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.
These fourteen pilgrimage call close to 100,000,000 people to their wonders every year. Have you been to any of these locations? Will you be making a pilgrimage this year? Please offer your thoughts and suggestions in the comments section.
The Ganges River
At approximately <a href="http://www.csuchico.edu/~cheinz/syllabi/asst001/spring98/ganges.htm" target="_hplink">20 millions visits a year,</a> the Ganga is the first in our top 14 most popular pilgrimage sites. The Ganges River, known as Ganga Ma or "Mother Ganges," runs from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal coming to a feat of 1,560 miles. To the many people living around it, and those who believe in its majesty, this river represents life, purity, and a goddess. The story of the Ganga is of how the goddess poured herself down from heaven upon the ashes of King Sarga's sons. It was this cleansing and self-sacrificing move that raised the King's sons to dwell in peace in heaven. It is also believed that anyone who touches these purifying waters even today is cleansed of all sins.
Approximately 13 million Muslims visit the <a href="http://www.meccapilgrimage.com/" target="_hplink">city of Mecca</a> in Saudi Arabia each year, making this our second largest pilgrimage spot. Just during the final month of the Islamic calendar, about two million Muslims go to Mecca for Hajj. The pilgrimage goes back in one form or another for thousands of years to the time of Abraham and has been a tradition in the Islamic world for centuries. The Islamic pilgrimage consists of carrying out a sequence of rituals including circumambulating the kaabah individually, praying, and traveling between Safa and Marwah, the two hills Hagar ran between to find water for her son Ishmael. Clarification: Language has been added to indicate that, while the hajj in its current form is no older than Islam, pilgrimages to that site pre-dates the religion.
The Golden Temple is located in Amritsar, India and is historically a <a href="http://www.sacred-destinations.com/india/golden-temple-of-amritsar" target="_hplink">central religious site for the Sikh faith</a>. Representing a strong sikh foundation and distinct identity and heritage, the Golden Temple <a href="http://www.travelblog.org/Asia/India/Punjab/Amritsar/blog-43057.html" target="_hplink">averages fifty thousand visitors</a> daily making it our third most popular pilgrimage spot. However, anybody, despite cast or creed can come to this open pilgrimage spot to seek spiritual comfort, solace, and perform individual prayers.
Our Lady of Guadalupe
Every year nearly 10 million people visit Our Lady of Guadalupe Basilica making this Mexico City home the most popular Marian shrine in the world, and the second most visited Catholic church in the world after Saint Peter's Basilica. According to the <a href="http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/saint.php?n=82 " target="_hplink">Catholic News Agency,</a> "Lady from Heaven" appeared to a poor Indian named Saint Juan Diego and identified herself as the Mother of the True God. She told him to build a church on the site and left an image of herself on his tilma, a low-grade cactus-cloth. According to this source, the tilma could not have stayed in tact for more than 20 years but remains in place even after 470 years.
Vaishno Devi Temple
The Mata Vaishno Devi temple is located in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir near the town of Katra. Over eight million devotees visit the temple every year making this the <a href="http://www.holidayiq.com/destinations/Vaishno-Devi-Overview.html " target="_hplink">second most popular religious site</a> in the country. The Vaishno Devi Temple is one of the most revered sites for Hindus, sitting at an altitude of 5200 feet.
The <a href="http://www.lourdes-pilgrimage.com/" target="_hplink">southern French town of Lourdes</a> is a popular site where Catholics celebrate the Virgin Mary's ascent to heaven amongst other celebratory events. The U.S. National Lourdes Pilgrimage, which began fifty-seven years ago, takes groups of American pilgrims to the Marian Shrine where they offer prayers, petitions, and seek to be healed of spiritual and physical ailments. Today more than seven million visitors come to Lourdes annually.
Over half a million people visit the <a href="http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com/news-most-beautiful-places-visit-israel " target="_hplink">Bahai Gardens in Haifa</a>, the largest city in Northern Israel. The gardens are geometric, symmetrical, and lined by rows and avenues of flowers creating a serene environment of meditative thought and peaceful resilience. The <a href="http://www.ganbahai.org.il/en/" target="_hplink">center of the site</a> encompasses and protects the visitors without any harsh walls.
About <a href=" http://www.smh.com.au/travel/keepers-of-the-faith-20090610-c2w0.html#ixzz1vbqD0UBB" target="_hplink">4.2 million people visit </a>the Vatican in Rome, Italy every year. Catholics believe it to be a holy place with monuments to various saints and papal authority houses all circled around. It is said that it was here in the center of the circus was where St. Peter took his last breath. Since 1929, <a href="http://www.content4reprint.com/recreation-and-leisure/travel/answering-your-vatican-city-questions.htm" target="_hplink">Vatican city</a> has been an independent, self-governing city-state.
Over <a href="http://www.aish.com/jw/j/104658574.html" target="_hplink">2 million tourists</a> visit the city of Jerusalem annually. It is an important location for <a href="http://sacredsites.com/middle_east/israel/jerusalem_facts.html" target="_hplink">Islam, Christianity, and Judaism</a>. The Jewish people see Jerusalem as the Biblical Zion, the City of David, the site of Solomon's Temple, and the eternal capital of the Israelite nation. For Christians, it is the site of the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection of Jesus. For Muslims, Jerusalem is the third most revered site in Islam as it was here that Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.
As Jesus' birthplace, the city of Bethlehem is a popular pilgrimage site particularly during Christmas when all the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/14/bethlehem-tourism-hits-14_n_796650.html " target="_hplink">city's hotel rooms are booked</a> solid. Annually, nearly 1.4 million people visit the city and the surrounding historical sites. The number of visitors has steadily been on the rise in recent years according to Israeli government figures.
According to an <a href="http://news.discovery.com/history/machu-piccu-incas.html" target="_hplink">Italian study</a>, Machu Picchu was never an actual city, but an Incan pilgrimage site. It seemed to have been the private estate of the emperor Pachacuti and was symbolically centered to the Andean vision of the cosmos. Even today, nearly <a href="http://www.lonelyplanet.com/peru/machu-picchu#ixzz1vbrT3e8L" target="_hplink">one million people</a> visit this serene mountain top annually with 2500 people arriving daily from May until September.
Rumi's Tomb: Konya, Turkey
Konya, TURKEY: Dervish dancer figurines are seen in a shop window in the center of Konya, one of the most important religious center in Turkey with <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2010/apr/10/konya-turkey-jelaluddin-rumi-dervish" target="_hplink">about 2 million visitors a year. </a> Muslims and foreign tourists visit Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi's tomb. On 17 December 1273, the founder of the Mevlevi Sufi Brotherhood, and now one of the most widely read poets in the world, Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi, died in Konya. The Mevlana mausoleum with its mosque, dance hall, dervish living quarters, school and tombs of various leading adherents to the Mevlevi order continue to draw pilgrims. AFP PHOTO / TARIK TINAZAY (Photo credit should read TARIK TINAZAY/AFP/Getty Images)
According to Buddhist tradition, it was <a href="http://www.sacred-destinations.com/india/bodhgaya-bodhi-tree" target="_hplink">at this spot </a>that Siddharta Gautama meditated for 49 days before attaining enlightenment. However, the tree is sacred for other reasons as well. Known as the "<a href="http://www.wisdom-tree.com/" target="_hplink">mythical World Tree,</a>" some say it is here that believers can reach liberation through spiritual development. Between <a href="http://www.chacha.com/question/how-many-people-visit-the-bodhi-tree-in-india-every-year" target="_hplink">800,000</a> to <a href="http://www.sacred-destinations.com/india/bodhgaya.htm" target="_hplink">over a million people </a> mainly from Asia visit the Bodi Tree each year making this one of our most popular pilgrimage spots.
Located in southern England, Stonehenge is a prehistoric visiting site consisting of a mysterious circle of upright stones. Over <a href="http://www.sacred-destinations.com/england/stonehenge " target="_hplink">80,000 visitors arrive annually</a> to see the famous stones that were put in place over 4,000 years ago. During the summer solstice several thousand people come and gather at this ancient, mystical site to see the sunrise atop the placement of rocks, making this another worthy pilgrimage site in our most popular list.