It’s raining in Santiago

Santiago de Compostela, in north west Spain, has been one of the Christian world’s main pilgrimage destinations for over 1000 years, based on the belief that it is the burial site of one of the disciples, St James (Santiago in Spanish).

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The old town is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and an intriguing, hospitable and welcoming place, with narrow winding streets to explore. The grand cathedral is the ultimate goal of the pilgrims who have travelled the Camino de Santiago from faraway places.

Santiago is the capital of Galicia, and the region is quite different from most other parts of Spain in terms of culture, music, language (Galician) and climate.

Unlike much of Spain, Galicia is wet. Santiago is said to experiences some rain on more than 300 days per year.

Galicia is considered to be one of the seven Celtic nations (along with Scotland, the Isle of Man, Ireland, Wales, Cornwall and Brittany) and its music reflects this heritage. Bagpipes (called gaita gallega) are a common feature of Galician music. My favourite Galician band is Luar na Lubre. A link to their song Chove en Santiago (It’s Raining in Santiago) is here.

This is my contribution to Tiffin’s A-Z Guidebook, this month starting with the letter ‘S’.

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On your knees in Rocamadour

Rocamadour, in south-west France, became famous in mediaeval times as a place of pilgrimage, and an important stop on the pilgrimage path to Santiago de Compostela in Spain (the Camino de Santiago, or St James’ Way). One of Rocamadour’s main religious attractions is its wooden Black Madonna.

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Today, Rocamadour’s 600 residents are joined by around one million visitors yearly. Pilgrims of the past climbed the steep 216 stairs to the top of the village on their knees. Now, visitors who don’t wish to climb by stairs have the option of a lift.

This is my contribution to Tiffin’s A-Z Guidebook, this month starting with the letter ‘R’.

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A visit to Emei Shan, China’s holy mountain

Emei Shan (Mount Emei) is one of China’s four holy Buddhist mountains, a place of pilgrimage for nearly two thousand years, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Traditionally, pilgrims hiked to the top of the mountain, a distance of about 30 kilometres, while stopping off at temples and monasteries on the way. Many monasteries still provide overnight accommodation. Modern pilgrims can take the easier option of ascending by bus and cable car, and staying in hotels.

Like important pilgrimage sites elsewhere, many now visit Emei Shan for reasons other than religion. The walk up the mountain is the pinnacle of the experience, and is reputedly a place of enlightenment in the Buddhist tradition. Pilgrims and hikers often use thick bamboo poles to assist their climb, a reminder of the wooden ‘Pilgrim’s Staff” traditionally used for the Camino de Santiago, the long walk to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain.

Emei Shan is 3099 metres high (10,167 ft), providing superb views of misty mountain slopes reminiscent of classic Chinese landscape paintings, lush forests, mirror like lakes, waterfalls and rushing streams. The temples and monasteries, of which there are more than one hundred, vary in age and style, and are often constructed to best fit into the landscape and exploit the views. Those interested in temples, Buddhism and Chinese history will find Emei Shan very rewarding, while hikers can enjoy the natural world and challenging walks.

Our friends from Chengdu observed that the admission fees paid to each temple or monastery, given the numbers of visitors, indicated a substantial source of income. An interesting point. Religious institutions often do have a very successful business model, whether in China or elsewhere, one that supplies more revenue than required to simply meet the spiritual needs of their devotees.

Before arriving at Emei Shan, our friends mentioned that on the return journey of a couple of hours to Chengdu, Sichuan’s capital city, they could take us on the ‘Narrow Road.’ Not quite understanding the meaning of this option, we agreed. During our several days on the mountain, they kept us informed about weather conditions, eventually explaining that the absence of rain meant that we could undertake the trip as there would be no landslides, and the road would not be too slippery. Should we have been more alert and a little alarmed? This road was not one of China’s modern tollways, or even a modest country road. It was something much more challenging. But that is another story.

This is my contribution to Fiona’s A-Z Guidebook, this month starting with the letter ‘E’.

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