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Asia, History and culture

Empty fortress


Towering above the mountainous landscape of Tibet, the Potala Palace is the most prominent symbol of Tibetan Buddhism after the Dalai Lama.

It carries more meaning than one can imagine. Placed upon the Red Mountain overlooking Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet region, the Potala Palace is the altar Tibetan Buddhists now turn to in worship. Since the Great Fifth Dalai Lama, Lobsang Gyatso, constructed it in the 1600s, it has been the centre for political and religious leadership. The Dalai Lama always resided there. That was, until the Tibetan uprising in 1959, when the 14th and current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, fled Lhasa for shelter in Dharamsala, northern India. The palace has stood empty ever since. Continue Reading…


Troubled waters


The limestone pillars of Ha Long Bay have long been admired, but increasing tourism and water pollution threaten the surrounding biodiversity and nearby communities.


In a sense, it’s only right that a place of such mysterious beauty should have its own mythology. Long ago, when local people were building Vietnam into a country, foreign invaders attacked them from the north. But the gods sent help, and a family of dragons came to protect their land, spitting fire and jewels that, once hitting the sea, turned into small islands. These formed a fortress of towering rocks to overwhelm the enemy, which arrived by boat. After winning the battle, the dragons decided to stay; hence the name ‘Ha Long’ – ‘descending dragon’. Continue Reading…


Still standing


The rice terraces of the Philippine Cordillera Mountains are among the finest examples of human craftsmanship working in harmony with nature. But can this ancient nutritional system survive the challenges of modernity?


They may be called the ‘stairway to heaven’ but to the Ifugao tribe, the 2,000-year-old rice terraces serve a far more sombre function. Skilfully constructed along the outlines of the Cordillera Mountains – on the Luzon Island, the largest and northernmost of the Philippine archipelago – these hand-built ‘staircases’ have provided rice for generations of tribes in the Ifugao province. The building techniques remain unchanged since their invention in pre-historic times, as do the terraces; reflecting a cultural practice that has retained its authenticity over two millennia. Continue Reading…


Forest of peaks


With its towering sandstone pillars, dizzying stone bridges and mysterious caves, the Wulingyuan Scenic Area is one of China’s most aesthetic natural sights.


When Hollywood film director James Cameron constructed the scenes of his successful 3D movie Avatar, he needed a fascinating, otherworldly habitat worthy of housing blue humanoid creatures. The result was a world in which huge stone peaks graced with waterfalls drift baselessly above a dreamy tropical forest. But while that safely ticked the boxes, its appearance differed little from its real-life inspiration; the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. Continue Reading…