It is hard to believe but the greatest coming together of people on the planet is not as you would think on gorgeous beaches, or at political rallies. It is without doubt at significant religious sites, such a vast cathedral, small grottoes or by sacred rivers. For instance, the great Kumbh Mela pilgrimage attracts 120 million people in India, whilst over in Saudi Arabia a further two million devotees perform the Hajj. Millions of people go to Rome and hundreds of thousands take the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
Mostly these pilgrims are from great faiths and are Christians, Muslims, Hindu’s, Buddhists and the like. But not matter what faith you may have; the pilgrimage routes often provide beautiful landscapes and countryside. They are ideal for such things as meeting with different cultures and seeing unbelievable sights. In other words, just, what a tourist requires. Here we look at some of the great pilgrimages and where they make take you to.
Spain – St James’ Way
One of the most famous pilgrimages of the Christian faith ends at the Santiago de Compostela in Spain. There are many pilgrim routes from all over Europe that descend on this resting place of the apostle St James. The main pilgrimage walk is eight hundred kilometres from Roncesvalles on the border with France right across the northern part of Spain. El Camino features beautiful landscapes, medieval churches and cathedrals, walled cities and it also passes through Pamplona. If the tourist times their visit right they can even see the magnificent running bulls in the city.
Japan – Kumano Koda
Our second tourist trail leads us to Japan and the revered Kii Peninsula which has been sacred in the Shinto religion since ancient times. The Kumano Mountains are quite spectacular, and they link together many Buddhist and Shinto shrines and holy places. The popular Nakahechi route is just under seventy kilometres and will take the pilgrim through pine forests, vast tea plantations and of course plenty of temples, at the end of the trail by a bright orange pagoda there is a stunning waterfall which happens to be the tallest in Japan. The pilgrimage is simply breathtaking with something new over every horizon, and plenty of local inns along the way to give refuge to the weary traveller. It is best to go in May or September and will take a leisurely five days to complete.
Israel – Via Dolorosa
The Way of Sorrow in east Jerusalem is probably our shortest pilgrim trail as it is only 600 meters long. This trail is the path that Jesus walked carrying the cross on the way to his crucifixion. As you can imagine this trail is normally crowded, and at the end the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is just oozing in religious history. Be prepared for tacky re-enactments along the way. We end our first leg of our pilgrimage trails for tourists in Jerusalem, but there are many more interesting and challenging paths to follow, be you religious or just interested in the past.