Travel has always been a quest that means different things to different people -- for some it is pure hedonism and a chance to escape the norms of life. But for others, on a more spiritual journey, traveling to places that can re-affirm their faith or bring religious texts to life is the most fulfilling type of travel. Traveling to sites that religiously inspire is a way that those who believe find spiritual confirmation. There are religious vacations designed for most of the world's major religions, visiting countries from India to Israel, Saudi Arabia to Spain and everywhere in between.
India is the home and spiritual heart of Buddhism. Global Passages (tel. +91/11-2373-0355; www.globalpassages.com) offers a specially designed a 13-day In the Footsteps of Lord Buddha package tour will take participants to the most important Buddhist sites, providing insight into Buddhism as well as the some of the world's most renowned monuments of great history and art. The tour begins in Delhi and visits the Taj Mahal in Agra, Varanasi -- the Nirvana city -- which retains traditions and cultural values from centuries ago, Bodhgaya (the Mahabohi Temple where Buddha received enlightenment), and continues in Buddha's footsteps visiting Rajgir, Nalanda, Patna, Kushinagar, Balrampur Lucknow, and Lumbini -- the birth place of Buddha. Other tour highlights includes the Red Fort, Jama Mosque, Humayun's Tomb, Qutab Minar and India Gate in Delhi, Sikandra and tomb of Mughal Emperor Akbar, Agra Fort, the Pearly Mosque, a full-day of religious activities at the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya, the monastery Venuvan Vihar at Gridharkuta Hill, Kushinagar, Kapilvastu -- the ancient capital of the mighty Shakya clan.
The tour starts from $596 per person in standard accommodations or $1,000 in deluxe accommodations if there are only two or three travelers. If the group size reaches six people, the prices are $485 and $755 respectively. Single supplement is $240 standard and $390 deluxe. These prices are valid until March 31, 2007. The tour package includes airport transfers, standard or deluxe category hotel accommodation for 12-nights on twin sharing basis, all meals, local taxes, air-conditioned transport for all sight seeing and overland journeys, services of professional English-speaking guide, a boat ride in Varanasi and travel by express train between Delhi and Agra, Agra and Varanesi and Lucknow back to Delhi. International airfare and entry fees to monuments are additional.
A fascinating way to delve deeper into Buddhism is to participate in Korea's Temple Stay program (tel. +82/2-7329-9257; http://eng.templestay.com/guide). Over 43 temples located in national or provincial parks throughout South Korea take part in the program offering half day or full-day (including an overnight stay) religious immersion. Participation fees differ from temple to temple, but generally it is a donation of round $80. The program includes ceremonies and rituals, meals, meditation, temple tours, tea ceremonies and activities like traditional crafts and martial arts. You can make reservations online.
An Islamic pilgrimage is a journey that all Muslims are expected to take at least once in their lives as part of the five pillars of Islam (the most significant acts of worship). There are three main holy cities in Islam -- Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem, as well as several other significant sites throughout the Middle East. A visit to Mt. Arafat, near Mecca in Saudi Arabia for the Hajj is the pinnacle of Islamic pilgrimage. Close to three million Muslims from around the world come together to worship in a very holy place. Non-Muslims are not allowed to participate in Hajj rituals. This is not a simple trip and the sheer number of participants lends itself to hazardous conditions, over-crowding, general travel problems and traffic congestion. In 2006-2007 the Hajj will begin on December 29 and go through to early January. People preparing and booking Hajj trips from various suppliers in the U.S. need to do so immediately, as places fill extremely quickly and some people book a year or more in advance (so the 2007-2008 Hajj will be your next opportunity). There are several companies that offer trips, often escorted by key members of the Islamic community, Imams or academics.
Philadelphia-based Al Mu'adhdhan Hajj Group (tel. 215/457-8006; www.makehajj.com/package_info.htm) provides specialized packages to the Hajj with departures in late December. Their 2006 prices were approximately $3,500 per person based on quad share and the 21-day tour included visits to all the main holy sites (Jeddah, Medinah, Mena, Mecca and Arafat) Hajj preparation, round-trip airfare from New York to Cairo, flights to Saudi Arabia, all transportation and accommodation within walking distance to Haram. Other companies like Canada-based Bismallahhajj (tel. 905/683-5912; www.bismillahhajj.com) offer trips with flights from Toronto to Jeddah, visits to all the holy sites, transportation and accommodation in three to four-star hotels starting from $3,875. One Hajj (tel. 888/247-4233; www.onehajj.com) has short Hajj trips (ten-day) starting from $5,195 (in 2006) based on triple share including round-trip airfare to Jeddah from Chicago or Detroit (via Amman), three nights in a five-star hotel in Medina near Al-Haram, four nights in private air-conditioned tents in Mina and one night in Jeddah, ground transportation in private air-conditioned buses, three meals per day in Mina and Arafat and two meals per day in hotels in Medina and Jeddah.
Jerico Catholic Journeys (tel. 877/453-7426; www.jericojourneys.com) features dozens of individual Catholic pilgrimages to specialized destinations across Europe, the Middle East and Latin America. Its ten-day Portugal and Paris Pilgrimage tour departs from Newark on May 21 and September 11, 2007 and is priced from $2,455 per person based on double occupancy (or $2,495 from Minneapolis). The tour visits monasteries and cathedrals including Burgos, Salamanca, the Grotto of Massabielle, the Basilica of Immaculate Conception in Lourdes, Church of St. Bernadette, the pasturage at Valinhos, Cova da Iria, Santarem and the tomb of St. Catherine Labore. The package includes airfares from the U.S. to Lisbon and back from Paris, eight nights' accommodations in superior class hotels, breakfast and dinner daily, transportation in an air-conditioned tourist coach, an escort and local English-speaking guides, entrance fees, and daily Holy Mass with a priest in the group. Airport/airline taxes are additional.
Holy Land Sun Tours (tel. 800/942 2114; www.holylandssuntours.com) has a seven-night Bibleland Tour to the Holy Land that departs each Sunday between now and the end of February, 2007 priced from $1,640 per person based on double occupancy. Visiting holy Christian sites like Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley, the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum and Nazareth, the package includes round-trip airfare from New York to Tel Aviv on El Al Israel Airlines, seven nights' accommodations in first-class hotels, buffet breakfast daily, arrival and departure transfers,Â·five days of sightseeing with an English speaking government licensed guide, all site and museum entrance fees plus the USTOA $1 Million Travelers Assistance Program. $218 in airport taxes and fuel surcharges is additional.
Feeling like some Christian inspiration but from a Protestant perspective? Journeys of Faith Christian Tours (tel. 866/708-1708; www.joftours.com) provides tours of Scotland, England and France with itineraries encouraging self-discovery and a greater understanding of the evolution of Christianity in Europe. Their 13-day Heart of France deluxe Christian history tour features visits to Paris, Normandy and the Loire valley. Priced at $3,775 per person land-only, it includes airport transfers, 12 nights' accommodatiosn in four-star hotels, breakfast daily, six lunches, seven dinners, all entry fees and ground transportation. International airfare is additional. Highlights include Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle, the Louvre, the historic city center of Rouen, Bayeux Cathedral, Omaha Beach, Pointe Du Hoc, Mont St Michel, La Rochelle, Chateau D'Angersm Saumur, Château Chinon, Château Cheverny, Château Chenonceau, Chatres and Versailles.
Although most Judaic or Old Testament tours are conducted in Israel, there is also a wide selection of Jewish heritage and cultural tours that are not specifically religious and visit counties of Jewish significance in Eastern and Central Europe and North Africa. These tours celebrate the diversity of Jewish cultural experiences in the diaspora (Spain, Portugal, Italy, Morocco, France -- even China and India) or commemorate the atrocities of the Holocaust or 19th century pogroms (Poland, Czech Republic, Russia, Ukraine and Hungary).
One of the more interesting and less expected tours is run by the China Judaic Studies Association (tel. 818/222-4447; www.jewishchina.com). Their summer 2007 Land of the Dragon with a Jewish Touch tour is a unique opportunity to tour China with the world's leading expert on Judaism in China, Professor Xu Xin, Director of the Judaic Institute of Najing University. The 16-day trip commences on June 27, 2007 and visits Beijing, Harbin, Kaifeng, Xi'an, Three Gorges of Yangtze River and Shanghai. Experience and touch Chinese history, culture, life and the uniqueÂ Jewish experience in China- past and present. The trip is priced at $2,485 per person and includes internal China flights (Beijing to Harbin, Harbin to Zhengzhou, Xi'an to Chongqing and to Shanghai), airport transfers, 14 nights' accommodations (ten in mainly five-star hotels, one in a sleeper cabin to Xi'an and three on board the MS Victoria or MS East King Yangtze River cruise), all meals, admission fees, entertainment, guides, tips and airport taxes for domestic flights. Highlights include a Sabbath dinner with the Beijing Jewish community, Ming Tombs and the Great Wall, a Peking opera, the100-year-old Harbin Jewish cemetery, Harbin old synagogue, Kaifeng, the Center for Jewish Studies at Henan University, the terra-cotta warriors museum, a walking tour through Hongkuo Ghetto, the Yuyuan Garden, the Jade Buddha Temple, an acrobatic show, Zhujiajiao, and a boat ride on Huangpu River. International airfare to China and visa fees are additional.
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