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Top Holy Sites to Visit in India

My pick of some of India's most sacred spots

Nathan

Nathan

India Specialist
Published on

08 Oct 2019

Read time

5 minutes

Sadhus

All of the world’s religions have found a home in India, and many of them originated there. Visiting India’s holy places can give a really special insight into the life and soul of the country. On a trip to India you can meditate by the tree where the Buddha attained nirvana; see the spot where St. Thomas arrived by boat; experience Hindu prayer rituals on the banks of the Ganges; let Sufi devotional music fill your soul at a holy shrine; and help cook for the faithful along with hundreds of volunteers at Amritsar’s Golden Temple.

And this is just the tip of India’s spiritual iceberg. Below are a few of my recommended highlights, but get in touch and I'll be happy to discuss all your options in more detail.

Varanasi - the holy city on the holy river

The oldest city in the world, and the holiest city for Hindus, Varanasi is a crumbling and vibrant ancient spot on the banks of the holy river Ganges. Old temples loom around every corner of the old city’s winding alleyways, and the evening prayer rituals on the steps down to the river (known as ghats) are an incredible sacred experience. This is a place to take it all in and allow yourself to be transported to another world.

Varanasi Ghats
The Holy River Ganges at Varanasi

Where to stay in Varanasi

For the best atmosphere I recommend staying in one of the heritage properties in the old town like Suryauday Haveli or Brijrama Palace. There are also plenty of good modern hotels in the new city to escape from it all, or for a really peaceful, meditative stay away from the hustle and bustle of the city, there’s the Tree of Life.

How to get there

As most of the better trains from Delhi arrive in the night, it’s usually best to fly to Varanasi. The flight is only about an hour and a half from Delhi, and Varanasi airport is also connected with a lot of other Indian cities. Wherever you're heading next, I’ll work out the best option for you.

Bodh Gaya - the Buddha's nirvana

This is the spot in eastern India where the Buddha sat meditating under a tree until he attained nirvana - so for thousands of years it’s been one of the holiest spots for Buddhists, and people flock here from around the world to meditate and make offerings. The stunning Mahabodhi temple next to the tree is at the heart of everything, while the town itself is surrounded by monasteries and temples built by all the Buddhist countries of the world. It’s an unlikely mix of bustling and serene, and a very special place to spend a few days.

Bodh Gaya
The quest for Nirvana at Bodh Gaya

Where to stay in Bodh Gaya

This is more the pilgrim trail than the tourist trail, so don’t expect any fancy accommodation, but there are plenty of clean and reasonable accommodation options.

How to get there

Nearby Gaya railway station is well connected, or you can drive from Varanasi. If you drive from Patna you can also stop at some other interesting Buddhist sites like Nalanda and Rajgir.

Amritsar - The Golden Temple

The Golden Temple at Amritsar is the holiest place for Sikhs, and a special place where all are welcome. I recommend spending a good amount of time here, just taking it all in – people are always willing to strike up conversations, and you can volunteer to help out in the kitchens preparing mountains of free food for the temple’s visitors. Be sure to come back in the evening for the closing ceremony where the holy book is put to bed. For many people the Golden Temple is THE highlight of a trip to India.

Amritsar
The Golden Temple

Where to stay in Amritsar

There are plenty of good hotels in Amritsar, from the basic to 5-star, but the place with the most character has to be Ranjit’s Svaasa.

How to get there

Usually a 1-hour flight, or a 6-hour train ride from Delhi for the more adventurous. Amritsar is also a good gateway to the foothills of the Himalayas, and just a few hours’ beautiful drive from the Dalai Lama’s residence at Dharamsala.

Nizamuddin Dargah - Sufi mysticism in Delhi

Hidden down some winding alleyways in an old part of south Delhi, the Sufi shrine of Nizamuddin Dargah is not just a Muslim holy place, but somewhere people of all faiths come to pray. Often on Thursday evenings crowds gather for performances of devotional and rhythmic Qawwali music, which is known to send people into trances. An absolutely unique experience.

Qawwali At Nizamuddin
Qawwali Music at Nizamuddin Dargah

Where to stay in Delhi

As you can imagine there are a number of excellent hotels in Delhi, suitable for all budgets, but I recommend the Haveli Dharampura, a traditional restored townhouse in the heart of the old city with all the comforts of a modern hotel.

How to get there

Although it seems a million miles away, the site is very accessible from central Delhi. Your guide will make sure you don’t get lost. It’s also worth tying it in with a stop at the nearby magnificent Humayun’s tomb.

St. Thomas' Church, Kerala - a very old Indian Christian tradition

The southern tropical state of Kerala is dotted with churches founded by the Apostle Thomas – seven and a half to be exact – when he arrived by boat after the crucifixion. Exploring these churches is a fascinating way to get to know this largely ignored period of history. You can see Thomas’ arm relic at Marthoma, and hear choirs singing hymns in oral traditions that have survived in India since Biblical times. Travel east to Chennai to the hill on which St. Thomas was martyred and the church under which he is buried - one of only three churches in the world built on the tomb of an apostle.

Cochin Kerala Church
Church in Cochin

Where to stay in Kerala

Fort Cochin is the best base for exploring the St. Thomas churches which are dotted around Kerala. The stylish and historic Malabar House in Fort Cochin is a great choice of accommodation.

How to get there

Kerala and Chennai are both connected to the UK with Emirates via Dubai - you can do a really interesting trip from the west coast to the east coast, with loads more to see on the way.

These are just a few ideas, there are many more holy sites in India waiting to be explored. If this type of holiday interests you, or you want to visit a few sites as part of a wider itinerary, do get in touch with me on 01768 603 732 and I’ll design the perfect India trip just for you.

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    India Specialist

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