Mount Fuji And More Designated As UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Midori, Wikimedia Commons

On Saturday, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee announced this year’s newly inscribed locations to their list of World Heritage Sites from their 37th session in Cambodia. Each year, the UN agency evaluates the most culturally and naturally significant sites that have been proposed to them from countries around the world. Then, they elect the most outstanding to be put on their renowned list.

This year sees Japan‘s iconic Mount Fuji added to the list after previous nomination attempts were rejected due to garbage disposal problems on the summit as well as a perceived lack of uniqueness of the mountain. Japan successfully lobbied for the stratovolcano to be included this year due to the incredibly prominent role it has played in Japanese history, religion and art. One of the most famous Japanese works of art, “The Great Wave,” features the beautifully shaped mountain in the background. The woodblock print even comes from a series named “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji.” Today, Fuji-san has come to represent Japan as a whole.Also added to the World Heritage List this year was China‘s gorgeous Honghe Hani Rice Terraces, which have been continuously cultivated for over 1,300 years. Located in Southern Yunnan, the rice terraces cover more than 64 square miles of farmland, where many of the locals still live a very traditional life, living in thatched huts and small villages.

The nations of Qatar and Fiji received their first ever World Heritage Site inscriptions this year. Al Zubarah, a walled fort town in Qatar, was a successful trade post before it was abandoned at the turn of the 20th century. In the years since, much of the site has been covered in sand blown in from the desert, helping to preserve it. Fiji’s Levuka Historical Port Town has been inscribed after more than 25 years of lobbying by their government. The port town was Fiji’s first colonial capital and received strong architectural influences from both it’s British colonial rulers as well as from its own indigenous culture.

In total this year, 19 sites were added to the World Heritage List, from countries in almost every corner of the globe, with the possibility of even more to be announced before the session ends on June 27. Sites that have been given designation by UNESCO receive increased protection under international law, funds for further preservation as well as greater public awareness and tourism. There are presently 962 World Heritage Sites in 157 countries. Other sites include Yellowstone National Park, the Pyramids of Giza, Uluru in Australia and the Darjeeling Railway in India.

Video Of The Day: Where The Water Settles

Where the Water Settles” from The Perennial Plate on Vimeo.

I can’t get enough of the videos from The Perennial Plate and this newest video, “Where The Water Settles,” just reiterates that fact for me. The way in which Daniel Klein and Mirra Fine approach traveling is rewarding for their audience. They dive into culture based off of personal interactions and stories they hear along the way, it seems, opposed to shallow suppositions of what to do in certain areas of the world. These two clearly love the art of exploring their subjects in depth and this method can easily be observed in “Where The Water Settles,” a video that takes you through a 1300-year-old system of rice farming in China in just a few minutes.

If you’d like to submit a video for Video Of The Day, reach out to us with a link.

China Unveils World's Longest Bullet Train Line

Tibet Experience Still Possible Via Innovative Tour Operator

Tibet

The borders of Tibet are now completely closed to foreign tourists, after being severely limited for much of the summer. With no indication of when they will reopen, plans to visit have been put on hold for many. The good news is that travelers can experience much of what Tibet has to offer without crossing borders.

As a decent substitute, tour operator JOURNEYS International continues to offer travel to areas where cultures deeply rooted in Tibetan Buddhism still thrive unrestricted by government oppression or control.

Culturally Tibetan areas of Yunnan province in China; Ladakh, India; and the high Himalayan valleys of Nepal and Bhutan are being visited and offer some distinct advantages, especially over not going at all.

Within Tibet, pictures and literature about the Dalai Lama are strictly forbidden. Outside of China, the Dalai Lama is revered and celebrated as a living God. Monasteries and temples within Chinese Tibet are essentially maintained as museums, not as religious institutions.

In Chinese Tibet it is dangerous for locals to talk openly with tourists. In the Ladakh region of India and in Nepal and Bhutan, Tibetan Buddhism is practiced much the same now as it has been for hundreds of years. Visitors are free to discuss spirituality and religion with local people, and often meet Tibetans in exile who will talk openly.

The season is also much longer, and fewer permits and restrictions apply.

For more details on specific trips incorporating Tibetan culture and themes into travel programs see the JOURNEYS webpages for Nepal, Ladakh, Yunnan and Bhutan.

Human Rights in China



[Flickr photo by ~FreeBirD®~]

Photo of the day – Red lantern in China

red lantern china

Sometimes it’s the simplest images that reach out and grab the viewer. Take today’s Photo of the Day, snapped by Flickr user Bernard-SD, of a red lantern snapped in Yunnan Province, China. The lantern’s glow is almost magical. Though Bernard-SD took this photograph in July, the image’s deep warmth strikes me as particularly appropriate for early September, as summer’s slow turn into fall announces itself more fully.

Eager to share your simple, straight-forward images with a broader audience? Submit your images to the Gadling Group Pool on Flickr and we might just pick one of your images as a future Photo of the Day.

South of the Clouds: Songtsam Retreat, Shangri-la

Songtsam Retreat

Set on a hillside directly overlooking the Songtsam Monastery, the Songtsam Retreat offers a taste of Tibet to the traveler in China. The collection of buildings are built in the style of Tibetan stone houses, and despite its grandeur, the quietly unassuming Retreat blends nicely with its surrounds. Heavy blankets cover thick doorways (which are locked with wooden bolts) to trap heat inside, and every room has a wood stove, all of which manages to infuse a bit of rustic and give it a “lodge” feel.

Gadling visited the Songtsam Retreat in November on a tour with WildChina. Here are our impressions.

The Check-In

The lobby of the Retreat is filled with Tibetan antiques and artifacts, as well as the requisite wood stove. Roomy chairs and couches sit in front of low tables lit with candles, and the ambiance manages to be both grand and cozy. Staff serve you a warming cup of ginger tea, and then you’re lead cross the stone walkways to your room. There you’ll find a warm fire already glowing.

%Gallery-114505%The Rooms

There are 75 rooms at the Songtsam Retreat, and even the smallest can be considered a suite. Big beds, a sitting area with a wide coffee table topped with magazines and fresh fruit, a wardrobe, large TV, and a fireplace make up the expansive rooms. Windows gaze out to farmland and the monastery, and back porches with lounge chairs offer the same view (but with a bit of a chill). Large rugs cover hand-laid wood floors.

Beds are large, set on low, wide platforms and topped with thick mountain blankets. Reading lamps and a “captain’s” headboard for storing water and books take up less space than regular nightstands. Water, fruit, and tea-making appliances are provided, and the rooms are equipped with wifi.

The Bathrooms

Our bathroom was a bit on the small side compared to the room, but still perfectly adequate. Some rooms come with deep timber bathtubs, but ours had a simple stand-up shower. Stone walls contrasted nicely with the modern facilities. Shower products were kept in ceramic pitchers – definitely one of the more unique and charming presentations we’ve seen. A small, frosted-glass window let in natural light.

The Bar and Restaurant

The drinking and dining facilities are located in a large, three-story building. High ceilings and low tables and chairs add space to the dining room, an appropriate continuation of the wide open space outside. Rooftop dining terraces also connect you with the surroundings, while the sunken bar/library lounge area creates intimacy.

A large breakfast buffet offers both Western and Chinese choices, from an omelet bar to rice porridge. Tibetan specialties such as yak hot pot are on the menu and shouldn’t be missed.

The Facilities

Spa services such as massage are offered and can be booked at the front desk. A meditation room furthers the “retreat” experience.

The Bottom Line

The Songtsam Retreat is definitely something special. Ninety percent of the lodge’s staff are from minority groups; most are Tibetan but there are also many Naxi. They receive language and skills training, and are genuinely friendly. Furthermore, the Retreat’s rural location and overall design ensure both a comfortable stay and a unique experience. There’s nothing quite like waking up and pulling back the curtains to a view of the monastery rooftops, smokey mountain air, and farmland. And while many hotels that try to create a “feeling” can come off as cheesy and chintzy, the Songtsam Retreat does a fine job of establishing a mix of Tibetan-rural and lodge-comfortable.

Read more about Gadling’s travel through Yunnan, China here.

Though our stay at the Songtsam Retreat was funded by WildChina, the opinions expressed here are all our own.