For our fall break of 2011, Pepper, Jordan and I went with friends Grant and Leanne through many sites in the historic Orkhon valley. While I uploaded photos from the trip to Facebook, I didn’t do a blog post about it.
We spent our first night at Hustai National Park where the wild horses have been reintroduced. It snowed and when we opened our ger door in the morning there was a thin blanket of snow everywhere. We spent the following morning driving through the park seeking horses but enjoying the snowy landscape despite never seeing the horses.
For the next few days we usually drove a fair bit, saw sights and then slept at either very small guesthouses or in gers that were available for rent. It was a good thing that we hired a car and driver because navigating the landscape, finding the next town and then locating the place to stay would not be easy unless you speak Mongolian. Asking for directions is very frequent in Mongolia!
At the end of our first year in Mongolia we took the Trans-Siberian railroad from Ulaanbaatar to Moscow. After a few days there we then caught a quick flight to St. Petersburg where we hit the sights hard. We spent almost an entire day in the Hermitage museum. We stomped around and entered every church we could, peered in the cannons we could find, and marveled at the tops of buildings and wonderful architecture. Here are some of my favorite snapshots from those few days.
About two weeks into our honeymoon in 2010, Pepper and I rolled into Antigua, Guatemala. We were largely connecting Mayan historical sites but the lure of cooler weather of the mountains drew us to Antigua as soon as we arrived in Guatemala. We checked into a nice hotel thinking we’d spend two nights and then move on. We spent four nights there — we loved the city that much.
It turns out that the whole city has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site. There are historic buildings everywhere. A number of earthquakes has damaged many of them so some lie in ruins or have portions that are ruined. There is ample tourism, but much of the city retains the charm of an undiscovered Central American gem.
After we spent the morning at the Taj Mahal, Pepper, Jordan, Jacob and I continued on to see the Agra Fort. In some ways I felt like this fort was better than the Red Fort in Delhi. The layout was more compact so walking through a doorway lead immediately to a courtyard or Mosque. I felt much more like we were exploring the complex even when surrounded by many other visitors.
Near the gardens of the Taj Mahal stands the sixteenth-century Mughal monument known as Red Fort of Agra. With its walls of red sandstone rising above a moat and interrupted by graceful curves and lofty bastions, the fort encompasses within its enclosure walls of 2.5 km the imperial city of the Mogul rulers. It comprises many fairy-tale palaces, such as the Jahangir Palace and the Khas Mahal; audience halls,such as the Diwan-i-Khas; and two very beautiful mosques. Like the Delhi Fort, that of Agra is one of the most obvious symbols of the Mogul grandeur which asserted itself under Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan. Several of the builfings are made from pure marble with beautiful carvings; all of these monuments mark the high point of an Indo-Muslim art strongly marked by influences from Persia.
The Red Fort, completed in 1648, represents the zenith of Mughal creativity. The palace plan is based on standard Islamic designs but each pavilion displays architectural elements typical of Mughal building — a fusion of Persian, Timurid, Hindu and Islamic traditions.
Emperor Shah Jahan established his capital at Shahjahanabad and built the Red Fort Complex as his palace fort, enclosing it in ornate red sandstone walls that stretch for 2.5 km. The innovative planning, gardens and architectural style of the fort complex strongly influenced later building and garden design in Rajasthan, Delhi and Agra.
The Red Fort has been a powerful symbol for the Indian nation since its construction. The British Army captured it after the Indian mutiny of 1857-8 and held it until India gained Independence in 1947. It has remained at the centre of national independence celebrations ever since.
We didn’t travel too much since that list, but since we just stopped at four sites I thought it was a good time to update my list. Here are the UNESCO World Heritage sites that I have been to through the middle of April 2014.
As I tend to when looking back at my travels, I also look at the important sites that I have been to. Earlier in 2013 I documented the locations through January. So here is the list with one update for the rest of 2013. (Links are to related blog posts of mine.)
I compiled a list of UNESCO sites I had been to in 2009 when I had visited 16 of the over 900 sites. Then last year I updated my list, having added 9. Here is the list now with links to any blog posts on my site about these places.
That puts me up to 37! There are quite a few places that are on the UNESCO tentative list – Bagan and Inle Lake of Myanmar, Petrified Forest in USA, Amarsbayasgalant Monastery, Bogd Khan mountain and Gobi desert in Mongolia… and quite a few more I am sure!
One consistency on our few week trip in Sri Lanka was that nearly every stop ended up being better than we expected. That’s certainly a nice aspect of taking a trip that you let someone else put together for you. Menaka Arangala arranged our trip although we never met him. Our driver, Ashoka did a great job of keeping us safe on the road, advising us of scams, and even keeping us moving at a good pace. There were times when we felt like we were being rushed and then an hour later would arrive at a better destination and we were thankful for being ushered around.
When we pulled over at Dambulla we were all thinking the same thing. Why are we at this amusement-park style temple?
Then we walked up a path off to the left of this building after our guide purchased tickets. It was a fairly long series of steps and steep walkway with some people selling flowers, fruits and just hanging out and offering a hand to those climbing up the stairs. (They wanted a tip for their help of course.)
Then we arrived at the top of the path, left our sandals by the entrance and went into the site actually worth seeing…
This cave temple complex has five separate caves featuring over 150 sculptures, vast murals, stupas, and offering-thieving monkeys. It is a Unesco World Heritage site. The lighting wasn’t good in the caves and I didn’t have my flash so the color is off on these and some are quite blurry but you get a good idea of how neat the place is.