Great Places – Miscellaneous Countries

    There are a number of countries who do not fit into the scheme I have applied to group tourist destinations. Some of them are highlighted below, in no special order. Relax and enjoy, then look for the photo album which will surface soon.
     1. Nepal
           Katmandu, Nepal, boasts seven (7) UNESCO World Heritage Sites within a 20 kilometer (13 mile) radius. Walking the city is an adventure, since the labyrinthine alleyways and courtyards make getting lost likely. Numerous temples, shrines and prayer wheels remind the visitor of the pervasive religious culture, and the colors and dress are uniquely Nepalese. The people are mild-mannered and friendly, always ready to help.
           The center of life in the city is Durbar Square, a hectic gathering place, constantly bustling with activity. Either on the square or nearby are most of the city’s tourist attractions, including the Taleju Temple, Hanuman Dhoka (Royal Palace), and Jagnnath Temple.
           Other sights of note in the city include Singha Durbar, another handsome palace, Bhadrakali, which is one the most important Shankta temples in the city, Narayanhity Durbar, the present royal residence, Kumari Ghar, another temple, with beautifully carved wooden balconies and window screens, Kasthamandap, a temple which is the derivation of the name of the city, and Akash Bhariav Temple, a three-storey temple.
           The Katmandu Valley is home to a number of Nepalese communities which also hold treasures for the tourist. Katmandu City is, typically, the major base of operations for an exploration of this area, and the city itself is a rich oasis of sights. However, for those willing to spend several days in the area, much more is available.
           Swayambhu Stupa, only 2 kilometers west of Katmandu City, with its golden spire, is the oldest of the valley’s holy places, and provides visitors with a spectacular view of the city, below, and of the Himalayas, to the north. On the other side of the city (about 6 km or 4 miles east) is Boudhanath Stupa, the largest of the temples in the valley and another World Heritage Site. Buddhanilkantha, which has an interesting sculpture of Vishnu, sleeping on the coils of a serpent, is about 9 kilometers (5 miles) from the city, at the northern end of the valley.
           Some of the other towns of the valley include Sankhu, which has many old buildings and temples, and Kirtipur, a very old town with quaint streets and temple squares.
           Other valley attractions include the Balaju Water Garden with its famous sea-dragon waterspouts, the Gokarna Royal Game Sanctuary, Chobhar Gorge, with its Temple of Adinath and its great views, and scenic Sundarijal, with its waterfalls and interesting rock formations.
           To truly experience the wonders of the Himalayas, the world’s highest mountain range, trek into the hills of Nepal. There are options available for people of any age and condition.
     2. Mount Everest
           Mount Everest is the Earth’s tallest mountain, over 8,000 meters (almost 30,000 feet) high, and it is still growing between 1 – 2 centimeters per year. Climbing Mount Everest, of course, is only for the extremely fit and experienced, however, just the sight of this massive behemoth is memorable enough for most. One of the best views is from the Longpu Temple, in Tibet. In Nepal, the mountain may be viewed on a trek from the Sherpa town of Namche Bazaar, through the Khumbu Region. This is also the vicinity of Sagarmatha National Park, the world’s highest wildlife reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage Site of its own.
    3. Sri Lanka
           Kandy, Sri Lanka, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its numerous, historically-important temples. Here the visitor will find the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic (Dalda Maligawa), one of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites in the world because it is the repository of one of Buddha’s teeth. The complex has decorative walls, a moat, a golden roof, and turrets. Visitors can witness daily religious services (pooja) with traditional music, offered three times per day.
           Another notable sight is the Paradeniya Garden, which is renowned, in particular, for its Orchid House and its Spice Garden, which highlights the fragrant and other herbs used in Buddhist ceremonies.
           Additional attractions worth visiting include the Embekke Temple, with its intricate wooden carvings, Lankatilaka Temple, which dates to the 14th century, and Galadadeniya Temple, just outside the city, which is an example of Dravidian architecture and which provides a marvelous view of the city.
           Just north of the city, a distance of about 70 kilometers (40 miles) is Dambulla Vihara, a UNESCO World Heritage Site preserving several rock cave temples, some of which have magnificent frescoes and statues.
           Also, in the vicinity of the city is Sigiriya Rock (Lion Rock) which is a complex of palaces, water gardens, and fortifications. Check out the “heavenly maidens” frescoes and the “mirror wall”. Sigiriya is located about 90 kilometers (50 miles) from Kandy.
           A bit further a field is the city of Polonnaruwa, which is noted for the Gal Vihariya, a group of four images of Buddha sculpted from the same rock. All are in different postures, with the last one reclining. Polonnaruwa is 140 kilometers (about 90 miles) from Kandy.
           A visit in July or August may afford the tourist an opportunity to witness the Kandy Perahara, a huge cultural pageant and one of the most colorful in the world.
     4. South Korea
           Seoul has numerous attractions and its excellent transportation system make it the Republic of Korea’s top destination for visitors and the logical place from which to embark on a tour of the country.
           The city’s most popular attractions are the royal residences, several of which have been designated World Heritage Sites. Changdokkung Palace is surrounded by the picturesque Secret Gardens. Nearby, the Chongmyo Shrine is in a rustic setting.
            Toksukung Palace, a former royal villa, dramatically juxtaposed next to several skyscrapers, contains the Museum of Modern Arts on its grounds.
            Kyongbokkung Palace is the most impressive of the palaces. Its construction began in the 14th century. The National Folk Museum is also found here.
            The Great South Gate (Namdaemun) is the recognized symbol of the city and was the main gate of the city’s 15th-century defenses.
            Pagoda Park (Tapkol Park) is dedicated to Korean Independence which was achieved in 1919, and has become a major gathering place.
            Climb the Seoul Tower, sitting at the top of Namsan Mountain, for great views of the city.
            The Arts are alive and well in Seoul and visitors are encouraged to see a traditional performance while in the city. Major shopping areas include the traditional shopping area of Insadong which has an excellent variety of goods, the Itaewon district which has more upscale shopping, and the daily East Gate (Dongdaemun) Market which is the place for bargain hunters.
     5. Bhutan
           Bhutan is a country of great mystery. It has been closed to travelers for many years, for two reasons. The government did not want tourists, and it was difficult to get to and to get around once there. All this is changing as we speak. A recent Today Show (Where in the world is Matt Lauer?) showcased this country for the world to see and pointed out that it has become a more accessible and more desirable tourist destination. The country is extremely mountainous and the people lead relatively simple lives. Bhutan certainly deserves consideration as a stop on a tour of this part of Asia.
           The Paro valley features a number of religious sites, including the dramatic Tiger’s Nest Monastery (Thaktsang), perched high in the mountains around the city. Even higher up is Sang-tog Peri Monastery, known as the Temple of Heaven. Another religious site of note is the Paro Dzong Monastery, constructed in 1646. Near the monastery is Uggen Palri, the royal palace, which exhibits the extremes of Bhutanese architecture. Not far from here is Kytchu Lakhang, Bhutan’s most revered and sacred shrine, built in the 7th century.
           Other areas to visit include the capital, Thimpu, which features the King’s Memorial Chorten, and Tashichhodzong, seat of the Royal Government, as well as the Phajoding Monastery, in the mountains to the west.
      6. Valletta, Malta
            Valletta, Malta, a walled city whose fortifications date to 1566, built by the Knights of the Order of St John. The narrow streets are wonderful for walking and are lined with numerous shops and restaurants, perfect for browsing or taking a break. Be sure to walk the City Walls.
            The most impressive attraction in the city is, undoubtedly, the Cathedral of St John, with its elaborate baroque interior, which includes Carvaggio’s famous Beheading of St John the Baptist, as well as the tombs of many of the Knights of the Order, especially its founder, Grand Master Jean Parisot de la Vallette, for whom the city was named. Valletta is a deserving UNESCO World Heritage Site.
            For a great view of one of the world’s deepest and best natural harbors, visit the Barracca Gardens, near Castille Place. The garden is interesting and historical as well.
     7. Andorra
            The tiny nation of Andorra is tucked high in the Pyrenees Mountains, between France and Spain. It is more difficult to get to than some of the other small countries in Europe because of its location. Andorra La Vella is the capital and major city. When in town, visit the Church of Sant Juan de Casilles, dramatically perched on a cliff, and perhaps relax in the famous spa, Caldea.


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