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10 trips to soothe your soul
Visit a shaman or drink from a healing waterfall -- alternative vacations can be life-changing
If it’s inner peace, rejuvenation and enlightenment you’re after –- together with a new passport stamp -– take to the road for these spiritually uplifting experiences.
They promise to bear fruit long after you return home.
1. Amarnath Cave Trek: Kashmir, India
This annual pilgrimage takes place every summer -- depending on the political situation -- high in the mountains of Kashmir.
Thousands of devotees walk to the Amarnath Cave to see the Shiva-lingam, a miraculous phallic-shaped manifestation of the Hindu God Lord Shiva (formed by an ice stalagmite). As legend has it, Shiva came here to share the secret of eternity with his bride Parvati.
The trek is a challenge -– mostly vertical, up mountain slopes, and at an altitude of around 4,000 meters. But while the going can be tough, the camaraderie and kindness you’ll experience en route are manna for the soul.
Rates: Tailored to your trip
Indus Discoveries; +91 11 4166 4082; www.indusdiscoveries.com
(NB: Please check travel advisories before traveling to Kashmir)
2. Meditation retreat: Bali, Indonesia
The sacred island, known for its magical energy, is a magnet for spiritual seekers.
It’s the ideal setting for a nurturing yoga and meditation retreat. Every morning you rise with the sun, meditate and explore postures to develop flexibility, self-love and inner calm.
However the last quality may be tested on a trip to the Bat Cave temple -– where a mythical giant snake Naga Basuki is said to reside.
With massages, cookery classes, visits to holy waters and village walks, you will return with mind and body restored.
Rates: A 10-night trip for two people costs from US$3,898
Spirit Tours; +1 866 566 8078; www.spirit-tour.com
3. Fasting and feasting: Sinai Desert, Egypt
If you have hermit-like tendencies, or are simply craving solitude, embark on a cleansing, fasting retreat in the pristine Sinai Desert.
You’ll be following in the footsteps of the saints and seekers who, over the centuries, have holed up among the sand dunes and caves here in silent contemplation.
For three days and three nights your tummy may be empty –- but you won’t be starved for inspiration -– you’ll feast on the scenery: wind-sculpted mountains and a night sky brimming with constellations.
And at a distance, your Bedouin carers will keep a caring, watchful eye over you.
Rates: An eight-day trip costs from US$1,265
The Makhad Trust; +44 (0)1242 544 546; www.makhad.org
4. Drink Ayahuasca and detoxify: Sussex, England
A potent healing medicine, made from the Ayahuasca vine and the leaf of the Chacruna plant, and collected from the jungles of the Amazon, is at the centre of this retreat. It causes purging as a means of removing toxins.
Ayamama Rain Queen, a gifted shaman who orchestrates the safe, highly personalized, one-to-one healing retreats at the Wellbeing and Cermonial Sanctuary in England, believes Ayahuasca can enable anyone who drinks it to access higher levels of emotional intelligence and foster a deeper connection with nature.
Not for the faint-hearted, but mind-blowing and truly transformative.
Rates: A three-night retreat costs from US$890
Wellbeing and Ceremonial Sanctuary; +44 (0)75 8146 2905; www.herbalandwellbeingsanctuary.com
5. Walk the Way of St. James: Spain
This network of hiking routes to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain -– also known as The Camino –- has been traversed for thousands of years by pilgrims looking for a retreat from daily life, or as a spiritual discipline.
Some say The Camino lies directly under the Milky Way and follows ley lines.
Featured in "The Way", starring Martin Sheen, and in "The Camino", a book by actress Shirley MacLaine recording her mystical experiences en route, the landscapes vary from rugged alpine scenery to coastline, fishing villages and hills.
It’s the perfect opportunity for an inner journey –- and recalling Ms MacLaine –- to experience cosmic revelations.
Rates: A seven-night hike costs from US$1,600
Foot Abroad Dublin; +353 1 443 3972; www.followthecamino.com
6. Commune with the oracle and Sufi poet Hafez: Shiraz, Iran
The city of Shiraz is the resting place of the great 14th century Sufi poet Hafez. Mysticism and love feature in his poetry and many devotees see him as an oracle.
A popular custom is to open a page of his verse at random, read it and divine your fortune in his words. The best place to have a go is at his tomb in the exquisitely pretty flower-filled Musalla Gardens, at sunset.
Join the dozens of hopeful young women who sit here clutching their copy of Hafez. Not only will you find spiritual sustenance in his words, but you’ll be heartened by the warmth of your fellow romantics.
Rates: A 16-day trip costs from US$3,986
Wild Frontiers Adventure Travel Ltd; +44 (0)20 7736 3968; www.wildfrontiers.co.uk
7. Drink healing waters: Cornwall, England
As legend has it, this sacred, healing waterfall, close to Tintagel, on England’s windswept Cornish coast was once home to St. Nectan. He was a 5th century monk, who blessed the Knights of the Round Table before they set off in search of the Holy Grail.
Getting to the falls involves a 1,600-meter walk through a wooded glen, where visitors have reported seeing visions of orbs, monks, a man in a medieval gear and a gray lady.
The waterfall tumbles into a basin and people from around the world beat a path here to bathe in its waters, said to cure physical and emotional ailments.
Post splash, you can meditate in what was once the monk’s chapel.
VisitCornwall; +44 (0)18 7232 2900; www.visitcornwall.com
8. Stay in a Buddhist monastery: Koyasan, Japan
Mount Koyasan is the spiritual heartland of Shingon Esoteric Buddhism –- an ancient branch of the religion.
It’s also the ideal place for a stay at a temple lodging. If you’re exploring your own beliefs, want some insight into the lives the monks lead, or simply want to soak up the fresh air, peace and quiet, you’ll be in your element.
At Rengejoin Temple, sleep on a futon in rooms with wafer-thin sliding walls, wake at dawn to join the monks in meditation and once your soul has been fed, dine on Shojin Ryori, the vegetarian cuisine of the monks.
You’ll arrive gritty-eyed and leave glowing.
Rates: A two-week Taste of Japan tour costs from US$4,344
Intrepid Travel; +1 800 970 7299; www.intrepidtravel.com
9. Visit a shaman: Mongolia
Mongolia’s forested Taiga lands are home to the teepee-dwelling Tsaatan tribe -– a community of nomadic reindeer herders.
Spiritually speaking, the Tsaatan rely on their shaman, who communicate with spirits, ancestors or nature, for advice and healing.
Join a riding expedition to the Taiga, travel through valleys, mountains and around lakes, and as the highlight of the trip, visit the home of a local shaman.
You’ll see them at work, learn about their abilities and practices –- and if you’re lucky, participate in a ritual yourself.
Rates: A 15-day trip costs from US$3,680
Panoramic Journeys; +44 (0)16 0881 1183; www.panoramicjourneys.com
10. Explore sacred temples: Khajurao, India
Dating back to the 10th and 11th century, the erotic temples of Khajuraho in India’s northern Madhya Pradesh are a sure indication that the Kama Sutra originated in the sub-continent.
Visit the exquisitely sculptured sandstone Jain temples covered with erotica.
They celebrate love, and provide an insight into ancient Tantric practices -– more than sex, it’s an ancient route to enlightenment, which also takes in the holy city of Varanasi and the sacred Ganges river.
Rates: A five-day Sacred India package costs from US$1,203
Travel the Unknown; +44 (0)20 8823 0705; www.traveltheunknown.com