Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Five awesome places I’ve seen

Every blog needs a hook right? Okay so I thought I would sit down and think of five awesome places I have been, chuck in some photos and blab on a little about them.

5. The Pyramids, Egypt.

When I first headed overseas to backpack about, I knew there were a couple of things I simply had to see such as Niagara Falls, the Empire State building and the Pyramids in Egypt. I mean to be honest I was so green I have thought Egypt was just a myth or something from a movie! Well, I did get to Egypt and I did see the Pyramids. They are bloody impressive! They are as amazing as you’d think.
I even took public transport to get there from central Cairo. Once I alighted from the bus with my best mate we were hounded by people trying to get us onto camels. We declined repetitively. Our favourite quote became ‘my brother has a camel’ which was tried on us dozens of times that day. We morphed it into ‘my brother IS a camel’.
We heard about one guy who took the offer up to go on a camel ride around the pyramids. He left his bag, wallet and camera with the camel guy as he went inside one of the pyramids. He came back outside to find no trace of either the camel or his handler!

4. The Taj Mahal, Agra, India

So when in India you simply must visit the Taj, the world’s greatest monument to love. The Emperor Shah Jahan built it for his wife and it took 21 years to build, with construction beginning in 1632. She is buried there in a quiet mausoleum inside the building itself, and so is he. I heard a tour guide say that Shah Jahan had plans to build a black replica as his own tomb, however the internet tells me this is merely a myth.
As a tourist you pay 750 rupees to get in (around $13US), but if you are Indian it’s just 20 rupees. Some might consider this discrimination, but if you consider the relative wages it’s not so outrageous. I found the place to be blissfully peaceful in manic India, the gardens and adjoining buildings are really beautiful too and part of the attraction.

3. The Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia.
Exterior facing the square

The inside of the Hermitage is pretty darned grand!

Another place with a two-tier pricing system – it’s far cheaper to get in for Russians than non-Russians. Still, if you can act Russian (re-pout a lot lol) and have a Russian friend like I did, well, you might just be able to fool them at the entrance.
The Hermitage is a palace, no wait many palaces, and a museum in one, located in Senate Square. The façade is very famous, but inside it one of the world’s greatest museums with artefacts pilfered from all over the world.

2. Registan, Samarkand, Uzbekistan

On the Silk Road, the ancient trading route from China to Europe, there are many fascinating cities and places. Samarkand is definitely one of the most amazing, with its Registan – three big medressas I ever saw. In fact the whole city is full of history and amazing Islamic architecture, but the Registan is three medressas that face into each other beautifully decorated with a blue mosaic work.

As you approach the Registan from the open side, the Ulugbek Medressa is to your left, the Tilla-Kari Medressa is in front of you between the other two and on the right is the Sher Dor or Lion Medressa. They are all impressive, but the Ulugbek Medressa, dating from the 15th century and the oldest of the Medressas, is the most impressive of all three. It’s also the largest.

Your entrance ticket gets you into all three, and when I was there I bought it from an old lady on a small table outside the Ulugbek Medressa. I must admit, it didn’t seem all that official. It cost just under 12,000 som, and that included a camera, which as always in Uzbekistan was extra. Inside there are many different rooms you can visit, a sculpture of some wise-looking men looking at a globe, souvenir stalls, arches, beautiful blue tiling, and plenty of things to snap your camera at.
1660 saw the building of the Tilla Kari Medressa, inside which there seemed to be much less happening. However, it had a wonderful, peaceful courtyard and some of the paint work under the blue dome was really beautiful.
The final Medressa, Sher Dor or the Lion Medressa, appeared to be missing a bit of tile work, but was still pretty impressive. It was built in 1636. It was hot and I was a bit ill so I sat down inside on one of the seats and relaxed a bit. If you get yourself a tour it would probably be worth it, there are a lot of stories behind these impressive, beautiful buildings.
Ulugbek Medressa

For more information on Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, please do check out my ebook, Short Journeys: Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

1. Dogon Escarpment, Mali

Hiking the escarpment

It's hard work!
Finally, one place that really blew my mind, and the undisputed highlight of any journey to West Africa (as long as the journey includes Mali of course) is the Dogon Escarpment, a long ridge in western Mali which is visually stunning, and a popular place to trek. I trekked along the bottom of the ridge for a day and a half, and then ascended to the top.

I stayed a night in a village at the bottom, where we met the locals and saw life continuing mostly as it has for centuries. However they do have car batteries which provide basic lighting in the evening. There was a cultural show as well, and for the sleeping element I was (with three friends) on the roof of a mudbrick building, sleeping under the stars. It was a perfect spot to sleep!

A Dogon Mosque, made from mud-brick.

The next day after the climb to the top we stayed at another village, and visited another meeting school children, craftsmen and a holy man. It was a completely unique experience and one I will always treasure and remember.

Dogon school room

For more information on Mali and the Dogon Escarpment, Please see my Chapter for Mali in the Dhaka to Dakar: Across Africa book.

These are just five amazing things I have seen. They are not necessarily my top five, or in a specific order, but I wanted to take the chance to blog about some of the brilliant things I’ve been so fortunate to see – and experience, in my travels. What are some of the brilliant places you’ve seen or visited?

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