Explore India’s architectural splendours at the country’s temples. A spiritual sojourn is a bonus!
Combine holiday sightseeing with a dash of religion – make your next travel plans around a temple city. Skyscanner takes a closer look at some of the country’s top religious destinations – architecture, religion and history – all rolled into one amazing visit.
1. Sun Temple, Konark, Orissa
This 13th century gem is, as the name suggests, dedicated to the Sun God. A marvel of religious architecture, this structure is essentially Surya, the Sun God, being carried across the heavens in a chariot with twenty four exquisite wheels, drawn by seven magnificent horses.
Tip: Be sure to check out the intricate carving done on the walls of the temple; most visitors get so carried away by the unusual chariot scene in front of them, that very often the detail is ignored!
Best time to visit: A good time to fly to Bhubaneshwar, the nearest airport, is between October and March.
Count the wheels on the Sun God’s chariot at Konark
2. Golden Temple, Amritsar, Punjab
Popularly seen as the headquarters of Sikh religion is the amazingly beautiful Golden Temple in Amritsar. Also known as the Harmandir Sahib, this 18th century gold plated structure is a remake of the original 16th century structure which was destroyed by invading Afghan forces. A symbol of the Sikh faith and religious tolerance, it is a unique blend of Mughal and Hindu architectural styles.
Tip: Early morning, before the faithful descend upon the temple, is when you should swing by.
Best time to visit: Fly to Amritsar between October and March, when there is some respite from the blistering North Indian summer sun. Book your hotel at Amritsar here.
Watch the sun glint off The Golden Temple, Amritsar, at sunrise
3. Meenakshi Temple, Madurai, Tamil Nadu
Another 16th century wonder, the Meenakshi Temple at Madurai is dedicated to the Hindu goddess Parvati and her consort, Lord Shiva. Brightly painted and elaborately sculpted, the Meenakshi Temple is a star example of the Dravidian style of architecture.
Tip: Get a good look at the carvings on the two main gopurams; they are extraordinarily beautiful.
Best time to visit: Get your hands on the cheapest available flight to Madurai between October and March.
It’s Dravidian architectural brilliance that you see at the Madurai Meenakshi Temple
4. Brihadishwara, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu
Part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the 11th century Brihadishwara temple is a very large, carved granite structure dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. A Chola dynasty marvel, this temple turned 1,000 years old in 2010.
Tip: If you are a devotee, visit during the festival of Mahashivaratri to witness the temple in its full glory.
Best time to visit: October to March is when you should fly to Tiruchirapalli, the nearest airport.
The Brihadishwara Temple is over a 1000 years old
5. Khajuraho Temple, Madhya Pradesh
Part of another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Hindu and Jain temples at Khajuraho are visited more for their architectural brilliance than for religious reasons. This temple complex is famous for the Nagara style of architecture and erotic sculptures on the outer walls; but at the same time its interiors are as calm and serene as they come. Little remains of the huge complex built between the 10th and the 12th centuries; but what remains is enough to leave a visitor spellbound.
Tip: Make your travel plans according to the schedule of the Khajuraho festival; when there is a cultural show along with dance performances using the temples as a backdrop.
Best time to visit: Fly to Khajuraho anytime between September and March; the annual Dance Festival takes place in March.
Don’t miss the engravings on the walls — they may surprise you
6. Somnath Temple, Gujarat
Destroyed, sacked and rebuilt multiple times over the centuries, the present Shiva temple at Somnath is a recent structure. Constructed in 1947, this avatar of the Somnath temple is a pilgrim magnet as well as a top tourist spot in Gujarat.
Tip: Check out the Arrow Pillar on the sea protection wall. This pillar indicates a straight line over the water with no land between the shores of the temple and Antarctica.
Best time to visit: October to March is when you should get your hands on that flight ticket to Ahmedabad.
The Somnath Temple in Gujarat was a favourite among invaders for centuries
7. Jagannath Temple, Puri, Orissa
This massive 12th century temple complex in Puri is a group of 120 temples and shrines contained within huge walls. Famous for its annual Rath Yatra which is attended by millions of pilgrims, this temple dedicated to Lord Jagannath is also one of Hinduism’s top four religious destinations.
Tip: Take a good look at the image of Jagannath, it is made of wood, not metal or stone like most Hindu deities.
Best time to visit: November to February is when you should get on that flight to Bhubaneshwar, the nearest airport.
The Jagannath Temple is an important pilgrimage destination, so be prepared for crowds
8. Akshardham Temple, Delhi
This pink sandstone and white marble complex spread over one hundred acres is one of the most recent additions to the list of amazing Indian temples. Built in 2005, the temple takes inspiration from its namesake in Gujarat; but surpasses it both in scale and beauty. With over 20,000 statues from the Hindu pantheon of gods and goddesses to bow to, it would be wise for a visitor to set aside a whole day to check out this complex.
Tip: Visit the World Peace monument on the premises.
Best time to visit: Delhi is best visited in the cooler months of the year. Fly to New Delhi between October and April.
You could spend a whole day at the Akshardham Temple
9. Iskcon Temple, Bengaluru, Karnataka
Another comparatively recent temple on this list is the Iskcon Temple in Bengaluru. Built in 1997, it is dedicated to the Hindu gods Krishna and Radha. This is the largest Iskcon temple anywhere in the world.
Best time to visit: Bengaluru is a pleasant weather city throughout the year; but if you have to choose the best months, then book a flight to Bengaluru between October and February.
Keep at least half a day aside for the largest Iskcon temple in the world
10. Mahabodhi Temple, Bodh Gaya, Bihar
Another Indian gem on the UNESCO World Heritage site list, the Maha Bodhi temple at Bodh Gaya is an ancient temple built by the Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century B.C. Though restored a number of times, the present day structure has most of its original elements intact.
Tip: The main attraction of the Maha Bodhi temple is the holy Bodhi tree on its western side. It is said to be a descendant of the original tree that the Buddha sat under.
Best time to visit: A good time to fly to Gaya is between November and February.