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Surrounded by eight peaks and suspended high in the mountains, Koya-san’s 117 temples evoke a spiritual experience like none other.

In 816 AD, a monk named Kukai wandered into the thickly forested slopes of Mount Koya (Koya-san) in Japan’s Wakayama Prefecture in hope of finding a suitable site to build a base for his newly founded Shingon sect of Esoteric Buddhism. He chose an 800m-deep valley surrounded by eight peaks, whose ridges resemble the petals of an eight-petaled lotus blossom. Twelve centuries and 117 temples later, Kukai’s spiritual wooded wonderland is a Unesco World Heritage site and one of Japan’s most sacred destinations – a place where the wafting aroma of incense, the chanting of shaved-head monks and the primeval air of forested cemeteries creates a spiritual experience like none other. (Credit: ncousla/Getty Images)

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