India’s rich culture and traditions set it apart from rest of the world. The country is the abode of numerous gods, a plethora of festivities and peculiar rituals and rites. It is also the land of several ancient life-giving practices like Yoga and Ayurveda, which can be enjoyed in many centres and ashrams that are set across the nation. Perched atop the mountains are some eminent religious shrines, trekking of which brings bliss that is beyond all understanding. Similarly, the country is dotted with spiritual centres that help one realize the true meaning and purpose of one’s life and achieve complete peace of mind, body and soul. Thus; we can proudly call India as an ideal destination that guarantees holistic as well as spiritual experiences like nowhere else. Here are top 15 holistic and spiritual activities in India that you can choose from while you are on your trip to India.
The Varanasi Ganga Aarti takes place every sunset at Dasaswamedh Ghat, near Kashi Vishwanath Temple. It has a choreographed ceremony, which is certainly a must-see. The aarti is performed on a stage by appointed pandits, draped in saffron coloured robes handling their puja plates. The ceremony commences with the blowing of a conch shell and continues with the circling of large flaming lamps. The scent of sandalwood permeates the air and makes the environment quite inviting. It is better to arrive early to get a good position for viewing the aarti. The ideal way of witnessing it is by boat. Alternatively, many shops in the vicinity rent their balconies, from where the view is clear. A maha aarti (great aarti) takes place on particularly large scale in Varanasi near the end of each year on Kartik Purnima.
If you want to experience the spirit of Kolkata, Durga Puja is ideally the time to be here. The 10 days extravaganza is enough to get you started with a cultural tour that further leads to spiritual bliss. You can start with witnessing the finishing touches being put on the idols of the goddess. If that’s not possible, there are still plenty of other ways to enjoy this festival in Kolkata. The easiest way to participate in the celebrations is to take a Durga Puja festival tour, such as the ones organized by the West Bengal Tourism Development Corporation. The best ways to be the part of this experience
In order to measure the extent of Hindu faith in the country and to get a share of the spiritual experience, you must not miss out the Puri Rath Yatra. Held in Puri City in Odisha in the month of July each year, this Yatra is probably one of the best ways to get a glimpse of faith in India. The Jagannath Temple in Puri, Odisha, is one of the holy Char Dham pilgrimages in India that are considered to be extremely auspicious for Hindus to visit (the others are Badrinath, Dwarka, and Rameswaram). The festival commemorates Jagannath’s annual visit to Gundicha Temple via Mausi Maa Temple (aunt’s home) near Balagandi Chaka, Puri. As part of Ratha Yatra, the deities of Lord Jagannath and his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra are taken out in a procession to Gundicha Temple, where they remain for nine days. Then the deities or Ratha Yatra return to the Main temple. The return journey of Puri Jagannath Ratha Jatra is known as Bahuda Jatra. During the yatra, devotees from all over the world arrive at Puri to help pull the chariots, which are about 45 feet high and is 7 foot in diameter. Witnessing this arduous task is a spiritual experience itself, and it is indeed one of a kind.
Spa is probably one of the best ways to attain the holistic experience in India. And when it is combined with the traditional science of Ayurveda, it only becomes better. The top of the chart destination for Ayurveda Spa in India would be Kerala, without a doubt. This southern India state has been offering excellent facilities for not only the ayurvedic spa but also therapies and treatments that involve the science of Ayurveda. Throughout Kerala, a large number of Ayurveda centres, as well as Ayurveda Resorts, are scattered. One can choose the suitable place that suits his budget and surrenders himself completely to the goodness of this age-old science. Some of the Ayurvedic Resorts in Kerala are:
The ancient art for healthy living in India revolves around Yoga and Meditation. So, if one is seeking an experience that is complete in itself, then it has to be Yoga. Practiced in multiple ways for varying physical and spiritual benefits, this age-old science of life has been an important part of the city of Rishikesh in Uttarakhand. The city is replete with Yoga Ashrams that invite people from all walks of life to cut off from their fast paced life for some time and realize a different velocity of life, which is both peaceful and healthy. At Rishikesh, one can sit beside the bank of Ganges and meditate and practice the life-giving art of Yoga. The goodness of nature and the technicality of Yoga can indeed bring results that nothing else can. Some of the Yoga Ashrams in Rishikesh are:
The Haridwar Ganga Aarti is held at Hari-ki-Pauri ghat. The Ganga Aarti here is the most interactive of the three Ganga Aartis in India. It has a strong appeal to the pilgrims, particularly those with Indian devotees. Depending upon how you want to see it and what you’re prepared to pay, you have a number of options to choose from. It is possible just to sit on the steps and watch it from a distance, like most people. However, if you’re staying in a decent hotel such as the Haveli Hari Ganga, a guide will be available for you to take you to the aarti.
On every Thursday, Nizamuddin Dargah area resonates with the sound of spiritual music that can melt hearts and it is indeed an experience that should not be missed in India. On each Thursday between 6:00 – 7:30 p.m. and then again from 9:00 – 10:30 p.m, soul stirring Qawwalis can be heard in the premises of Nizamuddin Dargah in Delhi. The ambiance is such that one cannot help but lose himself in the heavenly voices of the musicians that present one after another spiritual songs. It is an experience unlike any other as one can see people rejoicing in an invisible presence of something mighty. You can see devotees weeping and smiling at the same time and some even seem transcended to another world. This lively experience cannot be witnessed anywhere else and, therefore, is a must see in India.
Please Note: In winter only one session of Qawwali takes place at 9pm.
Yes, apart from being an adventurous activity, trekking can be both a spiritual and a holistic experience in India. While the adrenaline rush is evident during numerous treks in India, some treks have the power to change your perspective towards adventure. Several shrines in the country that are situated at an average altitude of 3000m and trekking is the only way to get to them. These high altitude temples offer a peculiar feeling of accomplishment when successfully trekked. Mostly surrounded by lofty mountains, these temples have ambiance which is ever more serene than what is usually seen across the country. Therefore trekking to one of these alpine temples is a must-do in India for an indescribable pleasure and experience. Here are some famous high altitude temples in India:
Amarnath Cave Temple
Please Note: Trekking to some of the temples is only permissible to Hindu devotees.
The famous church of Velankanni is a 16th century shrine that attained fame due to three miracles that happened here. This Gothic style church is built where the apparition of Mary and Jesus to a slumbering shepherd boy, the curing of a lame buttermilk vendor, and the survival of Portuguese sailors assaulted by a violent sea storm happened, thus it is an important part of the spiritual journey in India. Situated on the Coromandel Coast some 350kms from Chennai, this church comes to life during its 10-day festival in August or September. It is believed that praying at the church brings good health and peace of mind, and that is why it is an experience that must be taken on any spiritual visit to India.
Festival Dates:29th August to 8th September
Feast of Nativity of Mary (on 11th day of the festival):9th September
Imbibe in Spirituality at Amritapuri Ashram/Amma’s Ashram
A small fishing village tucked neatly near backwaters and Arabian Sea in Karunagapalli, Kerala, Amritapuri Ashram is the place to realize the true meaning of life, which is to Serve All and Love All. Run by Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, Amritapuri Ashram or Amma’s Ashram is a place that takes one away from the illusionary life to a meaningful and purposeful life. Guided by Amma (Amritanandamayi Devi) who has attained universal motherhood, the Ashram is a place where people from different caste, creed, nation and race come to cohabitate peacefully. One has the opportunity to learn yoga, practice meditation and listen to the spiritual sermons of Amma and lead a simple life serving others. It is not just a place; it is a destination that every spirituality seeker must visit in his lifetime.
Please Note: Advance Online Registeration is required for the Ashram. You can visit www.amritapuri.org for booking your stay and guidelines.
Be Blessed at the Bhasm Aarti at Mahakaleshwar, Ujjain
One of a kind spiritual experience can be attained at Mahakaleshwar Temple in Ujjain. The temple is one of the 12 Jyotirlingas and is famed for its divine Aarti, which is significantly known as Bhasmarti or Bhasm Aarti. Bhasma means ‘Ash’ and the aarti is performed using burning dried Cow Dung while chanting of mantras and distinct sound and vibrations make it a lifetime experience. It is believed that the Linga here born on its own and this makes the shrine even more special. However, the way this 2-hour aarti full of spiritual bliss is what makes the highlight of the event.
Please Note: One day advance booking is required. For guidelines click on this link mahakaleshwar.nic.in.
A spiritual or holistic experience is incomplete without serving others in one way or the other. Thus, in India Serving or Sewa is given a great amount of importance. One of the best places to actively participate in Sewa is at Golden Temple, Amritsar. The best part of observing the seva activity inside the temple is there is no particular routine maintained for the job assigned; still all the work done is proper and with total enthusiasm. You can choose from different services like serving water, shoe keeping, cleaning the premises or whatever suits you the best. And while you are at it, a strange peace of mind will take over you and without even performing the Pooja or witnessing a sermon, you will be able to attain a spiritual experience which is indeed holistic in nature.
One of the oldest places in India for Yoga and meditation, Munger is situated in Bihar. It is a twin city that is famed for Bihar School of Yoga. The city is lesser known but certainly an important destination for those seeking both spiritual and holistic experience in India. The famous Bihar School of Yoga was established in 1963 by Yoga Guru Satyananda Saraswati. Like Rishikesh, this place is also a right centre for learning of India’s age old art of life giving Yoga. Many are said to have experienced spiritual bliss here and a learnt about their ownself while regularly practicing Yoga and meditating. The Yoga techniques developed here are a synthesis of several approaches to personal development, based on traditional vedantic, tantric and yogic teachings in combination with contemporary physical and mental health sciences. A stay here can truly add to your India experience.
Please Note: Advance booking is advised here. You can click on this link to learn more about the school www.biharyoga.net
Taking you from all kinds of differences made in the name of caste, creed, race, religion and region is the place called Auroville. Set up on the guidelines of Mother who considered it ‘A Dream’ to prepare a place where “ There should be somewhere on earth a place which no nation could claim as its own, where all human beings of goodwill who have a sincere aspiration could live freely as citizens of the world and obey one single authority, that of the supreme Truth; a place of peace, concord and harmony where all the fighting instincts of man would be used exclusively to conquer the causes of his sufferings and miseries, to surmount his weaknesses and ignorance, to triumph over his limitations and incapacities; a place where the needs of the spirit and the concern for progress would take precedence over the satisfaction of desires and passions, the search for pleasure and material enjoyment.” Thus, Auroville aspires “To be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realise human unity.”
Being a part of such a ‘Dream’ can indeed bring not only spiritual bliss but also an unsurpassed holistic experience for lifetime. Auroville is spread in a large area that has Matri Mandir, Ashrams, Resorts, Gardens and Farms; it is an ideal setting away from the hustle and bustle of a rather materialistic life. It is a place to leave the barriers of language, thoughts and colour and region and concentrate as one and be one.
Please Note: In order to stay and meditate at Auroville, you need to book in advance. Here is the link that can help you more with the details www.auroville.org
One of the finest places to realize the meaning of one’s existence can be Osho Ashram. Although there are a number of Osho Ashrams across India, the one in Pune tops the chart with the availability of many meditation programs. At the ashram meditation is given great importance and it is through various ways of meditation that can be chosen from. Here at the Ashram, meditation is a way of learning as well as realizing, it is also the way to skill oneself to make most of one’s life. An entirely different experience, it is a must-do in India for those in constant search for something new.
Please Note: Advance booking is advised at the Ashram. Here is a link that can provide necessary details www.osho.com
Truly, India is an incredible land that is capable of offering experiences that can be found nowhere in the world.If you have more suggestions for spiritual and holistic tours in India, you can simply mention them in the comment box below. However, if you are planning for one of these spiritual and holistic tours, you can give us a call at +91-9212553106/07 or drop your queries at firstname.lastname@example.org, so that we can help you plan a memorable trip that comes in your budget and inclusive of all the amenities of your needs.
From the Lake District, Nainital, Nidhi Singh is a travel writer whose love for mountains can be seen in her write ups. Talk about solo travelling, indulging in adventure activities, binging on good food, planning budget trips or the Aurora Borealis and you will get all her attention. It is the wanderlust that keeps her going and if at all she could get one wish granted she would love to live a life less ordinary. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram.