As a high-profile lawyer in California, Anjali Kumar has never been one to leave questions unanswered—and when it comes to religion, she’s always had a plethora of them.
More curious than committal, the author of Stalking God: My Unorthodox Search for Something to Believe In is drawn to the cultural elements of her family’s Hinduism and Jainism more than their actual belief systems. But it wasn’t until her daughter’s birth—and when Kumar’s father asked if she would be bringing baby Zia to their temple—that she felt truly motivated to tackle the topic.
The inquiry, however innocent, uncovered a number of concerns about her new role as a mom: How could she introduce her daughter to her beliefs if she had never fully formed them herself? In an effort to become acquainted with her own spirituality, Kumar set out on a journey to what she calls “spiritual backcountry,” or centers of “nontraditional” and non-Judeo-Christian spirituality. She desired solutions to life’s greatest mysteries—“Why are we here?” for instance—in case her daughter ever came to her with the same questions. After traveling the world and getting in touch with experts everywhere from Brazil to South Africa in search of an answer, Kumar shares her list of the world’s most spiritual places: where people—religious or not—may go in search of “god”—whatever that may be—but find something even greater in the process.
Black Rock Desert, Nevada
“Burning Man was spiritual in a way that I didn’t expect, even though I went there seeking something. People say the Burning Man festival provides you with what you need, and I found that to be true. In this bizarre and beautiful temporary city in the desert outside of Reno, there is a freedom of expression and generosity among strangers for a week at the end of each summer. The most intensely spiritual aspect for me was the burning of the Man and temple at the end of the week: We are here, we are gone; it is all temporary, and magnificent.”
Jammu and Kashmir, India
“As a kid, I went to Vaishno Devi with my family in India. It is a pilgrimage that involves a long hike in the mountains of Kashmir, ultimately ending in a barefoot walk through caves, tracking the journey of the Hindu goddess for whom the temple is named. I remember stopping halfway overnight and eating rice and rajma with my sister and cousins, bundled together under heavy Indian army blankets and trying to get some rest as we readied ourselves for the final climb the next morning. The whole thing was an incredibly powerful experience, not because of the religious significance but because of the natural surroundings and the knowledge of how many people had been on this same trek. It is one of my favorite memories from my childhood winter holidays spent in India.”
Andes Mountains, Peru
“There is something truly magical and deeply spiritual about Machu Picchu for me—it is difficult to do it justice in words. The sheer magnitude of the architecture built hundreds of years ago and tucked away in the mountains... is mind-bending. The energy of this place, at the intersection of nature and man, is some of the strongest I have experienced during my journey.”
“There’s an intense feeling of spirituality while hiking anywhere around Sedona. This part of Arizona is widely believed to be an energetic vortex—a spot where the earth’s energy is increased—and can lead to the healing of your energetic, spiritual, and physical body, depending on what ails you. I have no idea whether such a vortex exists here or anywhere else in the world, but a sunrise hike up the red rocks of Sedona will have you believing in something bigger than yourself.”
“This moss temple just outside of Kyoto is one of the most extraordinary things I’ve ever seen. It has this very ethereal, mystical feeling to it. Vibrant green moss carpets the temple gardens, and if you aren’t surrounded by throngs of tourists, it is a meditative 15-minute walk to the bamboo forest.”