June 15, 2017 - My first stop on my journey was in Jerusalem, Israel, one of the oldest, most religiously significant, and cultural cities in not only the Middle East, but the entire world. In fact, Jerusalem is home to some extremely important sites for some of the world's largest religions, such as Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Although for this particular city, I'm focusing more on the Judaism side of the city. In fact, the country of Israel has the largest percentage of Jews in the entire world, at around 70 percent! The most fascinating site that I visited was the Temple Mount. It's located in around the southeast side of Old Jerusalem, and has amazingly tall walls that form a trapezoid surrounding the temple. Though a mosque does exist in the Temple, I found the Dome of the Rock the most fascinating. The massive golden dome sitting on top of the octagonal building is gorgeous, and the patterns on the dome feature many different colors and patterns, such as blue and green diamonds. The Temple Mount is specifically important to Judaism because some of the walls used to have been surrounding the Second Jewish Temple, a landmark that has since been destroyed, but existed back in the 1st century BC! Additionally, King Solomon, an important figure in both the Hebrew and Christian Bible, built the first Jewish Temple here around 3,000 years ago! Lastly, it is also the estimated location of where Abraham was told by God to sacrifice his son Isaac as a test of loyalty, but after he almost did it, God spared Isaac's life. I really enjoyed the history of the Temple Mount, and I hope to learn about it's Islamic heritage someday as well! However I must move on to my next stop, Bethlehem!
Dome of the Rock, Temple Mount, Jerusalem
June 16, 2017 - I continue my journey with a stop in Bethlehem, Palestine, which is about a 45 minute drive away from my previous stop, Jerusalem. The main thing Bethlehem is known for is the birth of Jesus Christ, the practical founder of Christianity, back in 4 BC. It is a major pilgrimage site for Christians all over the world, and the location of Jesus' birth is even marked! Easily the most fascinating locations in the city was the Nativity church. The church is actually one of the oldest churches in the area, if not the oldest. It was built back in the 4th Century by Constantine's mother, a devout Christian herself. It is constantly patrolled by police, and buses aren't even allowed to be parked there to keep it as safe as possible and free from destruction! Astonishingly beautiful mosaics are all over the church interior, featuring amazing green, red, and yellow hexagonal patterns, something you don't find in many other parts of the city, or the country for that matter. The marked location of Jesus's birth is a silver start, surrounded by several beautiful cloths and metal structures. I certainly don't regret coming to Bethlehem, it's an awe-inspiring city! I can't way to continue onto Mecca!
The silver star that is believed to be the location of Jesus' birth.
June 17, 2016 - After a short plane ride out of the Jerusalem International Airport, I've flown over to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the holiest city for Islam in the world! In fact, I have to be incredibly careful and unnoticed here, as it's not allowed for non-Muslims to enter the city. I'm very fortunate to have gotten in! The reason for its sacredness is that back in the year 570 AD, the Islamic prophet Muhammad was born here. This makes it such an important pilgrimage site, that one of the Five Pillars of Islam, which are rituals all Muslims are required to do, is for Muslims to visit Mecca at least once in their life. There is even an Islamic holiday for this, the Hajj, which in 2017, will start on August 30, and end on September 4. Massive amounts of Muslims make the Hajj every year, as many as 2 million did in 2015! I was truly astounded by the architecture in the city as well! The world's tallest clock tower, as well as one of the world's largest hotels, is located in the center of the city. It towers at a height of 1,972 feet! An Islamic crescent sits at the top of the clock tower, and the Arabic words for "Praise God," Allahu Akbar, rest just right above the clock. The most astonishing site is the Kaaba though, the black cube located in the center of the Grand Mosque. The Kaaba is believed to be built by Abraham and Ishmael, representing their covenant with God. The Grand Mosque is the site where all the Muslims who journey to Mecca pray, and the Kaaba lies at the center of it. The Mosque itself is covered in many pillars, with writings and inscriptions carved all over the wall, and gold is everywhere! It truly is gorgeous, and has been one of the best stops on my trip thus far! I really enjoyed my time in Mecca, I can't wait to travel to India, where I will spend the rest of my trip!
The massive Mecca Royal Clock Tower in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
June 19, 2016 - After my brutally long plane ride from Mecca, I've landed here in the city of Varanasi, India, to fulfill the Hinduism part of my journey! Located on the Ganges River, which is itself a very sacred place for the Hindu religion, it is often called the Spiritual Capital of India, due to it's incredible importance to the Hindu religion. Other names for the city are Benares and Kashi. The city is the most sacred of the holy places for Hinduism because of it's dedication to the Hindu god of Shiva, who is the god of Creation, Destruction, regeneration, meditation, and many other things. He is the principal god of Shaivism, one of the most influential denominations of Hinduism. Throughout the city, over two thousand temples are to be found, along with half a million idols! One of the temples that was my personal favorite was the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. Two domes covered in gold rest on top of the temple, and beautiful patterns, which I was told is Hindu scripture, covers the wall of the teal -colored stone. The Temple also has had several instances of being destroyed throughout history, the last time being by Aurangzeb, the sixth Mughal emperor. I also visited the Manikarnika Ghat, one of the oldest ghats in Varansari. It's covered in fascinating domes, which I've actually grown to appreciate more on my trip, with spires coming off of them on top. The Ghat is especially important for those who have been cremated there, because they have received Moksha, or liberation. I really enjoyed my stop in Varansari, I can't wait to visit Bihar, India next!
The Kashi Vishwanath Temple, with beautiful gold domes lying on top.
June 20, 2016 - My final stop is located in the Indian state of Bihar, not too far away from Varansari. In Bihar lies the Bodh Gaya, the most important pilgrimage destination for Buddhists across the world. In fact, the Mahabodhi Temple in the city has even been granted UNESCO World Heritage site status! The reason for it's level of status in Buddhism is that it is the location where Guatama Buddha finally gained full Enlightenment and peace of mind under the Bodhi Tree. The Mahabodhi Temple, translating to the Great Awakening Temple, as mentioned earlier is at the about location where the Buddha attained this Enlightenment back in 589 BCE, and in honor of this location Emperor Ashoka built the temple in around 260 BCE. The temple is massive, and has gone through a lot throughout it's over 2 thousand year history, including near destruction several times. It is extremely tall, and features a diamond thrown inside to mark the exact location of Buddha's enlightenment, which I found very fascinating and beautiful. Directly west of the temple is the Bodhi Tree, which the Buddha meditated under. The tree that's currently there isn't the exact tree, but is a direct descendant of it! It is covered in beautiful, budding, pink flowers, which I wish I could've gotten closer to. Unfortunately, no being is allowed to step onto it's surrounding grounds! Well, this was the last step of my journey, and I have to say I was truly mesmerized by all of the religions! I hope to make this journey again some day, and maybe include more locations in my travels!
The towering Mahabodhi Temple, in Bihar, India.