Pyramids and monasteries among the many ancient monuments under restoration

Around the world, ancient monuments are crumbling. As our heritage wears away through neglect, “development”, or simply the harsh treatment of time, some countries are doing something about it.

The pyramid of Djoser, the oldest of the pyramids of Egypt, will be the object of a major restoration effort. The government recently announced that funding has been earmarked for restoration after the people previously working on the site put down their tools, saying they weren’t getting paid. The money that’s owed to the company would be paid and workers would be assured their salaries, said Mohammad Abdel-Maksoud, Egypt’s new Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities. The famous Zahi Hawass was let go during the recent revolution. Hawass was briefly replaced by Abdel-Fattah al-Banna, but al-Banna quickly resigned amid criticisms of his lack of credentials.

The Djoser pyramid at Saqqara was constructed from 2667 to 2648 BC and is a step pyramid rather than a true pyramid. It now suffers from numerous structural problems and a crumbling facade.

In Tibet, the Chinese government is investing almost $9 million to restore monasteries and homes of the 10th century Guge Kingdom. Among the attractions in the ruins are some colorful Buddhist murals, caves, palaces, and pagodas. BBC News has an interesting video showing of the site here.

It’s not all good news, though. Many treasures of the past are under threat. While Rome’s Colosseum is being restored, several structures in Pompeii collapsed last year. In Red Rock Canyon, Nevada, volunteers and experts had to clean away graffiti sprayed on Native American rock art. In England the Priddy Circles, a collection of Neolithic earthworks from 5,000 years ago, were half destroyed when someone bulldozed them.

It’s nice to see some governments working hard to maintain their monuments, but lack of funding and simple human stupidity are making their job difficult.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Planeterra Foundation gives sight to the blind in Tibet

Tibet is one of the most visually stunning places on Earth, but many Tibetans can’t see it.

Blindness is a serious problem in the developing world. Poverty and lack of rural health care means that millions of people around the world go blind because of easily curable maladies such as cataracts.

One of the organizations fighting to stop curable blindness is the Planeterra Foundation, which recently announced a fund raiser and a video contest. For the past two years Planeterra has set up eye clinics in rural Tibetan villages and performed hundreds of surgeries.

“Tibet has one of the highest rates of blindness in the world. Most of this blindness is due to cataracts, a disease associated with aging but also prevalent among children and the working class. Many are unable to reach a hospital because of poverty and lack of transportation. With scattered populations spread across great distances, surgical eye camps are the most efficient way to treat the high rate of disease,” said Planeterra director Richard Edwards.

Such clinics are very cost effective. A donation of $50 pays for cataract surgery, so if you’ve enjoyed the beauty of the Himalayas, this is a good way to give back.

If you’re handy with a video camera, check out the “Her Sight Is Worth It.” video contest sponsored by Planeterra‘s partner Seva Canada. Young, aspiring filmmakers will create a short videos about vision impairment and gender, with the grand prize winner getting a new MacBook. Three winning videos will be screened at the World Community Film Festival and be honored by having sight restored to one girl and one woman in their name.

Planeterra believes in responsible travel and through its parent company Gap Adventures runs “Voluntours” where travelers can help out in schools in Zambia, study sea turtles in Costa Rica, or assisting street children in Peru. All Voluntours include several days of sightseeing too. Planeterra and Gap Travel are co-winners of the 2009 Responsible Travel and Tourism Forum (RTTF) Leadership Award presented by Baxter Travel Media and Air Canada.

Having trekked around a lot of different countries, I’ve seen many, many people stuck in sightless poverty because they can’t afford such a cheap and simple operation. Luckily Planeterra and Seva Canada aren’t the only folks out there tackling the problem. A number of agencies are fighting blindness. When I went to the Kumbh Mela festival in Allahabad, India, in 2001, there was one guru who had set up a free eye clinic and performed hundreds of cataract surgeries. It must have felt like a miracle for the patients to have their sight restored at Hinduism’s holiest festival.


Hulk Hogan, Osama Bin Laden and a pair of Red Wings

I heard part of an interview with Morgan Spurlock, the creator of the documentary, “Where in the World is Osama bin Laden” yesterday. The film, which opens today, sounds as if it might be more travelogue with a twist of the Middle East. Spurlock visits places as varied as Morocco, Pakistan, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan and chats with a variety of those countries’ citizens along the way in order to sort of find Osama bin Laden and take a look-see in the countries where he has been.

Spurlock’s interview comments about wresting reminded me of one of my husband’s encounters with Tibetan monks in Nepal. The interviewer and Spurlock talked about how people everywhere, no matter which country, know that championship wrestling is serious business. My husband, who wrestled in high school, attracts wrestling type fans wherever he travels.

As a rather large man with huge feet–size 14, he is unable to escape notice. People, particularly in countries like Vietnam, like to poke and prod him. Because he wears Red Wing work boots, his shoes gain notice. Fill one with cement and you’d have quite the doorstop. Even without the cement, it’s a doorstop. Anyway, when we were in Nepal and stopped by a Tibetan monastery outside of Pokhara, like always, my husband left his shoes outside the door while we went inside. When he came out, he saw a group of monks gathered around his boots.

One of the monks reached down to pick one up and seemed to be testing its weight, marveling. Another, who knew English, said, “Can we ask you a question?”

My husband leaned in thinking he might learn a bit about enlightenment,”Yes?” He waited for the pearl.

“Hulk Hogan? Is he real?”

“Sure,” said my husband, which produced a round of beaming smiles, nods and back slapping, as if my husband and Hulk are best buds. As for the pearl of wisdom? Here’s what I think. Sometimes, it doesn’t take much to please.