Spiritual Travel to Sacred Places on the Rise

The tourism industry has recently become aware that spiritual travel is a hot new niche. Although pilgrimages may be new to some tour operators, touring sacred sites has been happening for a very long time. Tibet's Mount Kailash has been a holy travel destination for 15,000 years, making it the world's oldest known pilgrimage site. To this day many Buddhists believe that going on the 32-day trek at an elevation of 18,000 feet washes away a lifetime of sins.

The idea of sacred places is not confined to Europe and Asia, on the North American continent, native people were going on vision quests to holy mountains, canyons and forests long before the European invasion of the 15th century. For example, the traditions of the Nlaka'pamux First Nation near Lytton, British Columbia, hold that there are sacred places in the Stein Valley where young people still go on vision quests that give them insight into the purpose of their lives.

In Western culture, pilgrimages of one kind or another continue to move from the sub-culture to the mainstream. It was 1983 when Shirley MacLaine wrote about having an out-of-body experience in a hot springs in Peru in "Out on a Limb." The book was a national bestseller that stayed for 15 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list. Yet, Ms. MacLaine was not taken seriously by the masses. However, in 2006 when Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat Pray Love" was published, it not only remained on The New York Times Best Seller list for 187 weeks, it also spawned a movie starring Julia Roberts as a woman who travels to spiritual sites in India and Bali in order to balance her life. All of a sudden tour operators were scrambling to organize "Eat Pray Love" tours for woman hoping to gain inner peace.

It is generally held that the overall rise in spiritual tourism in the past decades is directly linked to the influences of the generation born after the end of World War Two. USA Today in 1997 published an article about the trend towards trips that explore not only physical terrain but also the psyche as well, citing: The practical explanation is that baby boomers have reached the age where we've accumulated all the things we possibly could, and we're still not fulfilled. We're looking for the meaning in life, and that extends to our vacations," says Robert Scheer, the 51 year-old editor of Power Trips, a new travel magazine devoted to "sacred places where you can communicate with the spirit of Mother Earth."

Travel companies often receive glowing testimonials from people who have gone on their spiritual journeys and come home feeling as if they have changed for the better. For example, a P. Caldwell from Chicago wrote about a Peru trip, "I had the good fortune to encounter a shaman who helped me open my heart to myself. As a natural consequence, I have opened my heart to others. My friends and business acquaintances have commented on my 'aura' of peacefulness and joy."

"Travel to sacred sites is nothing new," concluded Martin Gray, an anthropologist and photographer based in Sedona. "But the reason for making those pilgrimages has changed."

Article Source: Marlie_Parsons

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