The nation of Saudi Arabia is one of the most fearsome destinations for any tourist to contemplate visiting. To begin, there is no such thing as a tourist visa to Saudi Arabia. There are only two regular ways that you can visit: if you have an employment- or business-related reason to be there or if you are a Muslim who needs to make the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. Even if you do manage one of these visas, the country is one of the most restrictive environments on earth for women. Women are not allowed anywhere unless they have an approved male escort.
No other country in the world is as restrictive with women or women visitors as Saudi Arabia (even ultra-conservative Iran welcomes women tourists traveling by themselves). In many countries around the world that have no general culture of restrictions imposed on women, though, a few places do still exist where women visitors are considered not welcome.
The 6,000-foot Mount Omine in Nara in southern Japan is considered sacred in the Japanese tradition. The mountain holds the temple of Ominesanji at the top, an important 8th century Buddhist monastery. The Shinto Buddhist tradition holds a curious religious policy – it considers the menstrual cycle to be impure. Women are considered impure by extension. For this reason, they aren’t permitted in areas that are of religious significance.
The ban was struck down as discriminatory in the year 1872, after a 13-century run. Nevertheless, the monastery still preaches segregation and most visitors respect it. Women tourists do breach the ban from time to time, for the thrill. There are no consequences, though.
Mount Athos, also known as Holy Mountain in Greece, is on the tip of the tiny and remote Chalkidiki peninsula. It is an important religious center to the Christian sect known as Eastern Orthodox. The monastery on the mountain, which can only be reached through ferry and a long climb, has long considered women to not possess the right kind of spiritual presence for religious enlightenment. Over the centuries, some women certainly have found their way up the mountain. They have had to make extreme sacrifices for it, though. In the 20s, for instance, a French investigative journalist is reported to have elected to receive a double mastectomy just to pass herself off as a man to see what went on at the monastery.
Various shrines in India and Indonesia
Just as with orthodox Christianity, the Hindu and Islamic traditions tend to see women as impure or unworthy of religious attainment sometimes, too. In many countries that follow these religions, then, a few particularly Orthodox shrines and monasteries are considered off-limits to women.
The Haji Ali Dargah is an ancient mosque and Islamic tomb on a tiny island right off Mumbai. It is one of Mumbai’s iconic sights and a tourist magnet. Its beautiful 15th century Islamic architecture draws around 20,000 visitors each day. The innermost sanctum of the mosque, which is a dargah or tomb, is off-limits to women, though. Under Islamic Sharia law, women aren’t permitted near tombs. While women’s rights groups have long protested the discrimination, the Indian government allows religious institutions to practice their beliefs within their compounds.
Hindu temples anywhere in the world have express rules that bar women from entering when they are on their periods. They are considered impure. While orthodox Hindus do usually take this rule seriously, modern ones don’t. As far as tourists from other parts of the world are concerned, they usually pay no attention. These temples have no way of monitoring what visitor is on her period. In these conservative cultures, though, locals and temple workers can get violent if they do somehow discover a violation by a female visitor – say, by overhearing a conversation about it.