What differentiates pilgrims from tourists? Pilgrims embark on a physical journey to reach a spiritual goal. They expect a change or transformation, at the end. For tourists, however, it is the physical journey itself that is the goal. There is no search for metamorphis. Here are 5 awesome pilgrimages for the pilgrim in all of us.
1 – Mount Kailash – Tibet
Tibet’s Mount Kailash is a holy mountain for the Bön, Buddhism, Hinduism and Januism religions. It is near Lake Manasarovar and Lake Rakshastal and usually accessed through Nepal. But it’s not an easy run. From Kathmandu, it takes four days on very rugged terrain to reach it. This assumes no washed out roads, getting stuck, engine troubles or flat tires. For the die-hard, it is also possible to travel overland from Llhasa. Caution: there are road restrictions. Pilgrims need a special permit from the Chinese authorities. The area remains a meeting ground of conflicting political/religious ideologies. Unless you are an experienced independent traveller, a tour might be a good choice for this pilgrimage. Check the Trip Advisor website for the best options.
The three required circumambulations of Mount Kailash are done by yak, pony or on foot. Most pilgrims take three days to do the trip. Some believers insist it must be done in one day (15 hours) to be valid. Best Time To Go: May Distance: 52 km
2 – Camino de Santiago – France and Spain
I just finished reading Jane Christmas’ tale of her pilgrimage from St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, in France, to Santiago, Spain (Camino Francés). The friend who’d lent me the book had said, “I’m warning you. You’ll want to hike the Camino, after you read it.” She was right. I do.
Tales and information on the Camino de Santiago abound. There are lots of books published, and a simple Google search will unearth a ton of resources. The Trip Advisor website is a good place to sort the metaphorical wheat from chaff – pilgrim options from tourist options. Over 200,000 people do the Camino, every year. These numbers include those who have cycled, ridden on horseback, pushed their wheelchair or walked at least the last 100 km, the least distance to receive Pilgrim Credentials. Best Time To Go: May – September Distance: 850 km The map below shows the Camino de Santiago (Camino Francés) in dark red and its variants. Via Francigena is also indicated.
3 – Via Francigena – the UK, France, Switzerland and Italy
From what I’ve read, many of those who finished the Camino de Santiago and loved the experience, then turned their sight to Via Francigena. Not as well-known or signed, as the Camino, it is also a much more expensive (especially in France) option. There are few inexpensive places to overnight and few pilgrims to chat with during the day. Best Time To Go: May – September Distance: Just under 2000 km
4 – Char Dham – India
The Char Dham are four holy sites revered by India’s Hindu population. There is Badrinath in the north, Rameswaram in the south, Dwarka in the west, and Puri in the east. It is considered very auspicious for a Hindu to complete this journey, in a lifetime. Top in India Tours* offer 17-day visits to all four sites. Get a taste of them with this video: https://youtu.be/OL-FWzXtRmw Best Time To Go: Year-round Distance: 6274 km
5 – The Lagoons of Huaringas – Peru
For those looking for a different kind of pilgrimage, there are the Lagoons of Huaringas (Black Lagoons). These Lagoons – or Sacred Lakes – are a set of fourteen ponds with curative powers. People flock from the rest of the country and the globe to bathe in their waters. These pilgrims hope to regain their health, fix their money problems or resolve issues of love. Shamans and faith healers congregate here to treat those who come to recover. Adina Watson has a powerful account of their rituals. If solo travel through the area worries you, do the journey with guides. Peru travel, for example, has 4-day tours,* from Piura. And they offer archeological* and hiking tours. I couldn’t find any photos of these beautiful lagoons, free for reuse. View them on Google Images. Best Time To Go: June to October Distance: Varies [yop_poll id=”7″]
*Please Note: I am unable to confirm the legitimacy of the tour companies mentioned. These were given only as examples. Please establish their credibility before booking!
Featured image: Pilgrims arriving in Salamanca – Via de la Plata – connects to Camino de Santiago from the south. Credit: teclasorg
Copyright 2016. All rights reserved. Monique Martel