Be it for pilgrimage or penance, places believed to be God’s abode have long been considered mostly the preserve of the elderly. But now, these destinations are turning hotspots for young travellers seeking tranquillity and self-knowledge. In a post-pandemic context, this trend could be seen as a manifestation of travellers’ increasing focus on spiritual well-being and its benefits for holistic well-being.
Age of enlightenment
Referring to a record increase in clientele for the Chardham and Kedarnath circuits, Deepak Dhayal, founder, Kinghills Travel, says, “Over 10,000 people signed up from across India. Compared to previous year, the ratio of young participants has now increased three- to fourfold.”
Top domestic spiritual destinations have witnessed a 21% growth in air passenger traffic from pre-Covid times, notes Rajesh Magow, co-founder and Group CEO, MakeMyTrip. “A noteworthy trend is the increasing interest in pilgrimage travel during long weekends, including that of youngsters. Domestic airlines have responded to the demand by adding 15% incremental capacity to prominent spiritual destinations,” he says. Badrinath, Kedarnath, Prayagraj, Vrindavan, Dwarka, Puri and Ajmer have recorded accelerated growth in terms of most visited spiritual destinations.
Mohit Joshi, a travel expert from Skyscanner says, “Millennials and Gen Z are prioritising spiritual connections and mental and physical well-being. Our data shows that around 52% of travellers aged 18-24 and 59% aged 25-34 are actively planning to travel to a pilgrim destination in India.”
This wouldn’t be without transformation of connectivity and infrastructure. “Spiritual destinations are undergoing a higher growth vis-à-vis leisure destination. Dwarka, Somnath Vrindavan, Puri and Katra have recorded accelerated growth,” says an expert from Goibibo. Efforts have also been made to beautify these places, including developing them as well-rounded pilgrim towns equipped with quaint homestays, outposts of international restaurant chains tailored to tourist palates, not to mention cultural walks and religious tours.
29-year-old Rajiv Rajoriya, a finance executive in Delhi who went to Kedarnath with his group of thirteen other friends, says, “I’ve been to several spiritual destinations in the past, including Rishikesh, Varanasi, Vaishnodevi, but my recent trip to Kedarnath was memorable. It was life-changing and a dream-come moment because not many get that calling. It was the hardest treks I’ve ever done, but the sense of tranquility and inner peace was immeasurable. All I wanted to experience was that feeling of being a little closer to God and being healed from all the negativity.”
23-year-old Naman Goyal, a college student from Faridabad, says, “I love visiting spiritual places, not just in India but even outside the country. Recently, I went to Nepal to visit Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, followed by Sri Muktinath, a sacred site on Annapurna Circuit treks. It was one of its kind experience. Visiting spiritual places releases my pent up emotions and I feel recharged.”
31-year-old Nupur Sharma, a lecturer, says, “I shifted to Paris 4-5 years ago and developed my interest in spiritual travelling in the last 2-3 years. I like to visit the lesser explored temples of the city. Recently, I went to Sidh Bali Mandir in Kotdwar, Uttarakhand, Pushkar, Ajmer Dargah and Nakodar dargah. The whole purpose is to not just visit and come back but to stay there and experience the calmness. I also love hearing the religious tales from people around. It nourishes my soul.”