Monday, March 21, 2011

Sacred Routes Around the World

There’s something magical about seeing sacred sites the world over. Your background doesn’t matter, and neither does your religion, when you stop by modern-day wonders that draw local people just as often as they attract international people to worship and explore. While many are content visiting standard sights while on vacation, why settle for what everyone sees? Stopping at a sacred destination adds depth to your travels and priceless understanding of a new culture.

Angkor Cambodia
Angkor Wat is Angkor’s most famous temple, built to honor the god of peace and preservation, Vishnu. For those who plan on spending a longer time in Angkor, you can also arrange a volunteer visit in Siem Riep that combines a visit to the temples.

Expert Advice: “Look for ancient Sanskrit poems and prayers and exquisite etchings depicting Hindu gods and goddesses and apsaras (dancing nymphs) on the temple’s sandstone walls. The wats, having evolved from their Hindu roots to serve as contemporary sacred sites for Buddhism, swarm today with orange robe-donning Buddhist monks.”

Where to Stay: The Hotel de La Paix is a contemporary hotel that borrows from the past with Art Deco elements and luxurious furnishings. This hotel is just a 10-minute drive from Angkor Wat.

Part of the former Ottoman and Byzantine Empire’s bound to have a layered history, and it certainly does. Istabul has two of the world’s most awe-inspiring places of worship: the formerly Byzantine Hagia Sophia, and the Blue Mosque.

Expert Advice: “Sophia’s latest incarnation as a museum, deemed so by the Republic of Turkey in 1935, means that everyone can marvel at the building’s sheer beauty and the remaining artifacts of both Christian and Islamic faiths entangled under one massive roof.”

Where to Stay: The Park Hyatt Istanbul is in a super-fashionable area and has corner rooms with great views of the city. Turkish design melds with Art Deco elements for a true tourist treat.

Chichén Itzá, Mexico
Chichén Itzá’s best visited on the two days during the year when the illusion of the serpent god, Kukulkan, appears on the side of the pyramid. This hulking pyramid structure is built with a total of 365 steps to represent the Mayan solar calendar.

Expert Advice: “Though El Castillo is the main attraction at this UNESCO World Heritage Site (also designated one of the New Seven Wonders of the World), Chichén Itzá’s other standouts include the largest ballcourt in Mesoamerica and the Warrior’s Temple, another stepped pyramid topped by a Chac Mool statue, whose likeness is a mainstay of Mexico tourism brochures.”

Where to Stay: Since travellers often visit Chichén Itzá on a day trip from Cancun, you can take your pick of some of the leading luxury resorts in Mexico. Live Aqua Cancun is perched on the Yucatan Peninsula and even offers guests a selection of eight different pillows. This hotel is located close to a brand-new shopping center and is just 20 minutes from the international airport.

Nearly every spot in Jerusalem is situated on or near a sacred spot, but some are more frequently visited than others. The Kotel Tunnels, Dome of the Rock, Al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Via Dolorosa are all must-sees on anyone’s trip to Jerusalem.

Expert Advice: “For Jews, the Western Wall (also called the Wailing Wall) is one of the few remainders from the period of the Second Temple (destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD). Today, it’s a must-see for Jews and non-Jews alike, who offer prayers and leave messages in the stone wall’s crevices, set below the Temple Mount.”

Where to Stay: Jersusalem’s rich history joins with tasteful decor in one of the finest hotels in the city, the Inbal Jerusalem Hotel. Be sure to visit the spa, and to order dishes with local flavor, during your visit.

Tips for Visiting Sacred Locales
It’s essential that you avoid any trouble visiting your destinations of choice, naturally, but rules for stopping at sacred places can be more restrictive than you might expect. If in doubt, ask, and use these general guidelines as an aid to wrinkle-free exploration.

Photography: Photographs are often not allowed in enclosed sacred spaces, and local people might request that photography not be allowed during rituals or performances. Stick to a no-flash rule regardless to avoid misunderstanding, no matter what you’ve been told.

Body Coverings
: Some sacred destinations may require head, shoulder, and knee coverings for women, or locally-acquired accessories that can be purchased or borrowed at the site. In general, on a day when one is visiting a sacred spot, it’s best to avoid shorts, tank tops, or low-cut shirts.

An Open Mind: While mosques are beautiful and rich in history, many do not allow non-Muslims. When planning on visiting a mosque, it is recommended that you pack warm socks to fight the chill from removing your shoes.

When it comes to visiting sacred spaces, you should prepare a quiet day afterwards for thought and reflection. Whether you’re stopping at a church or a nook in the earth, you’re bound to feel moved and reflective. Head back to the hotel, have a quiet meal, and settle in to think about life. This will be an unforgettable experience!

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