Experiences that make time stand still
Petra, the Jordanian cliff city built into a rose-coloured sheer rock face, is a dramatic sight to behold. (Gavin Quirke/LPI)
Many everyday experiences — like reading — have been altered due to the inevitable pull of the future. But when travelling, it is possible to encounter fragile environments that have resisted change and come across moments where time seems to stand still.
The Kingdom of Bhutan, known to its inhabitants as Druk Yul (Land of the Thunder Dragon), is imagined by many outsiders to be a land frozen in a highly traditional past. This is not true – a thoughtful programme of modernisation began here 40 years ago. However, Bhutan’s culture is underpinned by an ancient Buddhist mythology, emblemised by the ethereal dzongs (fort-monasteries) of the Bumthang region. Combined with Bhutan’s extraordinary geography, it is this that brings visitors to a standstill while they are trekking between Himalayan peaks in the north, delving into deep central valleys or roaming the rolling southern hills.
Djenné Mosque, Mali
The mosque in the island-bound Mali town of Djenné seduces travellers with the mudbrick hue of its fortress-like exterior and the large supporting cast of wooden beams that protrude through the walls into the brilliance of the African sun. So captivating is this earthen marvel – the world’s largest mud-brick structure – that it makes little difference to learn that the current building only dates from 1907. It was modelled on the Grande Mosquée erected on the same site in 1280; the original building fell into ruin in the 19th Century.
Amazon River, Brazil
A slow trip down the world’s second-longest river might mean unbearable monotony to some, but glorious immersion in nature’s timelessness to others. To decide for yourself, board one of the gaiolas (river boats) that navigate the Brazilian Amazon between the interior settlement of Manaus and the port of Belém. These boats get very crowded, and their open-sided nature (hence the name, which means “birdcage”) guarantees exposure to fierce Amazonian rainstorms. Just climb into a hammock near the railing, consign the sounds of boat life to background noise, and lose yourself in the passing of the world’s greatest rainforest.
Travel to Antarctica is expensive. Getting there by boat also involves a challenging sail across the Southern Ocean, from bases like Hobart, Australia, and isolated Punta Arenas, Chile. But those who make the trip are rewarded with close-up views of stunning ice shelves, mountainous icebergs, the wildlife of the Antarctic Peninsula and fierce sunsets that can last for hours. Notwithstanding the presence of other cruise ship passengers, visitors also get to experience a glacial solitude that freezes the present.
Serengeti National Park by balloon, Tanzania
Imagine being hoisted into the sky at daybreak and sailing serenely over expansive savannah plains dotted with wildlife, warmed by the rising sun , with only the occasional sound of a burner to break the silence. Such is the experience you will have in Tanzania‘s epic 1.5 million–hectare Serengeti National Park if you forego the standard on-the-ground safari and opt instead for a hot-air balloon odyssey over this African wildlife playground. The trip is at its most dramatic in May and early June when massive herds of wildebeest and zebras dodge predators during their annual migrations.
Mountain gorillas, Rwanda and Uganda
Few experiences compare to crouching within a whisper of the greatest of the great apes and holding your breath because nothing separates you from these amazing animals except a rather tangled family tree. This is all thanks to the willingness of mountain gorillas in Rwanda‘s Parc National des Volcans and Uganda‘s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park . You will only spend an hour in the vicinity of the gorillas once you track them in their native jungle, but those 60 minutes will endure for a lifetime.