Spiritual journeys around the world
NINA Karnikowski offers up ten very different ways to experience spirituality around the world.
When it comes to travel, the word spiritual means different things to different people. For some it means taking a pilgrimage to a sacred religious site, for others it’s about connecting to Mother Nature, while for others still it means retreating somewhere serene where they can simply return to themselves. Whatever it signifies to you, travelling to any one of the places listed below will give you both a more profound insight into the culture of the destination and, hopefully, a little more inner peace.
Journey #1: Visiting Jerusalem, Israel
Sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians, the Holy Land’s capital attracts religious pilgrims, spiritual seekers and the culturally curious from all over the world. Whether you’re watching Jewish people pray at the Western Wall, wandering down the Via Dolorosa, where Jesus walked to his crucifixion, alongside Christian pilgrims, or visiting the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount, it’s impossible to leave Jerusalem without a deeper understanding of each of the world’s major religions, and without being touched by its special sacred energy.
Journey #2: Staying at a Nepalese monastery
Just an hour’s drive from Kathmandu sits the Neydo Buddhist Monastery, where guests can stay in the charming guesthouse and experience daily life as it is for the 200 monks living there. Expect morning and nightly ceremonies, talks on Buddhist philosophies including non-attachment and impermanence, meditation sessions, vegetarian meals eaten in silence and plenty of time for reflection.
Journey #3: Hiking Adam’s Peak, Sri Lanka
In the midst of tea country and at the top of a four-hour, thigh-burning hike up 5,500 stairs, you’ll find an unusual depression dubbed the sri pada or ‘sacred footprint’. Said to be the mark of Buddha, Shiva, Adam or Saint Thomas, depending on who you’re talking to, it has been a pilgrimage destination for over a thousand years. No matter what your beliefs, it is an exceptionally peaceful spot to watch the sun rise over the surrounding highlands, if you’re up for hiking through the night to get there.
Journey #4: Spending Christmas in Lalibela, Ethiopia
On 6 January each year, 200,000 pilgrims descend on Lalibela in northern Ethiopia to celebrate Orthodox Christmas. Dressed all in white, the candle wielding devotees gather around the city’s 11, 900-year-old churches carved directly into the earth, to chant and pray alongside hundreds of Orthodox Christian priests until sunrise. It is a mysterious, primordial experience that’s worlds away from the excessive consumerism that might make you flee Christmas back home.
Journey #5: Meditating in Auroville, India
In the centre of Auroville, an intentional community that has been running just outside Pondicherry in south India since 1968, sits the 29m-high Matrimandir. The enormous golden sphere took Auroville’s inhabitants 37 years to build and if you’re patient (you need to book in person for the following day), inside you’ll find crystals, golden fountains and a tear-inducingly beautiful meditation chamber where you can contemplate life for a precious 15 minutes.
Journey #6: Hiking Peru’s Sacred Valley
Hiking through this wind-swept valley, slung between the peaks of the Andes mountain range, is a soul-stirring experience. Along the way you’ll pass tiny villages of thatched-roof adobe houses, terraced farmland where the farmers work with methods unchanged since the time of the Incas and impressive Incan ruins like Ollantaytambo, built in 1536. Surrounded by nothing but vast landscapes and the occasional alpaca herd, walking the high-altitude paths will serve as a healthy reminder of your place in the order of things.
Journey #7: Bali’s Spirit Festival
In March each year, thousands of spiritual seekers descend on Ubud in the mountains of Bali for this seven-day festival, which includes everything from yoga and meditation, to ecstatic dance and sound healing, to talks and workshops run by spiritual teachers. Once the festival ends, you can keep the good vibes going at the abundant massage parlours, yoga studios, and surf spots found throughout Seminyak and Canggu.
Journey #8: Walking the temple circuit, Shikoku, Japan
By the end of this trail, one of the oldest pilgrimages in the world linking Shikoku island’s famed 88 temples, you’ll likely have walked off all your worldly frustrations. Whether you stop at each temple (you’ll need about 40 days for that) or just a selection, along the way you can stay at temples and inns, bathe in mineral-rich hot springs, dine on Japanese cuisine and take in the serenity of the mountains, valleys and cliff-lined shores you’ll pass en route.
Journey #9: Being a yogi in Rishikesh, India
The yoga capital of the world and the place where the Beatles famously found enlightenment in the ’60s, the streets of Rishikesh are lined with every form of spiritual salvation, from tarot card readers and reiki healers, to meditation classes and yoga ashrams. For the equivalent of about $30 a day you can stay at these ashrams and dive deep into stress-elimination and self-development, via a rigorous program of chanting, meditation, yoga, spiritual talks and simple vegetarian meals. Phool Chatti ashram is one worth trying.
Journey #10: Pilgrimage around Mt Kailash, Tibet
Towering 6,714 metres over western Tibet, Kailash is Asia’s most holy mountain, revered by Buddhists, Jains, Hindus and Bons. Perform a kora, a 52km pilgrimage around the mountain that takes three days to complete, and Buddhists will tell you you’ve absolved the bad karma of one lifetime — if you do 108 koras, you’re rewarded with complete enlightenment. Either way, there are spectacular views along the way and many interesting pilgrims to meet too.