Faith tourism holds a staggering $18 billion share of the travel market. At first glance, you could be fooled into believing that it’s only for the ‘Bible bashers’, the blue rinse brigade, and dedicated pilgrims. However, a recent survey showed that a quarter of all 18–24-year-olds were interested in taking some kind of spiritual vacation. Tour operators have cashed in on this trend, and have started packaging together trips that combine both faith and fun. They’re now even combining faith with luxury; leave the sackcloth at home, pop $45,000 on the overdraft and you’ll be whisked around the greatest religious sites by private jet and travel through nine countries on three continents in 23 days.
Looking at what’s on offer from religious tourism specialists, a realm of possibilities from all over the globe become available. Take, for example, the over-60s mystery Christian tour; I contacted the tour operator asking for more details only to be told, “it’s a mystery – duh!” Or how about a Christian Cruise? Take ‘Cruise with a Cause’: this cruise sails to the Bahamas featuring Christian naturalists, gospel singers, and a religious bookstore.
I too have been a pretty dedicated faith tourist; I’ve yawned my way around the 25 miles of the Vatican Museum, washed the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar, India at 4am, and helped put the Guru Granth Sahib to bed. I’ve also cleansed my sins away in the River Ganges at Varanssi with the Hindus as well as 1,000,000 faecal bacterium per square centrimetre. I even trekked through the Himalayas to visit the Dalia Lama; ironically, however, he’d gone to Nottingham that week. If you’re a devout atheist like me, maybe these intriguing religious delights will take your fancy…
On March 11th every year people flock along the streets of India to welcome the start of Spring, and rejoice in an electrifying coloured chalk fight. This Hindu tradition is a celebration of the triumph of good over evil when people ignore their differences and use it as an excuse to get messy. Word of warning: do not wear your Sunday best.
Pig of God Festival, Taiwan
Taiwan’s Hakka ethnic group in the Hsinchu County spends all year fattening up pigs for the heftiest to be paraded through the streets and slaughtered in honor of their martyrs. The Pig of God festival has come under scrutiny in the world press due to the methods used to fatten the Pig. Often in the days preceding the event, metal and sand are fore fed to the pig to increase its weight.
Despite criticisms from the Roman Catholic Church every Easter, a select number of Filipino men endure a five-minute reenactment of Christ’s crucifixion. One poor soul, Ruben Enaje, has been crucified as part of the ritual 22 times.
Nine Emperor Gods Festival, Thailand
On the ninth day of the ninth lunar month a nine day celebration commences across South East Asia, appealing to nine gods for fortune. However, in Phuket, Thailand, celebrants called ‘mah song’ pierce their bodies with bizarre objects as far-fetched as flag poles – ouch! The method to this madness is to channel the intense pain that’s supposed to make them intermediaries to the gods.
The Kanamara Matsur, Japan
Despite this annual celebration being held on Aril 1st, it is no fool’s day joke. The event is more commonly known as ‘the penis festival’ by foreigners, and the day is centred around a portable penis shrine paraded though the streets. The phallus shrine was once a place where prostitutes prayed against sexully transmited diseases. There is also a legend of a sharp-toothed demon that hid inside the vagina of a young girl and castrated two young men on their wedding nights with the young girl before a blacksmith fashioned an iron phallus to break the demon’s teeth, leading to the enshrinement of the item. Anyone else watched teeth?!