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14 • Vacations

®

Summer 2017

HOT LIST

Sacred Places

By Chris Robinson

Southeast Asia is a vast, mystical land where ancient beliefs have long expressed

themselves in wondrous centres of worship. Here are our picks for where

to find unique spiritual experiences across the region.

TAK BAT, LUANG PRABANG, LAOS

This town on the Mekong River in northern Laos

is the cultural and religious heart of this Buddhist

country. Its 33 temples are a sumptuous mix of

golden spires, ancient stone stupas and gleaming

treasures. The Buddhist alms-giving ceremony of

Tak Bat is a living tradition here. It begins before

dawn as alms-givers line the streets with baskets

of sticky rice. Lines of saffron-clad, barefoot

monks pad silently by. Locals, and respectful

visitors place a small portion of rice in each monk’s

bowl and reflect on this small act of daily charity.

It is a humbling experience.

VARANASI IN INDIA

Varanasi, known as the spiritual city of India, is spread along the banks

of the Ganges River in northern India. Approach the oldest city in the

world in the pre-dawn, past street beggars, sacred cows, early morning

vendors and bicycle rickshaws. Here, at the banks of Mother Ganges is

where Hindu pilgrims from all over India come to bathe in the sacred

waters. Take to the river in one of the old wooden boats to experience

sunrise over this extraordinary scene.

Vacations® •

Summer 2017 • 15

WAT PHO IN BANGKOK, THAILAND

Wat Pho, or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, is the oldest

and largest Buddhist temple in Bangkok. It is home to more

Buddha images than any other Bangkok temple and it shelters

the largest reclining Buddha in Thailand – 46 metres long and

sheathed in gold leaf. It is also the birthplace of traditional

Thai massage – akin to a religious experience in itself – and the

temple remains the leading school of massage in the country.

PARO TAKTSANG MONASTERY OR

TIGER’S NEST MONASTERY, BHUTAN:

Taktsang is the holiest site in the Shangri-la Himalayan

Kingdom of Bhutan. Here, Guru Rinpoche appeared 1,300

years ago on the back of a flying tigress. He meditated

in the mountain caves before converting the Bhutanese

people to Buddhism. The monastery was built nine

centuries later around a cave entrance. Today, visitors

are challenged to tackle a precipitous trail and ascend

1,000 steps at more than 10,000 feet to enter Tiger’s Nest

Monastery, perched on the side of a cliff.

SWAYAMBHUNATH OR MONKEY TEMPLE IN

KATHMANDU, NEPAL

This is the most ancient of all the holy shrines in the

Kathmandu valley. Its lofty white dome, fluttering

prayer flags and glittering golden spire are visible

from all sides. Legends tell of a miraculous lotus,

planted by a past Buddha, which blossomed from

the lake that once covered the area. The water

drained away and the lotus was transformed into

this stupa. Today, local devotees circle the stupa

at sunrise and sunset, attended by troops of holy

monkeys.

THE GOLDEN TEMPLE IN AMRITSAR, INDIA

The Harmandir Sahib is the holiest shrine in

Sikhism. As part of the Golden Temple complex

in this northwest Indian city, the temple is the

major pilgrimage destination for Sikhs from all

over the world. Visitors are not only welcomed

here, but embraced by devotees who will

proudly explain their faith. It is impossible not

to feel spiritual intensity in this marble temple

floating above a reflective lake.

Detours