Religions and spiritual aspect of life have big impact on the societies and cultures that is why it might be very interesting to learn about spiritually important places in various countries and visit them to have better understanding of their cultures, the world in general and in the search of your own spiritual path.
India: The main religion in India is Hinduism. It flourishes with impressive Hindu temples that you see almost on each corner.
Do not hesitate to step in and respectfully observe the interior and local people praying and participating in the ceremonies.
However the real Mecca of Hinduism is a holy and mystical city of Varanasi that is located on the Ganges River. You can either fly or go there by train. Varanasi is the city of “burning and learning”. Every real Hindu desires to die in Varanasi, so that his or her corpse would be burned in fire on the Ganges’ waterfront and that the ashes would be dispelled to the sacred river.
It is a city of pilgrimage. Every self- respected Hindu should come here at least once in a life time. In the perfect world the ashes of all the Hindus would end up in the Ganges. Varanasi is one of the oldest cities in the world, where you witness a stunning parade of colors and a range of pilgrim ceremonies.
The water of Ganges is not transparent and looks dirty, however the holiness of it is supposed to protect you from any diseases after submerging under the water. On a walk along the river you will be astonished with the views. There is everything here. In the same river you will see people having a bath to purify themselves from the sines, farmers washing their cattle, locals doing their laundry and the ashes or whatever is left after the public cremation of bodies are dissolved in the water. On the bank of the river you will find meditating yogis in bright colorful clothes, a lot of clothes put on the pavements for drying under the sun, a circles made of cattle’s manure are drying out on the sun. Here and there you will see smoke from the bodies being cremated. At the hour of sunset take a boat ride on the Ganges to see this incredible spectacle from the water and out some lighten up candles to float on the river in the darkness.
Along with Hinduism Buddhism is also an accepted religion. Go to the deer park in Sarnath (13 km away from Varanasi), this time a pilgrimage destination for Buddhists to participate in the Buddhist ceremonies and visit the place where Buddha taught Dharma for the first time. To be purified you will have to walk around the Dhamekh stupa a certain amount of times. Sarnath is also a town where you can see the overview of the Buddhist architecture.
My all times favorite temple is the Lotus Temple in New Delhi. It is Bahai House of Worship. It has a shape of a white lotus and is open to all regardless of religion. It is a place where people with any believe can worship God without any restrictions. When I visited the temple there was a service that was done by several people of different age and sex, all of them read a piece from holy books of different religions. It was an amazingly touching experience of seeing a religious place, uniting believes and not creating tensions among the people of various religions.
Israel: The holy land is the main destination for the Christian pilgrims. Your first stop would probably be Jerusalem with its sacred sites. Follow Jesus’ steps on his way to the Golgotha, the site of the Passion (la via Dolorosa), and visit the place of his Resurrection. The other interesting points are Ein Karem, the birth place of John the Baptist, Monastery of the Cross.
Jerusalem is a city where 3 religions get together in the same place and claim the same places to be sacred to their own religions, which also shows how all the religions are interconnected. Besides the significant Christian sites, there are important ones for the Judaism and Islam. For the Jewish people the main religious attraction is the Western wall, which is remaining of a segment of a wall of the Second Jewish Temple at the Temple Mount, a very important biblical place for Jews and Christians, or The Mount of the House, which is valued by Muslims as a Noble Sanctuary al-Haram ash-Sharif. The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism and the high value of the wall comes from the fact, that it is connected to the Temple.
Bethlehem – the birth place of Jesus and Nazareth, the town where he lived, would be your second option for the Christian pilgrimage.
Japan: Visit the centre of Buddhism and overnight in a temple at the top of Mt Koya ( 800m). Enjoy a traditional dinner of shojin ryori (Buddhist vegetarian cuisine), cooked and served by the monks. Watch the monks pray in the morning and talk to them if you have a chance.
Spain: Go trekking one of the European routes of the Christian pilgrimage, Santiago trail, to Santiago de Compostela church.
Your trip by foot can be as long as few months and as short as 5 days. In order to be “officially certified” as a pilgrim, that has done the pilgrimage, you have to walk at least 100 km or optionally ride a bike or a horse for 200 km. In order to achieve that your last optional starting point will be a town called Sarria. From there it is a 117,3 km 4,5 days hike. The landscape is beautiful, leads you through the fields, small picturesque villages, forest areas with a lot of natural arches and a few town where it is easy to get a bunk bed for 10 EUR a night in pilgrimage hostels. The main attractions beside the natural views are many old churches with great architecture and interior design.
Mexico: San Juan Chamula is a township/a local village in the Chiapas state of Mexico, 10 km by car from San Cristobal de Las Casas. Your main interest there will be the San Juan church, which is very unique due to the fact that even though it is a Christian Catholic church by form, but the services and practices performed there is an extraordinary mix of Catholicism traditions with Mayan shamanic traditions that prevail. Along with the figures of Catholic Saints there are a lot of Mayan designs and shaman attributes. There are no chairs as in a traditional Catholic church. The floor is fully covered by spruce needles, on the floor you will see a lot of families sitting in the circles together with a male of female shaman performing ceremonies including burning of candles of 5 different colors of corn and sacrificing chickens by breaking their necks.
It is one of the most interesting and beautiful churches I have ever been to, so definitely worth visiting on your spiritually inspired travels.