in India. This temple belongs to the Swaminarayan sect, which is mainly a business community. The people of Swaminarayan faith are settled around the world but this is this temple in Bhuj is their main temple.
The original temple was built in 1822 by the main saint of this faith. This temple was badly damaged in the 2001 Gujarat earthquake but nothing happened to idols. It was considered a miracle and it was decided by the saints of the faith that a new temple should be built to keep the idols. The new temple was built with a cost of one billion INR (100 Crore rupees).
The temple is made with white marble and its spires are glided with gold. It is one of the most beautiful temples in India. The marble sculpture and intricate carvings on the temple walls make it unique.
Temple opens at 5.30 AM and closes at 11.20 AM. It again opens at 3.30 PM and remains open till 8.45 PM. There are 5 aartis during the day and everyone can attend these. This temple is open for people of all faith. It is advisable to dress modestly because it is a place of worship.
Also, check out a detailed guide for Gujarat travel.
These are some of the most popular temples of north, east, and west India. Feel free to add if you have more suggestions.