To begin the story of my extraordinary voyage, I decided to start with the religion that I grew up with, and was closest to my heart. Islam.
December 3rd - I woke up at 4 in the morning and cought the bus which went to the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The third most important city for Muslims is Jerusalem. This city was the original Qibla (direction of prayer) before it got changed to Mecca. Jerusalem is highly revered becuase according to Islamic belief, Muhammad miraculously traveled here by night, and ascended from here into heaven. The two most vital sites in Jerusalem are the Dome of the rock, and the Al-Aqsa mosque, which I am traveling to right now. This mosque is so important because it is believed that Muhammad ascended to heaven from Mount Majed in 621, making this particular mosque the third most holy shrine in all of Islam. My experience at the mosque was surreal. I had to wear one white robe with no stitching. The mosque is off-limits to any non Muslims so I was good. The mosque was very beautifully ornate, and had fascinating pieces of architecture such as adorned arches and a shining gold dome. When the day came to an end, I felt so much more enlightened and much more excited to continue my journey.
December 4th - Today I left Jerusalem and drove straight south for 12 hours to get to my destination of Medina city. As soon as I got there I went straight for the holy Masjid-Al-Nabawi, one of the greatest mosques in the world, located in the second most important city in Islam. Medina city nicknamed "The city of the Prophet" is so important to Islam because this is where Muhammad fled to when he was initially driven out of Mecca. This is the place where he attracted his first followers. Medina is also where the the prophet is buried. The Masjid-Al-Nabawi is the Prophets Mosque and was built by the prophet and his followers in 622 C.E. The actual Masjid was very grand and royal as I soon found out, and I absolutely did not want to leave. There were thousands of Muslims garbed in full white, and when nightfall came, the certainly impressive lights flashed on to showcase the amazing architecture that astonished it's beholder. The enormous Masjid had grand granite pillars topped with fancy stones. And in the center of the Masjid stood one massive dome with arches all around. It was really a once in a lifetime experience.
December 5th - The day I had waited so long for. I excitedly hopped on the train that rode 450 kilometers north to the holiest city on earth, Mecca. The most sacred place in all of Islam is the Ka'aba in Mecca. The Ka'aba is a shrine, built by Abraham, around a black stone. The prophet Muhammad designated this city as the holy city of Islam, and the direction in which all Muslims should pray to the almighty. As soon as I stepped off of the train I could see the holiest site in all of Islam, The Masjid al-haram, which housed the Ka'ba. This cube is so important because it contains a black stone which was given to Abraham by the angel Gabriel. It is also believed that Muhammad declared this site holy after he defeated the local Idol worshippers which used the Kaaba as a house for all their clay idols. As soon as I reached the Masjid I was glad I didn't bring my kids along because there were hundreds of thousands of people dressed head to toe in white doing Tawaf (Worship/prayer) of the Ka'aba. It was truly a experience that changed my life. As I got the privilege to get up close enough to the actual cube, I could see that it was very grand in size, standing at 43 feet tall, completely wrapped in beautiful black silk studded with gold. It was an experience i will never forget. I was very sad to leave. Tomorrow I would continue my journey to the holiest sites of Judaism and Christianity.
December 6th - I checked out of my hotel room today at 10 to catch my flight back to Jerusalem. I was going to visit holy sites for Christianity and Judaism. After a 2 hour flight, I left my baggage in my hotel and hailed a cab to take me to the dome of the rock. Right when I got there I was appalled by the intricacy of the ceramic tile art, and the gold aluminum dome that sat on top of the building. According to Jew belief, The site was first consecrated by the Israelites of Exodus. Later, according to Jewish tradition, Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac upon a rock that protruded from the center of the platform. Later still, upon the same platform, Solomon erected his temple. It is one of the holiest sites in all of Judaism. That day I also traveled by car to a place very near the gates of Jerusalem, Golgotha. This particular site is very important to the Christian belief because, according to the gospels, was the site immediately outside of Old Jerusalem's walls, where Jesus Christ was crucified. The bible translates the term to mean Place of the skull. There were 3 crosses located there and many Christians making a pilgrimage. By the time I had finished looking around it was 5 Pm and was time to go the place I had been looking forward to, The church of the holy Sepulchre. The site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is identified as the place both of the crucifixion and the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth. The church has long been a major pilgrimage center for Christians all around the world. The church itself was ginormous and was built out of stone and bricks. As soon as I stepped foot in the door I almost fainted. The architecture was so insanely godly and hands down the best I had ever seen. There were tapestries and tinted windows with holy paintings. There were candles and statues and arches that made me want to spend the rest of my life here. It was truly heaven.
December 7th - Today I traveled to the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem. It wasn't a very long drive from my hotel. It was a very amazing piece of modern architecture and helped me get a new perspective of the Jew lifestyle and belief. It was built entirely out of stone and resembled that of a tower. The inside had beautifully tinted windows with art portrayed on them. It was a great experience. By the time I had finished geeking over all the amazing pieces of history In Jerusalem, I returned to my hotel room to pack. I had a early morning flight the next day to India. I was going to visit the holy sites of Hinduism and Buddhism!
December 8th - This morning I took a 20 hour flight from Jerusalem to Mathura, uttar pradesh via Istanbul, New Delhi, and varanasi. By the time I reached my hotel I immediatly hit the hay due to the fact that it was already 11 at night.
December 9th - Today I visited the Sri Krishna Bhoomi Temple In Mathura. It is a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Krishna. The temple is supposedly built around the grounds where the ancient Hindu god is said to be born. The temple is said to have been destroyed and rebuilt 17 times in history!! The temple is one of the most frequently visited temples in all of India. Going inside the temple was a completely different experience. The architecture was quite different from that in Jerusalem, or the Middle East. The temple was built out of shiny brown clay, tiles, and resembled that of a castle. The inside of the temple was filled with holy aromas of Agarbati (candle made of Agar wood) and other prayer candles. Photography was prohibited by government inside the temple but I was lucky enough to get some nice shots from outside.
The very same day, after I got back from the temple, I took a 8 hour train from Mathura to Allahabad. There, I would visit and bathe in the holy Ganges River.
December 10th - The trains in India are downright crazy.......there are hundreds of people crammed into tiny spaces, and men hanging out the door......wow. I finally reached Allahabad at 4 in the morning and decided to sleep in a little bit. At 11 AM I caught the shuttle that ran from my hotel to the river. Once I got there I asked a local why the River was so sacred and he explained that In Hinduism, the river Ganga is sacred and is personified as the goddess Ganga. The river is worshipped by all Hindus who believe that bathing in the river allows for the remission of their sins. They also believe that it facilitates Moksha (liberation from cycle of life and death). The water of the Ganga is extremely pure, and pilgrims often empty the ashes of their kin into the river with the belief that it will bring them closer to the gods. I got the opportunity to take a dip in the water, and the experience was quite pleasant. Now I can check bathing in a goddess off of my bucket list.
December 11th - Unfortunately my time was running out so I had to leave the unique country of India quite quickly, but I must say, you have not lived until you have been to India. When I returned from the River it was already dark, and I had a 6 hour drive the next morning to Bhodhgaya Bihar. The drive was amazing and brutal at the same time. I got to whisk through country fields studded with palm trees, but the roads were not fun to drive on at all......lets just say I might need a couple more spare tires. As soon as I reached I didn't even make way for a hotel, I just made a beeline for the holy Mahabodhi Temple, sacred to Buddhism. I quickly parked my car, donned my Buddhist robes andmade way for the entrance. The Mahabodhi Vihar, literally translated as "The great awakening Temple" is a buddhist temple in Bodh Gaya. According to Buddhist belief, the temple marks the spot where buddha achieved enlightenment. The temple was built by Emperor Ashoka in arounf 260 B.C.E. At first glance I thought I had arrived at a pyramid. The temple was absolutely huge with a pyramid lilke shape bult entirely out of gray stone. It was like I escaped to another reality or traveled back ian time. It was a truly peaceful experinece. They had statues of gold Buddha meditating under a tree and tapestries and paintings lining the walls. There were also Bonsai trees which just pulled me in and made me want to spend the rest of eternity meditating like Buddha. But unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. When I returned to my car it was only 2 pm and I decided I bet get driving because the last stop of my journey, Lumbini Nepal, was a whopping 12 hours away.