Pilgrimages Around the World for the Cultural Traveler
What is a pilgrimage experience and why embark on one?
Pilgrimages represent an ancient tradition spanning almost every culture. As experts Linda Kay Davidson and David M. Gitlitz write, “the yearning to go on a pilgrimage stems from three fundamental beliefs: first, the conviction that there are forces larger than ourselves; second, that we can initiate a meaningful relationship with those forces; and third, that there are special places where we can immerse ourselves in the transcendental power of these forces.”
Although pilgrimages are an ancient tradition, they are still practiced robustly today. For instance, almost 200,000 pilgrims travel part or all of the path of El Camino, a pilgrimage route in Spain each year.
While most pilgrimage routes are associated with different religions, you do not have to be religious or practice a specific religion to embark on a pilgrimage. Pilgrimages, according to Kay and Gitlitz, are by nature “a quest, a journey in search of an experience that will affect the kind of change that will make a difference to the individual’s life or spirit.” That, in essence, transcends organized systems of belief. Just make sure to be respectful to the sacred sites and religious practices you may come across on your pilgrimage.
Why do people of multiple faiths go on pilgrimages today? Generally, pilgrimage routes are incredibly scenic and represent a wonderful way to see a different side of a country (and take in some stunning views in the process). Along the way, you will meet local people and fellow pilgrims, and even create your own nomadic community. You will learn more about all aspects of a country: the geography, the language, the food, and the climate, just by walking some each day.
So whether your goal is to feel closer to your faith, to nature, or to yourself, pilgrimages are an incredible way to increase your spiritual growth and challenge yourself mentally and physically.
Where to go on your pilgrimage?
There are many famous pilgrimage sites throughout the world, such as El Camino de Santiago in Spain, The Pilgrims’ Way in England, and Kumano Kodo in Japan. However, here are five pilgrimages that are more “off-the-beaten-path,” which will connect you to your spiritual side without the overcrowded and congested routes.
Gosaikunda is a lake in Nepal over 14,000 feet up in the air along the Langtang trekking route. A sacred pilgrimage site for both Hindus and Buddhists, the lake is considered holy because it is believed to be made out of the god Shiva’s spit, and is said to cleanse you of all your karma if you bathe in it.
What better way is there to push yourself out of your comfort zone mentally and physically while also wiping the karma slate clean? This 8-day trek will leave you breathless with wonder for the beauty of the universe while pushing yourself to your physical limits.
The Way of St. Andrews, Scotland
Called the “Little Camino,” the Way of St. Andrews is an ancient pilgrimage site from over 1000 years ago that was recently revived to celebrate the patron saint of Scotland. With multiple scenic routes all ending up at the same shrine of St. Andrews, you can’t go wrong picking an exciting adventure with this pilgrimage.
And, because of Scotland’s “right to roam” laws, you can camp along the way in the beautiful Scottish wilderness. There is no better way to explore a country than sleeping under the stars every night.
Gomukh is the glacial start of the sacred river, the Ganga, in India. Bathing in the Ganga is thought to allow for Moksha, or liberation from suffering, in Hindu ideology.
Start at Gangotri, the seat of the river where the goddess Ganga was thought to first emerge on earth, and trek the 11 miles to Gomukh. Along the way, you’ll have stunning views of the holy Ganga river and the Himalayan mountains
With these mind-blowing panoramic scenes, this sacred trek is not one to be missed!
St. Olav’s Way, Norway
St. Olav’s Way is a pilgrimage leading to the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, Norway. With eight paths to pick from (some of which are superb for cyclists), this is a pilgrimage that is as challenging as you make it.
Pick your favorite of the 8 paths (or, as they say in Norway, pilgrimsleden) and head for the cathedral. The most popular path, the Gudbrandsdalen Path, is the longest hiking path in Norway coming in at just under 400 miles.
Lace up your hiking boots and embark on one of the best journeys you can to explore Norway.
Huaringas Sacred Lagoons, Peru
A group of 14 lagoons in the Huamaní Mountain Range of Peru, the Huaringas Sacred Lagoons are considered to have healing powers in indigenous Peruvian traditions.
Two lagoons in particular are distinguished for their healing energy -- the Shimbe and the Black Lagoon. Start your journey in Huancabamba City, a bus ride away from Piura City, and embark on your trek.
While many do this trek unguided, it is recommended that amateur hikers consult a guide company (which can also put you in touch with a traditional healer in order to perform a shamanic ceremony while you are there!).
Check out some of Jubel’s other favorite breathtaking spiritual destinations if you are ready to embark on your next awe-inspiring journey.
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