Sometimes you end up finding peace, solace and beauty at the unlikeliest of places, and if you happen to be seeking that in Paris, you may just end up finding that not at the Eiffel or the Louvre but at the largest cemetery in the city; the Pere Lachaise cemetery! The question arises – must you visit a cemetery while on vacation at one of the most romantic cities in the world? Well, I would say yes and if you bear with me, I have my reasons to do so.
Pere Lachaise had been on my mind since I made my first trip to Paris in the year 2014, but due to some reasons I couldn’t make it back then. But this time I had decided that my second trip to the city would be incomplete without a quick visit to this cemetery, after all 15 minutes was all I required to see the one thing that I wanted to see there, but boy was I wrong! Here’s what happens; the minute you step into this cemetery you are transported to another world all together. Peaceful, quite and with not too many people around, this is a sudden change from the bustling city you’d be used to by now. The eerie silence paired with the haunting beauty of all the tombs will capture your undivided attention from the very moment you set foot in it’s gate.
What took me all the way here you ask? Well, I am a big fan of The Doors, and Jim Morrison spent his last days in this beautiful city and was then buried in this very cemetery. That was the sole purpose of my visit to Pere Lachaise. While Parisians themselves do not give much importance to his tomb; it is what the cemetery is famous for with people visiting from outside the country. Rock and roll fandom finds its way here to pay a visit to the humble yet one of the most loved graves in this magnificent cemetery.
The plan was to pay a quick visit to his grave and go about exploring the city, but I ended up spending atleast 2 hours in this hauntingly beautiful place. Its a maze of sorts without any real directions save a map right at the entrance, which to be honest isn’t of much help. But getting lost is the best thing that can happen to you here.
From plain looking modern day tombs to the ones that look like the work of renaissance sculptors, this cemetery has them all. You go from one beautiful tomb to another; each with a story of their own – a girl who lost her life at the age of 13; fresh flowers placed on her tomb probably by a family member earlier in the morning, the artist who lost his life in the unfortunate Charlie Hebdo shooting; color pens and comic strips paid him homage even after death, a member of royalty whose grave easily stood out from the rest – the cemetery is bursting with stories, it’s upto you to let your imagination unravel them.
After looking around for a bit I finally found the tomb I had come seeking. James Douglas Morrison, 1943-1971- the words were enough to stir emotions within. Despite being one of the plainest, it was still the most special.
A small crowd of 10-15 people had already gathered around playing his songs on their phones. Someone lit a spliff in his memory and passed it around while the rest chimed to the lyrics of Light My Fire. Everyone left behind anything that they could to mark their love for Jim Morrison; from scrunchies and poems to tissues and photographs, anything as long as it was placed with love. An older lady (in her 60’s probably) enthralled everyone with her story of having watched him perform live and all of us who obviously hadn’t had that chance and never will, listened to her in awe. Morrison had just brought together all of us traveling strangers and for 15 minutes everybody present there sang, smoked and spoke without even realizing that they didn’t know one another. What a surreal experience that was!
After spending close to 20 minutes there, I moved on to see a few other spectacular tombs. The other most sought after tomb here is that of the legendary poet and novelist; Oscar Wilde, and what a unique tomb it is! Fans and admirers probably had shown too much of their love and scribbled messages on his tomb in the past due to which most of it is enclosed in glass now.
I kept on walking ahead aiming for the exit but often got distracted by the beauty of the tombs along the way. Close to the exit, just as I had decided to stop letting myself get distracted by every tomb that I passed, I saw a very familiar name etched on one of the tombstones. A quick double check on Google revealed to me that it was indeed ‘the’ J.R.D Tata’s grave (buried along with his family); the pioneer of India’s commercial aviation.
A glance at my watch revealed to me that my planned visit of 15 minutes had turned into a 2 hour visit and I hadn’t even noticed! Such was the magnificence of this place.
If you have the time and want to have a unique experience in the city of Paris, then I urge you to take a walk in the Pere Lachaise cemetery. You won’t be disappointed.