Unique Bucket List: Truly Amazing Places – International

Hello, readers and friends. I’m back with yet another reflection, something I’ve been compiling over the years. I don’t claim this is all – but this is what I’ve put on my Bucket List. The places I want to see before I bite the dust or metaphorically kick the bucket. This is a 2-part post: the first part encompasses global destinations. Part 2 – my motherland, India.


Africa:

Richat Structure, Mauritania

What looks like a computer-generated random image, is a real aerial photograph. All of 50 km in diameter, this structure is better viewed from space. Shaped by wind and erosion, it’s a set of concentric circles of kinds of rock. The uneven wear and tear of these different rocks imparted Richat its near-perfect circular rings and thereby the appearance of an eye. I won’t bore you with the nitty-gritty of how it was formed – subscribe to channels like SciShow, Nat Geo, Discovery, Smithsonian’s etc. and you’ll get to know all the details. I’m sharing my bucket list, not what I learned in school 😉.

Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia

This otherwise arid land, full of just sand, sand and more sand is reminiscent of a melodious song from the Bollywood blockbuster Ghajini. Remember the ‘Guzarish’ song from the movie? See it again now. Let me help you with the links to the song and the site.


Asia:

Bagan, Myanmar/Burma:

Built in the 200 AD, Bagan is home to the Bagan Archaeological Zone, a breadwinner for the country’s otherwise dull tourism industry. It was a part of the ancient Pagan kingdom that went to form the erstwhile Burma (present-day Myanmar). Its ‘trourist attraction’ value is comparable to that of Angkor Wat, Cambodia. Fed by the Irrawady, the Bagan plain seems to have more temples than trees. This is what makes the whole place so scenic. With hues of red (soil), green (trees) and sandstone-brown (temples) – it’s a feast to the eyes.

Stone Forest, China

Well, we’ve all been to forests. At least once in our life. I’ve been too – several times. This one’s different though. Instead of dense green foliage, it has ‘trees’ of grayish limestone. Ok, I’m kidding. These are not trees, they’re limestone pillars that resemble stalagmites (half-brother of stalactites). For the uninitiated, stalagmites ‘grow’ from the bottom upwards and stalactites ‘hang’ top-down. I used the ‘resemble’ since stalactites and stalagmites are found only in caves and not in the open. These limestone formations look like a witch cursed the trees in this forest and turned them to stone.

Petra, Jordan

The name ‘Petra’ denotes stone/rock in Greek. This is a heritage site is of the ‘New’ 7 wonders of the world. It’s a city carved out of solid rock-face and hence the name. this place is also associated with the legendary Lawrence of Arabia. He led an Arab revolt against the mighty Ottoman empire, at the turn of 19th century.

Note: Visa on Arrival available.

Wadi Rum, Jordan

This place does not have anything to do with rum ☹. It’s just a very beautiful rock (sandstone and granite) cut valley in Jordan. It’s supposedly the largest Jordanian valley at that. This place is also associated with the legendary, Lawrence of Arabia. You can aslo get to see petroglyphs dating all the way back to 7th century BC.

Note: Visa on Arrival available.

Plain of Jars, Laos

This is a megalithic structure of archaeological importance, in Laos. It’s a region strewn with hundreds of large stone jars. Very little is known about the purpose these jars served. Local legends have it that their king ordered for these jars for storing large amounts of booze (rice beer/wine) for his victorious army. Some suggest they were kilns. Yet some others suggest they were used for harvesting rainwater.

Note: Visa on Arrival available.

Hang Sơn Đoòng, Vietnam

The name simply means ‘cave of the mountain river’. It’s also called Son Doong cave. It’s one of the most exhilarating places on earth. Accidentally discovered by a local, its largest cave system in the world. This cave houses a subterranean river.
Here are some vital statistics of this monstrous cave…
Volume: 38.4×106 cubic meters (1.36×109 cu ft.)
Length: 5km/3.1mi
Height: 200m/660 ft.
Width: 150m/490 ft.
This cave was not always visible – it was once subterranean. At some point, the ceiling of this cave, ‘caved in’ resulting in an opening called doline. It’s from these dolines that sunlight enters the cave and this, in turn, helped the growth of trees and other flora.
Note: one cannot access the cave without a valid permit. Too bad, only a limited number of permits are issued annually (approx. 800) from Feb to Aug. After August, heavy rains cause river levels to rise and make the cave inaccessible.

Mohenjo-Daro & Harappa, Pakistan

I hope I’m not upsetting the hornet’s nest by writing about a place that’s in Pakistan. It’s just that these 2 places have stayed on a lifetime membership in my mind since school days. The first time I heard these names, was probably in Class 5th or 6th – History lessons. I’ve always wanted to see the places also known as the cradle of the Indus Valley civilization. A glorious part of India’s past – they’re worth a visit. These were properly designed and maintained cities – one of the world’s earliest at that. This is yet another World Heritage site.

Cappadocia, Turkey

Derived from old Persian word ‘Haspaduya’, Cappadocia loosely translates to the land/country of beautiful horses”. A rather beautiful landscape strewn with rock-cut temples and ‘Fairy Chimneys’.

Derweze, Turkmenistan

This is not a prehistoric site. This site is just a few years older than me. It was created by accident. It’s said that during an oil rigging attempt in 1971, engineers found that the ground beneath the rig site collapsed into a crater, almost 70m wide. Fearing a noxious gas outbreak, the engineers torched the gas to save the nearby towns. They estimated the fire to burn out all the gas within just a few weeks – however, the flame still burns as bright as it can; bearing the resemblance to the Doorway to Hell (Door > Darwaja > Derweze). This site is listed as one of the several ‘Gates of Hell’.


Europe:

Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic

For starters, it’s a Roman Catholic chapel, constructed right under the Cemetery Church of All Saints, Kutná Hora, Czech Republic. This is not a place for the faint-hearted since this Chapel uses bones (yes you read it right!) of almost 60,000 people. These were people who mostly died as a result of the epidemic ‘black death’ and the Hussite Wars during the 14th and 15th centuries. This is one of the most popular tourist attractions of the Czech Republic. It has sister sites in Skull Chapel (Czermna, Poland) and Skull Tower (Niš, Serbia). I always knew, the eastern Europeans always had a fetish for the macabre.

Etretat, France

Etretat is famous for its beautiful coastal Chalk cliffs. So long, (I’m sure) most of us related chalk to classrooms and teachers. Chalk, in fact, is a ROCK. Chemistry teachers call it Calcium Carbonate (CaCO3).

Giant’s Causeway, Ireland

This is a scenic place in the Emerald Isle a.k.a. Ireland a.k.a. Erin. Gaelic legends have it that this causeway was built when some Irish giant locked horns with a Scottish giant. There are different versions of this story – I don’t believe either of them 😉. This site has a sister site in the Fingal’s cave – a place that has similar basaltic structures. Just that in the second case, these formations are found inside a sea-cave. Stories aside, these near perfectly laid (interlocked) basaltic structures were formed as the side effects of a volcanic eruption. A World Heritage Site, again.

Leap Castle, Ireland

Pronounced ‘lep’, this is the most haunted castle in Ireland. It’s reportedly home to one of the most horrific paranormal entities called ‘The Elemental’ or just ‘It’. The castle has a place called ‘The Bloody Chapel’ which saw a gruesome fratricide, centuries ago. Just wanted to see if all those ghost stories are for real.

Pompeii, Italy

This one’s my (volcanic) favorite. It is about 500km from the hyperactive stratovolcano Stromboli and just 10 km away from Mount Vesuvius. The latter active volcano decimated Pompeii in 79 AD. The eruption lasted for 2 days and the pyroclastic flow of lava that ensued, practically mummified the citizens of Pompeii – a ghastly sight still preserved as a memory of the great catastrophe. Hardly could anybody escape the eruption and the pyroclastic flow afterwards. It’s a World Heritage Site – one of the most popular tourist destinations in Italy. Millions of visitors throng every year to catch a glimpse of its volcanic past. And oh, Hollywood has made an eponymous tribute to this historical monument in 2014.

Bran Castle, Romania

This is perhaps one of the most feared castles – I’d be scared too – especially if it has anything to do with Count Dracula. Although, neither the castle nor its original occupant, Vlad Dracul a.k.a. Vlad, the Impaler has anything to do with Bram Stoker’s fictional character – Count Dracula. Blame it on the poor knowledge of etymology in those days. Vlad Dracul (“Vlad the Dragon”) was the central (and real) character in Bran castle’s history. Dracula is the Slavonic genitive form of Dracul, meaning “the son of Dracul (Dragon). However, in more recent times, Dracul means “the devil”, which tainted Vlad’s reputation. Now you see why I’m not scared – rather I want to visit this place.


North America:

Dean’s Blue Hole Bahamas

Now a word about sinkholes and their marine cousins – blue holes. A blue hole is a marine cavern or sinkhole, which is open to the surface and has developed in a bank or island composed of a carbonate bedrock (limestone or coral reef). They extend below sea level for most of their depth and may give access to submerged cave passages (Source: Wikipedia). Dean’s blue hole is the 2nd deepest blue hole on earth. This seemingly fathomless azure pit tips the scales at 202 m/663 ft. Now for the scary part – this blue hole has a diameter of roughly 25-35 m. now. After diving down to 20m, the submarine scene changes – this hole grows to gain the diameter of 100m (4 times the size near the surface). That’s why you see the distinct discoloration from aquamarine to Azure. Also, this blue is the 2nd deepest. The topper is the Chinese ‘Dragon Hole’. This monstrosity of a blue hole goes down to as much as 300+m.

Chichen Itza, Mexico

Please read more about this interesting Mesoamerican region in my previous post – The Mesoamerican Triumvirate.

Teotihuacan, Mexico

Please read more about this interesting Mesoamerican region in my previous post – The Mesoamerican Triumvirate.

Antelope Canyon, US

No. This is not a Samsung Galaxy S2 stock wallpaper – or maybe it was. This is the picturesque Antelope canyon. I presume it got its name from its uncanny resemblance to an antelope’s horns (especially the striated walls of the canyon). It’s broadly divided into 2 sections – the Upper and the Lower Antelope canyons.

Canyon de Chelly, US

It’s not my fault is this place reminds you of old Spaghetti Western movies. Well if it does, that’s for a good reason – some of the most famous Spaghetti westerns were shot here – a good example is ‘McKenna’s Gold’. If you’ve not heard about/seen the movie – ask your pop – he definitely has. My dad has, for sure!!! The movie’s total play time was movie 03:12:00 – so, it does call for a lot of nerve to sit through it. It’s apparently one of the most popular national monuments in the US.

Glen Canyon, US

Slowly and steadily carved by the Colorado river (the same river that carved yet another world-famous Canyon – The Grand Canyon), this is a breathtakingly beautiful site which houses a picture postcard worthy horse-she bend. What you also see to the right, in this picture is architectural marvel – the Glen Canyon Dam.

Some naughty info coming up – several years ago, when WhatsApp was just born, I received the following pic:

I had no idea then that the dam in this ‘ad’ was the same Glen Canyon dam 😉.

Monument Valley, US

This Navajo territory in Utah is a world-famous landmark – a picture postcard arid expanse of land punctuated by enormous Sandstone Buttes. The tallest Butte towers at 1000 ft. – but not from sea level – just from the valley floor. It’s an inseparable part of the vast Colorado Plateau. The valley offers a 17km paid drive – though there were certain areas that necessarily require a tour guide. This is also a ‘celebrity’ valley. It has featured in many movies since the early ’70s.

Some popular movies shot here:

  • Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)
  • Thelma & Louise (1991)
  • Forrest Gump (1994)
  • Mission: Impossible 2 (2000)
  • Vertical Limit (2000)
  • The Lone Ranger (2013)
  • Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)


South America:

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Spread across 10,582 km2/4,086 mi2, this is the most famous and largest salt pan/flat in the world. I caught a glimpse of this unique landscape whilst watching the 2011 western ‘Blackthorn’. I wanted to know what kind of desert looks so white all around and where horses and men walk and run so effortlessly. It’s later that I figured this is not a desert at all – it’s a vast expanse of salt. A few meters of salt crust enclose a rich lithium deposit in this area. This landform is so flat that it’s used for calibrating altimeters and satellites.

Note: Visa on Arrival available.

Tiwanaku, Bolivia

An ardent follower of Erich von Däniken’s writings and the Ancient Astronaut theory; I came across this name while reading “Chariots of the Gods?”. Little is known about who built the astonishing monuments there viz. the gate of the sun, the stone ear, the ancient astronomical observatory etc. I’ll tell you if I’m able to make it there and am able to find any clues or inkling.

Note: Visa on Arrival available.

Machu Pichu, Peru

Please read more about this interesting Mesoamerican region in my earlier post – The Mesoamerican Triumvirate.

Nazca, Peru

Ask me about ‘intriguing’ and I’ll tell you about Nazca. Rated as one of ‘Unexplained Mysteries’, the landscape of Nazca is strewn with figures so huge that you could view it only from an airplane. Without being in a place or a mountain top, you could never have a precise perspective of these figures – also known as Nazca lines. Who built it? For who? Who could have supervised such a vast piece of work that extends for miles? Nobody knows it yet. 11 different figures have been identified so far:

  • Condor
  • Dog
  • Hands
  • Heron
  • Hummingbird
  • Man
  • Monkey
  • Pelican
  • Spider
  • Tree
  • Whale

Mount Roraima, Venezuela

This picturesque landscape has rightfully earned the name – Lost World. It’s a giant flat top mountain flanked by near-straight cliffs, keeping it un-scalable till date. The endemic flora and fauna found here have remained almost unchanged in the past few million years. The backdrop of this breathtaking cliff was used on the very popular animation movie “Up”. The mount is also home to the world’s highest waterfalls – the Angel Falls. It’s so high that very little water that plunges off the cliff ever reaches the ground. It simply gets vaporized. See the video – hold your breath too.

Sima Martel and Sima Humboldt, Venezuela

Not just blue holes, I love sinkholes too. What else could you ask for if someone takes you to a lost world that offers you 2 of the largest sinkholes? These gigantic twins are found on the Sarisariñama tepui. There are 2 other insignificant ones – however, these 2 titular sinkholes are famous for their enormous width and depth. The 2 support and entire forest ecosystem within. The largest – Sima Humboldt, is 352 m wide x 314 m deep. Although they get nowhere near the Son Doong case system of Vietnam, they are still exclusive in their own right.


Now that we’ve discussed about various destinations – let’s talk money too…

There’s a reason I’ve mentioned only the ‘Weaker than ₹’ currencies. These are the places that you can visit even if you’re low on budget – for obvious reasons. I’ve also mentioned the countries that offer Visa on Arrival (at least to Indians).

Some more trivia:

Here are a few countries where ₹ is stronger…

Simple math: ₹1 = 504.23 IRR (Iran). Which means If I have a budget of ₹10,000 – I have IRR 50,42,309 to spend. This is excluding the air fare though.


This, as I said earlier is not the complete list. I may include (likely)/exclude (unlikely) destinations later. However for now this is a list of places I wish to see before I’m gone for good.

Hope you enjoyed the sneak peek into my world of fantasies (unless I visit the places – it’s a mere fantasy).

Bye for now!!!

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