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The Top 5 Most Enlightening Places in the World / The Ill Effects of Tourism
What is Machu Picchu? Where is Machu Picchu?
Nestled amongst the mountain of Huayna Picchu, Machu Picchu is the first of the most spiritually enlightening places in the world. More specifically, the Inca Trail leading to Machu Picchu is an age-old emotional journey that can only be experienced first hand amongst the breath-taking architecture and panoramic mountain views of Peru.
Built around 1450 and abandoned within the next 100 years, the Lost City of the Incas was first made public in 1911 by Hiram Bingham. Thankfully, the sacred collection of ruins were spared from desecration at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition, and have been relatively untouched by archaeologists and looters alike.
The suggested purpose of the terraced site range from:
- An agricultural testing station;
- A personal estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti;
- A prison for heinous criminals.
Threats to Machu Picchu
Regardless of it's original function, this icon of Inca culture remains a unique testimony to the strength and mastery of the Inca culture, and is appropriately protected. In high season, as a result of erosion and the stress of tourism, only 2,500 people are allowed access to the historic site daily.
Unfortunately, the interests of the local population are conflicted. Where some aim to protect their heritage, some see the attraction as a chance to monetize their region.
For this reason, if you learn nothing else from this page, let me emphasise the true importance of our past, and our role in respecting our common ancestry. If you ever plan on visiting Machu Picchu, please show some consideration and tread lightly.
Carved from the very mountainsides of Jordan, Petra is also known as the 'Rose City', despite its troubled past. Many statues carved into the city depict the Gods and Goddesses of Pre-Islam.
As the national symbol of Jordan, Petra holds great national and historical significance. The settlement is Jordan's most visited tourist attraction, and has even been mentioned in religious texts such as the 'Dead Sea Scrolls'.
Historically, the area has been the subject of repeated Islamic occupation, and tumultuous control by other militant and religious groups, primarily because of its strategic advantages. Thanks to the Nabataens, the indigenous owners of Petra, whomever controlled the city, effectively monopolised the water supply of the area through the intelligent use of dams, cisterns, and a complex pipe system. The city today remains a titular see of the Catholic Church.
If I haven't convinced you of the spiritual importance of Petra yet, John William Burgon wrote an excellent poem called Petra, an excerpt of which can be found below:
"It seems no work of Man's creative hand,
by labour wrought as wavering fancy planned;But from the rock as if by magic grown,
eternal, silent, beautiful, alone!Not virgin-white like that old Doric shrine,
where erst Athena held her rites divine;Not saintly-grey, like many a minster fane,
that crowns the hill and consecrates the plain;But rose-red as if the blush of dawn,
that first beheld them were not yet withdrawn;The hues of youth upon a brow of woe,
which Man deemed old two thousand years ago,match me such marvel save in Eastern clime,
a rose-red city half as old as time."
Threats to Petra
Despite it's spiritual significance, there are many threats to modern-day Petra. These include collapse and erosion, among others. However, like Machu Picchu and the places following, unsustainable tourism remains the largest issue.
Unfortunately, looting is a rising problem in Petra, particularly as foot traffic to the area increases.
If you've ever wanted to learn about Angkor Wat, here is the place to start.
Angkor Wat is one of the two greatest temple complexes in South-east Asia. The structures of Angkor in Cambodia, today consist of around 100 stone temples built between 800 - 1220 AD. Originally, there would have been more buildings, but these were built of wood, and have since decayed. It is the largest religious complex in the world.
There is speculation that Angkor Wat has been constructed as a representation of constellations and the procession of the equinox. This speculation, I personally find anecdotal, as some of these constellations could only be seen on the other side of the world. However, it's hard to argue with the spiritual past of the area.
Originally dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, Angkor Wat was re-purposed for Theravada Buddhists in the late 13th Century. Practically every surface of Angkor is covered in Hindu decoration, including the columns and roof.
Here's a fun fact: Built using over 5 million tonnes of sandstone, modern engineers have suggested that it would take approximately 300 years to complete Angkor Wat today. Experts believe it only took 40 years to build!
Threats to Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat is threatened by a diminishing underground water supply, inadequate management, and unsustainable tourism in particular. Cambodia is still considered one of the world's least developed countries, so the revenue generated by Angkor Wat is considered invaluable. Unfortunately, this means that the protection provided to Angkor is half-hearted at best.
Mount Kailash (Mount Kailas)
Hereafter referred to as Mount Kailash to avoid confusion, this mountain is considered one of the most sacred spots on Earth, but is somewhat obscure in the Western world. Not only is it a significant source of some of the longest rivers in Asia, Mount Kaliash is a pilgrimage location sacred to four religions: Buddhism, Bön, Jainism, and Hinduism.
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According to Buddhism, Mount Kailash is the home of the Buddha Demchog, who represents supreme bliss.
In Jainism, the mountain next to Mount Kailash is credited as the spot in which the first Jain attained enlightenment and liberation. Recently, the authenticity of this belief has been questioned.
In Hinduism, Lord Shiva, (who is responsible for the destruction of ignorance), resides at the top of Mount Kailash. In this belief system, Mount Kailash is considered one of the six major pillars of the world.
The religion of Bön predates convential Buddhism, and is considered a branch of Tibetan Buddhism. The followers of Bön consider the whole region surrounding Mount Kailash to be holy, and the seat of all spiritual power. (Alternatively, if you're more familiar with this religion, the area is known as the Beyul Realm of Tagzig Olmo Lung Ring).
Threats to Mount Kalish
The pilgrimage consists of a 52km trek around Mount Kailash, and is completed in one day by the most devout of these religions. However, followers of Buddhism and Hinduism must complete this pilgirmage in a clockwise direction, and followers of Jain and Bön complete the pilgrimage in a counter-clockwise direction.
Thankfully, and possibly a result of its relative obscurity, Mount Kailash remains safe from unsustainable tourism, for now.
How long is the Kokoda Trail?
The Kokoda Track is a path spanning 96km (60 miles) that has significance as the location of the battle between the Australian and Japanese forces in the final attempt to protect Australia's shores. Because of its historical significance, the path has become something of a pilgrimage for Australians in particular.
Along the path are several small villages, which benefit from the increased popularity of the Kokoda Trail in the form of increased access to education and health services, as well as providing a source of income for fit males in those villages.
The trek is somewhat brutal considering the range of conditions one experiences. Extreme humidity, drenching rainfall, and chilling nights contribute to the difficulty of this experience. In fact, the fastest time the Kokoda track has been completed is an incredible 16 hours and 34 minutes.
There have been recent calls to perform mandatory fitness tests and first aid training prior to undertaking the trek, due to the number of deaths increasing exponentially over recent years.
Which Is Your Favourite?
Kokoda track or trail?
There has long been a debate as to whether the Kokoda thoroughfare should be called the Kokoda Track, or the Kokoda Trail. The Kokoda Trail is more synonymous with the common American usage of the term, whereas Kokoda Track is Australian slang.
Some argue that because the path was fought primarily by, and for, the Australian forces, it should be called the Kokoda Track, but throughout Americanised countries and even within Australia, it is more commonly referred to as the Kokoda Trail.
The two terms are often used interchangeably.
Finally, an excerpt of Bert Beros' Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels, which mentions the important role of the indigenous Papua New Guinean people who carried wounded soldiers to safety:
Many a lad will see his mother
and husbands see their wives
Just because the fuzzy wuzzy
carried them to save their lives
From mortar bombs and machine gun fire
or chance surprise attacks
To the safety and the care of doctors
at the bottom of the track
May the mothers of Australia
when they offer up a prayer
Mention those impromptu angels
with their fuzzy wuzzy hair.
Threats to The Kokoda Trail
While foot traffic through the trail has increased in recent years, there are relatively few threats to the Kokoda Trail.
Thanks to the native people who live along the edge of the trail, it is kept in good working condition. The path taken today is different from that taken by Australian soldiers, it's moved every few years to avoid degradation and erosion of the forest floor.
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