UNESCO Reports Damage To Timbuktu Worse Than Previously Reported

Timbuktu
Emilio Labrador

A team from UNESCO has visited Timbuktu in Mali to make its first on-the-ground assessment of the damage caused by last year’s occupation by the Islamist group Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith).

The group took over Timbuktu in April 2012 and imposed a harsh form of Shariah law. Believing the city’s famous shrines and medieval manuscripts to be against Islam, even though they were created by Muslims, they began to destroy them. Early this year a coalition of Malian and French forces pushed Ansar Dine out of the city and into the northern fringes of the country, where they remain a threat.

Now that the situation has temporarily stabilized, UNESCO sent a team to investigate the damage. They had some grim findings. While recent reports stated that the damage wasn’t as bad as originally thought, that turns out not to be true.

Expedition leader Lazare Eloundou Assomo of UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre said, “We discovered that 14 of Timbuktu’s mausoleums, including those that are part of the UNESCO World Heritage sites, were totally destroyed, along with two others at the Djingareyber Mosque. The emblematic El Farouk monument at the entrance to the city was razed. We estimate that 4,203 manuscripts from the Ahmed Baba research center were lost.”

Thousands of other manuscripts were taken away from Timbuktu before the Islamists could get their hands on them. Most are now in the capital Bamako. While this saved them, Mr. Assomo told the BBC that they need to be returned to the controlled environment of the research center before the humid rainy season sets in and causes damage to the fragile pages.

Northern Lights Best Viewed At Sea, On A Yacht, French Style

northern lightsConsidering a trip to see the Northern Lights? This year may very well be the best time to go. 2013 is the height of the 11-year solar cycle. September and October offer peak activity. They can be seen in Alaska, Norway, Finland and Canada on a clear night. Better yet, try viewing on a ship at sea.

Common tips for viewing the Northern Lights say to go North, inside the Arctic circle, bring along a good guide and get away from light produced by cities and towns. That’s exactly what Compagnie du Ponant, a little French-flagged cruise line is doing this autumn for one of the best aurora borealis viewing opportunities possible.

Specializing in expedition sailings to the poles, Compagnie du Ponant sails small ships that feature custom technology designed to preserve fragile marine ecosystems.
northern lightsThe 15-day sailing begins in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, on September 5, 2013 and ends in Quebec, Canada, whose old town is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. Bringing along naturalists and experienced guides, passengers will get prepared for what they are about to see with background information and lectures about the origins, myths and mysticism on the way.A 10-year veteran of the Arctic, Compagnie du Ponant knows the best places to see the northern lights. Their luxury 264-passenger yacht Le Boreal will sail to the heart of the northernmost territory in Canada where passengers will view the polar lights from the bridge of the ship.

As if viewing the Northern Lights in near-absolute darkness was not enough, the voyage will visit a number of other trip-of-a-lifetime quality places like the village of Sisimiut in Greenland as well as the Inuit land of Nunavut, also a prime viewing location. There will be whale watching in the Baffin Sea and Saint Lawrence, white bears to see on Akpatok Island and a stop in Perce, known for its rock and Northern Gannets. To see all that, the state-of-the-art Le Boreal is complemented with a fleet of expedition Zodiac boats outfitted with satellite tracking.

On board, passengers will find five-star French service, including a choice of 132 staterooms or suites with sea views and private balconies, restaurants offering dining from casual to fine, a bar and lounge, and 24-hour in-room dining. There is also an outdoor pool with bar, panoramic terrace adjoining the indoor bar and lounge, library with Internet stations, medical center, Wi-Fi, in-room and on-board flat screen satellite TV with complimentary on-demand movies.

The all-inclusive experience is priced from $8,922 per person, based on double occupancy, flights included.

Want more on the Northern Lights? Check this video taken from the International Space Station:



[Photo credit – Flickr user Moyan_Brenn]

Gambia And UK Open Fort Bullen Museum, A Bastion Against The Slave Trade

Gambia, Fort BullenA fort in The Gambia that was instrumental in stopping the slave trade has been given a new museum, the Daily Observer reports.

Fort Bullen was one of two forts at the mouth of the River Gambia, placed there in 1826 to stop slave ships from sailing out into the Atlantic. It stands on the north bank of the river, and along with Fort James on the south bank constitutes a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Fort Bullen has been open to visitors for some time and tourism officials hope the new museum will add to its attractiveness as a historic site.

The museum was financed by the British High Commission in The Gambia. The country used to be a British colony. The British Empire abolished slavery in 1807 and soon took steps to eradicate it throughout its domains. Of course, before that time the empire made huge profits from the slave trade, with the River Gambia being one of its major trading centers for human flesh. One hopes this aspect of British history isn’t ignored in the new museum.

[Photo courtesy Leonora Enking]

China To Demolish Ancient Temple To Bolster World Heritage Site Bid

Xingjiao Temple may soon be a World Heritage SiteChinese officials have announced a controversial plan to demolish a number of buildings at an ancient Buddhist temple located in the city of Xi’an in the province of Shaanxi. This drastic move is intended to improve the site’s possibilities for being designated a World Heritage Site, even as the inhabitants of the temple express their displeasure over the idea.

The 1300-year-old Xingjiao Temple is well known for housing the remains of a monk by the name of Xuanzang. He is credited with bringing the earliest Buddhist texts from India to China and introducing the Buddhist philosophy there. Xuanzang and his friend the Monkey King are also the main characters in the classic Chinese fable “Journey to the West,” which is one of the best know stories in all of Asian culture.

Because of his role in that tale, and in helping to bring Buddhism to China, local officials are hoping to get the temple named to the World Heritage list – a designation that generally translates to more money in the local economy. In an effort to improve their chances of earning that distinction provincial authorities have made the decision to dismantle roughly two-thirds of the buildings on the temple grounds. Most of those buildings are newer than the main compound and the feeling is that their removal will open the space to make it appear like a more natural setting.When it was first announced that the site would be nominated for World Heritage status, the monks that live in the temple were supportive of the idea. But when they were told about the demolition of the buildings, which include a dining hall and several dormitories, they withdrew their support and filed a protest. Their feeling is that the destruction of the buildings would disrupt their daily lives and diminish the temple as a whole. They also note that even with the removal of those buildings, the site may still not be accepted into the World Heritage program, which means they structures would have been eliminated for nothing.

Officials from Shaanxi have ignored those protests, however, and are preparing to move ahead as planned. They want to relocate the monks to another site and begin the demolition of the buildings by June 30 so they can proceed with the World Heritage application process.

While it isn’t exactly a new thing to exploit ancient sites for economic gain, it is sad when those sites are altered dramatically in this way. If the plan moves ahead, and the buildings are destroyed, I certainly hope that the site at least gets added to the World Heritage list. If not, this story will be even more tragic than it already is.

[Photo Credit: China.org.cn]

Beyond The Floating Hotel, Travelers Find Value Ashore

floating hotel

If I say “cruise,” odds are good that the first thought that comes to mind is that of a big floating hotel that ambles from island to island in the Caribbean. That’s not totally wrong either; a lot of cruise ships do just that. But looking at a cruise ship as a mode of transportation, like a commercial airliner that flies from airport A to airport B, should bring different thoughts. Thinking of cruise ports as a gateway to new worlds we may never have experienced before, it’s a whole different ballgame.

So often cruise itineraries focus on what lies at the port itself, and for good reason. Many cruise ships do not stay in port long enough for travelers to go very far and get back before the ship leaves. But some cruise lines are staying longer, often well into the night – if not overnight – allowing more time to explore. That gives the notion of a cruise ship being a “floating hotel” an entirely different, much more positive meaning.

A good example of a port of call that is far more than what one might see just walking off the ship for a few hours is the UK’s Port of Tyne.

Located in Northeast England, the Port of Tyne is home to miles of coastline dotted with castles, cathedrals, stately homes and gardens, plus one of Europe’s most culturally exciting cities. Interspersed along the way are historic regions that spawned the English language, are home to dual UNESCO world heritage sites and that make the Port of Tyne a world-class destination. But it is not the port itself that draws travelers but Newcastle, the city that came back to life in the 1990s after a rebirth of the downtown Quayside area.

An interesting contrast of historic landmark buildings alongside new, modern structures, Newcastle sits on the north bank of the river Tyne. Known today as home of Newcastle Brown Ale (which is actually no longer brewed there) and the Great North Run, the world’s most popular half marathon, Newcastle offers a wide variety of attractions.

Structures dating back to 124 A.D. sit not far from modern engineering marvels like the world’s only tilting bridge.

%Gallery-184993%So which cruise lines sail this sort of an itinerary – one that allows travelers to linger longer in port? Azamara Club Cruises, Seabourn, Crystal Cruises and others with smaller ocean-going ships do. River cruise lines like Viking River Cruises, AMA Waterways and others have a shore-side focus as well.

But larger ships also offer overnights from time to time, although it is not their main focus.

Carnival Cruise Lines, for example, will overnight in Venice, Italy, on a Mediterranean sailing, as will Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean International. Still, big ships full of features need people onboard using them – playing in their casinos and shopping in their stores – to make a profit.

Expect to pay more on small ship lines that have a destination focus to make up for you not being on the ship, spending. Still, that premium price might well be worth it if compared to a land travel option that requires airfare, hotel accommodations and meals, any or all of which might be discounted or included with a small ship cruise.

Planning on traveling the world in a cost and time-efficient way? Including travel by ship in your travel toolbox can help.



[Photo credit – Port of Tyne]