Chara Sands – The Miniature Desert of Siberia

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If I showed you an image of desert sands set up against a background of snow-capped mountain peaks, your first word would probably be ‘Photoshoped’. That’s what I thought too, but such a place really does exist and it’s called Chara Sands.

There is really no end to nature’s mysteries and Chara Sands, in Siberia, is just one of them. Located in the Trans-Baikal, about  25 miles from the Kodar Glaciers and right next to the mountains, ice fields and blue lakes, the bright and yellow sand dune is hard to miss. At 10 km long and 5 km wide, the dunes are of varying heights. Some of the tallest ones are 15 to 30 meters high. Given the large volume of the loose and shifting sands, the place actually looks like a desert, although it is not. Spotting a desert-like terrain in the tundra region is nothing short of a miracle and a well-recognized one around the world. According to the Russian Geographical Society, “The contrasts seem impossible: as if an incredible open-air museum was set up, displaying natural curiosities of the north and the south next to each other.” They couldn’t have put it better.

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Chateau Guédelon – A 13th Century Castle in the Making

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It is sometimes unbelievable how beautiful architecture was created in ancient times, without the use of modern technology. A medieval construction project in Treigny, France, aims at understanding exactly how this was possible. Guédelon Castle is a project that is being completed with only the materials and techniques that were available to man in the Middle Ages. Of course, it’s going to take decades to complete.

The construction of Guédelon Castle started back in 1997. Michel Guyot, the owner of the nearby Saint-Fargeau castle, first got the idea of the project when he was restoring his own property. Over the years, the project has matured in terms of complexity, and has become a major tourist attraction. Today, it has created over 55 jobs and draws around 300,000 people every year. It also acts as an educational backdrop for school excursions. The design of the castle is based on the architectural canons laid down by the King of France,  Philip II Augustus, in the 12th and 13th centuries. The work done is mostly manual and slow, involving materials such as wood, earth, sand, stone and clay. The blueprint of the castle includes a moat and six towers. What’s even more fascinating is that the workers dress in the garb of medieval times.

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Shijiao – Where Christmas Lights Go to Die

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Ever wonder what happens to Christmas lights once you toss out into the trash at the end of every holiday season? Turns out a lot of things are made from them, including slipper soles.

Shijiao, in China, has been designated as the world’s capital for recycling old and unusable Christmas tree lights that are thrown away by Americans each year. There are at least nine factories in this small town that process large volumes of tree lights. Yong Chang Processing is one of them, the company recycles 2.2 million pounds of lights each year. Overall, the factories of the town go through over 20 million pounds. Shijiao is known for its cheap labor costs and low environmental standards. These factors make it an ideal place for a recycling zone. It has been so for around 20 years now. Needless to say, the burning of the wire from the lights causes huge amounts of black smoke to rise up in the air, which is clearly visible from the fields around town. The process adopted is the fastest way to extract copper from rubber and plastic, and hence there isn’t any alternative.

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Ancient Documents Claim Jesus Lived to Be 106 and Died in Japan

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There have been bizarre claims before that Jesus Christ lived and died in India, with his tomb located in the state of Kashmir. In what can only be a testament to his omnipresence, another claim has been made to Christ’s whereabouts before his death, this time by the Japanese.

So the story goes like this – Christ visited Japan between the ages of 21 and 33. Of course, this is conveniently supported by the fact that the Bible skips over large periods of Christ’s early life. He spent this time studying the native language and culture, before returning to Jerusalem. What about the Crucifixion, you ask? Well, it wasn’t Christ that was crucified at all. According to this theory, it was his younger brother Isukiri, who took his place on the cross. In the meantime, Christ fled to Siberia. After a few years, he traveled via Alaska and arrived at the port of Hachinohe, 40km from the village of Shingo. He lived the rest of his life in the village, where he married, had three children and died at the age of 106.

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Have a nICE Stay At Finland’s Igloo Village

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Ever wondered what it would be like to live in an igloo? Well, you have the chance to find out at the Kakslauttanen Igloo Village, in Finland. A hotel located in the northern part of the country, high up above the arctic circle,  is being touted as one of the coziest romantic getaways in the world.

Holidaying couples have three options at the hotel – Log Cabins, Snow Igloos, and Glass Igloos. Of course, the snow igloos get my vote for the most interesting of the three. Let’s find out more about them. Built to fit 1 to 5 people, it is literally like sleeping inside a room made of snow Of course, while the temperature outside may be dangerously cold at below -30 C, all the necessary amenities are provided indoors to keep you warm and cozy. The temperature inside ranges between -3 and -6 C. Warm down sleeping bags, woolen socks and hood are provided. The ice itself illuminates the igloo.

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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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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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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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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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