For Americans and most of West, India is a land known for spirituality. Being one of the oldest civilization, the land is birthplace of many religions. As of today, it is an emerging economy playing a major role in world politics. The demographic composition of the young nation consists of Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, Parsis, Sikhs and Jains among others. Across the length and breadth of India, there are several places of religious importance and pilgrimage tourism is one aspect that has definitely attracted millions to the country over the years. Few of the places that people should visit at least once in their lifetime are highlighted here.
Bodhgaya - One of the most important place for Buddhists which has been attracting millions over the years. It is the place where Prince Siddhartha attained enlightenment beneath a 'Bodhi Tree' and became Gautam Buddha 2600 years ago. The place hosts the famous Maha Bodhi Temple where the Bodhi Tree still flourishes with its roots firmly grounded in the same soil as its renowned ancestor. For a Buddhist, it is one of the four major pilgrimage site with others being Sarnath, Lumbini and Kushinagar. The UNESCO declared the Maha Bodhi Temple as world heritage site in the year 2002. The place is approximately 110 kilometers from the capital city of Patna. The destination is well connected by air, rail and road. The place has been known with several other names such as Uruvela, Sambodhi, Vajrasana and Mahabodhi.
Varanasi - Popularly known as the oldest inhabited city in the world, Varanasi is regarded as one of the most important sites of pilgrimage for the Hindus. The place attracts thousands of tourists from across the world who not only visit the numerous temples but also stay there for months in search of nirvana. The Ganga Aarti is one of the famous attraction of the place which even the Japanese Prime Minister attended last year along with his Indian counter part. The early morning boat ride at the most revered Ganges is the most peaceful river rides in the world. Varanasi, also known as Benaras, Banaras and Kashi is considered as the spiritual capital of India.
Haridwar - It is the place where the holy river Ganga enters the Indo-Gangetic plains for the first time. Haridwar is regarded as one of the seven holiest places for the Hindus. It is believed that the place is one of four sites where Amrit, the elixir of immortality drops were accidentally spilled over from the pitcher when it was being carried by the celestial bird Garuda according to Hindu mythology. This is the reason for the largest conglomeration of humans - the Kumbh Mela. The Kumbh Mela happens every 12 years at the four places where Amrit drops fell during Samudra Manthan. Like the Ganga Aarti in Varanasi, the evening aarti at the ghats attracts millions of tourists across the globe.
Tirupati - The place is in Chittoor district of the state of Andhra Pradesh and is considered as the spiritual capital of the state. The place attracts millions of tourist because of the Tirumala Venkateswara Temple apart from other temples of importance. The place has been regarded as the Best Heritage City by the Indian Tourism Ministry in 2012. According to Hindus, it is the sacred abode of Lord Vishnu. Other attractions of the place includes the Tirumala hills and Sri Venkateshwara Zoological Park.
Rameshwaram - Considered as the holiest place along with Varanasi, Rameshwaram is situated on the Pamban Island and is separated from mainland India by the Pamban channel. Its the nearest point from Sri Lanka to India and there is geographical evidence that the Ram Sethu was the connecting land between India and Sri Lanka. The place is also part of the most revered Char Dham Yatra for the Hindus along with Dwarka (Gujarat), Badrinath (Uttarakhand) and Puri (Odisha).
Ujjain - The place has been one of the most important cities of the Malwa plateau in Central India. The historic city is located on the banks of Kshipra river and hosts the Kumbh Mela every 12 years. It has remained a place of political and commercial importance in Central India from 600 BC to early 19th century. The place is of religious importance for the Hindus due to the myth of spilled Amrit. The Mahakaleshwar Jyotirlinga temple of Ujjain is an ancient temple that was once destroyed by ruler of Delhi sultanate of Mamluk dynasty Iltutmish and then later restored by the Scindias of Gwalior.
Prayag - As of today, the place is known as Allahabad and is considered to be the meeting place of the three most holiest rivers of the country namely Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati. Although Saraswati is a lost river, people consider that its running below the river Yamuna after natural events led to change of course for the river. The place records the largest conglomeration of humans in the world and has been better managed than most of the events in the western world. A dip at Sangam (meeting place of the rivers) is considered to most important to cast away all the sins committed on earth and lead a life towards attainment of nirvana.
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