India is covered with holy sites associated with the exploits of the Gods, the waters of a sacred river, or the presence of holy men. Texts called the Puranas (ancient lore in Sanskrit) contain lengthy sections that describe numerous sacred places and the merit gained by travelling to these in a devout manner. In fact, for many Indians pilgrimage is the preferred form of tourism.
Certain important sites are well known throughout India and attract hundreds of thousands of pilgrims annually. Probably the most significant is Varanasi (also known as Banaras, Benares, or Kashi) in south-eastern Uttar Pradesh on the north bank of the Ganga. It is sacred to Hindus Buddhists, and Jains, who flock to the gnats, or steps leading from temples down to the banks of the sacred Ganga , in their search for an auspicious site for clear cremation or immersion of ashes.
Hardwar, in Uttaranchal, far up the Ganga, in the foothills of the Himalayas, is the Varanasi of north-west India for Hindus and is a favourite spot for ritual bathing. Among numerous other destinations in the Himalayas are the holy sites of Badrinath Kedarnath. In southern India, rivers Kaveri, Krishna, and Godvari attract pilgrims to a large bathing sites.
Major temples such as the Ramalingesvara Temple in Ramesvaram, Tamil Nadu, where Ram and his army crossed over to Lanka to rescue Sita. Pandharpur, in Maharashtra, is the destination for many thousands of devotees of Vitthala, an incarnation of Vishnu, whose tradition goes back at least to the thirteenth century and was written about by the great Marathi bhakti poets Namdev, Tukaram, and Eknath. There are smaller sites for pilgrimages in India near almost every river or scenic hilltop.