India is home to a multi-ethnic population and religions coexist peacefully side by side. Nowhere else in the world will you find so many different religions and sects within each. Each sect has its favorite pilgrimage spot. Despite this one can still generalize and pick pilgrimage spots that would stand out. You can go on the char dham yatra or make a pilgrimage to the spots described below and there is equal merit in both.

Tirupati Tirumala tirupati balaji temple

Tirupati Balaji Temple

What we know of as Tirupati is actually collection of temples at Tirumala, Tiruchanoor and Tirupati. At Tirumala it is the Sri Venkateswara Swamy Temple; at Tiruchanoor it is the Sri Padmavathi Ammavari Temple and at Tirupati it is the Sri Govindrajaswami temple, Srivari Padalamandapam temple, Sri Lakshmi Narayana Swami Temple and Sri Vinayaka Swamy temple among others that are favored by pilgrims. Tirumala’s Lord Balaji’s temple is the most well known and visited with people seeking boons and queueing up to offer their hair as a symbolic gesture of effacement of their ego.

Tirupati is 150 km from Chennai and one can get there from Hyderabad by air in addition to special bus services.

Vaishno Devi vaishno devi temple

Vaishno Devi Temple

The Shrine of Maa Vaishno Devi, an incarnation of Goddess Mahalakshmi, is located at a height of 5200 feet on Trikuta Mountains in Jammu and Kashmir. It is reached after an arduous trek over steep winding paths stretching 14.5 km. Millions of devotees undertake this tough trek starting from Katra, about 50 km from Jammu, in the fond hope of having their wishes granted.

There are legends galore associated with the Goddess and the shrine, the most well known of which is that the skull of Shakti Mata fell here while others believe it was her right arm. Others believe it was Vaishnavi, a girl child who eventually went on to meditate and gain spiritual powers, finally merging herself in the rock for eternal meditation.  Visiting Vaishno devi has another significance: you find Mata Mahakali, Mata Mahalakshmi and Mata Saraswati together in the form of pindies with three heads located in the sanctum sanctorum of the cave.

Amarnath amarnath yatra

Amarnath holy cave

Goddess Parvati wanted to know the secret of creation and Lord Shiva, in order that no living being may overhear the story and thus gain immortality, took her to a cave where he recited everything. Unfortunately, a pair of pigeons overheard the story and became immortal. This cave is Amarnath, located at a height of 12756 feet, about 141 km from Srinagar.  Devotees travel from Srinagar or Jammu to reach Pahalgam and then Chandanwari from where the trek begins. Sonamarg-Baltal is the alternate, shorter route.

Shiv is represented in the form of an ice linga in this cave and pilgrims get only a brief moment to pay their respects.

Amritsargolden temple

Golden Temple

Amritsar is known the world over for its famous Golden temple or Harmandir Sahib, the holiest of holy destinations for Sikhs. First built in 1601, the temple has been rebuilt or renovated several times and the most striking aspect is the tangible feeling of spirituality in the temple premises. If the exterior is the most notable landmark in the countryside with its large dome covered with a layer of pure gold, the interiors are no less impressive with a lovely court of the Lord and people thronging to pay their respects to the holy book. As the Guru said, there is no hindu, there is no mussalman. Everyone is welcome at Harmandir Sahib and offered free meals.

Chardham
chardham temple

Chardham of Uttarakhand

You can travel to all four corners of India and visit the Major Chardhams comprising of Badrinath, Puri, Dwarka and Rameshwaram or you could make a shorter pilgrimage of the chota char dhams Badrinath, Kedarnath, Yamunotri and Gangotri in Uttarakhand. It is the wish of each devout Hindu to undertake the holy chardham yatra at least once in his lifetime and be cleansed of sins and the cycle of births and deaths. At one time it was the practice for parents to set out on a long and leisurely pilgrimage of the major char dhams but today you can travel by air or by train. Some merit is there in traveling on foot but the chota char dhams are all located in difficult and harsh terrain. Helicopter rides make the yatra to char dhams easier and faster.