Don’t assume those bucket-list places you’ve been thinking about visiting will be around forever. There are remarkable places on earth that, thanks to environmental changes, pollution or people, might not be in the same shape in another 50 years. Here are some of these places to visit before they disappear.
Escape to the Maldives
If your holiday plan involves doing very little on a stilted deck overlooking azure water, the Maldives is the place. This archipelago of 1190 equatorial islands is created around 26 circular atolls that form two chains in the Indian Ocean and, with resorts on 110 islands, there are plenty of choices for unwinding. Baa Atoll is around 125km northwest of Malé and home to some of the Maldives’ richest coral systems.
It was made a Unesco World Biosphere Reserve in 2011, so conservation co-exists with sustainable tourism. Scuba diving is outlawed at many of the reefs, but at marine-protected Haniferu Bay snorkellers line up to swim with whale sharks and gliding manta rays between June and October. The problem is that many of the low-lying Maldives islands will soon be underwater, pristine beaches lost and corals depleted by rising temperatures. In 2013, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirmed that global sea levels will continue rising during the 21st century at a faster rate.
Need to know
Paradise has a price – resorts operate on a full- or half-board basis, so aside from spa treatments and scuba diving fees, there are sometimes hidden costs for food and drinks (all imported) and water activi- ties. Maldivians expect tips for it all too. Resorts use speedboats or seaplanes to transport guests from the narrow Malé airstrip. The snorkelling is great, but take your own gear to avoid rental fees; if you’re a scuba diver, factor in 24 hours of pre- flight decompression. November to April is the best time to visit. COSTS: check out all our specials at https://www.igotravel.co.za/indianocean/Maldives/
Global warming may cause the ocean to engulf the islands because of their low levels.
Did you know ?
The Maldives were the first country in the world to hold an official presidential cabinet meeting underwater.
Climb The Great Wall of China
I don’t remember how long we took to get to the top, only how staggered we were at the broadness of the wall once there – you don’t tend to think of walls as being wide. Winter’s icy sections made walk- ing progress on sloping bits quite tricky, but it was the experience of being on a remarkable structure that mattered.
The Great Wall of China as a singular concept is misleading because at least 16 defensive Great Walls were built between the fifth century BC and mid-17th century AD, undulating 50000 kilometres across China’s vast landscape. Most tourists visit the last and best-preserved wall, built in stages during the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644). Admire its solid configuration of snaking loops with beacon towers and you’ll understand why the World Monuments Fund considered the Ming Great Wall to have the best defensive system of the lot. Once the longest wall at 6300 kilometres, collectively the Ming ruins form the world’s largest cultural relic – but it’s a myth that it’s visible from the moon.
Sadly age, looting and seasonal erosion have left behind only a third of the original Ming Great Wall, posing one of the world’s great preservation challenges. The biggest threats are China’s relatively recent conservation policies, tacky shadow-of-the- wall tourism and increasingly affluent citizens who drive their cars to popular sections. Scale this treasure before it deteriorates further.
Need to know
Most guides target popular Badaling wall, 70 km from Beijing. The biggest complaints are the crowds and the vendors, so go early and try to be sidetracked by the enor- mity of the stone wall rising impressively along mountainous terrain. It’s a fair climb, or you can queue for the cable-car ride. Many travellers prefer the better- organised Mutianyu section, which operates a toboggan, cable car and chairlift (you can hike up too). Also near Beijing, Juyong Pass (or Juyongguan) scores points for being quieter. Its steep steps to the summit challenge fit travellers but re- ward with spectacular views. COSTS: Check out our specials at https://www.igotravel.co.za/aFarEastHoliday/China/
These three iconic and ancient structures still boggle the minds of modern engineers. The impressive limestone pyramids were built as graves for the ancient Egyptian Pharaohs and are still a popular tourist attraction.
Unrestricted urban sprawl from Cairo and the tourist trade of the area are threatening the preservation of these ancient structures.
Did you know ?
This is the only one of the original 7 Wonders of the Ancient World that is still largely intact.
Admire the Taj Mahal
You’ve seen it in thousands of photos, but noth- ing comes close to the real thing. The Taj Mahal was built in Agra by emperor Shah Jahan as a tomb for his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. She died in 1631 after giving birth to his 14th child and Shah spent more than 15 years creating her mag- nificent tomb. The main dome is 44 metres high and is the central structure of nearly 17 hectares of buildings, courtyards and sprawling gardens.
Although inspired by Shah’s Islamic vision of paradise, architecturally the Taj merges Indian, Hindu, Islamic, Central Asian, Persian and European in- put. The lustrous white marble and sandstone is inset with stones such as jade, coral and rubies.
Yet the effects of time and of India’s booming population are showing. Although Agra’s nearby factories were shut down and vehicle emissions reduced, air contamination, climate and a polluted river have advanced the building’s exterior disinte- gration and yellowing stains.
The Taj’s foundations may also be sinking towards the Yamuna River. Around 40000 people visit on some days and there is talk that visitor numbers could be restricted. Go soon.
Need to know
Visit early in the morning (the western and eastern gates open at sunrise) for the best light and tempera- tures and the smallest crowds. The mausoleum has the longest queues. For environmental reasons, you’ll reach the Taj on foot or via an electric bus, as vehicles aren’t allowed within 500 metres of the monument.tajmahal.gov.in.
Costs: check out our current holidays at https://www.igotravel.co.za/India
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