The Art of Pilgrimage talks about the oldest and if I may say an eternal form of travel – the pilgrimage. We all take pilgrimages, sometimes out in the world and sometimes inwards. Phil Cousineau has been leading tours to ancient pilgrimage sites, so he has not just his own experience of traveling to these spiritual sites but also a wealth of experiences shared by his co-travelers.

The Art of Pilgrimage by Phil CousineauThe book breaks the pilgrimage journey into Longing, Call, Departure, Pilgrim’s Way, Arrival and Bringing Back the Boon. If you have been to a pilgrimage for a long longing for it, you will connect to every bit of it. You know when a destination calls you when it comes to your dreams when you mentally plan to be there when you work hard to earn enough to visit it. You probably heard about it from your grandparents or friends or maybe even read about it. The stronger the longing, the more the trip has meaning to it.

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Through his various anecdotes, small stories of his own and his trip clients, stories he read in other traveler accounts, he gives you snippets of what a pilgrimage means for different people. How people feel a strong connection to a place or even the journey to the place is something one can only experience. It is difficult to put it words but the author has tried his best to tell his reader.

In bite-sized sections, he tries to bring the reader as close to the experience of being on a pilgrimage, as he can. He talks in metaphors, brings his own personal stories of visiting Angkor Wat with his brother to fulfill their father’s wish. Then talks about emotional journeys, journeys that help deal with grief. Journeys that help you with closures needed in life and journeys that help you deal with yourself. He also introduces you to recharging and rejuvenation that journeys provide. I wish the author had put a lot more of his experiences and insights.

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Pilgrimage routes around the world

The books introduced me to a lot of pilgrimage routes around the world, including some to the temples of goddesses. It also told me that pilgrims are the same around the world. The outer journeys that they take to pilgrimage spots are actually the inner journeys that they need. I have added a couple of them to my wish list & hope to Incidentally, author hardly mentions any Indian pilgrimage routes, though our sacred geography is full of them. It tells me the level of awareness even the best of travelers have about India.

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Phil also comes across as extremely well-read, as he quotes from many books. Although I would take his understanding of Indian philosophies with a pinch of salt. He says a lot of things that he probably does not understand. Even when I asked him to clarify a couple of things he mentioned on Twitter, he did not respond. At one place he quotes Kabir, but I am unable to trace that work despite having read Kabir extensively. He quotes from scriptures like Brihadararanya Upanishad – It seems he has picked that from a secondary source. Regarding other religions and regions, I am not expert enough to comment.

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Book has almost no long narratives. It is a collection of small anecdotes, reference material, and small stories along with a lot of black and white images. There are ample quotes and any quote lover would love reading them. They often make you stop to reflect upon what you have just read. Language is esoteric.

Interesting Quotes

Some interesting quotes in The Art of Pilgrimage include:

Pilgrimage is a transformative journey to a sacred center

• Pilgrimage is still a bona fide spirit-renewing ritual

• Art of travel is the art of seeing what is sacred

• Pilgrimage moves from mindless to mindful, soulless to soulful travel

• Pass by what you do not love

• Pilgrim’s motive has always been manifold: to pay homage, to fulfill a vow or obligation, to do penance, to be rejuvenated spiritually, or to feel the release of catharsis

• The first step is to slow down

• Threshold divides the inside from the outside, the sacred from the profane, the past from the future

• Pilgrimage is “belief in action”

Too many people have called this book The Art of Pilgrimage a ‘Masterpiece’ and it is a best-selling book in its category. I would call it a good compilation. The bits of what I know have made me question the authenticity of what I do not know.

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If you are looking for reading on meaningful travel that includes almost pilgrimage travel, do read it. Else, take your call.

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