Known the world over for its beautiful temples, bustling cities and vibrant people, India is a jewel of the East. These monasteries and temples stand as proud testament to India’s rich cultural heritage, and have been well preserved over the centuries.
Found in the north-east of India, Amritsar most famous for its golden temple. The temple is in fact the most holy of sites for the Sikh religion, and is for them a place of enlightenment or “Gurdwara”.
Gold-plated and gleaming against the marble that surrounds it, this is a place of serenity where the Buddha was once said to have rested. Millions make a pilgrimage to the temple, and pilgrims, whether they are Sikh or not, are traditionally treated to a meal of dhal, chapatti (flat bread) and rice pudding.
Considered by many to be the holiest of all Hindu temples, Badrinath is dedicated to the god Vishnu. Built on the banks of the river Alaknanda, it is around 50 feet tall with a cupola (dome) on top and a gold gilded roof.
The building itself is made from stone. Within it, the main shrine houses the holiest of all the “murtis” (representations of gods) that are worshipped here: Vishnu as Lord Badrinarayan, sitting beneath a gold canopy. According to Hindu belief, the murti is not simply a figure signifying the god or goddess, but is in fact that god or goddess manifest in wood or stone. The other murtis found here include Lakshmi, Narada, Ganesha and Uddhava, among others.
Besides the worship of Hindu gods and goddesses, the Badrinath Temple is built upon the Tapt Kund hot sulphur springs, which are considered by visitors to be medicinal. Many consider a pilgrimage to the temple incomplete without bathing in the waters, which are at a stable 45°C all year round.
Also a Hindu temple, the Kedarnath Mandir is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is situated in the Garhwal Himalayan range, in the west of India. Due to the extreme conditions atop the mighty Himalayas, the temple is only open from April up until the autumn’s full moon, known as Kartik Purnima. During the months in which the temple is closed, the murtis are brought down to Ukhimath where they are worshipped for six months.
Inaccessible by road, this beautiful temple can only be reached by a 17 kilometre trek uphill from Gaurikund. No one knows exactly how old the temple is, but its significance is clear in that it is one of the four major sites of India’s Chota Char Dham pilgrimage (translating to ‘the small four seats’) across the Northern Himalayas.
Found in the city of Agra, this monumental structure is often the first image that comes to mind when people think of India. Made almost entirely of pure white marble, the breath taking sculpture-cum-building was made over a period of 20 years by a team of over 1000 men.
The inspiration for the building was both romantic and tragic: the dome topped building is in fact a mausoleum, built in loving memory of Mumtaz Mahal, the third wife of Shah Jahan. A UNESCO world heritage site, the Taj Mahal, or ‘Crown of Palaces’ has been beautifully preserved since its erection in 1650.
Guest author Jeff writes for Thomas Cook Tours, a provider of escorted holidays to India and countless other destinations around the world.