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Destinations

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…

Australasia

The Twelve Apostles

Alberto-Loyo

On Victoria’s southern coast, giant limestone stacks have been sculptured by waves. Nobody knows for how long they will survive.

On 15 January 1990, a young couple strolled onto a famous rock formation on the Australian coast along the Great Ocean Road. The formation was named ‘London Bridge’ because of its two natural arches that branched out from the mainland. Suddenly the inner arch crashed into the sea. The couple were trapped on an islet. They had to be rescued by a helicopter. Continue Reading…

Africa

‘The land God made in anger’

kbremote

The merciless coastline of northern Namibia has been the ill-wanted deathbed of many aquatic creatures.

If dropped off by the Skeleton Coast – and if the name hasn’t scared you off already – the sight would resemble that of a coastal graveyard. Across the 500 kilometres (310 miles) from the Ugab River to the Angolan highlands, the bones of animals lie strewn in the soft sand, like a finished plate of barbeque ribs. They are accompanied by hundreds of rusty shipwrecks. Each has its own story. “There are mostly whale bones and a lot of seal bones,” says Volker Jahnke, of Desert Magic Tours Namibia. “Every now and then you also find human skeletons.”

The Skeleton Coast is the Bermuda Triangle of the South Atlantic Ocean, but without the myth. Here the evidence of the past lies bare. Some shipwrecks are measured to be 500 years old, and in some places, only the mast sticks up from the sand. Others are wholly visible and in remarkably good condition. As for the human skeletons, disagreement exists over their age. “Archaeologists are roaming the areas,” Jahnke says. “Some say they are 800 years old; others say 10,000. They never agree with each other.” Continue Reading…

Middle East

Keeping it clean

Enrico-Montanari

The White Desert is the jewel in Egypt’s tourism crown, but relies on volunteers to stay free of rubbish.

Weird mushroomy rock pinnacles dominate the landscape of the White Desert – one of Egypt’s most popular destinations. For some 20 kilometres (12.5 miles), freestanding white chalk blocks line up like sculptures in a city park. Most visitors become transfixed by their size and alien beauty – until their gaze lowers towards the ground where paper and plastic bags lie buried. 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…

Europe, Luxury

The place to be

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The Swiss village of Gstaad is a luxurious getaway for celebrities and Hollywood A-listers.

 

In the 1960s, TIME magazine summed it up when describing it as “the place to be”. Gstaad, a small settlement in the municipality of Saanen, south-western Switzerland, had already attracted personalities such as Grace Kelly and Roger Moore. Others included David Niven, Peter Sellers and Elizabeth Taylor. They fled to the Alps to escape busy lives. 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…

Northern America

Land of the giants

Pierdelune

The world’s largest trees have survived for more than 3,000 years, but their futures lie in human hands.  

They are the giants of nature; the skyscrapers of Mother Earth. In Sequoia National Park, some 8,000 giant sequoias rise firmly from the forest floor and branch out at a height of up to 80 metres. Only by placing humans next to their roots can one really fathom their size. The species is not the world’s tallest tree type. Nor is it the widest or oldest. But by trunk volume, it is the biggest. 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…

Adventure, Northern America

Wild wonders

Sandra-Cunningham

The Canadian Rockies make a perfect playground for adrenaline-seeking adventurers. 

By now, the story is well known. In 1883 three construction workers toiling away on the Canadian Pacific Railway stumbled across a cave in the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. They encountered a series of hot springs. After various disputes, it was decided the area be protected. In 1885 Banff National Park was created; the very first in Canada. Continue Reading…