Travel For The Spirit: Modern India’s Tryst With Religious Destinations

Rishikesh, Haridwar and Varanasi offer a new flavour to the modern Indian traveller combining contemporary comforts with succour for the spirit.

Published On Feb 18, 2022 | Updated On Mar 07, 2024


When Gurugram resident Deepti Mahajan was planning a Diwali vacation with her family, she was looking for a serene destination in the mountains just a few hours from the city. She settled on Rishikesh, nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas in Uttarakhand, at the Taj Rishikesh Resort & Spa. “We wanted to get away from the bustle of the city to a tranquil destination, and Rishikesh is the perfect blend of spirituality and tranquility.”  

From morning meditation sessions and a private evening aarti on the banks of the Ganges to a visit to the mystical Devprayag and the Maharishi ‘Beatles’ Ashram, the multi-generational family enjoyed their break from the city.  

New getaways, reimagined experiences, and the need to explore the meaning of life has propelled travellers to explore old destinations with fresh eyes. 

Pilbhit House, Haridwar

Around an hour away from Rishikesh, is Pilibhit House, Haridwar - IHCL SeleQtions—a 35-room property, carefully restored, with a beautiful courtyard, private balconies, scenic views, and terraces overlooking the Ganges. “Luxe spiritual travel is definitely on the rise. This niche travel segment is evolving to become more mainstream as more spiritual destinations and pilgrimage spots in the country offer luxurious accommodation and curated experiences for the discerning traveller,” says Amit Kumar Thakur, the general manager of the property.  

Amrit Bhawan, Haridwar

Varun Bajaj—CEO, Ekat Travel & Lodging that manages Amrit Bhawan in Haridwar—agrees. The eight-bedroom property is located in a 50-year-old restored art deco bungalow and has a private ghat, garden by the Ganga, and even a hot tub on the roof. Says Bajaj: “After being stuck in their houses in polluted cities, people want to escape and be closer to nature. The Ganga and the Shivalik mountains are huge draws, as they provide a tranquil natural environment, and are spiritually significant as well.” The proximity of these destinations too is an attractive factor. For instance, Haridwar is a three-hour drive from Delhi NCR on smooth highways, and an hour from the Dehradun Airport.  

BrijRama Palace, Varanasi

Meanwhile, Varanasi, one of the oldest living cities in the world, has undergone a transformation in recent years. Designated a smart city, with the newly refurbished Kashi Vishwanath corridor, it has presented a modern image of tradition. Luxury heritage hotel BrijRama Palace, one of the oldest palaces in the city, is located at Darbhanga Ghat and is a space for contemplative escapes. Rajeev Kr. Manhar, vice president, Brijhotels states that the pandemic has presented never before challenges and restrictions to humanity, driving people to seek therapeutic journeys. “Religious pilgrims offer travellers a chance to find inner peace and reconnect with the world. Choosing a journey immersed in nature—an increasingly common reason cited for taking a pilgrimage. Some travel to mourn or re-think relationships, others to express gratitude,” says Manhar. 

While these destinations offer solitude, safety, and solace to the traveller—the hotels engage the guests with ample activities to ensure there is enough to do for children and adults alike. And all of it is tied together with a thread of spirituality. 

BrijRama boat for arrival at the hotel

The BrijRama Palace curates the Subah-e-Benaras, where guests can witness the Ganga Aarti in the early hours of dawn, stretch with yoga, and open their vocal cords with Vedic chanting. Or they can opt for dinner on the BrijRama Bajra, a traditional double-decker boat floating past the wondrous ghats. Other activities that guests can indulge in include the evening Ganga aarti, temple visits to Kashi Vishwanath, Kal Bhairav and Sankatmochan, shopping for the famous Benarasi silk saris and brocades, as well as culinary tours to relish the popular delicacies such as with Banarasi kachori bhaji, tamatar ki chaat, Benarasi paan and lassi, which are popular with families. 

Talking about why even millennials are embracing spiritual travel, Kumar Thakur says: “One of the key reasons is the option to travel with their parents and families, and also to focus on holistic wellness that is based on detox and rejuvenation from hectic urban lives.” He says multi-generational families scattered across the country meet at a common destination to celebrate togetherness and experience a sense of gratitude.  

Pilibhit House offers a spiritual experience at the private ghat, sattvik cuisine through recipes drawn from royal kitchens, a chance to explore nature with a wildlife safari and even a special genealogy session wherein guests can trace their ancestry and get acquainted with their roots. “This is a rather beautiful experience for members of a family to experience together,” he adds. 

Sattvik meal spread at the Amrit Bhawan 

Amrit Bhawan attracts young couples and friends who celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions here, or just come for an extended period to work remotely. Many times, the entire property is booked out by one family (not exceeding 18 guests to ensure safety).  “Ours is a vegetarian property, which doesn’t serve alcohol. We find that even younger travellers don't feel restricted by these rules. They are more wellness-oriented and interested in trying the local cuisine, exploring the city, and indulging in a massage or a yoga class,” he explains. At Amrit Bhawan, guests can also partake in Garhwali cooking classes or go on a private walking tour to Moti Bazaar as well as to Kankhal, to explore the city and sample street food. Other experiences include a hike and picnic up to Chandi Devi Temple, safaris to Rajaji National Park, and a visit to the Garhwali and Gujjar Villages to experience rural life. 

For the traveller, these destinations and the getaways provide hope, happiness, and a home away from home in uncertain times, helping them reconnect with themselves and their family while providing an anchor to hold on to. “In a digital age where we are disengaged from our environment, the slow pace of pilgrimage allows one to realign their goals and press the reset button,” concludes Manhar. 

Photo: Banner - Pilbhit House, Haridwar | Inside - Featured Properties