UNESCO ponders new World Heritage sites

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, better known as UNESCO, has announced that it will consider expanding their list of World Heritage Sites when the organization meets in Brazil in a few weeks time. The current list consists of 890 places from around the globe that are considered to have universal appeal for natural or cultural reasons.

There are 41 locations, in 35 countries, up for consideration this year, including first time contenders from Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, and Tajikistan. Kiribati has submitted the Phoenix Islands Protected Area for inclusion on the list, while the Bikini Atoll, a famous nuclear testing zone, represents the Marshall Islands’ hopes for their first World Heritage site. Tajikistan’s spectacular Pamir Mountains could be their first entry as well.

The UNESCO committee will also review the state of 31 of their current sites that have been listed as being in danger. Those sites could be under siege from a number of sources, including environmental concerns, urban development, poor management, increased tourism, wars, or other natural disasters. Last year, Germany’s Elbe Valley was de-listed because a new four-lane bridge was built through the region, while the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in Oman was dropped because of poor conservation efforts.

The 34th meeting of the World Heritage Committee will take place in Brasilia from July 25 to August 3, with the final rulings on these new locations being decided then.

[Photo credit: Irene2005 via WikiMedia Commons]

Touring the Silk Road atop a motorcycle

One of those travel regrets I still look back on and wish I had done was when I was contemplating buying a Russian motorcycle and sidecar and hightailing it through Siberia.

And it is therefore with great regret that I came across a similar story of adventurous motorcyclists traveling across another rugged territory: the Silk Road of China.

In what has been one of the best travel articles in the LA Times this year, journalist Susan Carpenter joined an 11-day motorcycle tour of northeastern China that took her from the fabled city of Kashgar (another travel regret of mine, by the way) to the city of Turpan 1,700 miles away.

I’m not sure who I’m fooling because I don’t even know how to drive a motorcycle, but I’m not lying when I say that I would do anything it takes to plant my butt atop one of these things and cruise the Silk Road–although the perfect journey would start in Persia, naturally.

To give you a little taste of what to expect, check out Carpenter’s tantalizing summation of the journey:

“We encountered mostly foot traffic — women balancing buckets of water on sticks across their shoulders and men in embroidered caps herding sheep, goats and yaks — as we worked our way toward the military checkpoint that granted us access to the Karakoram Highway and scenery so spectacular I could have crashed.”

Wow.

Oh, and incidentally, hat’s off to the LA Times for incorporating video onto their website. If the above description doesn’t get the travel bug biting, the video certainly will.

GADLING’S TAKE FIVE: Week of October 1

Gadling LogoBuckle down everyone and grab some hot cocoa. It’s time for another weekly dose of Gadling’s Take Five.

5. Shrink is Located in Terminal A:
Fear of flying? Get help and get over it! Iva brings a great piece from USA Today which talks of Buenos Aires response to those who are afraid to fly. You can now find a shrink in the terminal. Can someone say “hooray?”

4. America’s Best Restaurants:

Eating is one of our favorite past times and can be especially delightful while on the road. That is unless you are eating junk 24/7. Skip the ick food and swing into America’s 50 Best Restaurants as found in Gourmet Magazine.

3. Hidden Gems: Pamir Botanical Gardens:
Tour the world’s second highest botanical gardens found in Tajikistan or specifically in the Pamirs. Take a look at photos and my first hand experience traveling through parts of Central Asia where little is known.

2. Playboy Club Reopens:

I’m sure heels are clicking somewhere over this news provided by Neil. The new Playboy Club have reopened in Las Vegas’ Palms Hotel starting today. Fella’s beware of any women dressed as bunnies and remember always to behave.

1. Space Tourist Anousheh Ansari Blogs:

Envious – indeed we are! How I’d love to travel to space and I’m sure there are many folks who feel just the way I do. Until we can afford it, I mean, until we get our chance there are other outlets. In the meantime we can read the blogs of the most recent tourist to soar out of this world, Anousheh Ansari.

Hidden Gems: Pamir Botanical Gardens

Upon arriving in Khorog I never really gave much thought to visit the Pamir Botanical Gardens. I had my mind on one place and that place was in Tajikistan’s Wakhan Corridor. As chance would have it though, I departed from the Wakhan a little early to ensure for a timely departure out of Khorog and into Dushanbe. With this new slightly unplanned time to kill in Khorog my guide, Teo and I decided to check out the gardens to see what all the Lonely Planet hype was about or not about. Now allow me to back track for a moment and describe what facts I know of the garden. The Pamir Botanical Gardens rest about 5km from the center of town and are known as the second highest gardens in the world at 3,900m. From the sign below we learn that the gardens sit on 624 hectares of arable land and house 2,300 plant varieties. Pretty impressive, but the further I went the more I began to find that the gardens were more than anything secret – they are a hidden gem in Tajikistan’s rough mountain terrain.
Pamir Botanical Gardens
Follow me into the Pamir’s Botanical Garden. I promise you it will be worth your while.
Follow MeTeo and I had arrived at the gardens by mini bus and to our advantage one of the employees of the gardens hoped off with us. The young fellow was on his way into work, but had the time to give us what ended up being about a two-hour tour. I couldn’t help pondering where he should have been and why things like this didn’t happen in America? If it had been America our friendly tour pal would have had to rush to some time clock, punch in and charge us a mint to provide any kind of details on the gardens. This alone made me smile even if I couldn’t get the full skinny from our new guide. In fact, my Tajik speaking guide, Teo couldn’t get all the details on much of what the young man described as he knew the plant and tree names only in Russian. Neither, Teo or I spoke Russian fluent enough to translate any of the plant terminology into English. It didn’t take away from our time spent in the gardens. There were many eye-catching sights along the way starting with a view of the city from the top.
Khorog
From the gardens you can see all of Khorog and the Panj River, which snakes its way through the town. In regards to the senses it was a spectacular view to say the least, but the air quality was equally phenomenal. Cool, crisp and pure I breathed deeply hoping to take some back home with me. No such chance.
Flowers in Garden
We proceeded through a row of colorful flowers. The purple ones seen here appeared to be some of the happiest looking ones, but the one with the visiting bee instantly became my favorite.
Flower with Bee
From the flowers we escaped to an area of trees. There were trees from every region of the world as told by our guide. The first ones we encountered were apple trees and a large variety of them from Asia. My guide plucked an apple off and suggested I use the opportunity to get fresh fruit right from the limb, but I was weary of the fruit. I passed on the offer. It felt forbidden even while Teo noshed on one apple followed by another. Taking photos was enough pleasure for me. After the various fruit trees we pushed further into the land. Many of the trees felt familiar as if I had once seen them in a park nearby my place back home. Others were strange. As Teo spoke in Tajik with our guide I wished and longed for more info. I wanted to know the names in English.
Trees
We continued walking snapping shots of trees, leaves and even some etchings or graffiti found on the trees. There was far more than we had anticipated.
Leaves

Tree Graf

Sign
Our guide had decided it would be a fine time to check out the seeds. Even this turned out to be fascinating. There were all sorts of plant seeds and what have you located in the room along the window sill. Most sat on old Russian newspaper dating as far back as 1985 which made for a visually pleasing backdrop while others were placed atop of plastic bags or in old shoebox lids. In short something about the room filled with seeds felt very cool. Teo and I were impressed yet again.
Seeds

Seeds
As we continued moving through our guide stopped us to point out these 13 trees. Back around 1948 sometime a man planted a tree for each one of the Soviet Republics. I can’t recall which two trees weren’t apart of the Republics during the time these were planted or if our guide even said so, but anyone out there can correct me if I’m wrong. In any case the trees like most found the gardens were a refreshing sight.
Soviet Trees
Not too far from the Soviet trees were these trees with crumbly looking bark. They looked like something I’d seen in America and go figure we had made it to the North American sector of the gardens! I was so taken with their appearance that I took multiple shots from various angles and my pal Teo did so as well.
Crumbly Tree

Teo & Tree
As we found our way to the end of the gardens we discovered more amazing views of the surrounding mountains through the trees. There were so many colors and the weather couldn’t have felt better up in the world’s second highest botanical gardens. I could have stayed longer, but I was afraid the magic would quickly dissolve and disappear. I even debated writing this piece for I am afraid upon my next visit the gardens will have been invaded by my readers. Then again it is in Tajikistan – a far away land in Central Asia in which no one goes to or even gives much thought. Only a lucky handful will have heard the rustling of the leaves from the wind’s breeze or will have felt the rough peeling bark before it crumbled off and onto the ground. Oh, if photos could tell it all! Hear my whisper of advice when I say “GO” and head there in good speed. For the gardens are no longer a secret, but a gem they will always be.
Landscape

Botanical Gardens
Getting to Tajikistan can be difficult depending on your schedule and flight plan. I went from Tampa-JFK-Istanbul-Dushanbe, on Delta then Turkish Air (approx. $1,900 USD) which I highly suggest flying Turkish Air into the country rather than Tajik Air which has can be fickle at times. However, Tajik Air flies through Munich, Moscow and St. Petersburg to name a few international cities of interest. Check their website for flight times and departure cities. Once in Tajikistan you can either fly into Khorog ($60 USD) to start your Pamir journey or you can take the 15-18 hour drive from Dushanbe down ($30 USD). I went by flight down with Tajik Air and drove back up. The ride is bumpy, long and filled with terrifying close calls with the mountain edge. If you can stomach it or on a tight budget go for the drive.

When planning a trip down to the Pamirs more than money you’ll need time. You can get by on $30 USD for 10 days according to my guide if you have the time. Most of the cost goes towards transportation and accommodation is typically provided by a friendly stranger or two along your path. For more detailed information on visiting Pamirs I suggest heading to this Pamirs website first. They’ve got tons of background details, panorama photos of the region, as well as this page of links to help you in your travel planning. Lonely Planet has only a wee-bit of information, but you may find a nugget of useful information somewhere. The Great Game Travel Company has great information and can provide you with a guide as well. I’m told their schedules are pretty strict and it might be better to go with a local should you speak some Tajik or Russian.

Visit other Hidden Gems in Tajikistan by clicking here.

(All photos taken by Adrienne Wilson.)

Hidden Gems: Tajikistan’s Pamirs & Wakhan Corridor

Before I set off to Tajikistan I sought the council of anyone who had been there, been close, or at the very least could locate the country on a map without much difficulty. I’d heard Dushanbe; the capital city was a bit of a bore after a few days and it was best to plan on exploring other parts of the country, but where? After a few conversations from past travelers and native Tajiks the answer became quite obvious. “Go down to the Pamirs. You’ll hate yourself if you go all the way to Tajikistan and don’t make it to the Pamirs,” said a friend of a friend. The Pamirs are a mountainous area located in Gorno-Badakhshan with a reputation for having some of the world’s most inaccessible mountains, unparalleled beauty and a kindness so warm and inviting from the inhabitants that even the harshest winters seem not too bad.

For the sake of not hating myself, using the rest of my time in the country wisely, and going where few people ever venture I set off, down from Dushanbe and into the Pamirs. To start, I took a plane from Dushanbe into Khorog, a border town of Tajikistan and Afghanistan. It was suggested by my guide, Teo, to get out of Khorog as quickly as possible to maximize the short amount of time (4 days) I would have, as there was a still a large distance to cover and drive-time (provided there was a vehicle headed that way) would suck up a large portion. And with that we hit the road from Khorog and headed down to Ishkashim, also a border town. The drive, approximately two-hours on a bumpy mountain road, snakes its way along the Panj River which separates Tajikistan from Afghanistan. For the duration of the ride I stared to my right at Afghanistan in complete awe. The northern border which you could throw rocks at and easily hit the land at points was gorgeous, quiet, undisturbed and felt like one of the most peaceful places on the entire world. It was at this point I realized why a trip thru and down Tajikistan’s Pamirs is a Hidden Gem and I started snapping an incredibly absurd amount of pictures.

These were the homes across the river in Afghanistan. It was difficult to photograph much of Tajikistan during the drive into Ishkashim because we were driving along the mountainside. As anyone would might feel on this drive I was ignited and happy to be exploring what’s considered one of the world’s most dangerous countries even if it were by car and across the border.

There were numerous homes like this across the way, but I saved both my energy and my camera’s battery life for what I was told would truly blow me away and the closer we edged and winded our way into Ishkashim, the Pamirs and Tajikistan’s portion of the Wakhan Corridor, I was indeed blown away.Passport Patrol
Thankfully, it wasn’t by these soldiers or their guns. Around these parts you need a special permit to travel which should be obtained in Dushanbe and there are many passport checkpoints along the way. These guys were sitting at a tiny desk with a notebook which they scrawled who knows what information off our passports and kindly had their picture taken with us. I think they bored or wanted to show off their guns, which were a bit frightening by the way, but nice guys.
View from the Car
As we continued down the road different views and secrets started to reveal themselves. Above is a shot of the Panj river dividing the two countries, Tajikistan and Afghanistan along with a view of the Hindu Kush found in Pakistan. Seeing the snow-capped mountains of the Hindu Kush was also impressive and I knew would continue to become more real as we inched closer along. At this point we weren’t far from Ishkashim, but considering it wasn’t our final stop for the evening we still had some distance to cover. Once we arrived my guide, Teo negotiated with a gentleman (I think he may have known from a previous trip) for a ride into Vrang, a village in the Wakhan. The driver agreed and told us he would get us to Vrang in good time as he had to turn right back for a wedding. Even speeding along he was nice enough to make stops at points of interest so we could take photos.
Sun over Pamirs
Above the hill there was a fort which was manned by two men from what I could tell and so I opted to take a shot of the road from which we’d driven. The sun was still high, but wouldn’t be for long. When we left the fort we later stopped at a shrine for which I haven’t the name and sincerely apologize. It was explained to my by my guide Teo that there is little written history on the Pamirs and their people, but the further you go and the more you speak with them you learn of all these fascinating and far out tales on deities, supernatural like things, the Aga Khan, and even the high-times when Communism was in place. It was hard separating what was true from what could possibly be considered false, but the Pamiris also known as Ismaili’s were quite serious with their stories and far-fetched sounding tales. Who was I to question their beliefs? Without knowledge of the language I could not tell you the exact words from any one man, woman or child I crossed paths with, but will recount to the best of my ability that of what my guide could translate to me.
Shrine
Upon entering this shrine a local elderly gent appeared with and more than willingly told us the story of this place. My translator and guide followed as best he could, but even he got lost in the man’s tale. Whether it was the language (there are several different languages used throughout the Pamirs) or just odd points that he couldn’t piece together I’m not certain, but what I am certain is this: this shrine like most reflects the Prophet Muhammad and his family members including Fatima. Every Pamiri home and most structures or shrines have pillars or something to reflect the five pillars of Islam. This all gets confusing for me and requires extensive research, but allow me to continue with the few things this Tajik fellow managed to say.
Tajik man
For instance these ram’s horns are Muhammad and there was a time that when you blow on the horns the soldiers would come. We couldn’t understand whether the man was saying past or present, but it seemed really bizarre.
Muhammad
When we took off from the shrine we really took off. There were little scenic stops other my guide needing to deliver some photos to families from previous trips, but that was about it. We arrived at a home where we would be taken in by one of the nicest families on the planet. With a goodnight’s rest we planned to set off again in the morning. This time we would go up the mountain on a 2-3 hours hike.
Buddhist Stupa
On day two when we woke my guide managed to deliver all that he had promised including some really intense unexpected mountain hiking. Sure he’d warned me to fill up as I’d need as much fuel for the mountain hike, but it was far more difficult than I imagined. Our first stop up the mountain was at this Buddhist stupa. Little history is recorded on the stupa, but it is surrounded by caves that served as cells for the monks. Atop of the stupa rests a stone which if you ask anyone from the village about they’ll tell you almost immediately that it has the footprint of Buddha on the stone.
Budha's Footprint
Further up the mountain there are small forts which see very few tourists and which very few tourists see because of the difficulty of the climb. While the air quality was amazing the climb in altitude was a slight challenge for me and I had to stop for short breaks more than I thought I would. As you could imagine I was thrilled to make it to points of interest like this years and years old signal fort. Ashes some thousands of years old can still be found around the fort I believe. In any case this made for a good break and photo opportunity.
Signal Fort
After the signal fort we climbed some more to this old ancient fort. With the stunning views behind the fort of the valley it was clear on why any man would build a post at this particular part of the mountain.
Old Fort

Wakhan Valley
My guide Teo, who has the eye sight of a hawk, spotted these folks coming back with their sheep, donkey, and cows from a recent few days trip when they take the cattle to feed and what have you. He suggested we meet them along the way. I was pretty timid considering the teeny-tiny path you have to take to reach them and I wasn’t the most trusting of the mountain terrain. Hey, I’m from Florida, but without much tooth-pulling I took off along the path. I was hoping to make new friends and surely I did.
Villagers
The mountain men joked as they watched me clumsily walk carefully along the path. They said if I could ride a donkey I could get out much faster, but I think sitting atop of a donkey would have freaked me out more though it was a rather charming little guy.
Donkey

Villagers
Which one of these doesn’t belong?
Villagers
Almost everyone you meet along the way will happily invite you to their place for tea and other Tajik delights and while you shouldn’t refuse the invitation or chance to check out a Pamiri home it gets tough when you have two, three, or four families asking you over. Whatever the case you should at least accept one offer. I had the chance to stay at two. One in Vrang and the other in Yamchun.
Pamiri House
On our third day before we had to take off later that day my guide and I went up to the Bibi Fatima mineral hot springs. I was told it would be sinning not to go and naturally I did not wish to sin so I followed along once more. The full name is the Ostoni Bibi Fotimai Zakhro hot spring which literally means ‘holy site of the sleeves of Bibi Fatima.’ The story behind the hot springs is that it is believed to improve female fertility. After finding this out, I then knew why it was such a big deal (especially if your a woman) to make a trip to the hot springs. To sum my trip to Bibi Fatima up it was here I think I found heaven on Earth. Having taken bird baths over the last couple of days and with sore muscles from my mountain climbs the hot water splashing down from the falls in the cave felt like a dreamland. I only wished I could have stayed there forever. Will it increase my fertility or any other visitor for that matter? Who knows, but it certainly felt great!

While I haven’t any photos from the hot springs interior I leave you with these shots of signs from Yamchun and one of the Bibi Fatima exterior. From here I began my departure away from Yamchun, Vrang and the Wakhan Corridor to return to Khorog where there were some hidden gems as well. Overall, the Wakhan has too many hidden gems to name and so much history that it makes writing about them very difficult. My only hope: should this be a desired travel destination for someone that it has helped in terms of what to do and if it wasn’t that it has inspired you to go. Stay tuned for more.
Yamchun Village Sign

Bibi Fatima Sign

Hot Springs

Getting to Tajikistan can be difficult depending on your schedule and flight plan. I went from Tampa-JFK-Istanbul-Dushanbe, on Delta then Turkish Air (approx. $1,900 USD) which I highly suggest flying Turkish Air into the country rather than Tajik Air which has can be fickle at times. However, Tajik Air flies through Munich, Moscow and St. Petersburg to name a few international cities of interest. Check their website for flight times and departure cities. Once in Tajikistan you can either fly into Khorog ($60 USD) to start your Pamir journey or you can take the 15-18 hour drive from Dushanbe down ($30 USD). I went by flight down with Tajik Air and drove back up. The ride is bumpy, long and filled with terrifying close calls with the mountain edge. If you can stomach it or on a tight budget go for the drive.

When planning a trip down to the Pamirs more than money you’ll need time. You can get by on $30 USD for 10 days according to my guide if you have the time. Most of the cost goes towards transportation and accommodation is typically provided by a friendly stranger or two along your path. For more detailed information on visiting Pamirs I suggest heading to this Pamirs website first. They’ve got tons of background details, panorama photos of the region, as well as this page of links to help you in your travel planning. Lonely Planet has only a wee-bit of information, but you may find a nugget of useful information somewhere. The Great Game Travel Company has great information and can provide you with a guide as well. I’m
told their schedules are pretty strict and it might be better to go with a local should you speak some Tajik or Russian.

(All photos taken by Adrienne Wilson unless pictured in them where they were then taken by my guide Teo Kaye or a villager who had some decent photo skills.)