While some believe that the pearly gates of heaven can be accessed only sacredly, there are still other beliefs where heaven can be accessed directly from places that are located on Earth. Here are 10 very real spots on earth that are believed to lead to the pleasant side of afterlife. The kicker? You can even visit them and see for yourselves.
- Ka’ena Point, Oahu, Hawaii
Overlooking the azure waters of the North Pacific, the legendary Ka’ena Point, which lies on the western extremity of the island of Oahu, Hawaii, is steeped in Ancient Hawaiian lore – it is considered to be the ‘leaping place of souls’ for recently deceased Hawaiian spirits.
‘Travelling westward’ was apparently said to be a polite pre-modern Hawaiian euphemism for dying. When a spirit died, or even approached death, it was said to travel directly to Ka’ena Point, where it was met by spirits of departed friends, family and ancestors. If the person has indeed died, the spirits would comfort the soul and guide it to the big white rock Leinakauhane, where the soul would ‘take the leap’ and begin its journey to the great beyond. However, if the soul hadn’t completed certainly worldly responsibilities or if death wasn’t real, then the spirits would guide the soul back and help revive the body. If the place wouldn’t have been as beautiful as Ka’ena Point, the story would have been plain spooky.
It’s a proper 3 mile-odd walk along the two hiking trails from the parking lot to Ka’ena Point, but both trails are flat and offer great views of the vast expanse of the North Pacific.
- Srirangam, Trichy, India
In Tamil Nadu, India, 10 km north of the city of Tiruchirappalli lies a town which matches the description of ‘vaikuntha’ (heaven) in Hindu mythology – an island enfolded by the Kaveri and Kollidam rivers. To the Vaishnavites – followers of Lord Vishnu – the Ranganathaswamy temple in the temple town of Srirangam (meaning ‘sacred stage/arena’), is their sacred gateway to heaven.
The 156 acre-temple complex is said to become a cosmic stage during the 21 day–long Festival of Recitation in the months of December-January. On the 11th day, Vaikuntha Ekadashi, it is believed that the doors to heaven are open all day and a visit to any Vishnu shrine guarantees the visitor unrestricted entry to the pearly gates of heaven. The northern doors of the temple, which are supposed to be the gates of heaven, are opened for the rest of the 10 days as the Lord passes through them. During this time, heaven and earth are said to become one and the Lord’s ascent into heaven is depicted through song and dance, during which Srirangam literally becomes ‘heaven on earth’.
- Tianmen Cave, China
How high does one have to climb to get to heaven? Tourists will have an answer when they want to get halfway up the vertigo-inducing, otherworldly-looking Tianmen Shan Mountains. Located close to Zhangjiajie city in the Tianmen Mountain National Park in China, Tianmen Shan is aptly named Heaven’s Gate Mountains.
Halfway up the mountains lies the 430 feet–high, 100 feet–wide Tianmen Cave considered to be the ‘door to heaven’; a realm where the mortal world meets those of the gods. 999 demanding steps lead to the top, a number aptly selected since 9 in Mandarin is pronounced the same way as the word eternal/perpetual is. What’s more, the road to get to the base of this heavenly staircase, the Tianmen Winding Mountain Road has 99 hairpin–like curves, which are symbolic for the nine palaces of heaven. So not only does one have to do a steep climb of faith but they also have to traverse curves on a mountain road while climbing dizzying heights. Clearly, getting to heaven is more arduous that you thought, isn’t it?
If you want the vanilla version of getting to the door to heaven, a nearly 7,500 meter long cable car ride will take you directly from Zhangjiajie city to the top of the mountain within half an hour. But you don’t want to do that, do you?
- Mount Fuji, Japan
For adventure travellers, climbing Mount Fuji might be the highlight of their trip for obvious reasons, but that’s not all that the great, old mountain is. Shinto and Japanese Buddhist beliefs regard Mount Fuji as the abode of the great ‘Kami’ or the home of the gods, believing it to be a mystical gateway between heaven and earth. The sacred mountain, which is actually a volcano, is regarded as an incarnated living spirit. Its name has been derived from the word ‘fushi’ – the Japanese word for immortality – and its Japanese name ‘Fuji-yama’ literally means ‘never dying’.
The 3,776 metre tall mountain has long been revered as the axis mundi in Japanese mythology, which is the connection between heaven and earth. It is also seen as the home to various gods in the Shinto and Japanese Buddhist beliefs, including the fire goddess Kaguyahine, Sengen-sama, and O-Ana-Mochi. There is also one legend which speaks of how an emperor found eternal life at the top of Mount Fuji, but through death, symbolising Fuji’s fame as the ultimate axis mundi in Japanese mythology.
- Puerta de Hayu Marka, Peru
The Hayu Marka mountain region of southern Peru near Lake Titicaca is a peaceful and quiet abode the native Indians called ‘Valley of Spirits’ or the ‘City of the Gods’. The perplexing aspect about this region is that it contains a host of strange megalithic stone formations in the shape of animals, humans and even dinosaurs. The most mystifying feature, however, is that there also exists a 23 feet–high doorway–like natural rock face which is considered to be ‘Puerta de Hay Marka’ – the Gate of the Gods.
Native Indian legends say that the Gods created this gate for heroes to enter the realm of the gods. Another legend talks about a priest called Amaru Meru of the Temple of the Seven Rays who fled with a sacred golden dish (key of the gods of the seven rays) when Spanish conquistadors were looting Peru. Hiding in the mountains of Hayu Marka, he came upon the door which became a portal and he was never seen again. There’s even a small hand-sized circular depression embedded in the rock next to the doorway.
Whether this door is real or symbolic, tourists have known to experience an energy of sorts when they visit this otherworldly place.
- Ganges, India
For Hindus all over the world, Ganga (Ganges) is the most sacred river on earth. In the Hindu mythology, the river is the ultimate symbol of purity – it is believed that taking a dip (more specifically three dips) in the holy river will purge the sins of one’s life and enable the liberation the soul from the cycle of life and death. The Ganges is also said to have powers of regeneration and healing. However, the more important belief is that dying on the banks of the Ganges is supposed to be a direct gateway to get to heaven.
The banks of the River Ganges are home to the most important religious pilgrimage centres for Hindus – Rishikesh, Haridwar, Allahabad, Varanasi (Benaras) and Patna. People travel to the banks of the holy river to immerse the ashes of their kin in its waters, bringing the soul closer to Nirvana (salvation).
The banks of the Ganges in Allahabad and Haridwar are also the place where the Kumbh Mela – the world’s largest congregation of Hindu pilgrims – takes place. It is believed that when the struggle for the nectar of immortality took place between the Gods and the Demons, drops of it fell on Allahabad, Haridwar, Nasik and Ujjain, where the Kumbh Mela takes place in rotation every 4 years.
- Pyramids of Giza, Egypt
Yes, the Pyramids make it to almost every list, but that’s the beauty of it. The Great Pyramids of Giza – the ultimate symbol of Egyptian pride and beauty – are also said to have been a launching platform for helping the pharaoh’s soul ascend to heaven.
The Djoser Step Pyramid built by Imhotep was the first spiritual lift-off enabler of its kind, helping the pharaoh’s soul ascend towards heaven one step at a time. When Pharaoh Khufu’s time came, the laws of elementary tomb physics were changing. The Great Pyramids built during his time had smooth sides, the angling depicting the streaming sun’s rays, which Egyptians believed was how the soul of a deceased pharaoh rode to heaven. The launching platform had become smoother. A proposed ‘soul-shaft’ theory even explains how the soul travels. It explains that the shafts built within the King’s chamber in the pyramid (long contested as ‘ventilation’ shafts) were actually religious in nature, transporting the pharaoh’s soul to the northern and southern skies.
- Dwaraka, Gujarat, India
Imagine that a modern city having its origins in a 15th century BC settlement – in fact, the modern-day version being the 7th version of the same city, which now lies submerged in the sea. This is the holy city of Dwaraka on the westernmost end of the western state of Gujarat in India, which is a confluence of mythology and holiness.
Dwaraka is one of the char dhams (4 abodes) – the quintessential Hindu pilgrimage of a lifetime. Literally meaning Gate of the Gods (dwar – gate/door, ka – Lord Brahma, the creator), Dwaraka is said to have been an ancient port city and the capital of Lord Krishna’s empire. It is also one of the sapta pura – seven holy cities – of the country facilitating liberation from the cycle of life and death to those souls dying within their borders.
The famous 16th century Dwarkadhish temple, which houses the deity of Dwaraka, has two doors or dwars – the Swarga dwar (gate of heaven) for entrance and the Moksha dwar (gate of salvation) as the exit. It is said that whoever who lives in Dwaraka is said to serve Lord Krishna, thus being specially blessed, and those who visit the holy city are absolved of their sins and come one step closer to attaining salvation.
- Cave of the Patriarchs, Hebron
In the heart of the ancient Palestinian city of Hebron, a series of subterranean chambers are said to lead to the Garden of Eden – or heaven. This place is the Me’arat ha-Machpela – Cave of the Patriarchs – one of the most sacred sites for Jews in the Holy Land.
The Cave of the Patriarchs is said to be the burial site for the four patriarchs and matriarchs of the Jewish faith – Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah (The fourth matriarch Rachel is buried in Bethlehem). The name of the complex reflects the deep-rooted Hebrew tradition of double tombs (machpelah means ‘double’). However, the more important aspect is that the cave is said to lead to the ‘gateway of paradise’ and is seen as a link between heaven and earth. It is believed the soul is allowed to enter the Garden of Eden only if it is worthy.
Today, the Cave of the Patriarchs is the site of both a mosque and a synagogue, with the actual entrance to the caves only visible, not accessible. However, the place throbs with divine energy of union of this world and the next.
- Cape Reinga, New Zealand
At the north-westernmost point of North Island, New Zealand, the Tasman Sea and the South Pacific Ocean collide to create an ethereal panorama. However, Cape Reinga is known for more than its fantastic views – it is known to be ‘leaping place of the spirits’ in the Maori mythology.
A little east of Cape Reinga (Reinga means ‘place of leaping’ in Maori) lies the beautifully secluded Spirits Bay, where the souls of the deceased are said to begin their final journey to Hawaiki, the ancestral Maori homeland. According to Maori legends, the journey of the spirits of the departed begins from the Ninety–mile beach and continues on to Twilight beach, where the spirits drink from a stream to quench their thirst continue on to Cape Reinga. Once they make the leap from the centuries–old Pohutukawa Tree that stands at the cape, they travel to Ohau, the largest of the Three Kings islands before bidding their home goodbye and continuing on their journey to the great beyond.
The journey to the great beyond never looked more beautiful.