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If you want to get closer to heaven - in the spiritual sense -- come to India. The country has been known as the seat of spiritualism and India's cosmopolitan nature is best reflected in its pilgrim centres. Religion is the lifeblood of the nation and the followers of major religions and sects -- Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Jainism, Zororastrianism and Christianity -- have lived here for centuries. The visible outpouring of religious fervour is witnessed in the architecturally lavish temples, mosques, monasteries and churches spread across the length and breadth of the country. In addition to the pilgrim centres, the large following of holy personalities like the Sathya Sai Baba, Osho and others is ample proof that spirituality and religion in the country is a serious pursuit.
Hindu scriptures mention the presence of 330 million deities in the pantheon and the most popular spiritual tours are those that are centred round the holy Ganges River. The aarti held every evening at the Har-ki-pauri in Haridwar, with hundreds of earthen lamps and flowers on the water is an unforgettably spiritual experience. Among the other places are Rishikesh, Badrinath and Kedarnath (along with Haridwar they make up the Char Dhams) Gangotri, Yamunotri, Allahabad and Varanasi. The banks of the river Ganga, the tranquil surroundings and the temples go a long way to strengthen the belief in the powers of the Almighty. The spiritual sites in South India at Rameshwaram, Mahabalipuram and Tirupati are equally famous.
For the Buddhists too, the country is dotted with places that are associated with the life and times of Gautam Buddha. Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha, is a hallowed spot while Sarnath is the place where Lord Buddha delivered his first sermon. Not too far away, it was in Bodhgaya, under the holy Bodhi tree, that Lord Buddha attained enlightenment and it was in Vaishali, that he delivered his last sermon and announced his Nirvana. The Jain temples of Dilwara and Mt Abu draw thousands of Jain followers. Even a small community like the Bahais, have their own Lotus Temple at Delhi.
The Sikhs have their Golden Temple in Amritsar, which is a must-visit at least once in their lifetime. Perhaps, the most revered of Sikh shrines is the Hemkund Sahib. Devotees trek to a height of 4329 meters to pray at the world's highest gurudwara. The other Sikh pilgrimage sites include the Sri Guru Nanak Devji gurudwara at Manikaran, which is also known for its hot water springs with healing properties, the holy city of Paonta Sahib and Anandpur Sahib, the meditation spot for the Sikh Gurus.
The followers of Islam have their pilgrimage sites in the mosques and shrines of Sufi saints like Moinuddin Chisti and Nizamuddin Aulia. For Christians, spiritual tours to Goa, among other places like Mumbai and Bandel near Kolkata, are a must. Among the most popular sites in Goa are the Church of Our Lady of Rosary, The Rachol Seminary, Church of St. Francis of Assisi, and the Basilica of Bom Jesus (where the remains of St Francis Xavier have been kept and taken out for public viewing once every ten years).
A spiritual tour to any one of India's pilgrimage sites is sure to be an
IMPORTANT RELIGIOUS FESTIVALS
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