Places with photo galleries in Asia
To boost it's tourist potential, the small Tibetan village of Zhongdian changed its name to more fame-sounding Shangri-la (and got a new airport). The old town is surprisingly charming with real flavours of Tibet with traditional Tibetan houses, prayer flags hanging down from stupas and town squares with group dance in the evening. Everywhere you go, you will be offered yak butter tea. There are elaborated Buddhist temples in and around Shangri-la, including the biggest prayer wheel in the world and the huge temple complex of Gandan Sumtseling Gompa. Shangri-la does draw a fair amount of tourists just as the authorities had planned, but is nothing compared to Lijiang and Dali.
Sumtseling Monastery is the largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Yunnan province. Initiated more than 300 years ago by the fifth Dalai Lama, it is sometimes referred to as the Little Potala Palace. It was heavily damaged during the Culture Revolution, but subsequently rebuilt in the 1980s. Today it's again a massive Buddhism complex with more than 600 monks living and studying there. In the morning you can sometimes catch the debating lessons outside on the square, where the novices in lotus position are tested in their ability to answer philosophical questions delivered in a clapping manner by their friends. It's not in the province of Tibet (TAR), so no special permission is needed to go here.
In Dege, the last town before Tibet province, lies the red-walled printing monastery Bakong. It is a sacred place where pilgrims supposedly circle the outer walls a thousand times. Inside, Tibetan scriptures are printed by hand and put to dry, as they have been done for centuries. The store rooms are filled from floor to ceiling with almost 300,000 engraved woodblocks with Tibetan texts. You can watch the printing process in the printing hall, where printers in almost trance turn out pages at an incredible speed. The majority of the Tibetan monasteries still get their textbooks from this printing monastery, and it is considered as one of the most important cultural center for Tibetans along with Potala Palads and Sakya monastery, both in Tibet.
Sky burial is a Tibetan custom for giving back the earthly remains after death, when the soul has left the body for reincarnation. The body is simply sliced open and offered to waiting vultures that rip the flesh from the bones within minutes. Afterwards, the bones, along with the skull and brain, are smashed to pieces with an axe and mixed with barley flour and again offered to the still waiting vultures. Besides being a mind blowing experience (and not for the faint hearted), it's also a very rare opportunity to get close to these monster birds of prey, some of them very rare (such as Black and Bearded vultures). Remember this is not a tourist attraction and an invitation should be obtained before attending. (The picture was taken with permission from the descendants).
A colonial leftover from the Portuguese. It has been through a lot of war, massacres and general neglect. Burnt-out buildings are still a common sight and the roads are dotted with bottomless manholes, but it has edge and charm like a street urchin. The packed Santa Cruz cemetery along with the Truth Committee center CAVR can give some insight of the violent recent history of this young nation. For a bit of tranquility, head for the nice waterfront which has several narrow beaches and clear view to Atauro island. These days the town is fueled by UN and NGO money, meaning there exists a surprisingly good selection of eating places. The best part though, is the locals are still friendly, honest and welcoming.
As you slowly wind your way up from Dili into the hilly backcountry, the scenery turns lush and the air cool. 11 km from Maubisse, a rocky unsealed road snakes off the potholed main road and leads to the little village of Hatubuilico at the foot of Mt. Ramelau (2,963 m). Round wooden houses with thatched roofs are now dotting the sloping fields as you keep going into valley after valley until you get clear views of Ramelau's naked peak. Trek to the top (if you have warm clothes with you) and just enjoy the views before the clouds come rolling in.
Tucked away in a cove on the backside of the hoovering Jesus statue lies one of the best beaches around Dili. It goes under the precise but utterly uncharming name of Jesus Backside Beach. It is a long stretch of white sand with gentle aqua blue water. Even though it is in close proximity to Dili, it is untouched and has some very good snorkeling right from the shore - maybe even some of the best in East Timor.
Check the photo gallery for more Timor beaches along the northern coast.
13 kilometers from Jaipur in Rajasthan you find Amber Fort, built in 1592. The palace is situated on a hill with sweeping views over the area and it is a classic example of Rajput architecture. If you do not have the energy to walk up to the fort, from the foot of the hill, you can ride up there on elephant back for a fee. There are lots of tourists who do this, so you should expect to queue for a while. The palace covers a fairly large area, and there are fine columns / arches, painted ceilings, mirror mosaics, courtyards and women in bright blue saris who walk around sweeping.
In Jaipur lies the vast astronomical observatory Jantar Mantar, which was built between 1727-1734 by Maharaja Jai Singh II. The area is one of Unesco's World Heritage Sites, and consists of 14 major geometric instrument made of marble, stone, and bronze. The instruments were used to measure time, predicting eclipses, measuring the distance to the planets and the like. Among others, it has the world's largest sundial, which is 27 meters high. It is impressive that these approx. 280 years old measuring instruments are still extremely precise - and sometimes are used to predict the weather by local astronomers.
In the town of Khajuraho, in the state of Madhya Pradesh, a number of ancient Hindu temples are located. They are regarded as some of India's "Seven Wonders" and are also on the list of UNESCOâ€™s World Heritage Sites. The temples were built around 1000 years ago and from the original approx. 80 temples, 25 are left. They are located in 3 different parts of an area of 20 square kilometers, and they can easily be seen in a single day. Besides being impressively well preserved, the temples are also known for their extremely erotic carved figures. Back then, there were obviously no sexual positions, persons or animals, you could not throw yourself at... No wonder that this is the land of the "Kama Sutra"!