Sacred India: Photos From an Epic Road Trip

Vanessa Able

Vanessa Able shares scenes from her own pilgrimage of sorts: a 6,835-mile solo drive in a tiny Tata Nano past some of multifaith India's holiest sights.

About the photographer In spring 2010, Vanessa Able made a leap of faith and set out from Mumbai in a cheap, light, fuel-efficient Tata Nano for a three-month road trip that raised money for Women's World Banking.

1 Women light candles to float downstream with flowers during the evening Ganga Aarti ceremony in the town of Rishikesh. Hindus worship the sacred Ganges River, personified as a woman. [PHOTO]

2 A monk tends to a statue of the Buddha in Bodh Gaya. The little town is a major pilgrimage destination, as it's the spot where the Buddha attained enlightenment under a Bo tree around 2,500 years ago. Behind the temple building is a descendant of the original tree that shaded the Buddha. [PHOTO]

3 TTwo young men splattered with colored powder on Goa's Arambol beach. During the springtime festival of Holi, it's traditional to celebrate by flinging the bright powder at friends and family. [PHOTO]

4 A wheel at the Sun Temple in Konark, Orissa. The temple dates back to the 13th century, when it was dedicated to Surya, the god of the sun. It's aligned perfectly for solstice and equinox sun movements, and modeled on the shape of a chariot, with 12 pairs of stone wheels adorning the outside and seven bucking horses pulling it from the front toward the sunrise. [PHOTO]

5 A merchant outside the Kali Temple in Kolkata inspects his wares: dozens of figurines of the head of India's most terrifying goddess, Kali. [PHOTO]

6 A young Sikh man bathes in the lotus pool at the center of Sikhism's holiest shrine, the Golden Temple in Amritsar. It welcomes visitors of every faith and offers food and accommodations. When the dormitories are full, worshippers often bed down among the temple's arches and marble walkways. [PHOTO]

7 Monks say their prayers before evening meditation outside the Maha Bodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya. [PHOTO]

8 The white-stone Gothic St. Paul's Cathedral, built in Kolkata in 1840. It's one of the most potent reminders of British colonialism in the city formerly known as Calcutta, the onetime seat of the Raj. [PHOTO]

9 A boy washes himself in the Ganges River in Rishikesh. Each year, millions of Hindu pilgrims flock to the Ganges to bathe in the sacred waters—an act that many believe brings profound fulfillment to their lives. [PHOTO]

10Mani prayer wheels in the Dalai Lama's temple in McLeod Ganj, a town in the region of Himachal Pradesh. Each wheel is filled with thousands of mantras dedicated to Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of compassion. Turning the wheel once is said to generate merit equal to reciting all of the mantras contained inside it. [PHOTO]

11 A Brahman going to bathe at Kolkata's Kalighat Temple—one of the few remaining Indian temples that still practice regular animal sacrifice. Black goats are beheaded here every morning to the sound of a beating drum. Their bodies are then offered up to appease the ever-bloodthirsty goddess Kali. [PHOTO]

12 A boy prays before a statue of Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of compassion, at the Dalai Lama's temple in McLeod Ganj. [PHOTO]

13 The Haji Ali mosque and tomb out at sea, off the coast of Mumbai. It's a popular place of pilgrimage for the city's Muslim population, who make their way along a 500-meter walkway lined with children, mothers, and invalids begging for money. [PHOTO]

14 A sadhu—holy man—outside the Virupaksha Temple tower in Hampi, Karnataka. [PHOTO]

15 Hanuman, the monkey god, looks over traffic at a remote crossroads in the state of Andhra Pradesh. [PHOTO]

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