Greetings from the world wandering pilgrim Martin Gray.
I haven't sent a newsletter for more than a year and some people have been wondering what I was up to during 2018. It was both a very beautiful and sometimes difficult year for me. Read on and you'll get the latest details and also some of my future plans.
Take the time to read the newsletter slowly, it's not long, and then re-read it so as to savor and absorb its communication of beauty. Also, feel free to share it with your friends, loved ones and associates.
First of all, let me give a brief note about the nature of my wanderings. They are much more than simple travels and can be best understood by reference to the Sanskrit term tirtha yatra. The word tirtha means a "crossing place" in the sense of "transition or junction" and is a spiritual concept in both Hinduism and Jainism that describes particular holy places functioning as bridges or connections between physical and metaphysical realities. A tirtha may also be a metaphorical term referring to a meditative process whereby a person accesses an inner state of truth, compassion and wisdom. The word yatra refers to the action of journeying - making a pilgrimage - to different holy places.
Additionally, when considering the matter of holy places in the sense of tirtha sites, it is important to understand the distinction between regular holy places, such as the temples, churches and mosques found in nearly every social center of any size, and pilgrimage sites, far fewer in number, which draw their visitors from far beyond their local area. My wanderings during the past 37 years have been as a pilgrim experiencing, studying and photographing true pilgrimage sites, rather than normal religious sites.
In the later months of 2017, I flew to the Arabian Peninsula to visit the countries of Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Oman. Following my time around the Arabian Peninsula, I went back to Israel for my third visit to photograph several important Jewish holy places, the two most important pilgrimage sites of the Bahai's, as well as some more Catholic sacred sites.
Next I flew southeast to India, the country in the world I know best, and spent more than two months driving several thousand miles to the southern states of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. I had been to each of these states several times during the past twenty years but this time wanted to make a really comprehensive photographic archive of the most important pilgrimage temples. I have been conducting research on the pilgrimage traditions of India for more than thirty years and am pleased to say that the photos contained in the linked pages below represent, as far as I know, the most complete registry of South Indian pilgrimage temples ever done. Many of the photographs I produced are absolutely unique so take your time to look closely at them (when doing this, simply click on the individual photos in order to expand their size.) For each of these new Gallery Pages, rather than writing descriptive essays about each site, I have included lists of links below the photograph that will give you detailed information about each place. And, of course, there are maps showing the precise location of all the sacred sites in each state.
Heading south I returned for my third visit to the magical country of Sri Lanka where I spent several weeks driving to numerous Hindu, Buddhist and Jain sacred sites. From there I returned to Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, again driving thousands of miles, and produced some truly lovely images, which I'm sure you'll enjoy.
Then onto a country I've been trying to visit for some years: Turkmenistan, a place seen by very few westerners. For my travels there I was required by the government to have both a driver and a guide and what luck I had in the fellows assigned to me. The guide spoke fluent English, and was extremely knowledgeable about both the history and religious geography of the country. One day I asked him how many other westerners had visited as many of the pilgrimage sites around the country as I was doing, to which he replied "No one else had." He was astonished at the extensive research I had done and said neither he, nor the other leading guide in Turkmenistan had ever taken any foreigners to several of the places we went. So, I hope you will enjoy some of the absolutely unique and remarkably beautiful pictures.
After nearly a month of sometimes really rough driving I went to the port city of Turkmenbashi and took a three day freighter ride (it should have only been two days but the seas were extremely rough) across the Caspian Sea (what a story that is, with burly Russians, lots of Vodka and all night poker games) to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. My second time in that lovely city, I spent days walking around and then rented a car to drive for a week to several sacred sites in the remote mountains.
From Baku I flew to Greece, a country I have visited at least two dozen times, and took ferries to the lovely islands of Serifos, Amorgos and Astipalaia. Then onto a number of countries including Hungary, Serbia, Kosovo, Slovakia, Spain, Portugal, France, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Andorra, Germany and Slovakia. I drove more than 25,000 miles over a four month period through these countries and beautiful Gallery Pages for each of them are featured below.
Then disaster (or perhaps providence) struck me one day in Berlin. While riding a bicycle to an exhibit with the title Wanderlust (something I certainly have) an unaware car driver pushed me to the center of the road and my bike's wheel got caught in one of the recessed tracks of the city's transportation system. I was violently thrown to the pavement, breaking both my left tibia and getting a very severe impact to my head. The next three months required me to stay in two different hospitals and have two subdural hematoma operations, costing more than 60,000 Euros. Now I have some (luckily hidden beneath my hair) strange holes drilled in my skull.
As soon as I was able to walk again I flew to the United States for a few weeks and then began the journey I am currently on: driving multiple thousands of miles around Brazil, Chile, Bolivia and Peru. Yet even here I had some more physical difficulties: for the past five years I've been experiencing an increasingly worsening problem with my lower right back, which I assumed was from all the bones I had broken in my rock-climbing fall of 2004. Finally the pain had become so intense that I had a CT scan done at a leading clinic in Santiago, Chile where I learned that I have an advanced case of Osteochondrosis, or the decay of several lumbar vertabrae, for which nothing (save perhaps a series of Prolotherapy injections) can be done. And now, where I am in Peru, I've spent the past twelve days prone in bed with a nasty case of Salmonella.
Yes, I experience many beautiful places as well as some quite difficult times. Why, you may ask do I put up with the latter? The answer for me is simple, yet profound: to awaken each morning and put goodness and beauty into the world. These personal difficulties and also the great suffering I see in certain places around the world offer me a wonderful teaching about not wasting energy on angst concerning the (sadly declining) condition of the planet, as well as the opportunity to cultivate imperturbability (difficult to do !!!).
Look at the past 37 years of my life and you will recognize the rare, unwavering, extremely focused and totally loving dedication to a single purpose: that of selflessly acquiring and freely providing what is the most comprehensive repository of information and photographs of global pilgrimage traditions and sacred sites ever assembled. 1200 pilgrimage places in 165 countries.
So, what's next for me? My upcoming journeys with take me to Austria (a small mountain village for a bit of rest), then Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, India, Kashmir and Bhutan. I'll send another newsletter after that journey, which you'll get sometime near the end of 2019.
Some people wonder how I am able to do all these pilgrimage journeys for the past 37 years. The answer is recently with the help of a benefactor, yet for more than thirty years as a nearly penniless vagabond. Know this: If you want something passionately you will find a way!
In closing, let me say one of the excellent things about the Places of Peace and Power web site is that it is a wonderful asset if you are planning a journey. You will most probably visit many other types of places on your travels, from art museums to nature reserves to historical locations. But don't miss the sacred sites. They represent the greatest cultural icons of human civilizations, are repositories of the most beautiful architecture and art, and provide a sublime opportunity to experience places long steeped in love, joy and spiritual wisdom.
Also, the regional maps on the web site show the precise location of all the sacred places in that region, as do each of the specific country maps. Just zoom in on the map and click the red markers, where you will also be given links to more sources of information about each of the sites featured. Additionally, make sure to look at the Categorized Bibliographies I have prepared (there are 35 different categories).
Finally, when looking at photos imagine that you are looking through windows because it is my contention, my belief that each of the pictures contains something of the homeopathic essence of the sacred sites themselves.
Much peace to you all,
Newest Photo Galleries on the web site:
Martin Gray in Serbia, 2018.