Published on January 20th, 2014 | by Geckos Tales Team
Save your soul: 5 essential travel escapes
Read time: a bit over 4 minutes
Is the man getting you down? If he is, it’s probably time to recharge, refresh and take a journey of the mind, body and soul. It doesn’t mean you have to wear tie-dye pants and grow your armpit hair. And you don’t even need to be religious to make the most of a spiritual journey. Just be prepared to open yourself up to a deeper travel experience. So switch off your phone, turn off the voices in your head and make a connection with the world. But please, don’t forget to pack your razor.
Mt Kailash, Tibet
Every year, thousands of people make the pilgrimage to Mt Kailash in Tibet, a tradition that stretches back thousands of years. There’s no fast way to get here. That would kinda defeat the purpose. The point of this pilgrimage is to earn your way there with each and every step. Many religions believe that walking the 52km circuit around Mount Kailash will remove sins and bring good fortune. Altitudes along the circuit range from 15,000 feet to 19,000 feet at the Dolma Pass. So strap on some sturdy walking shoes. And don’t be fooled into thinking you’re going to climb the actual mountain. That would be sacrilege. According to Hindu mythology, Shiva, the god of destruction and regeneration, resides at its summit. For Tibetan Buddhists, it’s the home of Demchog, the wrathful emanation of the Buddha. Both Hindus and Tibetan Buddhists regard Mount Kailash as being the centre of the universe, So to say it’s pretty special is an understatement. At 6,714m high, Mt Kailash is situated wholly within Tibet. It is made of black rock, with a symmetrical peak boasting a distinctive diamond shape. It has four faces, which legend says are made of gold, crystal, ruby, and lapis lazuli. And the peak is covered in snow all year round (fact, not legend!)
Mount Athos, Greece
Sadly, this one’s just for the boys. Mount Athos, Greece is a state within a state; and it’s the only state in the world which women are forbidden to enter. There’s not even any chickens or cows – just female cats which are only bred to get rid of the mice! If you look up “isolation” in the dictionary, you’d probably find a picture of Mount Athos. It sits 31 miles out into the Aegean Sea on a peninsula roughly 60km long. The actual mountain lies near the southern tip of the peninsula in a region called Halkidiki. For the past thousand years or so, it has been home to a community of Eastern Orthodox monks. Today there are 20 monasteries, and about 2,500 inhabitants. Time has basically stood still, and everyone still follows the Julian calendar and Byzantine time. Access is extremely limited, with only 100 Orthodox pilgrims and 10 non-Orthodox visitors allowed at a time. And these visitors can only be men over the age of 18. You need to apply for a permit about 6 months in advance, and most permits are only for a maximum of four days. During this time, you’re free to visit any monastery you wish. Mount Athos has remained virtually untouched by the events of the past 500 years. It is a fascinating place where hermits still live in caves, some of the churches boast more gold than many small countries and some of the world’s most beautiful beaches rarely get used.
It doesn’t get more chilled than Rastafarianism. Go pay your respects on this tiny piece of land to which the movement is intrinsically linked. In 1948 the Ethiopian Emperor, Halie Selassie I, donated 500 acres of his private land to members of the Rastafari Movement, so they could return to Africa. This included settlers from Jamaica and other parts of the Caribbean. It’s about 240km from Addis Ababab and still pretty untouched. You’ll feel like a rockstar the minute you arrive, with giggling kids swarming you like a rash. It’s pretty hard to get overwhelmed, although if you do start to feel a little tense, don’t forget that the Rastas believe in the use of cannabis and the rejection of western society. So turn up, tune in and drop out. It’s good for the soul.
Gaumukh, the source of the Ganges, India
Now, don’t go packing your bikini and sunscreen for this one. Although it involves a bit of bathing, the source of the mighty Ganges River is about as far from a hot spring as you can expect. You’ll be surrounded not only by Himalayan peaks, but by many other pilgrims who are here to wash away their sins and get the ultimate fresh start. After the 24km trek from the village of Gangotri, you’ll finally reach Gaumukh. This is where you have the chance to bathe in the water that will eventually become part of the majestic Ganges River. No other river in the world has as much religious, cultural and economic significance as the Ganges. So to be at its source is a pretty incredible honour. The trek itself is full of some of the world’s most amazing scenery. You’ll also be charmed by the village of Gangotri, where many people decide they’ve found enough spirituality and opt out of the trek, preferring to chill here instead. It’s also home to the Gangotri Temple which was built in 18th century on the place were the Goddess Ganga is believed to have first descended on earth from heaven.
Regardless of your faith, a trip to the fourth holiest city in Islam is guaranteed to enlighten. It has been an important pilgrimage destination since 670AD, when it was founded by the Arabs as a a centre of religious teaching. And while every city in Tunisia has a Great Mosque, the Great Mosque of Kairouan is the most important of all. It is the oldest Muslim place of prayer in North Africa and regarded as the fourth holiest site in Islam after Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem. The mosque itself is pretty incredible, supported by 414 pillars of which no two are alike. Muslims can enter the mosque through nine different gates but non-Muslim visitors must use the main gate. You also need to be appropriately dressed, so cover up. For a pilgrimage of a different kind, head into the medina. Look familiar? The white washed walls and maze of alleys and archways was made famous in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Now you know.
Have you been anywhere that’s cleansed your soul? Day spas don’t count. We want that worldly wisdom. Let us know in the comments below.