Friday, January 6, 2012

Third World Sites Not To Be Missed

     Most travelers are quite familiar with famous places in the West. St. Peters, Notre Dame, the London Tower, the Prado Museum, Red Square and countless other such sites are commonly visited by Westerners. America and Europe offer enough of these to last a lifetime of travel. But what is their equivalent in the Third World? The answer is a plethora of far older and often more magnificent places where man or nature have exercised their creative force. We are all at least cognizant of some of the major Third World Sites. A natural wonder is the magnificent Victoria Falls where the Zambezi River rushes over a mile and a quarter in width and whose torrent in the greatest water flow in the world comparable only to Iguassu Falls of South America. Then there are the Taj Mahal in all its marbled glory, the Great Wall of China, the magnificent Blue Mosque of Istanbul and other places we have some familiarity with. But the Third World contains far more sites of man's historical glory and earth's endless variety.

       Southern Asia offers the greatest collection of amazing tourist sites of any part of the world. The tourist can start in Myanmar with the incredible Disney-like Schwedagon Pagoda in Yangon.  It is not only the holiest Buddhist site in the devout county but it shimmers with gold and diamonds from dozens of stupas large and small some of which contain relics of the Buddha. It is a remarkable experience to circle the site and view the multitude of worship places in this one location. Not too far from Yangon is the city of Bagan which features a vast field dotted with millennium old temples, each more interesting than the next. It is awe-inspiring to think of a civilization that would create such an assemblage of holy sites in a relatively short period of time. Borobudur, another sumptuous Buddhist stupa, is located in the central part of the island of Java in Indonesia. This UNESCO Heritage site  dates from the eighth century and features 72 open stupas each containing a statue of the Buddha. It, too, is one of the great monuments of Buddhist history. In the same area of the world, the neighboring country of Cambodia features relatively intact ruins of several great capitals including Angkor Wat, the one the Western traveler is most likely to know about. The ancient city was a religious and a political center of the Khmer civilization from the 9th to the 12th century and retains it external wall intact as well as many of the temple structures and an amazing collection of art and sculpture. Nearby are impressive remains of other great capitols of the Khmer people. Not far away is the area called "The Killing Fields," one of the most moving monuments to man's cruelty in recent history.

      I mentioned the Taj above but India alone has several of the most incredible sites in the world. Not too far south of the Taj is the town of Khajuraho where a host of beautifully carved erotic temples mark what was once a center of Hindu worship and culture. Still farther south are the Ajanta caves, remnants of ancient Buddhist and Jain temples carved inside granite mountains and decorated with countless paintings and sculptures. Each of these sites is a wonder in itself and makes a trip to India worthwhile. I would add one more amazing building still farther south, namely the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai. Not only is this Hindu monument fascinating with its approximately 2,000,000 carvings, but the ceremonies that take place inside are totally unique. Every night Shiva beds with his consort, Meenakshi, on the opposite side of the temple after an elaborate procession carries him to his pleasure. In Varanasi and Pushkar, one can witness devout ritual bathing in holy waters by endless crowds of worshippers who come to fulfill the dream of their lives.

     When we journey through South and Meso-America we find equivalent delights.  The monumental temples and cities built by the Mayans and the Inca are as impressive as any other sites in the world. One might start at the gigantic pyramids of the Teotihuacan civilization near Mexico City and then trace the Mayan religious centers from Chichen Itza and Uxmal down to Palenque and into Guatemala to Tikal and Honduras to Coban. There are many other such sites but a visit to any of these will give the tourist a good idea of how the Mayans centered their political and religious activities in palatial cities. In South America, Macchu Pichu is probably the most impressive example of Inca culture anywhere and should not be missed. Add in Easter Island and the natural and historic wonders of the Galapagos Islands or the Atacama Desert of Chile or the Amazon River and you have as meaningful and wondrous a trip as can be imagined. 

     There is one more category of travel that the Third World offers exclusively- traditional culture. The Omo Valley of Ethiopia is one of the places in Africa where relatively few white travelers have journeyed. The lip-plate tribes of Mursi and Suri are probably worth the difficult journey alone. There are other tribes all over Africa where one can see rare customs and traditional dress and meet people quite unlike themselves. In Papua New Guinea, one can visit unusual hill tribes like the Huli and see a way of life that will disappear in the near future but remains vibrant enough to provide a great travel experience now. Pockets of traditional life also abound  in the Amazon region and other jungles in South America. Each one of these offers a very unique opportunity for the tourist. More densely populated areas in Vietnam and Indonesia contain small groups of people who still exist as their ancestors did hundreds of years ago. The tribal peoples of India are in this category as well. They merit a journey through their extensive rural habitat.

     If the tourist thinks a visit to the Louvre or a view of Niagara Falls does the trick for him, so be it. If not, there is a great deal more for the traveler's delight. Just wander a bit off the beaten path.

Schwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar

1 comment:

The Floating Clouds said...

Liked this post. India has so many wonderful places to visit that it is hard to do justice in a even a single blog entry. The Orissa temples, especially the Konarak Sun temple are amazing too.