We live in a world full of gadgets and technology in which a pilgrimage may seem to some like an antiquated concept. However, pilgrimage is still relevant today. Millions of people travel to pilgrimage sites every year. Maybe you are asking yourself why. The reason behind it is quite simple. People tend to take refuge among pilgrimage sites to get away from their monotonous lives in search of spirituality. Here, you will discover the 10 most popular pilgrimage sites today.
10. Bodh Gaya, India
The Bodhi tree, located in Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India, is a large and ancient tree. This tree is reportedly where Siddharta Gautama, also known as Buddha, attained enlightenment after meditating for 49 days. Having said that, the Bodhi tree has other reasons that makes it sacred too. Some say that believers can reach liberation through spiritual development. Hence, the tree is also referred to as the “mythical world tree’. Moreover, around 800,000 to a million people, who hail mainly from Asia, visit the Bodhi tree each year. Thus, it is one of the most popular pilgrimage sites today.
9. Mount Arafat, Saudi Arabia
The Day of Arafah is a significant day of the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. On this day, hundreds of thousands of people gather on the plains of Mount Arafat. Moreover, it is the day of repentance and acceptance of supplications. Mount Arafat was the place of the final sermon of the Prophet Muhammad and consequently the completion of the message of Islam.
In 2015 alone, on this particular day an estimated 1.38 to 2 million Muslims assembled.
8. Western Wall, Jerusalem
One of the pilgrimage sites popular in Judaism is the Western Wall, also known as ha-kotel ha-ma’aravi in Hebrew. This destination site can either be called the Western Wall or the Wailing Wall. Anyways, the wall is ancient. It’s not an exaggeration, the wall is actually 2000 years old and is the only part of the structure that remains from the second temple of Solomon. According to Jews, the wall represents God’s presence and attracts millions of people from around the world. People pray there and also write prayers on paper. These papers are then placed in the cracks within the wall.
7. Altötting, Germany
Altötting is a town in Bavaria, Germany, which is a popular pilgrimage site that reveres the Virgin Mary. The Gnadenkapelle, also known as the Chapel of Grace, is located in this small town. More than a million pilgrims make their way to the chapel and its Black Madonna each year.
6. Ganges River, India
Every year, nearly 20 million people visit the Ganges River. The river, flowing through India and Bangladesh, starts high in the Himalayas and runs all the way through to the Bay of Bengal. For those who live around the river area, the river represents life, purity and also a goddess.
So, what exactly is the story behind the river? Well, the popular belief is that the goddess poured herself down from heaven upon the ashes of King Sarga’s son. This self sacrificing move of the goddess raised the king’s sons to the heavens. As a result, people touch these waters in order to purify themselves of sins.
5. Sri Pada, Sri Lanka
Sri Pada, or Adam’s Peak, is a mountain that is sacred to four of the major religions in the world. Adam’s Peak is located in Sri Lanka and the name gives you a clue as to whom it was named after. Heard about Adam and Eve? Yep, the mountain has a connection to Adam.
When you make it to the mountain top you will encounter a 1,600 square foot platform with an indentation that resembles the shape of the human foot. A very large one, mind you! How large? Well, it’s around 2 yards long and a yard wide.
Buddhists believe that it’s the footprint of Buddha whereas the Hindus believe it to be the footprint of the god Shiva. Moreover, Christians consider it the footprint left by St. Thomas before he ascended to heaven. Muslims, on the other hand, affirm that it is the footprint of Adam which he left after descending from heaven.
4. Bethlehem, Palestine
Bethlehem is the city of Jesus’s birth. It is a popular pilgrimage site especially in December during Christmas. Bethlehem is a Palestinian City located in the central West Bank. Around 1.4 million people come to visit the birthplace and the historical sites surrounding it. In addition to that, according to the Israeli government figures, the number of tourists has been increasing steadily year after year.
3. Vatican City
Vatican City became an independent state back in 1929. The leader of the Catholic Church, the Pope, lives in Vatican City. Around 4.2 million people visit the Vatican every year. It is a holy place for Catholics and also home to many monuments and statues of the saints. Some places to visit in the Vatican include St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican gardens and many wonderful museums.
2. Mecca, Saudi Arabia
An estimated 13 million Muslims travel to Mecca every year in order to take part in their pilgrimage. This pilgrimage has two forms. One journey is performed at any time of the year. The other is undertaken during the specific time in the Islamic month of Dhul Hijjah. This month is the final month in the Islamic calendar. As a matter of fact, this act of pilgrimage goes back to thousands of years, all the way to the time of Prophet Abraham.
So, what does the pilgrimage require? Muslims carry out a sequence of rituals for a number of days all in obedience to God. This includes circumambulating the Kabah and traveling between the mountains of Safa and Marwa in remembrance of the wife of the Prophet Abraham, Hagar. Hagar ran between these two mountains to look for water for Ishmael, her son.
Annually, around 2 million tourists visit the old city of Jerusalem. The city is an important religious location for three religions- Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Having said that, for Muslims it is the third revered city, after Mecca and Madinah. Additionally, it was from Jerusalem that the Prophet Muhammad ascended to the heavens. On the other hand, the Christians, revere this city because it’s the site of the Crucification and Resurrection of Jesus. Not to mention the site of the Last Supper. Furthermore, Jewish people consider the city as a Biblical Zion, the City of David and site of Solomon’s temple.
In conclusion, pilgrimage sites are still quite popular among people these days. Here are some other places of pilgrimage that might interest modern travelers:
Char Dham, India
Mount Kailash, Tibet
The Lagoons of Huaringas, Peru
Sanctuary of Atotonilco, Mexico
The Way of St James, France