Pilgrim Tourism in India

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India is the birthplace of two major world religions – Hinduism and Buddhism – as well as a handful of lesser-known faiths. It’s also been heavily influenced by once-foreign religions that have arrived, settled in and made their own mark. From the kaleidoscopic colors of Hindu temples to the elegant minarets of mosques, the shimmering gold of Sikh gurdwaras to the serene halls of Buddhist temples, India’s sacred sites are spectacular enough to draw devoted pilgrims and photo-snapping tourists alike.

  1. Hindu

    • Hinduism is India’s largest religion, and millions of Hindus are drawn each year to Varanasi, their religion’s holiest city. Situated on the banks of the sacred Ganges River, pilgrims come to Varanasi to bathe and drink the water, watch holy men conduct rituals at dusk and even cremate their loved ones. India also boasts the biggest pilgrimage on earth, the Kumbh Mela. Held every four years in four different cities – Allahabad, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nasik – tens of millions of Hindu pilgrims take a dip in a holy river on auspicious days. Because of extreme overcrowding, fully booked accommodations and a lack of facilities, plan carefully and well in advance if you wish to attend.

    Muslim

      • Though Islam’s most important pilgrimage sites – Mecca and Medina – lie in Saudi Arabia, India has a host of mosques, shrines and tombs that attract the devout. Delhi’s Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India, has a striking sandstone silhouette, delicate minarets and room for 25,000 devotees. Mumbai’s island mosque of Haji Ali Dargah is connected to shore by a causeway crowded with a constant stream of pilgrims. When visiting a mosque, remember to dress modestly in long sleeves and long pants or a long skirt, and remove your shoes, hat and sunglasses at the entrance. Women should cover their heads with a lightweight scarf for extra modesty.

    Sikh

    • The holiest site for followers of Sikhism is the Golden Temple in Amritsar, an ornate, gilded shrine surrounded by an extensive complex of towers, a museum, dining hall and pilgrims’ dormitories. All visitors, regardless of religious affiliation, are welcome to eat and sleep in the dining hall and dormitories for a small donation. Visitors of both genders are required to cover their heads, remove their shoes and wash their feet before passing through the temple gate.

    Buddhist

    • Though the historical Buddha was born in what is today Nepal, he spent much of his life in India, attaining enlightenment in Bodhgaya, giving teachings in Sarnath and Rajgir and dying in Kushinagar. These towns are now pilgrim hot spots for Buddhist monks, nuns and laypeople from India and around the world. Bodhgaya is the most developed among them, with meditation centers, monasteries and numerous temples built in the traditional styles of Buddhist countries across Asia. Both genders should dress modestly when visiting Buddhist temples, keeping upper arms and knees covered and removing shoes before entering. When sitting, visitors should avoid pointing the soles of their feet at any image of the Buddha.

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