If you're searching for the cultural and spiritual hot spots of India, then you're spoiled for choice in almost every region, even in highly developed urban areas. Still, you can shortlist the following five places for their cultural, historical, and spiritual significance.
This ancient city has a cultural and religious reputation dating back to the 11th century BCE. Saunter along the holy Ganges and explore a few of its 2,000 ancient temples. Look for Kashi Vishwanath, dedicated to Lord Shiva, and discover the story behind it.
For Hindus, of course, to be cremated in Varanasi is to be liberated from the cycle of reincarnation, making it the ideal city to die in, but that doesn't mean it isn't one of the best to live in too. The riot of colors, scenes, saris, jewelry, and scents will stoke your senses. Try some of the many yoga, massage, or music workshops..
Known for its ghats and ashrams near the Ganges, Rishikesh vibrates with color, light, and culture. The holy river has drawn sages since early history, and it's now drawing those who are seeking fresh spiritual spaces. This yoga capital is also an Ayurvedic spa, as you can meet a number of would-be new-age pundits and spiritual seekers in its many hotels, ashrams, cafes, and shops.
The UNESCO World Heritage site of Hampi was the Vijayanagara capital in the 14th century. The ruin of the main town, sometimes called "The Forgotten Empire," contains many stunning temples and palaces. Of special interest are the walled zenana (harem) quarters for women, the Lotus Mahal, and the Queen’s bath, with its distinctive Indo-Islamic architecture.
Reserve your October visit for this city that rings with the rousing calls of the Warrior Goddess during the 10-day Durga Puja. The beautiful handcrafted idols are made in Kumartuli, an area known for its potters near the north of the city. During the festival, you can do a lot of sightseeing throughout Kolkata in the public pandals, and you can also drop into the old mansions to check out the aristocratic Bonedi Bari pujas. Whirl with the dancing, singing, eating, and competitions that keep the city swinging in a happy cacophony.
Small, secluded, and cut off from mainland Assam by the Brahmaputra River, this island is a delectable destination for those who want to relax among historical Vaishnavite satras or monasteries. You could even try some heady rice wine. The intrepid and entrepreneurial local women are known for skilled weaving and embroidery.