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October 2009
Holidaying with The Gods
Smiti Munwani
Golden Temple: Living Symbol of Sikh Tradition

This is the most important pilgrimage for the Sikhs and for many Hindus. The Golden Temple also known as Harmandir Sahib, is set around a man-made tank (Amrit Sarovar or Amritsar from which the city derives its name), with its edifice painted in gold.

Those who visit the temple usually take a dip in the Sarovar. The Golden Temple was designed and constructed by the fifth Guru - Arjan Dev. The work was started in the late sixteenth century, after the foundation was laid by the Muslim saint Hazrat Mian Mir of Lahore. Ever since its inception, the Golden Temple houses the original Guru Granth Sahib, the Adi Granth, the holy book of the Sikhs. A unique aspect of this temple is that it is open from all four sides. It is also renowned for its Guru Ka Langar, or food which is served free to everybody 24x7.

Places to see Other places to see in Amritsar include Jallianwalla Bagh where British soldiers opened fire on unarmed Indians in 1919, killing almost all of them. Around 30 km. away is Wagah, the only place on the India- Pakistan border open to public. It attracts a steady stream of tourists to witness the ceremonial parade every morning and evening arousing high passion on either sides. The eastern half of the Wagah village is in India while the other half is in Pakistan. This border is often called the Berlin Wall of Asia.

Vaishno Devi: The Mother of All Temples

One of the most visited holy places of India - Mata Vaishno Devi temple, nestled in the Trikuta mountains, 60 kilometres north of Jammu, at a height of 5,200 feet - attracts visitors all through the year. The 700-year-old cave temple has many legends attached to it. However, according to the most popular one, Vaishno Devi, a devotee of Lord Vishnu, went to meditate in the Trikuta mountains. The demon king Bhairon Nath came to know about this and chased her with the intention of attaining her forcibly. But she reached the holy cave in the mountain where she assumed the avatar of Kali Ma and cut off the head of Bhairon Nath. A temple was constructed at the cave site which has had a passionate following for over seven centuries.

Places to see
Around 70 Kms from Katra is Shiv Khori, considered to be the abode of Lord Shiva. Close by is Patni Top, one of the least known and most scenic hill stations of northern India

Bodhgaya: On the Path of Enlightenment

Bodhgaya is the place where Siddharth, the prince of Kapilavastu, attained enlightenment and became Gautama Buddha. The temple is one of the four places of great significance in the historical legacy and heritage of the Buddhist faith. It is also one of the ten most important monuments of ancient India.

Legend has it that Buddha attained enlightenment under the Bodhi tree here and the fifth generation of the same tree still exists. Situated in Bihar, Bodh Gaya has the Mahabodhi Temple which has the Bodhi tree in its precincts and houses a huge statue of Buddha. Said to be more than 1700 years old, the statue is supposed to represent Buddha at exactly the same place he was when he attained enlightenment.

The Mahabodhi Temple finds mention in the pillar edicts of emperor Ashoka and is seen depicted in the sculptures in Sanchi and Bharhut as well as reflected in the accounts by various travellers through the course of centuries, including the Chinese travellers of the 4th and 7th centuries.

Places to see
The ruins of the Nalanda University, the greatest seat of learning for Buddhism known widely through the ancient world, are close by. Then there is Sonepur, the village where a cattle fair takes place in November every year. Another notto- be missed site is the Barabar Caves which are among the earliest caves carved with Buddhist inscriptions.

Ajmer Sharif: Dargah of a Sufi Saint

The Dargah Sharif of Hazrat Khwaja Muinuddin Chishti (also called Gharib Nawaz) is located in Ajmer and is popularly called Ajmer Sharif. The dargah lies at the foot of the northern end of Taragarh hill. Its main attraction is the mausoleum that has the tomb of the saint and is thus the sanctum of the dargah.

The dargah receives an endless flow of pilgrims throughout the year. Legend has it that the Mughal emperor, Akbar came to pay obeisance to the saint in the 16th century in quest of a boon for an heir and the saint blessed him with a son - prince Salim.

Places to see
Ajmer has many tourist attractions: Puskhar is less than 30 Kms from Ajmer. Surrounded by hills from three sides, it is one of the holy cities for Hindus who come here for a holy dip in the city lake.

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