India and Sri Lanka are truly the destinations forthose seeking faith and spirituality. Religious and cultural traditions are alive and thriving on every street corner of the ancient cities. January and February are the best months to visit as the weather is comfortably cool.
Gaya is one of the most important places for Buddhist pilgrims, for it was at Bodh Gaya that Gautama Buddha is said to have obtained enlightenment while meditating under a bodhi tree. Considered the birthplace of Buddhism, the Mahabodhi Temple Complex includes a 51 - meter tall square pagoda, the holy Bodhi Tree, the Vajarasana or “diamond throne”, Animisa Chedi (Unblinking Shrine), Rajayatana,where the Buddha spent the seventh week after enlightenment, Mucalinda Lake, believed to be the lake where Lord Buddha spent his sixth week of meditation after enlightenment, the House of Sujata, who offered food to Lord Buddha before his enlightenment, and the Caves of Dungeshwari where the Buddha practised strenuous and austere meditation. In addition, there are several modern temples around Bodh Gaya, built by the governments of Buddhist countries in their own styles. The Japanese, Tibetan, Myanmar and Lao Temples are especially worth visiting. Bodh Gaya was selected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002.
Built in 1727 as the capital of Rajastan in the reign of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, Jaipur is home to beautiful palaces and other important structures. It earned the name ‘The Pink City’ because in the reign of Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh II, the entire city was painted pink to impress the visiting Prince Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria. Jaipur is laid out in a grid pattern with the City Palace - nowadays the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum, housing a royal collection of national importance - lying at the centre. Towards the inner courtyard are four ornate gateways representing the four seasons. Adjacent to the City Palace is Jantar Mantar, an observatory which houses one of the five sundials constructed in the reign of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II. Near Jantar Mantar is Hawa Mahal, the delicately honeycombed Palace of Winds, which is Jaipur’s most distinctive landmark. Make sure you do not miss Jal Mahal, a palace in the middle of Lake Man Sagar, and Jaigarh Fort, where a 50 - ton cannon is kept. The fort was built to protect the Amber Fort, a magnificent edifice comprising an extensive palace complex of Hindu and Rajput architecture.
As one of the seven holiest cities with a history dating back about 4,000 years, Vanarasi is where ancient beliefs continue, and where life and deathare both play their part. The highlight of a trip to Vanarasi is a boat trip on the River Ganges, where the rituals of life and death are performed side by side. Starting from Dashashwamedh Ghat, the liveliest bathing ghat at where Hindu pilgrims come to wash away sin in the sacred waters and perform religious rituals, including Ganga Aarti, the fire worship, in the evening. Manikarnika Ghat is the main and most auspicious ghat for cremations. At Vishwanath Temple pilgrims push over one another to give offerings to the ‘lingam’ in the belief that it will cleanse their sins, while at the Durga Temple, an 18th century red temple that was built for the Goddess Durga, a large number of monkeys clamber over the walls and look down on the throngs of worshippers. Ramnagar Fort is an 18th Century sandstone fortification built in the Mughal style, which also has a temple and a museum exhibiting unusual and rare collections.
Dubbed the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’, the capital city of Sri Lanka is steeped in a colonial legacy, as evoked by its tearooms, museums and architecture. Visiting this ‘garden city of the East’ is like travelling back in time. Begin your journey at the National Museum of Colombo, which exhibits collections of cultural heritage from prehistoric, Anuradhapura, and Polonnaruva civilizations to the present period, including 9th Century Buddhist statues, regalia and coins. 1,000 year old Kelaniya Temple is one of the most sacred sites of Sri Lanka and houses murals depicting the important events in the life of the Buddha. Travel further to the city of Kandy where the relic of the tooth of the Buddha is kept, or opt to swing an afternoon away at Galle Face Green, a picnic spot popular with the locals. Do not miss Koggala Beach for the unforgettable sight of stilt fishermen silhouette against the sunset sky.