My departure date for the biggest trip I have ever made. After many years of planning, I finally embarked on a journey to visit famous architecture and sacred sites of all of the 5 major world religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. I was inspired by my classes in high school, and all the incredible and fascinating sites like Jerusalem, and all the diversity in religions. And so goes my trip:
After a journey with 3 stops in Atlanta, New York, and London, I finally made it to my hotel in Tel-Aviv (as this is the closest airport, just as the sun was setting over the Mediterranean Sea. Just on my way here, I saw ancient ruins of buildings of 3 religions with importance around here. Tomorrow will be the day I go out and visit famous Christian and Jew buildings and sites in Jerusalem, an hour drive from here.
I woke up early the next morning , although I was jet lagged, to see the spectacular sun rise over the city. I caught a bus to Jerusalem around 7:30 am, as I would be spending the whole day there. The first place I visited is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. This church surrounds two of the most holy sites in Christianity. It is said that here Jesus was crucified (known as "Calvary"), and also where the Empty Tomb is located, where is said to have been buried and resurrected. This tomb is surrounded by a shrine, which serves as the headquarters of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem. It is built with Romanesque and Baroque architecture. It was built in the 4th century AD, destroyed in 1009 by a Muslim Fatimid caliph in a period of time of when people were against Christian places of worship in Palestine, and rebuilt by Byzantine emperor Constantine IX Monomachos in 1048. I honestly sound like a history teacher at this point... so much history learnt in just 2 hours!
After visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, I "crossed the street" (it was actually a few small and crowded streets) to visit the Temple Mount in the Jewish quarter of the old city. It contains of the al-Aqsa mosque, the Dome of the Rock, and 4 minarets. It is a very noticeable part of Jerusalem's skyline, and a greatly recognizable site. This place is the most holy place of Judaism as they believe it is the place where God's divine presence is manifested more than in any other place, from where the world spread, and where he gathered up everything to create the first human, Adam. Very near this, on the western side of the platform lies the Western Wall, which is a very sacred site due to its connection to the Temple Mount. It is the furthest any Jew is aloud to go to pray, as no one is allowed to pass further. The Western Wall is the closest wall of the four to Temple Mount, and parts of the current wall date back to 19 BCE. Although I didn't go up to the wall, I saw from a few meters away its size and people clustered beneath it, praying to God.
The next day I had my flight to Jeddah, from where I would be (again) taking a bus to Mecca to visit the Masjid al-Haram (Grand Mosque, Great Mosque of Mecca). Not only is this the most holy place in Islam, it is also the biggest mosque in the world. In the 5 pillars of faith of Islam, it is said that every Muslim must make the Hajj pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime, which occurs once a year from the 8th to 12th of the last month of the Islamic calendar. One thing I learned about Hajj is the Stoning of the Devil, during which Muslims throw pebbles at three walls in the city of Mina to cast aside their desires.It is the largest gathering of people worldwide attracted sometimes 4 million people. The Great Mosque of Mecca or the Grand Mosque covers an area of 88.2 acres, and has 9 minarets reaching a highest geight of 292 ft. It surrounds the Kaaba, a big granite stone cube structure. It is sometimes called the House of God and whenever Muslims do their prayers five times a day (Salat), they do them facing the Kaaba. Really, once you come here you will actually realize how big the mosque really is.
You might be able to tell now how there never is any direct connection to a holy place, as again I took a flight from Jeddah to Gaya, which is only about 20 km away from Bodh Gaya, where I went to see the Mahabodhi temple and Bodhi tree. This place is the most holy place in Buddhism as it was here in Bodh Gaya that the Buddha meditated and achieved enlightenment under the famous Bodhi tree. The Mahabodhi temple ("Great Awakening Temple") is part of the Mahabodhi Vihar (complex), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is considered one of the oldest brick structures, and an example of fine Indian brickwork. The central tower rises 180 ft, with four surrounding towers of similar style. It was built directly to the east of the Bodhi tree (considered a descendant of the original Bodhi tree). The Bodhi tree itself is where after 3 days and 3 nights, Siddharta Gaumata attained all the answers he sought regarding suffering and life. Tomorrow I will be flying to India to visit two very special places. For now I'm taking rest for the rest of the day.
I am so glad that India has so many airports and ways to reach destinations so quick (except Kashmir and the Himalayas), as a 40 min flight from Gaya to Faizabad was much preferred over a 10 hr drive through dangerous parts of Uttar Pradesh. I am here in Faizabad to visit one of the Saptapuris or seven most important pilgrimage sites for Hindus. This current city is where it is believed that lord Rama was born, and that a temple was there, later destroyed by a Mughal emperor. Not only is this believed to be the birthplace of Rama, it is where the while epic Ramayana takes place. Although I knew of Ayodhya, I never actually knew that it was a real place; I had always thought it was just some mythical city... After spending the day roaming Ayodhya, I took an evening flight to Bhubaneswar (my home town!). I am here in Bhubaneswar to visit Puri tomorrow, and to visit the Jagannath Temple. It is also a sacred site and part of Char Dam, which includes Badrinath, Dwarka, and Rameswaram. The temple itself was built in 1161, and is widely known for the annual Rathyatra festival, and millions come to see the three main deities (Jagannath, Subhadra, and Balabhadra) hauled in huge chariots. The temple complex covers an area of 400,000 sq ft (dang), and is surrounded by a 20 ft wall. It includes as many as 120 small temples and shrines around the main temple, which has the highly revered Nila Chakra at the top, whose marking symbolize the protection of Shri Jagganath.