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The Power of Place: Why we travel

Hermitage Museum. Image: courtesy travelrussia.com

On a visit to St. Petersburg many years ago (for an idea when, it was called Leningrad then), emerging from the Hermitage Museum and Winter Palace, eyes dazed and unfocussed after marvelling for two days at the sheer wealth of the collections, our official tour guide told us something that stayed in my mind ever since. You know, she said, St. Petersburg was always much more than the home of royalty. It was a natural home of the arts and literature. For example, after WWII and the total destruction of the city, with more than three million of its population either dead or displaced, the city was like a living tomb. Within a few years, the city was repopulated by uneducated peasants from the surrounding countryside. These new immigrants succumbed to the magic of the city and within a generation, Leningrad/St. Petersburg became a city of the arts and culture once more.

Sacred grove around an Indian temple

I can’t judge the accuracy of the tour guide’s information, but I understood what she meant. There are points on earth that are imbued with a power of place that are impossible to ignore. For example, I have walked through an ancient grove in southern Sweden and felt a certain reverence in that hushed spot. In India, temples are often perched on top of hills or mountains and exude a sense of spiritual calm. In northern Bali, near the small town of Bubunan, there is a spot near the sea where a a group of Tibetan monks suddenly turned up one day. When asked what they were doing, they said they were simply visiting an important location, where several powerful spiritual meridians intersect. The spot where they stood to meditate was a rock on an escarpment that looked out onto a beach with a curving shoreline. It was undoubtedly a picturesque and peaceful spot.

Perhaps this is why we travel. In search of our place in the greater scheme of things. This, and the unseen pull of far off places, is what has made the tourism industry one of the largest on the planet, with an annual turnover of eight trillion dollars. Food for thought, and a reminder to tread lightly as we travel.

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3 Comments

  1. Zac says:

    I definitely feel that pull of places on the other side of the world. We only get one crack at this old life and the worlds a big place. I think it’s an incredible gift to be able to see so many places – one we shouldn’t take for granted. Thanks for this post 😊

    • aviottjohn says:

      Thanks for your comment Zac, and I see from your blog that you’re volunteering in Cambodia. That’s a wonderful thing to do. I travelled to Siem Reap 2 years ago as a tourist and I loved the place. Your post makes me want to work there, perhaps in a year or two when I’ve finished a rural school project in India. Best wishes.

      • Zac says:

        Thanks John 😊 We loved Siem Reap too – it’s a great country full of wonderful people. Good luck in India 🇮🇳

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