India is known as the land of temples and religion. With so many different castes and communities all following their own respective religions, India is a marvel just for the fact that it is able to exist with such unity in diversity. Hinduism is India’s most followed religion and as such, India is full of religious places and pilgrim destinations. One such state which is known for its pilgrim tourism is Uttar Pradesh. It is full of religious places with temples that attract pilgrims and religion enthusiasts throughout the year. These cities and towns in Uttar Pradesh are not just popular on account of the temples and pilgrims but also for their beautiful geography. A visit to these pilgrim centres in Uttar Pradesh is the most genuine tour of India you can ask for. Some of these places are extremely crowded due to their popularity while the others are quaint towns and villages which have great religious significance but are not as commercial as the rest.
Here are some religious places in Uttar Pradesh that you must visit regardless of your inclination towards religion and mythology.
Varanasi is one of India’s most popular tourist destinations. It is primarily a religious spot and a vibrant one at that! One of the oldest inhabited cities on the planet, Varanasi which was previously known as Kashi or Benaras has seen a lot of changes over the years. Its several ghats which are bathing spots on the banks of the river Ganga are thronged by pilgrims during major festivals as it is believed that a dip in the Ganga can forgive your sins. Devotees usually follow the dip in the Ganga with a visit to the nearby temples to pay their respects to Shiva, a respected deity in Hinduism. Varanasi’s temples are also fine places to witness Hindu culture and tradition at its best. From ostentatious decorations to animated rituals with great devotion, you can witness it all in Varanasi.
Varanasi is also home to the Benaras Hindu University, which is one of the world’s largest universities. Another thing that Varanasi is known for is its simple yet delicious cuisine. From the Benarasi pan to the sweetmeats, and from the pani puri to the bhang lassi, Varanasi has a whole list of must-try delicacies. Thandai, a milky-based rink made with pistachios, almonds and saffron, and often served with a large dollop of malai is another popular delicacy in Varanasi. Stores located near the Godowlia area offer amazing thandai and lassi. The dessert named Rabri Malai Balai is an absolute delight which you cannot afford to miss.
What to see: Varanasi has a number of sight-seeing options especially for those who find Hindu culture, rituals, and traditions intriguing. It is most famous for its ghats and temples. The Assi ghat is one of the most prominent attractions in Varanasi and should not be missed. It is the southernmost ghat in Varanasi and gets its name from the fact that it is located at the confluence of the Ganga and Assi rivers. Other famous ghats are the Panchganga ghat and Dashashwamedh ghat which are always full of tourists. The Ganga aarti at Dashashwamedh ghat is an experience that stays with you forever. The reverberating sound of chants and bells during this aarti sends you in a trance. Not only does it make for a great picture but it also gives you a memory for life. All these ghats are also great places to visit early in the morning and witness sunrise. You will see many devitees at these ghats during sunrise paying respects to the sun God. Varanasi is also home to the Kashi Vishwanath temple, which is one of the twelve jyotirlingas in India. These jyotirlingas hold a place of great importance for Hindus. The Benaras Hindu University which is known for its role in the Indian Independence movement is an interesting place to visit for history buffs as well as students from around the globe. Varanasi is also renowned for its silk and is a great place for shopping. You can buy textiles, brocade silk sarees, gold jewellery, copperware and more in the markets of Varanasi. Urban Haat is a good place to start.
Where to stay: Varanasi is a huge pilgrim centre in India. It is visited by devotees and pilgrims almost all year round making it a recognized tourist attraction. As such, it has a large number of accommodation options in all budget ranges. There are several ashrams near every ghat in Varanasi for pilgrims to have an inexpensive stay. Mid-range to budget hotels are also available all around. Kedareshwar bed and breakfast (0542 245 5568) is a god mid-range option with rooms starting at Rs 2000. If you are looking at luxurious stay options, the 5-star Radisson Hotel (0542 250 1515) is a great option with rooms starting at around Rs 4000. If you are looking for budget options, The Ganga Fuji home (0542 239 7333) is a good option just a about 1.8 km from the Railway station. Rooms start at around Rs 700 per night.
Best time to visit: Varanasi gets very hot during summer and the monsoon is a bad time for sight-seeing due to the rains. So, the best time to visit Varanasi is during the winter months of November to February.
Known for its association with Krishna, one of Hindu mythology’s most revered and loved deities, Mathura-Vrindavan is visited by tourists throughout the year. Mathura is believed to be Krishna’s birthplace. Krishna was born right at the centre of Braj or Brij-bhoomi where the Sri Krishna Janmabhoomi temple is currently located. He is believed to have spent his childhood and adolescence in the Braj area of Mathura-Vrindavan. According to the religious text Garuda Purana, Mathura is one of the seven sites which grant moksha to an individual, the other six being Ayodhya, Avantika, Kasi, Puri, Kanchi and Dwarka.
On account of its popularity with tourists, Mathura has also been included in the Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY) which is a Government initiative to preserve and develop heritage sites in the country. Mathura is located on the banks of the river Yamuna and is therefore home to several ghats. Its geographic location as well as religious significance makes it an extremely pleasant getaway from crowded cities. It has a charm of its own and has emerged as one of the popular pilgrim spots of India which is tranquil and not as commercial as some other hotspots of India. Mathura is also famous for its chat and a sweet called Mathura Peda.
What to see: Mathura is full of interesting places to visit for those interested in Hindu mythology, especially Krishna and his legends. The most popular tourist attraction is the Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi temple which literally means the Shri Krishna birthplace. There is a prison cell called “Garbha Griha” in the temple which is believed to be the exact spot where Krishna was born. The Dwarkadish temple is another popular place worth checking out. It is admirable mostly because of the intricate carvings and sculptures which have been worked upon by several ruling dynasties. Rangbhoomi, the historic place where Krishna fought is maternal uncle Kans, is also worth visiting as it holds great significance for Krishna devotees. Vishram Ghat, located on the banks of the Yamuna River, is a famous bathing spot for pilgrims who believe that taking a dip will wash their sins away. It is the spot where Krishna is believed to have rested after defeating Kans in battle. If you are looking for a taste of some local delicacies, you must pay a visit to Chowk Bazaar.
Where to stay: Mathura, being a popular pilgrim destination, has several accommodation options. Nidhivan Sarovar Portico (0565 303 7000) in Vrindavan is a great choice for a mid-range hotel. It is a 4-star hotel which offers rooms at around Rs 3000 a night. Another mid-range option is Clark’s Inn (0565 253 0008), a nice hotel which offers rooms at around Rs 3,000. A cheaper option is Hotel Gaurav Boarding house (0565 645 5166) which is located quite close to the Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi temple and offers rooms starting at around Rs 500 a night. F you are not worried about the price, then the best accommodation option in Mathura is the Brijwasi Lands Inn (088998 81881).
Best time to visit: Mathura, like the rest of Uttar Pradesh, gets very hot during summer. So weather-wise, the best time to visit Mathura is during the winter months of November to February. However, if you are interested in witnessing Mathura’s festive spirit you must visit Mathura either in March during Holi or in the month of August during Janmashtami, Krishna’s birthday.
Unless you live under a rock, you must have heard of the famous Kumbh Mela which is the world’s largest religious gathering. Allahabad is one of the four venues where the Kumbh Mela is held every 12 years. The other three venues are Nashik, Ujjain and Haridwar. This makes Allahabad one of the most important places to visit in India if you wish to witness the famous Hindu culture and tradition. Earlier known by the name Prayag which means place of offerings, Allahabad is one of the holiest places for Hindus in India. Allahabad is situated at the confluence of the famous Indian rivers Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati (mythical). It also finds mention in travel accounts of Hsuan Tsang , a Chinese traveler. Tsang describes Allahabad as part of Harshavardhan’s empire.
Allahabad is also a place of great historic significance as it has been witness to some of the most historic moments of the country. When Mughal emperor Akbar visited Prayag in 1575, he renamed it Illahabad. Later, the city was anglicized to Allahabad which assumed its role as the provincial capital city of the Mughal Empire. At one point, it was also was also invaded by the Marathas. Another historic moment in Allahabad was when Lord Canning read out Queen Victoria’s Proclamation of 1858 by which power was transferred from East India Company to the British Crown. Allahabad also played a prominent role in India’s freedom movement against the British rule right from the beginning which was the 1857 mutiny.
Allahabad is also famous for its Mughlai cuisine and is home to some fine restaurants for you to try it out. The best place to indulge in some local cuisine is the Loknath area.
What to see: The most popular place to visit in ALahabad is the Triveni sangam, which is the confluence of three rivers – Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati. It is considered a sacred place for Hindus and therefore, you will see many devotees bathing here to free themselves from their sins and from the rebirth cycle. You must also visit the historic walled garden of Khusro bagh which was built by Mughal emperor Jehangir in memory of his son Khusro. It gives you a sneak peek into the splendid Mughal architecture which has left its mark in so many places of India. The garden has tombs of some prominent Mughal personalities including Khusro’s mother and sister, and Jehangir’s first wife. Another place you should check out is the Allahabad fort, which was built by the Mughals in 1583. It is located near the Triveni Sangam and attracts a large number of tourists. The enormous fort stands testimony to the grandeur of Mughal architecture as it is the largest fort built by Akbar. The 35 ft tall Ashoka pillar and Jodhabai palace inside the fort are amazing attractions. The underground Patalpuri temple is a delight for religion and archaeology enthusiasts.
Where to stay: Allahabad attracts a large b=number of tourists every year. It has accommodation options in all ranges. Hotel Allahabad Regency (094152 18843) is a good 3-star option with rooms starting at around Rs 4700. The Legend (0532 227 2200) is another highly rated hotel with rooms beginning at around Rs 7200. Hotel Polo Max (089823 62450) is a decent budget hotel with rooms going out at around Rs 2000.
Best time to visit: The best time to visit Allahabad is during the Kumbh mela when it hosts one. However, for every other year, it is best to visit Allahabad during the winter months of November to February. Summer in Allahabad is very hot but it still attracts devotees all year round. As a tourist, you will enjoy pleasant weather and good sight-seeing options during winter.
Ayodhya is another popular religious place in Uttar Pradesh made famous by its association with Ram, Hindu mythology’s heroic character. Ayodhya is believed to be the birthplace of Ram and is considered as one of the seven most important pilgrimage sites or Saptapuri for Hindus in India. It was earlier known as Saket and has always been an extremely popular city in Indian history and mythology. It used to be the capital of the grand Kosala kingdom. Ayodhya’s popularity stems from its several mentions in the great Indian epic Ramayana. Old texts like the Atharva Veda have mentions of Ayodhya glorifying it as a prosperous city built by Gods. According to the Vedas, the first man in the universe was named Manu. The Ramayana mentions that Manu founded the city of Ayodhya 9,000 years ago. Other old texts like the skanda purana have given Ayodhya the title of one of the seven most sacred cities of Hinduism.
The origin of India’s biggest festival Diwali can be traced back to the city of Ayodhya. It is believed that the festival of Diwali was first and foremost a celebration with lamps when Rama returned after slaying Ravana in battle. Ayodhya is not just popular with Hindus but also holds a place of great significance for Jains. It happens to be the birthplace of five Jain Tirthankars, Adinath being one of them. Even Muslim influences can be seen around the town of Ayodhya. It was also home to the disputed Babri mosque which was destroyed in 1992. It is believed that there was a Rama temple at the place of his birth which was destroyed by Mughal emperor Babur to build a mosque there. The dispute is primarily the activism by Hindu groups to rebuild a Rama temple at the same site.
According to Jain Agams, Ayodhya is believed to be the second eternal city after Shikharji. It is believed that Ayoshya will never vanish or disappear during the changing epochs. As one might expect, Ram Navami is celebrated with great pomp in Ayodhya. Restaurants here serve great food, mostly vegetarian. State Highway 9 is a good place to try for some non-vegetarian delicacies.
What to see: The most prominent place to vist in Ayodhya is Ramkot, which is the primary place of worship. Ram Navami, which falls between March and April, is celebrated with great enthusiasm here and is worth witnessing. The Hanuman Garhi temple, built by Nawab of Awadh, should be visited to see the demonstration of Ganga-Jamuni culture. Located right in the centre of the city, Hanuman garhi is the cave which is believed to be Hanuman’s residence. It is perhaps the most important shrine in Ayodhya. It has an idol of Hanuman in his mother’s lap. The Kanak Bhavan temple is another must-visit for Ram devotees as it is known to be one of the most aesthetic Ram temples ever built. It is also called ‘Sone ka ghar’ and has idols of Ram and his consort Sita wearing gold crowns. The Nageshwar Nath temple, believed to be built by Ram’s son Kush, is another popular shrine which celebrates Shivratri with great pomp. It is believed that after Rama’s period, Ayodhya was destroyed but this temple survived and served as the means for Vikramaditya to find Ayodhya. The Mani parvat, which is believed to be part of the hill from where Hanuman found the famous Sanjeevani booti, is another popular attraction.
Where to stay: There are several budget hotels near Ambedkar Nagar and Ayodhya railway station. You can also opt for the two government guest houses, one of which is near the railway station and the other near Naya Ghat. Hotel Ram Prashta (05278 232 111) here is a good choice. If you are looking for mid range hotels, Faizabad which is about 7 km west of Ayodhya, is your best bet. Try Abha Hotel (05278 222 550) for a comfortable stay and good breakfast. You will not find luxury hotels in the town.
Best time to visit: The best time to visit Ayodhya is during winter. Between the months of November and February, weather in Ayodhya is pleasant and ideal for sight-seeing. If you do not mind the heat, then Ram Navami which falls in March/April is a great time to visit Ayodhya to witness Ram’s birthday celebrations.
Located just 13 km away from the holy city of Varanasi near the confluence of the Ganga and Gomati rivers, Sarnath is just a small village and yet one of the most popular religious places in India. It is extremely famous because it is believed to be the site where Gautam Buddha delivered his first sermon. It is the place where Buddha first taught the dharma. It is also where the enlightenment of Kondanna happened and the Buddhist Sangha came into existence. This makes Sarnath one of the four main Buddhist pilgrim destinations. Several countries which follow Buddhism as a major religion have established their respective temples in Sarnath. These countries include Thailand, Japan, Tibet and Sri Lanka. Sarnath also holds great significance for Jains as the eleventh Tirthankar of Jainism, Shreyasanath, was born in the village of Singhpur which is just one km away.
Sarnath has been known by several names throughout history, the most prominent one being Isipatana. It was the name used by Pali Canon and means ‘the place where holy men landed’. It is believed that seven weeks after his enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, Buddha travelled from Bodh Gaya to Isipatana and gave his first preaching here. There are several other incidents connected with Gautam Buddha which are are mentioned as having taken place in Isipatana. It was here that Yasa came to the Buddha and became an Arahant. It was here that the rule prohibiting use of sandals made of talipot leaves was passed. It was here that Buddha passed rules forbidding the use of certain kinds of flesh, including human flesh.
Sarnath holds the credit for flourishing Buddhism post Buddha’s time. This was in part because of wealthy kings and merchants who were based in the nearby Varanasi. Sarnath reached its peak as a center for arts during the Gupta period (4th to 6th centuries CE). Such was the growth of Buddhism here that by the time China’s Xuanzang visited Sarnath in the 7th century, he found 30 monasteries and 3000 monks living here.
Sarnath became a major centre of the Sammatiya school of Buddhism and Vajrayana Buddhism. At the end of the 12th century Sarnath was sacked by Turkish Muslims, and the site was subsequently plundered for building materials. Later, Alexander Cunningham found Migadāya represented by a fine wood, covering half a mile from the Dhamekha to the Chaukundi.
What to see: The most prominent tourist attraction in Sarnath is the amazing Dhamek Stupa. At 128 ft, this tall structure is a reminder of the ancient era. Despite Sarnath’s destruction by the Turkish, Dhamek stood the test of time and today stands as one of India’s most iconic structures. Chaukhandi stupa which is believed to have been established by emperor Ashoka is another historic structure worth a visit. Ashoka pillar which was broken during the Turkish invasion still has its base in Sarnath. The Sarnath Archaeological museum is the oldest museum of the Archaelogical survey of India. It is where the findings and excavations of the site of Sarnath are placed. Some of these ancient Buddhist sculptures have to be seen to be believed.
Where to stay: Sarnath is a delight for backpackers. There are several temples and ashrams here which offer cheap accommodation. There is also a government run facility for pilgrims. However, if you are looking for comfortable or luxury options, then you might not find a lot in Sarnath. Varnasi will be a better bet.
Best time to visit: Like most parts of Uttar Pradesh, Sarnath gets extremely hot during the summer season. So, the best time to visit Sarnath is during the winter months of November to February when the weather is pleasant and you can easily explore the region.
Agra is arguably India’s most visited tourist destination. No points for guessing why! While religion may not be the reason so many people are drawn to the Taj Mahal, the beautiful mausoleum also serves as a place for prayer for several Muslims. The Taj Mahal complex includes a mosque and a guest house. It single-handedly boosts the tourism of India thanks to its renowned beauty and its popularity as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Agra is also home to many ancient temples, mosques, mausoleums, tombs and historical monuments making it a place of interest for those with a religious inclination. Apart from the Taj Mahal, Agra houses other UNESCO sites like the Agra fort and Akbar’s historic city of Fatehpur Sikri, which is now in ruins. Agra forms one of the three vertices of the famous golden triangle.
Agra laso hold a place of importance in history. It was first mentioned in the great epic Mahabharata as Agrevana. Agra became prominent when SIkander Lodi moved his capital from Delhi to Agra in the year 1506. Lodi governed the country from Agra giving it the importance of a second capital. After he dies, his son Ibrahim ruled the place for another nine years. During his reign, several palaces, wells and a mosque were built in the fort. He was defeated at the Battle of Panipat in 1526. Then, between 1540 and 1556, Afghans ruled the region and Agra gained fame as the capital of the Mughal Empire from 1556 to 1658. The city has seen a lot of changes over the eras but it has preserved a bit of history all along the way. This can be felt from the moment you land into this amazing Indian destination worth a visit at least once in a lifetime.
What to see: Agra is a delight for anyone who loves history and architecture. The biggest and most prominent attraction here of course is the Taj Mahal. The magnificent epitome of Mughal architecture attracts tourists from all across the globe. Its beauty must be seen to be believed! Then, there are the other two UNESCO sites – the amazing Agra fort and the marvellous city of Fatehpur Sikri. The tomb of Itmad-ud-daulah which is also called the Baby Taj is another beautiful structure worth checking out. Akbar’s tomb too is located in Agra in the interior suburbs of Sikandara. The ancient Mankameshwar temple is a hidden marvel in Agra that people tend to miss amidst all the mammoth monuments.
Where to stay: Agra is India’s prime tourist attraction. As such, it is abundant in options when it comes to accommodation. No matter what your budget is, you will find a place to stay in Agra. The Oberoi Amarvilas (0562 223 1515) is a great option for those looking for a grand and luxurious stay. It costs around Rs 30,00 a night. The Trident hotel (0562 223 5000) is a 5-star hotel which costs way cheaper (around Rs 6000 a night). Hotel Taj Resorts (0562 223 0164) is a good mid-range option with rooms rented at Rs 2500 a night. Hotel Taj Plaza (080 3966 4732) is a decent 2-star budget option with rooms starting at around Rs 1500 a night.
Best time to visit: Agra is visited all year round thanks to the undying beauty of the Taj Mahal. However, if you are looking for the right weather to visit Agra, it would be during winter. So, the best time to visit Agra is from November to February when the weather is great for sight-seeing.