In harmony with the rushing Ammer River, Norbert Parucha, our guide, recites Lao Tse. Poised on a rocky ledge overlooking the water, he stands craggy-faced and as solid as an ancient tree. He might be part of the mountain’s landscape but for the soothing melody of his speech and the rugged hiking boots on his feet.
Here, along the Ammergau Alps Meditation Trail, he calls us to contemplation. We stand, above the rapids, embraced by a belt of wine-bottle green pine trees and a smattering of moss-covered boulders. His words flow out into the brisk air and down to the water. It’s our job to catch them like summertime fireflies in a jar — and apply them to our musings.
We’ve followed Parucha to the fourth official stop, one of 15 along the newly marked 52-mile Ammergau Alps Meditation Trail. Conceived by Parucha in collaboration with a team from Ammergau Tourism, this undulating path is carved into a well-trodden holiday region south of Munich in the foothills of the Alps. It leads hikers of every level through the gentle hills, Alpine moors, lush valleys and flowery meadows of Bavaria.
The metaphor for this new course might be the labyrinth — or the road as a symbol for our lives. The Meditation Trail takes advantage of the spiritually significant sites in the area, from Celtic mounds to mountain chapels to monasteries and reflective lakes.
“It’s not a highway,” croons Perucha as we take off hiking at warp speed from the Baroque, UNESCO-listed Wies Church, where the trail begins. Because we’re more determined to set records than meld into the music of nature, Parucha speaks again. “Plod along. Stop, smell, look, listen.”
Parucha’s role is to ensure we unravel internally, that we allow the majesty of mountains, the chirping of birds, the scent of pine needles to lull us to a self-awareness too easily misplaced in the city. At each stop along this route that can take five or more days to finish, we mull poetry and mystical words at sacred man-made and natural sites.
A proponent of self-healing and the life-affirming aspects of spiritual walking, Perucha, 56, a therapist, was once as enmeshed in the frenzy of the external world as the rest of us. But the untimely death of his wife sent him reeling. Searching for answers, he went to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, perhaps the best-known pilgrim’s path. As he healed, he changed careers, studied therapy and holistic medicine and commenced to take groups of seekers to wander the Santiago Compostela Trail and the lesser known, and linking, Path of Jacob.
Soon learning that his patients gained relief from rhythmic, philosophy-supported treks through nature, Parucha took the next step, linking a variety of sights in the Ammergau and offering (in conjunction with the region’s office of tourism) contemplative tours.
And, that’s why we’ve come, my teenage daughter and I, to walk with Perucha. He’s a tranquil master. And his region, the Ammergau, speaks for itself.
At Lake Soier, we ponder the glassy lake, noting how it mirrors the sky. Here, Parucha presents the words and philosophies of Lama Govinda, a European-born Tibetan Buddhist, instrumental in bringing Buddhism to the West. “The world is merely a mirror of what is in our own being,” quotes Perucha. After we do some breathing exercises and concentrate on visualizations, we ramble on — but not before Perucha points out how close the German word for lake (see) is to the word for soul (seele). With that in mind, we circle the lake in walking meditation.
Another day, we hear the words of Chief Seattle over the hilltop ruins of Dottenbichl, a Celtic and (later) Roman archeological site. Some places along the trek call for the musings of Christian mystics, others for the wisdom of poets. We pass fat cows with bell necklaces, geese that chase us, picnicking couples ensconced in a meadow and boys hauling a canoe to the rapids. In front of one pub, we see a crowd of men dressed in lederhosen and feathered hats. We eat hearty Bavarian food: pork, dumplings, grainy breads and mache lettuce salads — washing it all down with immense beers. In some places, we smell the peaty mud of the centuries-old bogs as we wander; in others, we catch a whiff of a wood fire.
Although many stops celebrate only nature, others consider human-made passion. Station 9, for example, is the tiny village of Oberammergau, famous for its centuries-old Passion Play tradition. We tour the theater, learn about the vow made by villagers to God nearly 400 years ago and study iconography carved from wood in the town’s museum. A subsequent stop takes us to Ettal. Here we visit with Benedictine monks at the famous Gothic-styled, medieval abbey.
The expedition ends at King Ludwig II’s Linderhof Palace, a fantasy creation designed as a poetic retreat and homage to myth, especially that of the Grail theme. “What are your visions and your dreams?” Parucha asks us. “How are you living them?”
A guide isn’t necessary to hike this route — the trails are well marked and even the meditations are displayed at each station — but having someone lead us to consciousness has been exalting. We end our adventure with sharpened minds, recharged spirits and stronger bodies. Admittedly, we don’t find answers to all the big questions — but that just means we’ll have to return to trek again.
If you go …
Getting there: Before you leave, buy a Eurail Pass (eurailtravel.com) which allows on-and-off privileges on most trains. Fly into Munich and take the train to any of the towns in the Ammergau Region, just about an hour’s ride. Or, rent a car.
The hike: Hiking packages for the trail come in seven- or four-night packages and include all meals (picnics for lunch), mid-priced hotel stays (including one night atop Hornle mountain in a rustic hut), a pilgrim guide, transfers, meditation and more. The packages are 850 Euros (per person, double occupancy) or 540 euros, respectively. www.ammergauer-alpen.de/en/ammergau-alps-meditation-trail.html
Do consider some of the Ammergau regions other offerings, including spa packages that feature the region’s famous moor bark baths.[Becca Hensley, Statesman]