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With a map dotted with destinations that fill the heart of any pilgrim with joy, Uttar Pradesh is a promised land of spirituality. Millions of pilgrims throng the state every year in search of peace and mindfulness. By Manya Saini
Endowed with a rich cultural history, spiritual travel through Uttar Pradesh is an enriching experience. Home to some of the holiest sites of the Hindu faith, the state has long been a pilgrim’s destination of choice. Though unravelling from stress and finding mindfulness through these unprecedented times might be hard, the spiritual aura of Uttar Pradesh is sure to grant you moments of peace and clarity. A pilgrim’s sojourn around the state is incomplete without a visit to these wondrous and stunning destinations.
The sacred city of Ayodhya is believed to be the birthplace of Lord Rama and is considered one of the holiest places in the Hindu faith. Millions of pilgrims across the world throng to its many shrines and ghats to immerse themselves in the religiosity of the city. The land features in the great Indian epic Ramayana as the home to Lord Rama and Goddess Sita. It is also the spiritual centre for Jainism as the foundation of five of Jainism’s 24 tirthankars was laid here. The ambience of the city is one of secular faith and harmony. It is home to many multi-faith temples as well as hermitages and akhadas.
When to go: Avoid the tropical summer heat and visit the city between October to February. Pilgrims swear by the gorgeous festivities and colour it imbibes during the festival of Diwali, making it the best time to be there.
How to go: Faizabad Airport is nearest. It is also well connected by train and bus to all major cities.
Where to stay: Book your stay at the Kohinoor Palace for a seamless experience.
2. Mathura – Vrindavan
Situated in the western part of Uttar Pradesh, Mathura is a clutter of endless paths overflowing with people, art, and sparkling shops. The city is specked with grand shrines, a large portion of which is devoted to Lord Krishna to commemorate the site as his birthplace. The temples depict different periods of Lord Krishna’s life, taking the pilgrims through the divine era. Legend believes that the deity was born in the city almost 5,000 years ago in the prison of the evil king Kansa.
Vrindavan is a sacred town in Mathura and is considered one of the most spellbinding religious sites in the Braj area, drawing in around five lakh devotees annually. It is believed that Vrindavan was lost for some time, until the sixteenth century, when it was rediscovered by a saint from Nabadwip, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
When to go: The best time to visit the holy towns is between November to February when the weather allows pilgrims to explore the land on foot.
How to go: Kheria Airport is the closest to the site, located about 55 km away. You can also choose to travel by train or road, both of which are well connected to major hubs in India.
Where to stay: Book your stay at the Kadamb Resort and feel the stress of your daily life slip away.
Varanasi or Banaras, referenced in sacred writings as Kashi, is less of a city and more of a once-in-a-lifetime experience which has been enchanting and enthralling pilgrims for centuries now. It is a paragon of Indian culture, theory, conventions and has an otherworldly ethos. It is considered a part of the Sapta Puris, comprising of the holiest sites in ancient India. The city is situated on the bank of the auspicious River Ganga which has two tributaries in the city. Deemed as the ‘blessed city’, it is believed that a dip in its waters will rid a person of all their sins. The city is an unparalleled hub of religion, philosophy, yoga, Ayurveda, astrology, dance and music.
When to go: Visit the city during the time of prominent Hindu festivals like Dussehra, Maha Shivratri and Diwali to feel the fervour of its faith with millions of other devotees.
How to go: The closest airport is the Lal Bahadur Shastri Airport located about 30 minutes away, however, most travellers prefer to reach the city by train.
Where to stay: Stay at the Taj Ganges, Varanasi to enjoy the splendour of the land to the fullest.
Sankisa is located in the Farrukhabad region of Uttar Pradesh. It is believed to be the place where Lord Buddha descended from paradise using a ladder of gold. It is also named in the great India epic Ramayana as Sankyasa. The town is visited by pilgrims of both faiths – Hinduism and Buddhism – looking to immerse themselves in its tranquillity and history. An unearthing by the Archeological Survey of India has prompted the discoveries of many ancient artefacts from the time of Lord Buddha and Emperor Ashoka. Centuries ago a Buddhist pilgrim, Hieun Tsang named this city as Kapittha in his travelogue. The sacred writings, earthenware figures, bronze coins and stone dishes remain the focal point of fascination for travellers to the village. The shiva linga here is an intriguing addition to an already rich landscape.
When to go: The best time to travel is between November to February.
How to go: Reaching the destination is a little bit of a challenge due to its secluded nature with most choosing to arrive by road.
Where to stay: Book your accommodation at The Royal Residency, Sankisa for a comfortable stay.
Located almost 10 kilometres away from Varanasi, Sarnath is one of the most auspicious Buddhist pilgrimages in India. It is believed that Lord Buddha delivered his first sermon here, after attaining enlightenment or nirvana at Bodh Gaya. His first lesson is believed to have blessed the Maha Dharma Chakra Pravartan, meaning ‘set motion the Wheel of Dharma’ marking the beginnings of the Buddhist faith. At this time in Lord Buddha’s life, this region was called Rishipattana or Isipatana and Mrigdava. Today, Sarnath remains one of the key destinations of the Buddhist Circuit, inviting pilgrims from around the globe. The Dhamek Stupa in the Deer Park of the area was built in 249 BCE and commissioned by Emperor Ashoka. The town is dotted with exquisite religious artefacts, stupas, and a museum to fully immerse in its heritage and history.
When to go: Best time to visit the destination is between October to March to avoid the summer heat and walk around the natural landscape on foot.
How to go: It is well connected by air, train and road with most pilgrims choosing to stay in and travelling from Varanasi.