Okunoin Cemetery, Mount Koya, Japan
Nothing prepares you for the sight of the 10,000 lanterns that lie at the heart of Japan’s largest cemetery, even though you’ll have had a chance to acclimatise yourself to its magical, misty mien by walking, if you arrive at it via the traditional entrance of Ichinohashi Bridge, through two kilometres of a sacred and eerie 1,200-year-old mountain forest.
In it lie the lichen- and moss-covered graves of 200,000 Buddhist monks, feudal lords and military commanders, as well as more than 100 temples and monasteries and that lantern-lit nucleus that is the mausoleum of Kōbō-Daishi, also known as Kūkai, the founder of Shingon Buddhism.
And because Okunoin is open 24 hours a day, you can visit it at night, when a monk guide can offer insights into that add extra depth and intensity to the experience. But even better is a visit at dawn, when out of the mountain mist appear the ghostly orange-clad forms of monks coming to leave their food offerings to Kobo Daishi.
Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Argentina
The good, the bad and the wealthy are all buried in Buenos Aires’ famous Recoleta Cemetery, a quintessential necropolis whose planned grid mimics the city beyond, with tree-lined thoroughfares branching out into smaller streets and passageways lined with almost 4,700 vaults. For no one is buried underground at Recoleta, with the notable exception of Eva Perón, or Evita, the “First Lady of Argentina”, who lies deep underground in a heavily fortified crypt.
The extraordinary mish-mash of architectural styles and elaborate statuary ensure there is always something wonderful to look at, and many of the tombs are still in use and lovingly maintained; others lie derelict and neglected, strewn with broken glass, fading plastic flowers and rubbish, a dusty coffin half visible among the cobwebs.
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