13 Important Indian Places Every Yogi Should Visit

Trying to come up with the perfect itinerary to fit your time frame—and not sure where to start, given India’s vastness? Here, Chandresh Bhardwaj, author of Break the Norms, and a seventh-generation spiritual teacher in New York and Los Angeles who leads multiple retreats in his homeland of India each year, shares his top picks for the holy cities, historical sites, and spiritual pilgrimages every student of yoga should consider.

Holy Cities

Prayagraj

This lesser-known holy city, formerly called Allahabad and renamed in late 2018 by a new government trying to build a more spiritual India, is located at the confluence of the Ganges, the Yamuna, and the mythical Sarasvati Saraswati rivers. When the Kumbh Mela festival happens here (most recently in January 2019), it’s the largest: Up to 150 million pilgrims will travel from across the country and the world, and wait for days to bathe in the holy river.

See also Why Make a Yoga Pilgrimage?

Haridwar

The Ganges—or Ganga, considered a living goddess—descends from its source in the Himalayas, called Gomukh, to the north Indian plains in Haridwar before making its way across the country and pouring into the Bay of Bengal. That’s why this city’s name means “gateway to god” and has been a center of Hindu religion and mysticism since ancient times. In Hindu mythology, Haridwar is also one of the four sites where drops of amrit, the elixir of immortality, accidentally spilled over from the celestial bird Garuda’s pitcher. This manifested in the Kumbh Mela, a religious festival that’s celebrated four times over the course of 12 years at four different pilgrimage sites, including Haridwar. Even when this famous festival isn’t happening, you can experience nightly Ganga Aarti ceremonies here.

See also Learn the History of the Ganges River with Kumbha Mela

Varanasi

One of the oldest inhabited cities on Earth, Varanasi is also one of India’s holiest. Walk on the river’s banks, and you’ll hear the near-constant clanging of puja ceremonial bells and see the flicker of lamps illuminating the holy river at night. You’ll also see pilgrims bathing—and a maze of funeral pyres, where bodies burn along Varanasi’s cremation ghat, or river bank. “This is a city where death is honored, welcomed, and celebrated in a sacred way,” Bhardwaj says. “Many Indians believe that if the right rituals are done at the time of their death, they’ll achieve the ultimate goal—liberation of the constant cycle of being born, suffering, and going through the drama of living—if their body is burned or their ashes are scattered in Varanasi.”

See also Find Your True Self in Rishikesh

Rishikesh

Want to practice in the footsteps of the ancient yogis? Rishikesh, considered by many to be the yoga capital of India—of the world, really—is where yoga, tantra, and mantras were created, Bhardwaj says. “There’s such powerful energy here that even if you don’t practice asana or meditation and just keep yourself receptive and open, big things can happen,” he says. On the banks of the holy river Ganges you’ll find ashrams, temples, and shops, as well as a diverse, international group of spiritual seekers. When you’re there, don’t miss Ganga Aarti, a fire ceremony at the sacred bank called Triveni Ghat.

See also Reflect + Renew in Rishikesh, India

Pilgrimages

Gomukh

The Ganges, also known as Ma Ganga, is the most revered, sacred river in Hindu lore. When Ma Ganga was asked to descend to Earth from the heavens, she was insulted, so she decided to sweep away everything in her path with her waters once she reached the terrestrial plain. In order to protect the Earth from Ma Ganga’s force, Lord Shiva sat in the Himalayan mountain town of Gangotri and caught the powerful river in his hair, saving the Earth from cracking open. Thanks to Shiva, Ma Ganga’s celestial, purifying waters then flowed through India, and the devout travel to her banks to wash away sins and find salvation. A multi-day trek to Gomukh—the Gangotri Glacier that is the site of Ma Ganga’s headwaters—is the ultimate pilgrimage, Bhardwaj says.

See also Yoga Journal's Pilgrimage to India

Kedarnath

This north Indian town nestled in the Himalayas is where Lord Shiva is believed to have meditated. Pilgrims make the 11-mile uphill trek to the Kedarnath Temple—which, due to extreme weather conditions, is open only from the end of April to early November—to worship him. “Passionate yogis who meditate there for a while often experience intense energies,” Bhardwaj says.

Himachal Pradesh

This northern Indian state in the foothills of the Himalayas is home to countless goddess temples and monasteries, Bhardwaj says, as well as the 14th Dalai Lama’s monastery, where he currently lives and gives public discourses. “It’s an especially interesting place because of the combination of Hindu and Buddhist traditions,” Bhardwaj says.

See also Pursuit of Happiness

Badrinath

Badrinath Temple, dedicated to Vishnu, one of the Hindu triad of gods along with Shiva and Brahma, is also one of the four Char Dham pilgrimage sites. Visiting the char dhams, which means “four abodes”—Badrinath, Dwarka, Puri, and Rameswaram—is something every Hindu must do during his or her lifetime, Bhardwaj says. “I think of Badrinath as the little brother of Kedarnath,” he says. “While Kedarnath is the homeland of Shiva, and has this intense energy as a result, Badrinath radiates a more holy, more Hindu energy.”

See also A Yogi's Travel Guide to India

Historical Sites

Taj Mahal

One of the most recognized monuments in existence, this mausoleum is also one of the seven wonders of the world—and a must-see when making the trek to India. Located in Agra (part of India’s popular Golden Triangle circuit, which also includes Delhi and Jaipur), the marble monument was commissioned by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It took 22 years and 20,000 workers to complete—and cost the equivalent of approximately $800 million today. While this UNESCO World Heritage Site will undoubtedly be crowded when you go (a whopping 7 to 8 million tourists visit each year), it’s well worth seeing.

See also 10 Destinations for Your Yoga Travel Bucket List

Pushkar

This town, located in the northeastern state of Rajasthan, is set on Pushkar Lake, a sacred Hindu site where pilgrims bathe along its ghats. It’s also home to the only temple of Brahma, the Hindu god known as the creator of the world, Bhardwaj says. “This is one of my all-time favorite places in India,” he says.

See also Kino MacGregor: India Is a Yoga Teacher

Hampi, Karnataka

Die Überreste von mehr als 1.600 Denkmälern sind auf dem 16 Quadratmeilen großen Gebiet dieses UNESCO-Weltkulturerbes verstreut, das die ehemalige Hauptstadt des Vijayanagar-Reiches ist (vom 14. bis 16. Jahrhundert an der Macht). Inmitten der eleganten Ruinen der mittelalterlichen indischen Kultur finden Sie auch bescheidenere Schreine, die die tief empfundene Hingabe der Dorfbewohner an Rama, Sita und Hanuman zum Ausdruck bringen. Dieses Gebiet ist das legendäre Kishkinda, Reich der Affengötter, in dem Rama, eine der am meisten verehrten Hindu-Gottheiten, den Affengott Hanuman auf seiner Suche nach der Rettung seiner entführten Frau, der Göttin Sita, getroffen haben soll.

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Wichtige Orte für Yoga

Mysore

Diese ehemalige Hauptstadt des Königreichs Mysore befindet sich im südwestlichen Bundesstaat Karnataka und beherbergt den opulenten Mysore-Palast und den jahrhundertealten Devaraja-Markt. Mysore war auch die Heimat von Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, einem indischen Yogalehrer, ayurvedischen Heiler und Gelehrten, der oft als Vater des modernen Yoga bezeichnet wird. Yogastudenten kennen es vielleicht als den Geburtsort des Ashtanga Yoga, wo 1948 das Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute gegründet wurde und wo Ashtanga-Praktizierende aus der ganzen Welt zum Üben und Trainieren reisen.

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Pune

BKS Iyengar wurde 1918 in Bellur geboren, einer Stadt, die zu dieser Zeit von der Influenzapandemie betroffen war. Ein Angriff ließ Iyengar während seiner Kindheit krank werden, und als er 16 Jahre alt war, bat ihn sein Schwager - Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya - nach Mysore zu kommen, um der Familie zu helfen. Dort begann Iyengar Asana zu lernen, was seiner Gesundheit stetig half, sich zu verbessern. 1936 sandte Krishnamacharya Iyengar nach Pune, um die Lehre des Yoga zu verbreiten. In Pune befindet sich heute das Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute, das Iyengar 1975 eröffnete und als Herz und Seele des Iyengar Yoga gilt. Iyengar-Schüler aus aller Welt kommen hierher, um mit den angesehenen Lehrern des Instituts zu üben und zu trainieren.

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