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Spiritual wonders of the East

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I've travelled to quite a few places and love the usual tourist trails. Everyone loves a romantic weekend away. For obvious practical reasons, Europe is a favourite holiday destination for most Brits.

For one, it's so close. You just jump on a cheap flight or on the Eurostar and a hundred pounds and few hours later, you're there. The culture, architecture, arts scene and general familiarity are also plus points.

From the wide boulevards of Paris and the fantastical architecture by Antonio Gaudi in Barcelona to the well-healed, fashionable boutiques of Milan, the draw of Europe is plain to see.

But there are equally, if not more rewarding experiences to be had in Asia. I discovered that fully when I went on a whistle-stop, spiritual tour of India.

When you arrive there, you are hit by just how different it is to Britain. The sights, the smells, the heat and humidity - it is like a parallel universe. It's astonishing.

The wonder of India has captured the British since the colonial era, when India - then known as the British Raj - was the so-called jewel in the crown of the British empire. It was famed for the opulence of it royal princes who were decked out it the finest garments and adorned with magnificent jewels.

India was also famed for the silks and spices it provided to the world, which quickly made it a much sought after trading partner.

But in terms of ordinary travel, up until recently, India has been the preserve of hippies, who were drawn to the spiritualism and philosophical enlightenment that the south Asian country provided in abundance.

The 60s saw a boom in the amount of hippies visiting India - unsurprising as this era also saw the birth of New Age religious ideas and Western religious spiritualism which was heavily influenced by Eastern philosophy and religious traditions.

In my time in this country, rife with surprises and wonders at every turn, I explored the major religions of the nation and how it informs the socio-cultural life of its citizenry.

The most immediately tangible effect of religion in India is on the country's architecture. The art of the buildings, which are scattered around the country's metropolises are absolutely sumptuous.

From New Delhi, to Mumbai, to Agra the architecture is a visible, physical manifestation of the deeply spiritual beliefs of the nation, which are indelibly ingrained on the collective national consciousness.

The Hindu temples are adorned with the intricate statues of its major deities, carved in stone in such meticulous detail. The Taj Mahal, is simply a jaw dropping sight.

An architectural tour de force, it reveals allusions to both Hindu and Persian architectural traditions and stands as an enduring monument to love. It was commissioned by an Indian emperor to commemorate the death of his third wife.

Other spiritual wonders are to be found at the river Ganges, one of the holiest sites of the Hindu religion, the various mosques which exhibit the best of Islamic architectural design and the golden Sikh temple at Amritsar, totally clad in the precious metal.

There are plenty of delights to be enjoyed in India - not least its wondrous religious heritage.


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