January is a month of new beginnings, setting goals, tackling those new year’s resolutions. Is finding your inner zen on your list of to-do’s for 2011? If it is, or at least if seeing some of the world’s most spiritual destinations is on your list, then pack your bags because Asia is your ticket.
Gharapuri Island, India
The faces and bodies of Hindu deities cover the walls of the historic Elephanta Caves, carved out of the walls in the fifth century. Located on a small island in the capital of Maharastra, Mumbai, just ten kilometres from the Gateway of India. The caves are dedicated to Lord Shiva, who appears in many of the carvings. The main attraction to the caves are the temples, spread over an area of 5,500 square metres, with shrines, courtyards, porticoes and halls for meditation or pure awe. Hindu or not, these caves are spectacular.
- How to get there? Search for cheap flights to Mumbai. The island is serviced by a ferry from the Gateway of India.
Nanzenji is a Zen Buddhist temple that was established in 1291, it is now considered to be one of the five great Zen temples of Kyoto. It is home to Rinzai Zen which uses paradoxical puzzles and questions to help students overcome the challenges of logic. Enter the temple through the Triple Gate, from the top floor of the gate you can see Kyoto below. Peek inside the Abbots’ Quarters (a national treasure) filled with elegant sixteenth century paintings. The Leaping Tiger Garden outside and the twenty-seven acres of forest give ample opportunity for reflection and quiet thinking.
- How to get there: Touch down in Japan on a flight to Tokyo, from there it is a three hour journey by train to Kyoto. The temple is accessible by walk along the Path of Philosophy or by bus.
For many Buddhists, this is the most important site of pilgrimage, even for non-Buddhists. There is just something special about this place, where the historical Buddha reached enlightenment. Although the city is only home to around 30,000 permanent residents, it’s always brimming with tourists and travellers coming to experience meditation in one of the most famous spots in India. The Bodhi Tree and the Mahabodhi Temple are the two highlights. Sit where Buddha sat, under the tree, and be inspired. If you walk clockwise around a stupa, making wishes, it is said to clear negative karma.
- How to get there: Find flights to New Delhi, a great place to acclimatize to India before travelling to Bihar where Bodhgaya is located.
Locals know Lhasa as the “Place of the Gods.” It’s surrounded by the world’s most beautiful and tallest mountains and also happens to be the political and spiritual seat of Tibet. More than one million visitors come to Lhasa each year and not just for the scenery. Potala Palace is one of the main spiritual sights here built in the seventeenth century, it was the main residence of the Dalai Lama until 1959 when he fled following the failed coup. Today this palace is a state museum, named one of the new seven wonders of the world. To say the least, the palace is as breathe-taking as the landscape it finds itself in.
- How to get there: The easiest way to reach Lhasa is access from either Nepal or Bhutan. Search for flights to Kathmandu and then travel by land into Tibet.
Mount Fuji, Japan
Evasive and mysterious, this Japanese mount is the apple of many mountaineers’ eye. It’s the highest in Japan and visible from Tokyo on a clear (yet rare) day. This 3,775m mount is named after the Buddhist fire goddess Fuchi, whose shrine is located at the zenith of the cone-shaped mountain. During the summer, the only time to safely climb to the summit, many hikers trek through the night to see the sunrise. Those living nearby have always considered the dormant volcano to be sacred, but climbing it is in no way sacrilegious. In fact, it’s seen as a part of an important journey one must make in the journey of life. The climb takes eight hours, there are ten rest stations along the way.
- How to get there: Mount Fuji is easiest accessible from Tokyo, start by finding flights to Japan. There is a direct bus from Shinjuku to the Kawaguchiko Fifth Station.
Imgs: Elephanta Caves: enygmatic / Nanzenji: pelican / Bodhgaya: hyougushi / Lhasa: shicks / Fuji: midorisyu, Flickr cc.