Fourth Largest Cave In The World Discovered In Iran

The fourth largest cave on the planet, Ghar-e-Dosar, as seen on Google EarthA team of Iranian spelunkers exploring an underground cave system near Mehriz, Yazd have made a surprising discovery. Last year, the group of cavers stumbled across a massive underground chamber and after taking careful and exact measurements of its size, the cave is now confirmed to be the fourth largest in the world.

This new cavern is part of the Ghar-e-Dosar cave system located in central Iran, which has been known about for some time and is a popular destination for cavers in the region. The system hasn’t been completely mapped however so new aspects of it are still being discovered. Last February a team of eight entered the largest chamber there and set about taking precise measurements of its total expanse. Those numbers have all been crunched now and what they found is simply amazing.

The subterranean room measures 1263 feet across and 869 feet wide, covering roughly the equivalent of 20 acres. The cavern slopes downward over its length starting with a height of about 230 feet and plunging as low as 469 feet at its deepest point. Those dimensions are large enough to put it above Majlis al Jinn cavern in Oman and slightly behind the Torca del Carlista in Spain on the list of the world’s largest cave rooms.

It should be noted that this chamber ranks as the fourth largest in terms of size for a single cavern. Ghar-e-Dosar isn’t nearly as large as Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, however, which doesn’t have a single chamber that compares in size but does stretch for more than 400 miles of underground passageways.

Thanks to our friends at the Adventure Journal for sharing this story.

[Photo Credit: Iran Speleo]

5 Countries That Are Great Alternatives To Their Crowded Neighbors

It’s the great hypocrisy in the mind of every traveler that they want to tour a place free from other tourists. Grumbling that a place is overcrowded isn’t without grounds, though. Who hasn’t wanted to pull a Dr. Manhattan on the tour groups that take group photos with every single person’s camera? And boy, what we wouldn’t give to disappear the backpackers pretending to make out with statues of the Buddha.

We can overlook these indignities as necessary evils most of the time. In reality, tourists are going to be present at the big attractions everywhere, and the penalty of avoiding tourists would basically be staying at home permanently.

That being said, for those who just can’t take it anymore, we’ve compiled a list of some less infested options. These five countries offer up similar attractions to their neighbors, but see far fewer visitors to the nooks and crannies, which will make any tourist-weary tourist breathe a little easier.

Montenegro (Crowded Neighbor: Croatia)

Croatia’s attractive coastline is a magnet for tourists. The attendant income from droves of foreigners was one of the reasons Serbs attempted to include it in their “Greater Serbia.” The subsequent Croatian War of Independence ended in 1995, and the current crowds milling about Dubrovnik are the spoils of victory. Little Montenegro, which declared independence from Serbia only in 2006, shares the same coastline and a lot of history with its more famous neighbor. The country currently sees far fewer tourists (1.2 million vs. 9.9 million) visiting its excellent beaches, like the superb spits of sand at Sveti Stefan and Petrovac. Nor do many tourists hike and cycle around Montenegro’s untouched forests at Biogradska Gora and Skadar Lake National Parks. Montenegro’s comparative anonymity provides an experience that can’t be matched in Croatia.

Cambodia (Crowded Neighbor: Thailand)

Cambodia’s main attraction, Angkor Wat, certainly doesn’t dwell in obscurity. This single attraction saw over a million visitors last year, which accounts for more than a third of all visitors to the country. Some of Thailand‘s other neighbors, like Laos and Myanmar, can barely achieve those numbers on a national level. However, when it comes to pretenders to Thailand’s tourism throne, Cambodia is the only one in the region that can offer attractions that go tit for tat with Thailand’s best. Beaches? The empty white sands of Koh Rong and Ream National Park beckon, as does the party-centric seaside town of Sihanoukville. Ruins? Cambodia rolls deep; Angkor Wat is backed up by Koh Ker, the former capital of the Khmer Empire now overgrown in the jungle, and Sambor Prei Kuk, a pre-Angkorian temple complex. Interesting capital? Phnom Penh, the “Pearl of Asia,” boasts French colonial architecture and a park-strewn riverfront. Food? A taste of amok trey or lok lak will make you forget all about pad thai.

Estonia (Crowded Neighbor: Sweden)

Sweden is a huge Scandinavian tourism juggernaut. Estonia? Just a scrappy little Baltic state. What’s the appeal then? A lot, actually. Estonia, like Sweden, is a nature-lover’s paradise. Soomaa National Park, the “land of bogs,” is one of the best canoeing destinations in Europe and is home to wolves, bears, elk and other wildlife. Estonia’s crumpled Baltic coastline contains a mind-boggling number of shallow soft-sand beaches, especially in the summer capital of Pärnu. Estonia’s past is also worth a look. While its Soviet experience is visible in some of the less adventurous architecture, the medieval castles are well preserved and atmospheric. Tallinn, the capital, is flooded with tourists, but island life on Saaremaa is quiet and isolated. Saaremaa boasts a 13th-century castle fortress and other curios like the 100-year-old Angla windmills and a Gothic church bearing symbols of the occult.

Mozambique (Crowded Neighbor: South Africa)

South Africa is head and shoulders above its Sub-Saharan neighbors when it comes to tourist numbers. Its famous game reserves, coastline and unique heritage attract almost 10 million visitors a year. Mozambique can’t match the tourist infrastructure that its neighbor to the south has meticulously erected, but it can offer other competitive attractions. Before its large mammal population was decimated by the civil war, Gorongosa Park was considered to be Africa’s Eden. Efforts to revive the park are underway, and all of Africa’s Big 5, save the rhino, can be seen here. Maputo, the capital, is small and friendly and features Portuguese colonial architecture and an extremely laid-back vibe. Mozambique’s true attraction, though, is its coast, where surfers (of the kite and wind variety) enjoy the unspoiled beaches at Vilanculos and divers explore pristine coral without the crowds at Pemba and Tofo Beach.

Iran (Crowded Neighbor: Turkey)

Turkey sees some 27 million tourists a year and Iran, well … not nearly as many. Official mouthpieces assert some 3 million tourists visited Iran in 2011, though less than 1 percent of those were traveling for nonreligious reasons. Those few tourists had historical sites like Persepolis and Imam Square all to themselves. They experienced Iran’s outstanding natural attractions – lush forests and beaches on the Caspian Sea in the north and deadly deserts and sunny Persian Gulf coastlines in the south – without the crowds that bog down these landscapes in Turkey. Those travelers were also some of the only foreign tourists in Tehran, enjoying its multitude of parks and museums, and were alone again in Yazd, a city of compacted sand reminiscent of Tatooine. Then they joined Iranians on the empty slopes of Dizin, one of the best value-for-money ski resorts in the world, and one of the few spots where Iranians are able to pull back the veil and let loose.

[Photo Credits: Kumukulanui, ecl1ght, (flicts), VilleHoo, F H Mira, Adam Hodge]

Survey Ranks ‘World’s Most Unfriendliest’ Countries

Have you ever been to a country that just seems to give tourists the cold shoulder? Now, there are some figures behind those unwelcome feelings; the World Economic Forum has put together a report that ranks countries based on how friendly they are to tourists.

The extensive analyses ranks 140 countries according to attractiveness and competitiveness in the travel and tourism industries. But one category, “attitude of population toward foreign visitors,” stands out.

According the data, Bolivia (pictured above) ranked as the most unfriendly country, scoring a 4.1 out of seven on a scale of “very unwelcome” (0) to “very welcome” (7).

Next on the list were Venezuela and the Russian Federation, followed by Kuwait, Latvia and Iran (perhaps when visiting one of these countries, you should try your best to not look like a tourist?).

On the opposite side of the scale were Iceland, New Zealand and Morocco, which were ranked the world’s most welcoming nations for visitors.

Tourism infrastructure, business travel appeal, sustainable development of natural resources and cultural resources were some of the key factors in the rankings. Data was compiled from an opinion survey, as well as hard data from private sources and national and international agencies and organizations such as the World Bank/International Finance Corporation and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), among others.

The report also emphasized the need for continued development in the travel and tourism sector, pointing out that the industry currently accounts for one in 11 jobs worldwide.

All of the results of the survey can be found after the jump.

Attitude of population toward foreign visitors
(1 = very unwelcome; 7 = very welcome)

Friendliest

1. Iceland 6.8
2. New Zealand 6.8
3. Morocco 6.7
4. Macedonia, FYR 6.7
5. Austria 6.7
6. Senegal 6.7
7. Portugal 6.6
8. Bosnia and Herzegovina 6.6
9. Ireland 6.6
10. Burkina Faso 6.6

Unfriendliest

1. Bolivia 4.1
2. Venezuela 4.5
3. Russian Federation 5.0
4. Kuwait 5.2
5. Latvia 5.2
6. Iran 5.2
7. Pakistan 5.3
8. Slovak Republic 5.5
9. Bulgaria 5.5
10. Mongolia 5.5

Have you ever visited somewhere where they didn’t exactly roll out the welcome mat? Alternatively, have you visited somewhere on the “unfriendly” list and had a great, welcoming experience? Let us know how your travel experiences compare with the survey’s ranking in the comments below.

[via CNN]

[Photo credit: Phil Whitehouse, Wikimedia Commons]

Cyrus Cylinder, ‘The First Bill Of Rights,’ Tours US

Cyrus Cylinder
The famous Cyrus Cylinder, a baked clay tablet from the 6th century B.C. that’s often called the “first bill of rights,” has made its U.S. debut at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C.

The Cyrus Cylinder was deposited in the foundations of a building in Babylon during the reign of the Persian king Cyrus the Great. It commemorates his conquest of Babylon and announces religious freedom for the people displaced by the Babylonian king Nabonidus. Among them were the Jews, who had been in captivity in Babylon. Many Jews soon returned to Jerusalem and built the Second Temple.

While Cyrus’ announcement and inscription isn’t unique for that time, the cylinder became instantly famous upon its discovery in 1879 because of its connection to events that are mentioned in the Bible. Ever since, Cyrus has been considered the model of a just king ruling over a diverse empire.

It’s the centerpiece of a new exhibition titled “The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia: A New Beginning,” which examines the religious, cultural and linguistic traditions of the vast and powerful Achaemenid Empire (539–331 B.C.) founded by Cyrus the Great.

The exhibition runs until April 28. After the Smithsonian, the Cyrus Cylinder will tour the U.S., stopping at Houston, New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles. You can see the full details of the schedule here.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

My Year In Adventure Travel: A Look Back And A Look Forward

adventure travel, Iraq, Iraq tourism, Iraq travel
We’re approaching the end of 2012, so it’s a good time to assess what we’ve done and where we’re headed. There’s a whole year of adventures and opportunities awaiting us in 2013, despite what the New Age crystal clutchers say. The world is not ending and that’s a good thing!

I’ve had some interesting adventure travel this year. My family and I spent a week on the rugged Orkney Islands north of Scotland. We visited Neolithic stone circles, a haunted island, and I had my first (bad) experience driving on the left.

I really clicked with Orkney. The people are wonderful and the scenery is breathtaking. I’m thinking of going back to do a writer’s retreat there sometime if I can afford it. It’s an interesting culture with its own distinct traditions and music and I bet it would provide lots of inspiration.

The big trip for this year was a 17-day tour of Iraq. This was the culmination of a lifelong dream for me and I loved almost every second of it. Nearly getting arrested wasn’t too cool, but I got to visit the world-class National Museum of Iraq, archaeological wonders such as Ur and Babylon, see an Iraqi amusement park, and take a solo stroll through Baghdad.

Of course I wasn’t the only Gadling blogger to have adventures. The ones that made me most jealous are Anna Brones’ trip to Afghanistan and Dave Seminara’s ongoing anecdotes about life in the foreign service.

So what’s coming up in 2013? I’ll be seeing that year in with my wife on a brief getaway in Tangier, but beyond that I have no set plans. I’m probably going to hike the Great Glen Way in Scotland this summer. There are some other possibilities too. Here are the three major contenders:

Sudan. I’ve always been intrigued by this desert nation. Sudan has its own pyramids, medieval Christian sites, and a beautiful desert landscape. An English teacher I know in Khartoum has nothing but good things to say about Sudan’s capital.

Iran. I went to Iran back in 1994 and I’m interested in returning to see how things have changed. One of the sites I didn’t get to see last time was Alamut, the fabled castle of the Assassins. My archaeology contacts have told me that Iran’s government is restoring the castle in the hopes of turning it into a tourist attraction. My wife is interested in coming along on this trip and so we’d get both a male and female view of life inside this strictly Muslim country.

Lebanon. This nation on the Mediterranean is doing better than it has in many years. Lebanon has a wealth of archaeological sties, great nightlife in Beirut, and from what I’ve been told the best cuisine in the Middle East. It’s also right next to Syria, allowing an insight into that country’s bitter civil war.

So which country would you like to read a series about? Take the quiz and tell me!

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[Photo courtesy Rob Hammond]