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Adventure, Asia

Hitting the road

Japan1

Corridors of snow tower 20 metres above the highway along the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route.

The mythical Mount Tateyama is a place of extraordinary sights – and none more so than the corridors of snow. From mid-April when the route opens, a 500-metre path is cleared where people can stroll between giant walls of snow. They are formed by the mountain’s excessive snowfall, which averages seven metres per year. Some years 20 metres arrive. The corridor shortens towards the end of June, and virtually disappears by August.

The sight is part of the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, which connects Toyama City, in the Toyama prefecture, with Ōmachi, in Nagano (the prefecture that hosted the 1998 Winter Olympics). The route, completed in 1971, crosses the 3,015-metre-tall Mount Tateyama in the Japanese Alps. It ascends 1,975 metres from the bottom to its highest point. To say the journey is ‘varied’ is an understatement: across its 90 kilometres (55 miles) it uses six different modes of transport and changes method eight times. Continue Reading…

Asia

Silenced city

India1

The street of the Virupaksha Temple was a lively commercial centre until conservationists shut down the stalls. Was it a good decision?

Not long ago, the street of the walled Virupaksha Temple buzzed with stalls and livestock. Megalithic 15th-century arcades called mandapas flanked the 720-metre-long avenue where local people ran trade off tourists. They called it the ‘bazaar’.

The bazaar starts by the towering temple in the city of Hampi: the last capital of the Kingdom of Vijayanagar. It was among the greatest and wealthiest of the Hindu empires and ruled the entire south India at its height. The empire identified Hampi, in the southern state of Karnataka, as an ideal location for a capital city. Between the 14th and 16th centuries its rich princes erected remarkable Dravidian temples and palaces here.

The constructions were majestic. The city attracted visitors from far and wide including Arabs, Portuguese and Italians. The dominating building of the complex was – and still is – a nine-storey tower made of bricks and mortar. The idyll ended in 1565 when the Deccan Muslim confederacy conquered the city. It was plundered for six months, damaged and then abandoned. Only in the 19th century was it rediscovered and restored. Continue Reading…

Asia, History and culture

In the shadows

Krishna.Wu

Beside the Taj Mahal, the Agra Fort stood as an impregnable bastion under the Mughal Empire.

 

In 1565, Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar, the third ruler of the Mughal Empire – which controlled large parts of India in the 16th and 17th centuries – built the main constructions of the Agra Fort. He erected walls around what became a fortified city. The provincial city of Agra became the empire’s capital.

In 1627, Akbar’s grandson, Shah Jahan, became the empire’s fifth ruler. Years later he moved to Delhi. He constructed the Taj Mahal, the famous white marble monument, in memory of his deceased wife Mumtaz Mahal. He built it only a few kilometres from the Agra Fort.

Jahan fell ill in 1657 and resigned his throne to Dara Shikoh, the eldest of his four sons. His brothers were jealous. They attacked the Agra Fort and defeated Shikoh. The third son, Aurangzeb, appointed himself ruler and locked his father inside the fort. “He did it because Shah Jahan didn’t want Aurangzeb to become the ruler,” says Ruknuddin Mirza, conservation architect at the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage. “It wasn’t revenge, but more about taking the power by force.” It is said that Jahan could see the Taj Mahal from his balcony. He died after eight years in imprisonment. Continue Reading…

Asia, Ecology

Avant-garden

tristan-tan(6)

The futuristic Gardens by the Bay have become one of Singapore’s major attractions since opening one year ago.

 

It looks like a scene from a science fiction movie. Stroll down Singapore’s Marina Bay and you will see 50-metre-tall trees branch out across blossoming gardens. Two air-conditioned conservatories lurk by the seaside, with glasshouse exteriors akin to giant snail shells. Inside one of them, a 35-metre-high mountain releases the world’s largest indoor waterfall. Welcome to the Gardens by the Bay. Continue Reading…

Asia

The flooded forest

Eduard-Kim

A giant landslide in 1911 submerged a series of trees in Kazakhstan. But below the surface, the forest is still intact.

 

They look like the masts of ghost ships, relegated to the lake floor since hundreds of years ago, abandoned in some deserted valley. They are the dead trunks of trees flooded with water around a century ago. The Kaindy Lake is relatively unknown among tourists, but many adventurers flock here; not because of the sights on show above the surface, but because of what lies beneath it. Continue Reading…

Asia, Nature

Celebration of the lizard

Komodo

The world’s largest lizard is a shrewd predator that will stop at nothing for its next meal. Meet the Komodo dragon.

Dinosaurs may have been extinct for hundreds of millions of years, but reptiles remain that carry their legacy. That, at least, is the impression one gets of the Komodo dragon, a three-metre-long killing machine whose favourite preys include pigs, deer and large water buffalos. Even humans are unlikely to escape its wrath: in February, two people were attacked by a giant dragon that had somehow wandered into their office. They ended up in hospital. Continue Reading…

Asia, History and culture

City of temples

Alexey-Stiop

In a Cambodian forest, the temple of Angkor Wat stands as a grandiose symbol of the mighty Khmer Empire.

 

In the early 12th century, Suryavarman II, the king of the Khmer Empire, decided to build a temple. Around 50,000 people were sent to work, slaving away for 37 years. They dug a 200-metre moat, bridged by a causeway. They built three square plateaus on top of each other, protected by towering walls. At the top they erected five large towers. Around the temple, they created fine artwork, courtyards and corridors. In 1150 they completed the job. Angkor Wat was ready for use. Continue Reading…

Adventure, Asia

On top of the world

Galyna-Andrushko

The Great Himalaya Trail is the mother of all hiking routes, and could be used to help impoverished mountain villages.

Nearly five years ago, Robin Boustead, a British explorer and mountaineer, started a journey across the high mountains of Nepal. He had been researching treks there for five years, having fallen in love with the Himalayas back in 1992. In September 2008 he set out. He wrote down routes, trails and distances; using GPS, he mapped water sources, villages and campsites. He crossed the entire country, marking up a 1,700-kilometre route (1,050 miles). It crossed passes as high as 6,200 metres and included 150,000 metres of climbing and descending. In July 2009 he completed the trail, having lost more than 20 per cent of his bodyweight. The first part of the Great Himalaya Trail had been completed.

Continue Reading…

Asia

Clean state

Willyam-Bradberry

With the Maldives aiming to become carbon-neutral by 2020, tourism minister Ahmeed Shameem tells eco traveller about the project.

 

In October 2009, the Maldivian government held an underwater cabinet meeting. Ministers ditched their ties and dressed up in snorkelling gear. They converged on a seabed at five metres deep, on a small island 20 minutes away from Mahé, the capital. In a 30-minute meeting, they signed a document calling for global cuts to carbon emissions. Only one element remained familiar to the ministers: snorkelling journalists had followed them into the deep. Continue Reading…