The Amazing Oak Chapel of Allouville Bellefosse

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The French village of Allouville-Bellefosse is famous for the Chêne Chapelle (Oak Chapel), which is literally a chapel built into an oak tree. The amazing architecture consists of a wooden staircase spiraling around the ancient tree, leading up to a couple of chambers. These rooms have always been used as places of worship, by the village locals.

The age of the tree has been a subject of debate, but everyone agrees that it is the oldest tree in France, without a doubt. The tree is known to have been growing as far back as the thirteenth century, during the rule of Louis IX, when France was a truly centralized kingdom. It is also known to have survived the Hundred Years War against the English, the Black Death, the Reformation, and Napoleon’s rule. Local folklore dates it a 1,000 years old, when it is said that the acorn took root. However, tree experts say it could only be around 800 years old, which means the thirteenth century saw it’s origins.

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Dargavs – Russia’s City of the Dead

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A place called the City of the Dead actually exists in Russia’s North Ossetia, hidden in one of the five mountain ridges that cross the region. Needless to say, several myths and legends shroud the place, with locals claiming that no one has ever come back alive. The ‘city’ hardly ever gets any tourists either, although this might be due to the difficulty of just getting there.

Reaching Dargavs, the City of the Dead, entails a three-hour journey through winding, narrow roads, and several hills. The foggy mountain weather certainly doesn’t help matters. Once there, you’ll find that the city  is in fact another hill covered with small white buildings. It is these very buildings that cause the place to get it’s name. The white house-like structures, countless in number, are stone crypts where locals buried their loved ones. The city itself is an ancient Ossetian cemetery. Each family of the area has a crypt, and the higher the structure, the greater the number of people buried in it. The oldest of the crypts dates back to the 16th century.

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Tribe Practices Finger Cutting as a Means of Grieving

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In some cultures amputation is a form of mourning. This was especially true of the Dani tribe from Papua, Indonesia. The members of this tribe cut off their fingers as a way of displaying their grief at funeral ceremonies. Along with amputation, they also smeared their faces with ashes and clay, as an expression of sorrow.

It isn’t very surprising to learn that women were mostly subjected to this gruesome ritual. The religious beliefs of the tribe prompted this sort of ritual. If the deceased person was considered to be powerful, it was believed that their spirits would contain equal power too. In order to appease and drive away these spirits, several shocking practices were followed. Girls who were related to the dead had the upper parts of their fingers cut off. Before being cut, the fingers would be tied with a string for over 30 minutes. After the amputation, the finger tips were allowed to dry, before they were burned and the ashes buried in a special area.

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Bride Kidnapping – A Controversial Tradition in Kyrgyzstan

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Many women dream of being carried away on a white horse, by their knight-in-shining-armor. But what if the so-called knight turned out to be an abductor, forcing a woman to elope with him?

That is exactly the case with bride kidnappings that take place in Kyrgzstan, Central Asia. Parodied in the 2006 film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, the practice is a harsh reality of the region, more prevalent in Kyrgzstan than Kazakhstan. In the film, Pamela Anderson was kidnapped by the main character for marriage. In real life unfortunately, the stories are never funny. Although precise statistics are unavailable, it is commonly believed that more than half of Kyrgyz wives are married in this manner. It is even seen as a matter of pride, a means for a man to prove his manhood. Often, the families of the groom participate in the abduction, they help in planning the ‘capture’ of their son’s would-be wife. A white scarf is placed, often forcibly, on the woman’s head, signalling her acceptance. Once kidnapped, the bride’s family urge her to accept her situation and her new husband, for fear that she would never find another suitable mate again.

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Drug Lord Pablo Escobar Becomes Colombian Tourist Attraction

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When Pablo Escobar died in 1993, the people of Medellin, Colombia, sighed in relief. But little did they know that the world’s most notorious criminal at the time would become one of their country’s most popular tourist attractions.

The legacy of Escobar lives on in Medellin, in a different and slightly unusual manner. The man and his life are now sold as a tourist attraction to visitors; this has proven to be quite popular. Escobar, who was responsible for several acts of terrorism such as blowing up the Government’s Security Ministry, assassinating a Presidential candidate, bombing a civilian airliner, and waging a war in which thousands of people were killed, would have least expected that the memories he left behind would one day serve as a means to attract tourists to Colombia.

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Taichung’s Rainbow Village – The Hand-Painted Wonder of Taiwan

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It’s hard to believe that one man can change the fate of an entire village. Huang Yung-fu, an 86-year-old war veteran has done just this.

Huang lives in a village in a corner of the Taiwanese city of Taichung, a community that was created for Nationalist soldiers in the 1940s and 50s. Over the years, the place slowly changed into a permanent settlement, suffering from urban problems like abandonment, decay and housing dereliction. However, none of this is visible in the settlement today, thanks to the transformation brought about by Huang’s colorful paintings. The streets and the walls of practically every building in the village are covered with Huang’s simplistic paintings of plants, animals, TV personalities, birds and buffaloes. Considering the fact that he began painting only two years ago, his accomplishment is pretty huge. The bright colors and simple strokes used by Huang only add to the attractiveness of his work.

Photo by Steve Barringer

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Japan’s Creepy Hotel for the Dead

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A hotel for the dead, now that’s something. This one is for real, actual corpses. And it’s pretty luxurious, going from the pictures. It’s a place where your folks check you in, and you wait it out until it’s time for you to be cremated. Also, it’s pretty luxurious.

The hotel Lastel run by Hisayoshi Teramura in Japan’s Yokohama suburbs, looks like any other building from the outside. In fact, young couples mistake it for a regular hotel and come asking for accommodation. But the place is not meant for lovers, or for weary travelers. Only for those who have already made their final exit from this world. The need for such a hotel very much exists in Japan, where there is a wait time of at least four days for a crematorium. With a total of 1.2 million deaths in the country in 2010, the annual death rate is at 0.95%, while the global average is only 0.84%. The Japanese also apparently tend to splurge on funerals, on the cost of flowers, coffins and memorial services. Mr. Teramura seems to have found a business opportunity in the area of death.

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Leila’s Hair Museum Is a Tribute to Victorian Hair Art

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Leila Cohoon of Independence, Missouri is a retired hairdresser. She now teaches hair weaving and runs her own cosmetology school. She is however, linked to hair in more ways than apparent. Leila collects hair art, and puts it all on display in her museum.

What is hair art, you ask? We wondered the same. Contrary to expectations, the museum does not display human hair in bunches, like the hair museum of Avanos, nor is the hair taken from the heads of the dead. Ask Leila, and she explains that hair art consists of intricate wreaths of hair set in frames to create beautiful designs. These frames were frequently used to decorate Victorian homes. Leila’s collection started in 1956, with wreaths and jewelry made from hair. Initially she stored her collection in her house, under the bed. Around 20 years ago, she decided to display them and started a one-room museum in her cosmetology school. She later rented out a commercial space and runs her museum there. The walls of Leila’s Hair Museum are completely covered from floor to ceiling, with hair art. Her collection includes over 300 wreaths and 2000 pieces of jewelry containing human hair.

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Collector’s Holiday Home Houses over 10,000 Teddy Bears

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Ricky Lenart, an artist and resident of Uptown New Orleans, has an entire holiday home dedicated to his collection of teddy bears. Every room of his three-story house at Duffossat Street is filled with the soft toys, a total of 10,000 in number.

Lenart’s unusual hobby did not come cheap. He says that it would have actually been cheaper to give people $10,000 each. This year alone, he spent a total of $40,000 to $50,000 on decorations for his home. He says he has had a lifelong fascination of teddy bears, which prompted him to start his collection. Before he knew it, the bears were everywhere. The Teddy Bear House, as it is called, hosts guided tours for visitors in the holiday season. All the bears are put on display in various rooms, and are otherwise put in storage between seasons. The guided tour sessions are an hour-long and proceeds from ticket sales are donated to nonprofit organizations.

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The Iconic Goat Tower of Fairview

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The Fairview Wine and Cheese farm in South Africa is famous for more than just its wine and cheese. Owned and run by Charles Back, it houses a unique monument built for the comfort and use of the farm’s goats – The Goat Tower. Acknowledging the fact that goats love to climb, sometimes even up on livestock, to get a better view, Back first got the idea of the tower some thirty years ago.

The tower, a first of its kind, is built of brick and mortar, and consists of a steep metal roof. It also has a spiral staircase made of wood, and windows too. The goats in Fairview farm have the privilege of climbing the two-story tower at will, resting within it. Since 1981, the tower has become a symbol of the winery, so much so that they produce a wine called “Goats do Roam”. The goat tower is by far, the first known to be built with such a purpose in mind. However, according to Back, the tower was inspired by a similar one his parents had seen during a vacation in Portugal. As a result of that trip the farms first goats were purchased, and the tower built.

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Wieliczka Salt Cathedral – Poland’s Underground Wonder

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The Wieliczka Salt Mines in Poland have been used for several centuries to extract salt, but are now in the news for a different reason. Through their excavations and adventures, Polish miners have left behind something unique in these underground spaces, little known to the world until recently. 

It has been over ten years since any salt has been extracted from the Wieliczka Mines, and yet, people still pay a visit. Though an ordinary-looking mine from the outside, just 200 meters down below, lies an astonishing spectacle to behold. The salt mine has actually been converted into a cathedral, art gallery and it also contains a lake.

What’s all the more beautiful and intriguing about this place is that it has been built over the years by miners themselves. During the course of a few centuries, generations of miners left behind pieces of art, religious and historical figures, and even built their own cathedral down under there, to be able to pray. The huge cathedral is perhaps the most astonishing of the wonders that lie below the ground. Remarkable religious carvings can be found, of scenes such as the Last Supper and Jesus appearing to the apostles after crucifixion.

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Brazil’s Ballet School for the Blind

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Reports of visually impaired people performing regular activities with finesse are not new. However, such stories never cease to amaze us. The resilience and confidence displayed by some of the blind leave us awestruck, and sometimes the blind are even able to do things that people with normal vision are not.

Dance is one such activity. While it is almost inconceivable to think of a blind person being able to perceive and enact the dance moves of a beautiful and classical form like ballet, a Brazilian ballet school has managed to do just that – train blind dancers. And how they dance!

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Mauth Ka Kuan – India’s Well of Death

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Circus shows have been getting censored, simplified and overall less exciting just about everywhere. Not in India though, that’s the place where the infamous phrase “death defying stunt” lives on through Mauth Ka Kuan, or the Well of Death.

Though originally performed all over the world, riding a bike on a vertical wall can now only be seen live in the “Land of contrasts” and it makes visiting the place even more tempting. The stunt is old so you’d imagine India’s bike riders have honed and perfected it to the highest level. Actually, the Well of Death – as the arena is referred to – isn’t just a marketing ploy.Riding on incredibly old bikes that haven’t seen maintenance since they left the factory, the Indian bikers ride with absolutely no safety gear at break neck speeds. The walls on which they ride are vertical and built from salvaged wood.

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China’s Richest Village Is a Tribute to Knockoffs

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China is the most populated country in the world, probably the most hard working country in the world and well on its way toward becoming the richest one as well. Considering how they’ve managed to achieve such a feat is considerably less fun than making snide remarks at their legendary knockoff business.

Millions of brands around the world saw their products replicated cheaply and brands like Mike, Abidas, iFone appeared from nowhere. Though still considerably involved in the replica production China has since come a long way. Just about every manufacturer on Earth has plants there and, more importantly, most of their products are being sold there as well. You’d imagine that once the Asian country got a real taste of proper products, started making some real money and was looking for what to spend it on, they’d forget about the cheap fakes right?Well, sort of, rather unusually, the Chinese have now acquired a taste for expensive fakes. A prime example would be the country’s richest village.

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Katskhi Pillar – Going to Church on a Stairway to Heaven

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Trust me on this, that headline has absolutely nothing rock’n’roll about it . Weirdly enough, it’s actually true and you can even go on to experience it yourself, provided you’re willing to travel.

Travel a little or a lot rather depends on where you’re starting from as you’ll have to go to Georgia in order to live this out. Oh, and that’s not Georgia, the American state, but Georgia a small country that sits borderline between Europe and Asia. In this rather remote country, that’s seen it’s fair share of misfortune over the years for various political issues, economic and social pressures and so on, you’ll be able to find an unusual bastion of hope.

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