For travellers seeking a spiritual experience on the cusp of the New Year, this list offers some great options.
Raghunath Temple, Jammu, Jammu and Kashmir
The most famous temple complex in Jammu and one of the largest in North India, this mid-19th-century place of worship is situated in the heart of the city. The main shrine, the inner walls of which are covered in sheets of gold, is dedicated to Lord Ram, Goddess Sita and Lord Laxman. The temple is surrounded by pavilions containing thousands of what look like grey pebbles set in concrete; in fact, these are saligrams (ammonite fossils) which are believed to represent various gods and goddesses.
Golden Temple, Amritsar, Punjab
A mere glimpse of the Golden Temple, the most sacred Sikh shrine, is stunning. A dip in the Amrit Sarovar, the holy tank reflecting the gleaming temple, is an unforgettable experience. Ringed by a marble walkway, the tank is said to have healing powers. The temple contains the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs which is continuously read out. The holy book is installed in the temple every morning and returned at night to the Akal Takht (Timeless Throne) in a ceremony worth witnessing. Don’t leave without taking the kara prashad and having the langar meal.
Ganga aarti, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh
Packed with pilgrims and camera clad travellers, the boats on the Ganga River converge at the Dasaswamedha Ghat every evening for the magical aarti. Five young priests follow a practiced routine with flaming lamps, incense sticks, conches and other holy paraphernalia to a live bhajan sung on the microphone – the synchrony is mesmerising. The evening ends with devotees and visitors offering small leaf baskets with a burning lamp inside and flowers to the river. Possibly one of the most photographed spectacles in Varanasi, you can even witness it from the middle of the river on a boat.
Tabo, Spiti, Himachal Pradesh
A sleepy little place, 50km from Kaza, fast succumbing to touristy ways, Tabo is home to an ancient, mud-walled, low-slung monastery complex that celebrated a millennium of its existence in 1996. This is a World Heritage Site whose dull mud-brick walls hide some of the finest Indo-Tibetan art in the world. Beautiful murals adorn walls and ceilings of all nine temples here. However it is the assembly hall of the tsuglhakhang (main temple), circa 10th century, which is really good. Incredibly life-like clay bodhisattvas gaze unblinkingly down at you from the walls as your eyes accustom to the darkness. Don’t let that deter you from taking a closer look. Monks usually walk you through this exposition of the Buddhist world.
Terracotta Temples, Bishnupur, West Bengal
The terracotta temples of Bishnupur are a wondrous embodiment of local Bengali art. A throwback to the state’s regal medieval era, these brickred temples are embellished with ornate terracotta panels that recount tales from ancient Indian epics and mythologies, their artistic execution no less brilliant than the rock-cut temples of Khajuraho or Halebid. What’s more, attractive replicas of these intricate panels can be bought at local souvenir stalls at affordable prices.
Sun Temple, Konark, Odisha
The Sun Temple in Konark is sheer poetry hewn into stone by 13thcentury sculptors. A colossal superstructure built to resemble a chariot and consecrated to the sun god, its showpieces are the giant stone wheels that flank the main temple on all sides. The temple, also known as the Black Pagoda for its dark hue, is fighting a valiant battle against the ravages of time, so visit while you can still see its exquisite carvings.
Mahabaleshwara Temple, Gokarna, Karnataka
Gokarna (cow’s ear in Sanskrit) is literally an ear-shaped temple town along the shore of the Arabian Sea. It embraces dreadlocked backpacking foreigners and pious Hindu pilgrims on its pristine palm-shaded beaches and in the impressive shrine of Mahabaleshwara. This ancient temple, with its twisted Shiva lingam, makes Gokarna the mother lode of divine blessings. Expect large crowds, long queues and pushy priests, but they’re a small price to pay for eternal salvation. The temple was built between AD345–369 by King Mayurasarma of the Kadamba dynasty. Later additions including daily worship rituals, pavilions and smaller shrines were built by rulers including the Keladi royal family in the 17th century.