Sacred mountain added to World Heritage List

UNESCO has just made the latest addition to its World Heritage List–Suleiman Mountain in the Central Asian Republic of Kyrgyzstan.

This is Kyrgyzstan’s first World Heritage Site. The mountain has been a holy spot for thousands of years. Prehistoric rock art shows it was sacred long before Islam came to the region. When the new faith took over it became a focus for Muslim pilgrims. Sick people sit in the caves on the mountainside hoping to be cured, and there’s a natural rock slide that women use to promote fertility. Kids slide down it too, supposedly to make them grow up healthy, but judging from this video it looks like they’re having too much fun to think about that. There’s an interesting slide show of the mountain here.

There are seventeen places of worship on the mountain, including a reconstruction of a medieval mosque. The original was destroyed by the Soviets in an effort to stamp out religion in the region. Judging from the thousands of pilgrims who go to Suleiman Mountain every year, they didn’t achieve much.

The mountain is right next to the 3,000 year-old city of Osh, a stop on the old Silk Road, so adventure travelers following this increasingly popular route will want to stop off and see this.

Cycling the Silk Road

Cycling tours have become increasingly popular in recent years, especially amongst adventure travelers who are looking to explore the world from the seat of their bikes. One of the leaders in organizing these kinds of adventure cycling trips has always been Tour d’Afrique Ltd, the creative minds behind such epic rides as their namesake Tour d’Afrique and the Vuelta Sudamericana. The company has even launched a website called DreamTours that allows us to design and plan our own cycling adventures, leaving all the logistics to their travel experts.

As if that wasn’t enough to keep us happily peddling our way around the globe, the Tour d’Afrique team is busily preparing for another long distance ride for 2010 that will cover the entire Silk Road, starting in Istanbul, Turkey and ending in Xi’an, China. The ride will cover more than 6650 miles over 16 weeks time, crossing through Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, as riders follow one of the most famous and important trade routes of all time, a route that was also explored by such historical figures as Alexander the Great, Marco Polo, and Genghis Khan.

Some of the highlights of the journey will include passing through an amazing variety of landscapes, from including snow capped mountains and desolate open plains. Travelers will get the opportunity to camp below sea level in the arid deserts of the Xinjiang Province in western China, while also ascending to dizzying heights as they climb along the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan, which rises well above 15,000 feet, offering a challenge for both the heart and the legs. The ancient cities of Samarqand, Bukhara, and Merv will be stops along the way as well, offering refuge from the road and a chance to explore marketplaces that have been bustling with shoppers for centuries.

All told, this cycling tour will put riders in the saddle for a total of 92 days, covering an average of roughly 70 miles per day. There will also be 22 rest days, and one day of travel by ferry across the Caspian Sea, bringing the total number of days on the Silk Road to 114. That’s quite a commitment for any traveler, but fortunately the route is broken down into seven stages, so even if you can’t make the full ride, you can still have the opportunity to experience part of the adventure by riding one of those sections instead. The cost for the full trip is €8500, but the company is currently running an early-bird special that cuts €400 from the price when you book the trip before November 15th. Pricing for the individual stages can be found on this web page near the bottom.

The Silk Route Tour is an amazing cycling tour that combines culture, history, and adventure into one spectacular trip that is sure to be a life altering experience. The ride gets underway on May 22nd of next year, so get training now and prepare to join in on this once in a lifetime experience

List of World Heritage Sites grows by 13

The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee just wrapped up its 33rd annual conference in Seville, Spain, where they added 13 new sites to their list of amazing locations around the globe, and made the unusual move of dropping one. The new list of World Heritage Sites now stands at 890.

Of the 13 new sites, 11 are cultural sites and 2 are natural. The two new natural sites are the Wadden Sea on the border between Germany and the Netherlands and the Dolomite Mountains in Italy. The cultural sites include such places as the Tower of Hercules in Spain, The Sacred City of Caral-Supe in Peru, and Sulamain-Too Sacred Mountain in Kyrgyzstan. For a complete list of the new sites, check out the official press release here.

The former World Heritage Site that was dropped from the list was the Elbe Valley in Dresden, Germany. The committee expressed concern over the fact that a new four-lane bridge was being built through the Valley, and even attempted to give warning of this action, placing the site on the Danger List back in 2006. When construction proceeding anyway, they felt they had no other choice, but to drop the Valley from their list.

Three other sites have also been put on notice that they could also be dropped in the future. The Belize Reef Reserve System in Belize was put on notice mainly due to the harvesting of mangrove trees and excessive development in the area. The Los Katios National Park in Columbia was added at the request of the Columbian government to help mobilize international efforts to protect the region and The Historical Monuments of Mtskheta in Georgia were listed as “in danger” over concerns with the preservation of the edifices located there.

Despite reports earlier this week, the Everglades National Park has not yet been placed back on the danger list. The committee intends to study the situation and make a more informed ruling in the future.

The new additions to the list are excelent, and it gives us an amazing life list just pursuing these World Heritiage Site. Forget the “1000 Places To See Before You Die” and just focus on these 890.

Great American Road Trip: Travel books for the road-3 of 4: So Many Enemies, so Little Time

#3. So Many Enemies, So Little Time: An American Woman in All the Wrong Places–Elinor Burkett

When I chose this book as one of my road trip to Montana books, the title caught my attention. As an American woman, also hooked on travel, I wanted to delve into someone else’s experiences. What I found is a book that taught me much–always a delight when on the road.


But as I trudged to school each day and ambled through the markets, I couldn’t find the face of hatred. I saw worry that a flood of Afghan refugees might flee north, washing extremists across the border. I heard fear that homegrown fundamentalists might be emboldened by the fires lighting Manhattan’s night. Mostly, I sensed the same resignation that had engulfed everyone I knew, all across the plane, that we were captives to forces we had not yet begun to dissect.

Elinor Burkett is a woman who is not afraid to take chances when she travels, but is not fool-hardy. As a journalist, she knows how to make and use her connections to help her access people and places.

When she and her husband Dennis traveled to Kyrgyzstan to live after she received a Fulbright to teach journalism at a college there, their purpose was to shake up their lives a bit so that they didn’t settle into complacency. They wanted some more adventures under their belt. After September 11, there was worry across the globe for what exactly that might mean, but the two of them decided to stay put.

Since I was pregnant living in India at the same time, wondering what my family and I should do when faced with a few of the same questions of safety, reading Burkett’s take on her decisions and what was happening in her world added depth to my own experiences.

Burkett’s book has several storyline threads. One of them is what it’s like to teach journalism in Kyrgyzstan when students do not have questioning authority is also part of their make-up. This also reminded me of my own working in another country experiences. I felt better about my own reactions after Burkett’s account.

Burkett tidily weaves together details about Kyrgyzstan’s history, politics and topography with her musings and observations about the people and her experiences about what it’s like to set up house there.

Along with her time in Kyrgyzstan, Burkett and her husband traveled to Afghanistan after 9/11 where she interviewed several women about the effects of living in Afghanistan. She also spent time in Iran, Iraq, Mongolia, China, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. As an aside, which really isn’t an aside, but one that Burkett doesn’t rest on too often is she is Jewish.

One of the things I really, really, really liked about this book is how much I learned and came to see the places Burkett traveled as those filled with engaging people who are nuanced and, for the most part, good. Burkett is has an authoritative voice that I trust. I believe that her impressions are not histrionic and ones developed to make a sale. This is one smart, on the ball woman who is not all full of herself.

I was also touched by how close she became with several of her students and they with her.

Burkett also doesn’t sugar coat how complicated it can be to be from one culture with different values trying to understand other cultures. She also sticks to her own convictions throughout, although this does not mean she changes her perceptions. It means she knows who she is and stays true.

For book 1 of 4, click here.

Book 2 of 4, click here.

Keeping the ‘Stans Straight, Part 1: Kyrgyzstan

We know how embarrassing it can be when you mistakenly say “Kyrgyzstan” when referring to Kazakhstan at a dinner party. The music screeches to a halt, forks and jaws drop, all eyes turn to you. They’re all thinking the same thing: “Kyrgyzstan?! Uhh, ya mean Kazakhstan?” You bow your head sheepishly, grab your coat, and walk out the door. You are no longer welcome at that party.

Fortunately, we are here to make sure that you never make such an egregious error again. For the next week or so, we’ll present a short primer to help you keep straight the so-called ‘Stans (by the way, “stan” simply means “land” or “place”). Up first: fittingly enough, Kyrgyzstan.


Capital: Bishkek

Location: Shares a northern border with Kazakhstan and eastern border with China.

In a nutshell: The population of this mountainous ex-Soviet republic is traditionally nomadic, with only about one-third of residents living in urban areas; agriculture makes up the largest portion of the economy. There’s good reason to spend so much time outside: with its scenic, snow-capped mountains and lush valleys, Kyrgyzstan has been hailed by some as one of the most stunningly beautiful places in the world.

How you know it: One of the few countries in the world you’ve never been able to spell.

Interesting factoid: The Kyrgyz people were some of those who initially raided China, eventually causing them to built the Great Wall.

Make sure to check out: Bishkek: it’s the newest up-and-coming city in Central Asia– and yes, such a thing exists. Also take a look at Ala Archa National Park, 40m south of Bishkek, and home to dozens of glaciers.

Also in the series: Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan.