4 Holy Places in India: Spiritual Havens from the Chaos
There is a special charm about sacred Indian towns. Not only are they smaller in size and population, but they are also more authentic, conserving the old vibe of ancient India, unlike the highly industrialized metropolis.
Stepping into the busy streets of India‘s biggest destinations can be so overwhelmingyou might find refuge in the hotel room for a couple of days before being able to confront the craziness. In order to deaden the intense cultural shock, visiting smaller towns will make the transition easier.
Whether you are looking for a spiritual experience or to stay away from the multitudinous cities, these holy towns will show you the best that northern India has to offer.
Located in between Delhi and Agra, Vrindavan is one of the earliest civilizations in India. The ancient city is considered among the holiest places of the subcontinent and is an important pilgrimage site. This region is associated with Hindu history, where Lord Krishna spent his childhood days.
Krishna is the most commonly worshiped deity in Hinduism, born to establish the religion of love. He is the eighth avatar or incarnation of Vishnu (the Hindu god of universal preservation). He is the embodiment of love and divine joy that destroys all pain and sin.
Vrindavan hosts hundreds of temples dedicated to Krishna and his lover, Radha. The oldest surviving temple is Govinda Dev temple built in 1590. Other temples worth a visit are the Prem Mandir, also known as the Love Temple, and the ISKCON Krishna Balaram Mandir, both fully built of shinning white marble. Don´t miss the opportunity to attend the touching fire ceremony or Mangala Aarti conducted everyday just before sunrise (4:30 am) at ISKCON temple.
The small city of Rishikesh, known locally as “the abode of the gods,” is tucked away in the foothills of the Himalayas. Scenically located in the gateway to the majestic mountains and settled in both banks of the sacred river Ganges (also known as Mother Ganga), Rishikesh is blessed by the jungle-clad hilltops and powerful turquoise waters.
This sacred place emanates peace, love and light from all of its corners. It abounds in legends of yogis, rishis (seers), sannyasis (renunciants), and child saints who have come to practice yoga in these hills, and is therefore recognized as “the birthplace of yoga.” Legend has it that a great rishi called Raibhya practiced intensive yoga by the river and was rewarded by the appearance of the god Vishnu. Ever since, Rishikesh has been considered a holy town for Hindus and yogis alike, packed with ashrams (yoga hermitages or monasteries) and has become the yoga capital of the world.
Must dos in Rishikesh include: taking a yoga class at any of the multiple ashrams, attending the sunset Ganga Aarti or fire ceremony at Parmarth Niketan ashram, whitewater rafting through the rapid waters of the Ganges, eating at Ramana’s Garden Café, a home for orphan children that serves delicious food on a beautiful terrace and donates the income to the children’s school, and wandering through the ruins of Maharishi Mahesh ashram, where the Beatles got their inspiration to write their White Album.
On the crest of a mountain above McLeod Ganj, Dharamkot is a tiny hill station that presents a wide view of the Kangra Valley and of the white Himalayan peaks. With its green terraced hillsides filled with flowers, Dharamkot is extremely quiet and relaxed. There are no roads; you can only reach the town by foot, so the usual honking background sound (which seems omnipresent throughout India) won’t bother you.
To reach Dharamkot you first have to get to McLeod Ganj, a suburb of Dharamshala also known as “Little Lhasa” due to its large population of Tibetans. McLeod Ganj hosts the headquarters of the Tibetan government in exile, after China invaded Tibet. The Dalai Lama established his residency here, along with thousand of other Tibetan refugees.
While in Dharamkot you can study Tibetan Buddhism or take a 10-day meditation course at Tushita meditation centre, adventure into the vast Himalayas with multiple trekking options for all fitness levels, or volunteer helping out with the Tibetan cause.
Pushkar is one of the oldest settlements in India. This sleepy, lakeside town in the desert of Rajasthan is considered among the most religious places on Earth as one of the five sacred dhams (pilgrimage site) for devout Hindus. Pushkar in Sanskrit means blue lotus flower. The legend states that Lord Brahma, the Creator or Supreme Power, struck a demon with his weapon, a lotus flower, after he had killed his children.
The demon died from the impact and the petals of the lotus fell in three places, creating three lakes, the most important one being Pushkar Lake. This place hosts the only temple of its kind dedicated to Brahma. There are hundreds of temples around the lake as well as over fifty ghats, or bathing pools, where pilgrims perform their offerings and bathing rituals. The mystical water is said to wash away the sins of a lifetime, as well as to cure skin diseases, making Pushkar the Lourdes of the East.
Pushkar is always vibrating to the sound of the drums and chanting songs, or prayers. There is a magical energy in the air that makes this place so especial. Hike to the nearby Savitri Temple at sunrise to get a sublime view of the entire area. Go on a camel ride through the desert or better yet, attend the world-famous Camel Fair in November. Or go shopping for the exquisite silk, leather and silver; Pushkar has the finest fashion and best deals I found in all of India.