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India Tourism – Holy Cities

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India is a country that is home to many religions and therefore there are many cities here that have a major spiritual connect with devotees.

While some of these cities have been made into religious centres there are those that have become religious hubs due to the many myths and legends associated with it.

A traveller coming to these places will be mesmerised by the spiritual culture these cities hold. You can head to Haridwar, which is believed to have the foot prints of Lord Vishnu or to Amritsar, the religious hub for the Sikhs.

Travelling in India is incomplete if you do not visit one of these cities. Here is a guide to the five spiritual cities in North India.

Haridwar

The name Haridwar means 'The Gateway to the Gods' and is an important pilgrimage centre situated in the beautiful hill state of Uttarakhand.

The history of this sacred place dates back to the era of the illustrious King Vikramaditya. The destination is known for its world famous religious centres and tourist attractions.

Most of the pilgrim spots here are situated on the banks of the holy Ganges River. The most important and pious site here is Har-ki-Pauri or the Brahm Kund.

This is the point from where the River Ganges exits the mountains and enters the plains. There are footprints on the ghats that are believed to be of the Hindu God Vishnu.

Devotees visit this place to perform different rituals, such as ‘mundan' (shaving off the head) and 'asthi visarjan' (scattering the ashes of the dead into the river) to name a few.

After every 12 years, ‘Kumbh Mela' is organised here and devotees from all over the world gather in large numbers participate in this grand religious festival.

Haridwar
 

An evening at Haridwar.
Photo Courtesy: Pankajgupta16

Varanasi

Varanasi, also known as Banaras and Kashi, is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. Known as the city of Lord Shiva it is one of the holiest Hindu cities.

It is widely believed that anyone who dies or is cremated here will attain moksha. Hence it is also called the 'Mukti Sthala' (place of liberation).

It is also believed that a dip in the Ganges River will cleanse you of all sins. To many visitors, the sight of pilgrims taking a holy dip in the river during sunrise and sunset presents a mesmerising experience.

Every evening the aarti (prayers) is performed on the main ghat of Varanasi. The most fascinating aspect of this mystical city are the rites and rituals performed alongside the many ghats that are used for everything from bathing, prayers and even last rites of the dead.

Varanasi
  

Ganga Aarti at Varanasi.
Photo Courtesy: Arian Zwegers

Bodhgaya

The city of Bodhgaya located in Bihar was historically known as Uruvela, Sambodhi, Vajrasana and Mahabodhi. In the context of Buddhism and religious spirituality, Bodhgaya has an eminent stature.

It is here that Lord Buddha attained enlightenment while he sat meditating under the Bodhi Tree. Buddhist devotees from all over the world come here to pay respect to the lord and also to see the Bodhi tree which still stands here.

It offers the most authentic and historic centres of Buddhism and many other sects. As a place, Bodhgaya has a soul of its own and is soaked in peace and charm.

Bodhgaya
 

Statue of Lord Buddha at Bodhgaya.
Photo Courtesy: Rao'djunior

Amritsar

One of the largest cities in the state of Punjab, Amritsar is the spiritual and cultural centre of the Sikh community. Named after the holy tank of Amrit Sarovar, the city was founded in 16th century by the 4th Sikh Guru, Guru Ram Das Ji.

His successor Guru Arjan Dev Ji developed the city into a sprawling town and in 1601 completed the construction of the magnificent temple that was initiated by Guru Ram Das Ji.

Amritsar is home to several historical Gurdwaras, the most prominent being the Harmandir Sahib commonly referred to as the Golden Temple.

Of immense religious significance, this holy abode of Sikhs attracts more than 100,000 visitors every day from different parts of the world, which is more than the Taj Mahal receives in a day!

Other religious centres in Amritsar includes Bibeksar Sahib, Baba Atal Sahib, Ramsar Sahib and Santokhsar Sahib.

Amritsar
 

The Golden Temple illuminated during the evening.
Photo Courtesy: Arian Zwegers

Rishikesh

Rishikesh, also known as Devbhoomi, is a noted pilgrimage centre in the district of Dehradun. Located on the banks of the holy River Ganga, this place holds great religious importance among the Hindu community.

Every year a large numbers of tourists from all over the country visit this place to explore religious sites, view the mighty Himalayas and take a dip in the River Ganga.

Situated at the foothills of the Himalayas, Rishikesh is the abode of several Hindu deities. The place is famed for its ancient temples and ashrams.

Numerous yoga and meditation centres are also present in the region. As per Hindu mythology, Lord Rama meditated here after killing Ravana, the antagonist from the Hindu epic; Ramayana.

Rishikesh
  

Statue of Lord Shiva at Rishikesh.
Photo Courtesy: Iqbal Mohammed

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