From The Vatican to Mecca, and even mountains in Tibet, these places steeped in nature, religion and tradition will help you find your inner peace
People travel for many different reasons – be it a shopping spree in Hong Kong, a spa staycay in Ubud, or even to visit Disneyland in Florida. But there are times when wanderlust grips you and demands a more meaningful odyssey, beyond urban gridlocks and far from creature comforts. Need to get away from it all and soothe your soul with a humbling change of perspective? We’ve put together a list of spiritual travel destinations where you can find tranquillity, inner peace and witness time old traditions.
India has long been a destination for spiritual journeys thanks to its rich, history that goes back thousands of years. The city of Varanasi, established over 500BC, is where Buddha is believed to have given his first sermon. Some Hindus believe that dying within the city will bring salvation, making it a major centre for pilgrimage, especially among the terminally ill. As such, the banks of the River Ganges, next to the city, are lined with countless burning ghats where Hindus cremate their dead. We have to say though, Varanasi is not for the faint of heart or the squeamish traveller. Putrefying bodies by the riverside and open defecation are not uncommon in this holy city. But travellers brave enough to visit will be awed by the sights of the sunrise prayers set against the backdrop of the Ganges.
Getting there: Fly to Delhi or Mumbai, and take a domestic flight to Lal Bahadur Shastri Airport.
The Vatican, Vatican City
Despite being one of the more developed spiritual vacation destinations on this list, this holy city-state still manages to inspire a sense of awe in its visitors; after all, this is where the Pope lives! The St. Peter’s Basilica is the focal point of the city and one of the largest Catholic churches in the world. In addition to being a destination for pilgrims, the church houses the Sistine Chapel, famous for its breathtaking painted ceilings including Michelangelo’s God’s Creation of the World. Unfortunately, the chapel can get rather hectic, so we recommend you visit during non-peak periods to truly soak in the sacredness of it all.
Getting there: Fly to Rome. Then, take Line A of the Rome metro or a public bus to get to Vatican City.
Bagan and Inle Lake, Myanmar
If it’s a Southeast Asian getaway you desire, without the hustle and bustle of Vietnam or Malaysia, Myanmar stands as a bastion of peace and timeless Buddhist traditions in Asia. Witness orange sunsets draping Bagan’s ancient pagodas in golden light or experience the serenity of the vast, placid Inle Lake. A trip to the land of the Golden Pagodas is one that’ll leave you inspired, recharged and ready to dive back into the rat race. Not convinced? Here are four more reasons to put Myanmar on your spiritual travel bucket list.
Getting there: Fly to Yangon, then head to Bagan via a domestic flight or an overnight train. To get to Inle Lake from Bagann, fly to Heho airport via a domestic flight.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Australia
If the previous two destinations strike you as a little too chaotic, get a little closer to nature at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park in Australia. Uluru, known internationally as Ayer’s Rock is a sacred place for the Anangu Aboriginal people of Australia. The park area is devoid of tourist amenities, but guided tours, often led by Anangu guides, are your best way to explore the area around Uluru. While climbing the rock isn’t strictly prohibited, the local Anangu discourage this and we’re of the opinion that their beliefs should be respected. The area around Uluru is also believed to be inhabited by ancestral beings of the Anangu people.
Getting there: Fly to Ayers Rock Airport from Sydney, then rent a car to drive out to the Ayer’s Rock.
Paro District, Bhutan
Leave the urban gridlock behind and take a trip to The Tiger’s Nest in the Paro Valley of Bhutan. Also known as Paro Taktsang, the temple is a prominent Himalayan Buddhist sacred site built precariously on the cliffside of the upper Paro valley. It is here that Guru Padmasambhava is said to have meditated for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours in the 8th century. The Guru is also credited with introducing Buddhism to Bhutan. It’s worth noting that the hike to the monastery is a strenuous one, and even if you opt to make it there on horseback, the trip down must be made on foot. Upon arrival though, you’ll be treated to a spectacular view and of course, the tranquillity of this ancient Buddhist enclave.
Getting there: Fly to Kathmandu, Nepal via various airlines, including Singapore Airlines and Malindo Air. Then, hop on a quick flight to Bhutan.
Iceland tops many a bucket list for its rugged, untamed landscape and the breathtaking Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis. One of the best spots for catching this awe-inspiring natural phenomenon is Landmannalaugar, part of the Fjallabak Nature Reserve. Getting here is by no means a long journey, but it is an odyssey in its own right. The roads are rugged, most open only to 4X4 travel, but you’ll find yourself exposed to some of Iceland’s most stunning vistas. You won’t find Wi-Fi, convenience stores or any of the creature comforts you’ve grown accustomed to. But after your first night camped out beneath the stars and the dancing Northern Lights, we’re sure you’ll find that it is well worth the trip.
Getting there: Fly to Reykjavik, then hop on a bus tour to Landmannalaugar.
Mount Kailas, Tibet
Bring yourself a little closer to the heavens at the revered Mount Kailas in Tibet. Considered holy by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains alike, ancient texts refer to the mountain as the centre of the world. According to popular religious beliefs, the most holy time to make a pilgrimage to this mountain is during the year of the horse. The peak is worshipped by Hindus praying to Shiva while Tibetan Buddhists believe the mountain is a “natural mandala”. Jains believe that their religion’s founder was spiritually awakened at the peak.
Getting there: Be sure to book via a tour agent – all foreign travellers heading to Mount Kailas must be on an organised tour, with the necessary travel permits, tour guide and private vehicle.
The Holy City of Jerusalem has stood for over 5000 years and repelled countless invaders in its storied history. It is also considered holy to the three major Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Perhaps the most iconic building in the city is the Dome of The Rock, located on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem and is regarded as one of the oldest examples of Islamic architecture and the city’s most recognisable landmark.
Getting there: Fly to Tel Aviv, Israel. Jerusalem is accessible via a bus ride, but it’s best advised to go via a tour group or private transfer.
Mecca, Saudi Arabia
A pilgrimage to Mecca, the Holiest city in Islam and location of the sacred Kaaba (a building at the centre of the Al-Masjid al-Haram), is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. As such, making a pilgrimage here at least once is obligatory, provided the pilgrim is physically and financially capable. However it is strictly forbidden for non-Muslims to enter the city and this rule is strongly enforced.
Getting there: Fly to Jeddah. While you can get to Mecca via bus or taxi, most pilgrims from Singapore stick to a tour itinerary for easy navigation.
The Golden Temple Amritsar, India
Known as one of the ‘Seven Wonders of India’, The Golden Temple Amritsar is the most sacred site for Sikhs. The central shrine of the Gurdwara (temple) complex is covered in gold plating and surrounded by Amrit Sarovar, a holy tank of water believed to contain healing powers. The temple was founded by the fourth Sikh guru, Guru Ram Das, in 1577 and remains a major pilgrimage site with over 100,000 visitors per day. Visitors of all walks of life are welcome but, as with all places of worship, remember to be respectful by dressing appropriately (don’t forget to cover your head!).
Getting there: Fly to Amritsar via Sri Guru Ram Das Jee International Airport from New Delhi. Take a taxi or a rickshaw from the many bus and train stations in Amritsar to the temple complex.