July 5, 2016
After a long plane ride, I began my journey in the city of Mecca (or Mekkah) in Saudi Arabia. More than 95% of the population here is Islamic, which is more than 25 million people! The buildings here are full of grandeur, and are characterized by massive stained glass windows, intricately carved pillars, and large dome-structured rooves. Saudi Arabia is home to Masjid al-Haram, an immense mosque capable of allowing 1 million people to worship at the same time. The building itself is sacred and holy, is larger than 85 acres, and is open every day and every night. Citizens often go to this mosque to perform "Salat", which is a series of prayers that are accomplished 5 times daily. Here in Mecca, the people pray at five different times, which are called Fajr (at 5:20 a.m.), Zuhr (12:10 p.m.), Asr (at 3:20 p.m.), Maghrib (5:40 p.m.), and Isha (7:10 p.m.). Today is also the beginning day of Ramadan, a festival that commemorates the revelation of the Quran (Islamic Holy Book) to Muhammed (Islamic Holy Prophet). This was an event in which an archangel visited Muhammed and said to him a verse of the Quran. My stay in Saudi Arabia has allowed me to get a closer look into the vast Islamic world. Tomorrow morning I leave early and am flying somewhere else beautiful and historically rich! Check back next week!
July 11, 2016
Today I'm in Japan, where there are more than 46 million Buddhists! I'm visiting Koyasan today, which is a Japanese sacred site which is located in the Kii Mountains. The sacred area can be found at the top of Mount Koya, and it is called Danjo Garan. This location is a complex of pagodas and temples. Koyasan is also a location for those returning from the “Pilgrimage to the 88 Temples of Shikoku.” This is a pilgrimage that is 750 miles long, and is takes 60 days to walk. People will traditionally wear white clothing, with characters threaded into the clothing that translate to "two travelling together." This journey is a religious practice with the 88 temples divided into 4 provinces: Awa, Tosa, Iyo, and Sanuki. The pilgrimage is currently taking place, and I will be heading out to Himeji Castle to take a look at traditional Japanese and Buddhist architecture tomorrow.
July 13, 2016
I am currently standing in front of Himeji Castle, which is made up of 83 different buildings and temples! It has stood since the 14th century, when it was originally a fort. This castle has been well-preserved and its' style can not be replicated anywhere else in Japan. The style is very traditional, and it is characterized by its' curved walls, sliding doors, and elevated floors. Many people visit this place for its' historically rich interior and exterior. Some of the walls even have the crests of former rulers that lived in the castle! Many Buddhists come here to tour the castle for its' historical importance as well as its rich Buddhist influence.
July 16, 2016
Today I have just gotten off a bus at the base of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. No one Jewish will step onto the actual mountain, as it is the holiest site in Judaism. Those believing in Judaism call the Temple Mount "Har HaBayit" (Temple Mount) or "Har HaMoriyah" (Mount Moriah). The Jewish believe this site as the location in which God is most heavily manifested, and also where the world was first created. Generally, those practicing Judaism face in the direction of the Temple Mount when praying. The historical significance has an extensive history, including being mentioned as Mount Zion several times throughout the Bible. The architecture bears similarities to some Islam architecture, though Jewish architecture can range from basic, undecorated prayer rooms to grand synagogue halls. Every synagogue has an "ark", a desk in which the Torah scrolls are kept. Depending on the history of the synagogue, it will usually follow the building style of surrounding buildings. Pillars and columns are commonly found in synagogues, as well as high ceilings. My time here has been enjoyable, and in a few days I will find myself in the Indian Himalayas.
July 20, 2016
The Himalayas are perhaps some of the most beautiful mountains I have ever seen! I am here today at the beginning of Chota Char Dham, or in Hindi, छोटा चार धाम. This is a very important Hindi pilgrimage in which the individual embarks, usually on foot, on a journey through 4 regions, which are Yamunotri (यमनोत्री), Gangotri (गंगोत्री), Kedarnath (केदारनाथ), and Badrinath (बद्रीनाथ). These names are all the names of 4 temples visited during Chota Char Dham. Although the pilgrimage is not mandatory or required, many ascetics and religious figures will embark, seeking one or more of their many gods, through the pursuit of nature. Most will walk or ride in a car during the pilgrimage season, which begins on April 15 and ends approximately 2 days after Diwali ends (middle of November). These temple locations are also the holiest in the region, and hold an important place in Hinduism. The architecture follows that of most of North India, which is characterized by large, central spires on top of rooves, richly decorated (such as bearing engraved and carved designs) entrance doors, and wide, pillared hallways. The Himalayas are a perfect setting for the temples, and wonderful sunsets and sunrises occur as a result. In two days time I will be visiting Mount Nebo.
July 22, 2016
I have travelled a short distance to Jordan, the country in which I am currently visiting. I am currently standing on top of Mount Nebo, a holy site to many Christians. This is the site that is believed to have been the location of Moses' death, and also where he saw the Promised Land just before his death. It is one of the most modestly recognized holy sites in all of Christianity. Although there are no rituals or pilgrimages associated with this location among Christians, it remains a beacon of religious history for many. The architecture is modest and basic, although it can vary such as Jewish synagogues do. Most architecture is found in Christian churches, such as the small one built on top of Mount Nebo. For example, Schloss Rothenfels was a type of church that was an early modern type, and consisted only of a single, undecorated room with some black stools to sit upon. On the contrary, some modern churches, such as Kizhi Pogost, in Russia, are very architecturally pleasing and exotic compared to other churches. This concludes the end of my journey. I hope you have enjoyed reading about my experiences and perhaps I will do this again!