Insights into why spiritual tourism is on the rise and how youngsters are embracing the trend

20 February,2024 07:30 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Aakanksha Ahire

The travel industry is witnessing a rapid rise in religious tourism. This trend is largely driven by Gen Zer`s inclination towards visiting spiritual destinations to seek inner peace. We spoke to experts from the industry who dive deep into the trend and recommend top spiritual destinations you must explore

The construction of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya has fuelled a surge in religious tourism in India. Photo Courtesy: PTI

Key Highlights

Subscribe to Mid-day GOLD

Already a member? Login

For unlimited access to all the articles

Religious tourism has been contributing significantly to the travel industry. The industry is witnessing a Year-Over-Year (YOY) growth of 90 -100 per cent in the segment, say two of India's reputed travel agencies. This travel trend has especially gained popularity among Gen Zers. Although a common notion prevails that they are busy partying, many are seeking calm and peace in life. Vaishnavi Merchant, a 26-year-old Mumbai resident says, "Visiting a spiritual or religious destination gives me a sense of satisfaction. When I visit such destinations, it gives me a positive energy. I feel at peace."

She developed a liking to travel to religious places in childhood. "My family is very devotional. As a child, I have been travelling to spiritual places and gradually developed a liking for these places." This Mumbai resident recently visited the Mahakaleshwar temple and Omkareshwar temple in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh. These two destinations are dedicated to Lord Shiva. Now, Merchant is busy planning her next trip to Shree Jagannatha Temple in Puri. "I am Krishna devotee. Jagannatha Puri is significant to Krishna. I cannot wait to visit the temple," says an excited Vaishnavi.

Vaishnavi Merchant visits Mahakaleshwar temple in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh. Photo courtesy: Vaishnavi Merchant

If you too love visiting spiritual and religious destinations and are exploring options, we have experts from Thomas Cook and SOTC Travel share details. Mid-day Online conversed with them to dive deep into the trend of religious tourism. Spiritual tourism offers an opportunity to seek inner tranquillity, cultural immersion, and self-discovery through visits to sacred sites and engaging in spiritual practices. "Among Gen Zers, this trend is growing as they yearn for authentic experiences and meaningful connections with diverse cultures," says Rajeev Kale, president, country head, holidays, MICE, Visa - Thomas Cook (India) Limited.

Adding to this, Daniel D'Souza, President and Country Head - Holidays, SOTC Travel says, "With the pandemic inspiring Indians to live in the moment, we are witnessing a remarkable shift in customer preferences. Gen Zers are increasingly drawn to spiritual tourism due to a desire for authenticity and self-discovery. This new generation seeks meaningful experiences, connecting with diverse cultures and ancient traditions."

Key reasons behind the rise in religious tourism

Both Kale and D'Souza say the accessibility of digital platforms providing all the information has empowered Gen Zers to customise their spiritual journeys and thereby help in cultural enrichment. This surge in demand can also be attributed to several other factors, including a global trend towards wellness, mindfulness, and experiential tourism.

Kale says, "Travellers are increasingly seeking authentic and immersive experiences that offer opportunities for personal growth and reflection. Spiritual destinations in India, with their rich cultural heritage and profound spiritual significance, cater perfectly to this growing demand. As travellers prioritise experiences that nourish the mind, body, and soul, spiritual tourism is poised to remain a significant contributor to India's tourism industry."

"Further, the construction of the Ram Mandir has fuelled a surge in religious tourism. The completion of this Hindu temple attracts pilgrims and spiritual seekers globally, eager to witness a significant religious landmark. Beyond serving as a pilgrimage destination, Ram Mandir's inauguration sparks curiosity, fostering a deeper appreciation for India's spiritual heritage," adds D'Souza.

Also Read: Weekend getaways: How Mumbaikars are taking quick trips to seek respite

Top destinations in India for religious tourism

Kale of Thomas Cook and D'Souza of SOTC Travel recommend visiting the following destinations if you are into religious tourism:

1. Rishikesh, Uttarakhand:

People practising yoga on a terrace at the Anand Prakash yoga ashram in Rishikesh in India's Uttarakhand state. Photo Courtesy: AFP

Nestled in the Himalayan region and known as the ‘Yoga Capital of the World,' Rishikesh offers a serene environment, ideal for meditation, yoga, and spiritual retreats. The presence of ashrams, the sacred Ganges River, and the tranquillity of the surrounding nature make it a perfect destination for spiritual rejuvenation.

2. Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh:

A priest performs evening prayers on the banks of the river Ganga at the Dashashwamedh Ghat, in Varanasi. Photos Courtesy: AFP

Known as the ‘Spiritual Capital of India', Varanasi, one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, holds immense spiritual significance for Hindus. The ghats along the Ganges River, the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, and the rituals performed daily attract pilgrims seeking spiritual cleansing and enlightenment.

3. Amritsar, Punjab:

Tourists take pictures during their visit at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Photo Courtesy: AFP

Home to the iconic Golden Temple, Amritsar is a spiritual hub for Sikhs and a symbol of equality, compassion, and service. Visitors can participate in the langar (community kitchen), experience the peaceful ambience of the Harmandir Sahib, and engage in spiritual reflection.

4. Dharamshala and McLeod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh:

Buddhist monks are pictured at Namgyal Monastery in McLeod Ganj near Dharamshala. Photos Courtesy: AFP

Dharamshala, the residence of the Dalai Lama, and McLeod Ganj, known as ‘Little Lhasa,' are centres of Tibetan Buddhism. The serene monasteries, including the Namgyal Monastery, offer opportunities for meditation, teachings on Buddhist philosophy, and cultural immersion.

5. Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh:

Hindu devotees gather near the illuminated Ram temple following its consecration ceremony in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. Photo Courtesy: AFP

With the recent completion of the Ram Mandir, the city of Ayodhya has become an increasingly significant destination for spiritual seekers interested in exploring Hindu mythology and heritage.

In the subcontinent, Bhutan offers travellers serene monasteries that emanate spiritual peace and tranquillity coupled with the thrill of white water rafting, trekking, archery and a host of other unique adventure activities that appeal to Gen Zers, making it an ideal destination for this segment.

These destinations qualify for a spiritual vacation due to their rich spiritual heritage, serene natural surroundings, and abundance of opportunities for introspection and personal growth, aligning perfectly with the desires and interests of Gen Z travellers. Out of all the places recommended above, Varanasi and Rishikesh are budget-friendly destinations and an ideal option for travellers travelling on a tight budget.

IN PHOTOS: Devotees throng to Ayodhya Ram Mandir after it opens door for public

Top destinations in Maharashtra for religious tourism

Kale and D'Souza recommend visiting the following religious destinations in Maharashtra:

1. Pandharpur: It is a sacred town in Maharashtra known for its Vitthal-Rukmini temple, dedicated to Lord Vitthal, an incarnation of Lord Krishna. The town hosts the famous Pandharpur Wari, an annual pilgrimage procession where devotees from across Maharashtra gather to worship and sing devotional songs.

2. Siddhatek: Siddhatek is home to the Siddhivinayak temple, dedicated to Lord Ganesha, the remover of obstacles. Situated on a hill, the temple offers panoramic views of the surrounding countryside and provides a serene environment for spiritual seekers.

3. Alandi: Alandi is renowned as the resting place of Sant Dnyaneshwar, a revered saint and poet of the Bhakti movement. The town is dotted with temples and ashrams dedicated to Sant Dnyaneshwar, attracting devotees who seek spiritual solace and enlightenment.

4. Bhimashankar: This is another significant pilgrimage site in Maharashtra, housing the Bhimashankar temple, one of the twelve Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva. Surrounded by lush greenery and the Sahyadri mountain range, Bhimashankar offers a tranquil setting for spiritual reflection and devotion.

5. Nashik: Famed for its ancient temples and the holy Godavari River, this destination provides a peaceful setting for spiritual seekers to partake in rituals and prayers.

6. Shirdi: Home to the revered Sai Baba, Shirdi attracts millions of devotees seeking blessings and spiritual solace at the Sai Baba Temple.

These Maharashtra destinations seamlessly blend spirituality, cultural heritage, and natural beauty, catering to diverse interests and spiritual quests of travellers in search of profound experiences.

Religious tourism is popular not just among the Gen Zers

Kale of Thomas Cook states, "From my observation, I have noticed a profound longing among travellers, regardless of age or background, to explore spirituality and find inner peace through travel experiences. Spiritual tourism in India offers travellers a deeply transformative journey. Travellers from around the world are drawn to India's rich spiritual heritage, seeking enlightenment and cultural immersion. This form of tourism fosters a sense of unity and understanding among travellers, transcending cultural and religious differences."

Similarly, D'Souza concludes, "At SOTC, we've witnessed a notable rise in interest for spiritual tourism in India. Millennials and Gen Zers increasingly seek transformative experiences, prioritising inner peace and cultural immersion. Destinations like Varanasi, Rishikesh, and Dharamshala are gaining popularity for their spiritual heritage. Digital platforms amplify this trend, creating a community of like-minded travellers sharing spiritual experiences. This highlights the enduring significance of spiritual exploration in travel preferences, indicating potential growth and innovation in this tourism segment."

"Exciting news! Mid-day is now on WhatsApp Channels Subscribe today by clicking the link and stay updated with the latest news!" Click here!
travel news culture news wellness lifestyle Trends Travel trends Mahakaleshwar temple Omkareshwar temple Rishikesh Varanasi ujjain Dharamshala Spiritual Tourism Religious Tourism golden temple Shree Jagannatha Temple
Related Stories