The first time I ever consciously thought about religious tourism was when I was 17 or 18 years old. At the time, I was reading a Paulo Coelho novel about the The Way of St. James — or the pilgrimage to Santiago, in northwestern Spain, where the remains of Saint James, the apostle, is rumored to be buried. The idyllic descriptions in contrast with the suffering endured en route to the final destination were what really piqued my interest. It’s what drove me to learn more about this idea of ‘religious tourism’ and its popularity in my country, India, and around the globe.
In India, most Hindus and Muslims make a trip to a holy place at least once a year. There are a large number of holy places that are very popular. My grandparents make the trek at least once a year to the Sri Krishna Mutt in Udupi. Most Hindus will also make a trip to Varanasi, Gaya, Kashi and Haridwar, or Tirupati at least once during a lifetime.
Muslims are also required to make a trip to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, at least once during their lifetimes. Mecca is the most important holy place for all sects of Islam. Every year, millions of Muslims from all over the world visit Mecca for the Hajj pilgrimage. There they walk around the Kaaba, a cube-like structure which is considered the most holy Islamic site seven times.
Religious tourism is popular in the United States, as well. The Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, located in Washington D.C., is the largest church in the Western Hemisphere. Another example would be the famous St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York, NY.
Every year, more than 300 million people from around the world go on religious tours. Pilgrimages have become popular for two reasons. The first is spiritual: it helps people feel closer to God, restores their faith and brings them peace. It gives people hope; many travel to these holy places to pray for things close to the heart.
The second reason for the popularity of religious tourism is heritage. It helps individuals understand their history and culture from a more prominent perspective. Religious tourism supports many local economies and helps the locals sustain the livelihood of themselves and their families. This is one of the main reasons governments actively support and promote this form of tourism.
Photo by Ashok666
What about you? Where would you go/have you traveled in the name of faith?