Prompt #19: SPIRIT – my seventh post in the 30 Days of Indie Travel series.
Some places have the power to make even the most die-hard agnostic reconsider their position. Have you ever been in a place where you felt more alive or more connected to nature, the universe, or a higher power than anywhere else?
Mecca Photo Courtesy of Flickr User AlJazeerahEnglish CC License
Travel allows us to get outside of our comfort zone, to experience and reflect on our place in the world. There have been a few places that I have travelled through that seem especially spiritual. Mountains tend to do it for me, making me appreciate the grandeur of nature and fresh air. Man made structures such as the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Notre Dame in Paris and even Stonehenge impress in a different way. These religious structures make you appreciate what man can accomplish, especially when trying to honor their beliefs. While I will probably never experience it, I am always awed by aerial photos of Mecca at the time of the Hajj. The number of pilgrims that descend on Mecca at this time is a testament to their belief that this pilgrimage is a necessary part of their religion. This sacrifice is impressive, regardless of your own beliefs. Of the places I have traveled to, there is only one place where the natural environment, the man-made structures and examples of human devotion have come together to connect me with the spiritual world, Tibet.
Tibet is a place that you expect to be spiritual. It holds such an aura of separateness, of intrigue that is tied into its history as a secluded Buddhist mountain kingdom where outsiders were prohibited. Today, many Tibetans are clinging to this religious past, trying to keep a sense of their history and their religion as China is making a larger and larger push to assimilate Tibet into China. China is winning the battle between history and progress and at least at some level, the people of Tibet appreciate this push to modernity. That said, Tibet is still a place that holds a spiritual connection. Whether or not you hold Buddhist beliefs, you cannot help but be impressed by the devotion that many Tibetan people have to their religion.
One of the single most impressive building I have ever been to is the Potala Palace in Lhasa. Once the home of the Dali Lama, today it is open to the public as a museum. The Potala Palace dominates Lhasa, sitting far above any other building in the city. Going from room to room makes you consider the lives of the people that have spent their time here, their devotion over the centuries to their religion. Outside the Palace, circling in a clockwise direction, Lhasa is filled with pilgrims that have often made their way on their hands and knees to the city. Once they arrive in Lhasa, pilgrims can be seen circumabulating the Barkhor.
Whether struggling for breath in the high altitude climbing the steps to the Palace or wandering the city gazing out at the mountains, you are constantly reminded of where you are, high up in a remote corner of the world. Somehow this realization make you feel closer to God. The fresh mountain air of Lhasa, combined with the temples and devotees make Tibet one of the most spiritual places I have ever visited. The feeling of connection, of calm, permeated my time in Tibet, making it impossible not to consider my place in the world and my connection to God.