Sunday, June 30, 2013

Cappadocia Turkey

Outside of Istanbul, Cappadocia is probably the next best known and popular tourist attraction in Turkey. And it's not hard to see why.

Cappadocia light and landscape

Famed for its geological features, visitors would be treated to a variety of sights rarely seen elsewhere. Rock-hewn houses, cave churches, underground dwellings, and bizarre-shaped rock formations scattered over a moonscape - there are definitely enough things to impress most people. To further add to the tourists' favorable impressions, accommodation options include 'cave hotels', where you stay in actual cave rooms natural to this region. And these cave rooms can cater to all budgets. From beautifully furnished and decorated hotel rooms to hostel dormitory rooms!!

Visitors queuing to take a peek into the cave houses in Goreme Open Air Museum
A hotel built inside one of the phallic-shaped stone formations
Ancient frescoes inside one of the cave churches

There are a couple of towns within the Cappadocia region, though Goreme seems to be the favourite for backpackers. Being close to the Goreme Open Air Museum, and hiking trails certainly helps. Hiking through Rose Valley, Pigeon Valley, or visiting the Uçhisar Castle in Uçhisar - these are all common itinerary for most visitors. And photographic wise, the lighting and opportunities are all to die for. But one of the best experiences though, both in terms of travel as well as photography wise, would be to take a hot-air balloon flight!

There are quite a number of hot-air balloon companies in Cappadocia and most agencies can arrange flights with them. However, there seems to be some syndicate operation going on, as there had been reports of tourists signing up flights with a specific company but ended up with other companies instead. So ask and verify carefully. Flights last about an hour, and you get to witness sunrise over the surreal landscape in a hot-air balloon. Spectacular!! It's hard not to come away impressed.

Imagine flying higher than the sun...! ;)

Floating above the surreal landscapes of Cappadocia
On a typical morning, hot-air balloons fill the skies of Cappadocia

So if you are thinking of doing a hot-air balloon once in your life somewhere, Cappadocia is a good bet!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Chauchilla Necropolis, Nazca Peru

For those who likes bones, skulls and the dead, the word 'Necropolis' would have jumped out at you. My initial understanding of the word is a 'city of the dead', but modern usage usually refers to it as a big ancient cemetery. And the Necropolis de Chauchilla is that, an ancient cemetery.

Situated just 30km south of Nazca Peru, Chauchilla Cemetery is certainly overshadowed by the Nazca lines as a tourist attraction. When we were there, there were only 1 other tourist group. But I found it quite fascinating.

While I have seen skulls & mummies before, most of the time, they are exhibited and protected behind glass under a controlled environment. Here in Chauchilla, they are all placed in a pit which was just surrounded by a simple barrier. A makeshift overhead shelter made up of dried branches complete the "exhibition pavilion". All the mummies are exposed to the environment, but it is exactly the dry climate of the Peruvian desert that had contributed to the amazing preservation state of the mummies!! Of course, the mummification process of the ancient Nazca culture preserved the bodies, but under the desert conditions, there could still be thousand-year-old bodies that had hair and traces of skin intact!

Along with the mummies, bones and skulls, some ancient artifacts were also displayed, but consisted  mainly of broken pottery. Most valuables had been plundered by grave robbers. Apparently, there are possibly a lot more of such mummies that have not been unearthed yet. But for me, the eye opening takeaway, was the amazing state of the mummies in the environment.

Most tourists would have to charter a taxi to get to the Chauchilla Cemetery. But it is easily done before/after the Nazca flight. After all, the flight is just barely an hour..... ;)

Not a tourist attraction for everyone, but interesting nonetheless!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Dilijan National Park, Armenia

Of the two National Parks in Armenia, Lake Sevan in Sevan National Park seemed the more popular. However, I found myself in the other - Dilijan National Park, and really enjoyed myself there.

Covered by a large expanse of forest, Dilijan National Park is a fairly new National Park, being only established in 2002 (formerly known only as a 'Reserve'). But all along, it had been known for its flora and fauna, as well as hosting some cultural monuments (mainly monasteries and churches). It is also no wonder that hiking through the park a common activity.

Dilijan National Park in Autumn

Within the park is also a small lake, Parz Lich (Lake Parz), from where a popular hiking trail starts. It is an image of this lake in autumn that got me to this place. And indeed, the autumn foliage in Dilijan is amazing! Certainly one of my higher-ranked autumn foliage sceneries! And I was lucky that I met a group of hikers from a local outdoor/hiking group in Yerevan out on an outing. So I managed to join them for a wonderful hike ending at one of the cultural monuments in the park, Goshavank Monastery.

Autumn foliage at Parz Lich

The hike, was of course, an amazing way to enjoy the sceneries of the park, and passing through some villages, we were also treated to their hospitality. It happened to be fruiting season, and the villagers were collecting loads of plums and we were welcomed to help ourselves. Truly refreshing! Apparently, the forests of Dilijan not only contain many fruits trees, but medicinal plants as well!


Rest break
Villagers picking plums (of some sort)

Goshavank Monastery is a 12-13th century Armenian monastery complex consisting of several churches, chapels as well as a bell tower. The buildings looked well preserved, as it is now a popular tourist attraction. When we ended our hike there, there were quite a few local tourists there as well. Within the autumn backdrop, it was really pretty.

Goshavank Monastery

However, there was no public transportation there now from what I'm aware of. I had arranged a car/taxi ride to Parz Lich, and had hoped to hitched a ride back to Dilijan town at Goshavank. But as I said, luck was on my side since I managed to join the hiking group for the hike, and got my ride back with them! (They had a specially chartered van from Yerevan). However, it's easy enough to arrange a car/taxi dropoff at Parz Lich and pickup at Goshavank.

Remember next time, for autumn foliage, consider Dilijan National Park!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Mt Bromo, East Java Indonesia

Mt Bromo, one of the top travel destinations in East Java Indonesia, is an active volcano situated in a surreal but spectacular massive caldera. While very busy with tourists, almost to the point of being a put-off at the sunrise viewpoints, it is definitely still worth a visit.

The case in point is that from night till sunrise, tourist jeeps are already plying the Sea of Sand - the name given to the flat ashy ground of the Tengger caldera where Mt Bromo is. Some head towards the Mt Bromo crater itself, while most others, towards Mt Pananjakan, where "Viewpoint 1", the most popular sunrise viewpoint stands.

Light trails of the jeeps heading towards the smoking Bromo crater and Mt Pananjakan
The view from Cemoro Lawang, the access town on the edge of the Tengger caldera is already quite something, but from the higher viewpoint at Mt Pananjakan, it is even more spectacular. And hence, even when we set off at 3.30am, we were almost deprived of viewing space at the viewpoint. With the number of people increasing as the hours go by, and with locals and tourists alike smoking while waiting, it is perhaps not the best of my "sunrise moments". But all is forgotten when the light touches the volcanos! Not to forget too, the light on the mists, as well as the views of the town of Cemoro Lawang itself!

Beautiful morning light on the volcanoes and the swirling mists
Cemoro Lawang on the edge of the caldera, as morning mists float within

After the sunrise viewing, most would then proceed to the Bromo crater itself, to peek into the smoking crevice. For first-timers to a volcano, it is indeed an interesting experience, sans the crowds of course.

The line of tourists going up to the crater of Mt Bromo

However, for those who have an extra day, the areas around Cemoro Lawang is worth a walk. The contrast of the barren caldera and the lush green around Cemoro Lawang is stark and definitely yields different photographic opportunities. Moreover, it seems that many of the locals have their own viewpoint for sunrise, just behind the famous Lava View Lodge! And if you are lucky, perhaps you could also catch a 'Glory' cast onto the mists on the Sea of Sand. I had just blogged about seeing one on a flight in my previous post, and then, I managed to see yet another one! And the best part is, you can actually enjoy the sunrise with alot more space!

Lush green around Cemoro Lawang, a stark contrast to the caldera
Morning light on Mt Bromo and Mr Batok, as well as a 'glory' on the mists

For Singaporeans or those in Singapore, there are quite a few lowcost airlines flying to Yogyakarta and Surabaya, the common access cities to Bromo, at really low prices. On Jetstar Asia, it could go as low as us$80 for a return flight!! And there's plenty of agencies in these cities to arrange for a weekender the trip. So, check it out!