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100 things to do before you die: spiritual journeys

Thursday, August 24, 2006

31. Lourdes, France
In 1858, 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous was collecting firewood by the Rive Gave de Pau in the little town of Lourdes when she saw a figure bathed in light. Bernadette came to believe the apparition was the Virgin Mary. Four years later, pilgrims arrived to see the grotto and drink from the spring, some finding amazing healing powers.

Each year around 100,000 sick and infirm people journey here, all praying for a miracle cure. Between Palm Sunday and mid-October there are torchlight processions each night. Pilgrims carrying banners walk along the Esplanade des Processions and the nearby snow-capped Pyrénées provide the perfect background.

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32. Kathmandu, Nepal
Kathmandu's old city is noted for its many Buddhist and Hindu temples and palaces, most dating from the 17th century. It is a very spiritual place, with sunrise the most divine part of the day, and despite the chasm between rich and poor, people are good humoured, with much self-respect and integrity. You will encounter many sadhu — Hindu ascetic holy men — who show their faith by having no material possessions.

There is much history and eight UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Kathmandu Valley. Four are in the city itself — Swayambhunath Stupa, Pashupatinath Temple, Boudhanath Stupa and Hanuman Dhoka Durbar Square.

The stupas, or shrines, house Buddhist relics. They are frequented by pilgrims, but other visitors are welcome. Swayambhunath Buddhist Temple was built in 250BC on the holy site of the divine lotus and is one of the most revered and fascinating examples of temple structures in Asia. The faithful climb its 360 steps and are rewarded with a breathtaking view of the Kathmandu Valley and the north-eastern Himalayan range.

33. Ganges, India
At 2507 kilometres long, the Ganges, or Ganga as locals refer to it, isn't even close to being one of the world's greatest rivers in terms of length — the Nile, Amazon and Mississippi are all more than two and a half times longer. Its greatness comes from the fact that for millions of Hindus it's the most sacred and venerated river on earth and is the lifeline of India economically, spiritually and culturally.

It starts on the Himalayas' southern slopes, 3140 metres above sea level, and flows eastward to the Bay of Bengal. The water from Mother Ganges is considered amrita or elixir of life. To be cremated on its banks, having died there, is said to be the wish of every Hindu.

34. Via Dolorosa, Jerusalem
Via Dolorosa, Latin for "way of grief", is a street in Jerusalem's Old City. It commemorates the path Jesus walked while bearing the cross from the Place of Judgement to Calvary, his place of crucifixion. The path begins near Lions Gate in the Muslim Quarter and ends within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the heart of the Christian Quarter. The route is marked by the 14 stations of the cross.

35. Hajj, Mecca
Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, is one of the five pillars of Islam. Hajj was made obligatory in the ninth year of Hijra. The Holy Prophet sent 300 Muslims to Mecca so they could perform Hajj. It is an act of worship like Salat, five daily prayers, and fasting in the month of Ramadan. Muslims from all over the world gather in Mecca in Saudi Arabia during the last month of the Muslim calendar. The special worship lasts for several days and unites Muslims of all countries, colours and races in one place.

36. Gospel singing, United States
Gospel is the religious music which came from African-American churches in the 1930s. It also refers to black gospel music and the religious music composed and sung by white southern Christian artists. Both drew from the Methodist hymnal and artists in each tradition sang songs belonging to the other. The sharp division between black and white America, particularly in the church, kept the two apart and while that has lessened, the two traditions are still distinct. The phenomenon has spread throughout the world, including Australia.

One of the best gospel churches to visit in the US — and there are so many of them — is Glide in San Francisco. It really rocks with choir, full band and inspirational speakers and is full of joy, love and acceptance.

For further information:

31. French Travel Connection
Ph: (02) 9966 1177
Fax: (02) 9966 1455

32. World Expeditions
Ph: 1300 720 000; (02) 9279 0188
Fax: (02) 9279 0566

33. Intrepid Travel
Ph: 1300 360 667
Fax: (03) 9419 4426

34. Tempo Holidays
Ph: (03) 9646 (02)77
Fax: (03) 9646 6722

35. Hajj Mecca

36. Glide Memorial
Ph: 0011 1 415 674 6000

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