Tourist, Traveller or Pilgrim?
There are many ways to see the world, and we must if we wish to travel, consider how and where we want to go. But often, travel is the least of our concern because we simply want to get to a particular destination. Therefore we need to consider our means of travel as well as our destination and reasons for wanting to be there.
The world's first travellers were those undertaking some form of business. They may have been defining national territories, maintaining diplomatic relations between countries or travelling for trade and exchange.
As a consequence, trading routes were developed across the world to share goods and ideas. With the arrival of Christianity in Europe, many places real or fictitious were described as having some spiritual significance which attracted pilgrims who were in fact the first tourists.
In those early days most people travelled on foot, but if they had money they travelled by ship or by horse. As was custom away back then, those with no money generally found hospitable people along the route and they might have had a few coins to make an offering at their destination which was expected.
Over time destinations became more lavish to the point where local economies came to depend on pilgrims to survive. There is the recent example in Croatia were some children claimed to have seen the virgin mother and now millions of people flock to the village to wonder and perhaps hope for a similar vision. The same is true of Lourdes and many other places.
The majority of the people who travel around the world today are tourists and it's mostly the destination that's more important, not the getting there. The disaffected youth in many countries do what they can to scrape together enough money and they flock to popular destinations like Ibisa, Cancun or Tampa to let their hair down and do all the things that they can't do it home.
While the youth seek hedonistic pleasure, those who consider themselves as being more sensible are herded together to see the famous places in the cocooned comfort of air-conditioned coaches and hotels of a reasonable standard. The disaffected who are also sometimes called young at heart just want someone else to get drunk and laid, but for some exciting adventure included that's even better. All those things like white water rafting, parasailing and skiing provide some recreation, but mostly pleasure that nearly always has some side-effect.
You may have done the tourist thing, joining throngs of people to visit places of vague cultural or historic interest, nights in less than perfect hotels along with sunburn, insect bites and more photographs that you will ever get time to look at. While you may have had a very nice time and have some stories to tell, so often within a few days of arriving home and going back to work, what is there to show for it other than photos and trinkets to remind you of those places?
In fact tourism is a degradation of pilgrimage. As Christianity spread across Europe, places of importance emerged where people believed they could connect with the Divine and become blessed or healed. But pilgrimage was the first form of tourism. In reality, tourism is a form of escapism. It is about stepping out of one's life in search of temporary pleasure. When it is combined with some time in nature it can be refreshing but unfortunately, all too often it is just the same stuff repackaged and afterwards one needs another holiday to recover from the holiday.
The traveller is a different person, they tend to avoid the tourist trails, the crowds and souvenir shops. They quite often sleep in the cheapest hotels and, on occasion they get to stay with local people and get to know how life is in the places they visit. Instead of a hurried visit over a couple of weeks, the traveller may take several months or even years moving from place to place and some make travel a lifestyle.
To travel with a spiritual intent and use the journey as a means of unwinding and surrendering the dross of everyday life and associated attachments. It is about freeing the mind from one's day today anxieties which is much easier today than it was a few hundred years ago.
Not so long ago pilgrims would become victims of highwaymen, thieves and slave traders. Or they might get eaten by some wild animal or caught up on some local war. But today life is much easier for pilgrims as in many places there are designated ashrams or hostels that provide simple food and accommodation as well is companionship and dialogue to support the faith.
When a pilgrim arrives at their destination, they have ideally walked off all their displeasure at life and found a sense of inner peacefulness more appointive equanimity from where they can approach the place of the divine.
For many pilgrims, the very act of pilgrimage can help to transform their lives and instil a sense of happiness and an ability to find deeper meaning in life. In some ways this is just the placebo effect at work, but then miracles do happen.
"The reason to make a pilgrimage is to understand and experience that there is something beyond what you logically know in this world as ‘real." Sadhguru
Every year millions of pilgrims travel to places with unique spiritual significance in hopes of experiencing elevation, transformation and attaining a new degree of wisdom. Pilgrimage destinations can be places where a religious teacher was born, a miracle or mystery took place, or where the natural world holds sacred significance.
"The Narendra Modi government is working on relaxing rules to encourage people to offer homestays to tourists, help make up for the massive shortage of 1.9 lakh hotel rooms in the country and get gainfully employed in the true spirit of its 'Start-Up India' programme." ~ Economic Times
India has more pilgrimage places than most countries. Some are to do with beliefs like Christian pilgrim places, but most are energy places where people go to contemplate the possibility of life and re-energise because many places hold great spiritual power. The loftiest and most powerful destination is Mount Kailash in Tibet.
Pilgrimage occurs outside of Europe as well. Every year tens of millions of people flock to Mecca, the holy place of Islam. But of all the modern pilgrimage places, India leads the way as sometimes there can be tens of millions of people attending a single function over several days.
The Kumba Mela is best known, in the Allahabad Maha Kumbh Mela last held in 2013 where an estimated 120 million people visited over a two-month period with over 30 million in attendance on February 10th, 2013 (the day of Mauni Amavasya). But aside from these really big gatherings, there are pilgrimage places all over India and much of the national infrastructure is set up to support this.