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WHS #703: Bialowieza Forest

After so many unsatisfying visits described by previous reviewers, I tried a different approach at covering Bialowieza Forest. I pre-booked a private tour into the Strict Reserve on the Polish side, a part that can only be visited with a licensed guide. This is also the core area that was originally inscribed in 1979 (the WHS has been extended several times since). I went with Arek Szymura of Pygmy Owl Nature Tours; I knew he was serious when he suggested to meet up at 4am! Just in time before sunrise, it was light already and a pleasant 15 degrees Celsius.

So at 5 minutes to 4 I stood waiting in front of Bialowieza’s orthodox church. This lies next to the Palace Park, which I had visited the day before. Our tour started with a quick crossing of that park (with a short stop for observing a tawny owl) and exiting it again at the north-western corner. Between the park and the strict reserve is a stretch of some 500m of meadows, they were very pretty in the early morning light with a bit of haze. We encountered a small group of people with spotting scopes there, hoping to get a glimpse of bison who sometimes come out of the forest to graze. However we only saw the first woodpecker of the day (many more were to follow, “The Bialowieza Forest is paradise for woodpeckers” – the nomination file states rightly).

The Strict Reserve has a similar wooden entrance gate to the Palace Park. This one though does have a UNESCO WHS sign (Solivagant was wondering in his review that none of the notice boards show the UNESCO logo – well, here it is) and a Biosphere Reserve logo. The access gate is not guarded, however you are only allowed to enter with an official guide. Two tourists were walking behind us on their own and my guide resolutely sent them back.

The biggest difference between the park and the reserve is that it is much darker inside the latter. Very high trees compete for a bit of sunlight, only the strongest ones survive. Also, the forest floor is covered with all kinds of plants, young trees and older ones that have collapsed. Just like the park, the reserve also has a network of trails although they are not signposted. An old Russian road crosscuts it as well, one of its markers stands next to the memorial where Polish and Soviet partisans were executed during WWII by the Nazis.

The guide was often scanning the trails with his binoculars: the larger mammals like to walk on the paths as well, they are much easier to navigate than the thickly covered forest floor. We saw a young fox early on. A bit later we encountered an odd combination: another fox in the company of a domestic cat! The cat comes from town but supposedly likes to venture into the forest, efforts to return it have had no success. Our final mammal ‘tick’ was a squirrel….

With no luck at larger mammals, we concentrated on the birds and the trees. Actually, the birds are easier to see in the Palace Park. But we observed a Black Woodpecker (the biggest species) hammering away, which was quite spectacular. The forest has several very old and high trees. But a lot has also come down in recent years, due to snowfall, fire and a severe storm.

The tour costed 300 zloty (ca. 70 Eur) for 3 hours. We encountered two more official guides, each with a single tourist in tow. Another one that advertises in town and on the web is Edu-tour Puszczyk. I don’t think there is much difference between them: Arek is mainly a birding guide, he knew the Dutch names of all the birds we spotted. The best thing about the guides is that they will get you in and know the way out!

Els - 23 June 2019

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WHS #702: Zamość

Zamość, located in the Far East of Poland near the border with Ukraine, was one of the two WHS goals of my recent Pentecost trip. This year especially I am trying very hard to cover isolated sites like these in my quest to visit all European WHS. In January 2017 I calculated that I had 98 to do  - now, in June 2019, I have only 24 to go (after excluding Turkey, Russia and Israel which are a bit too far and complex for weekend trips). I might be confronted however with an additional 4 to 9 after the 2019 WHC meeting that takes place early July.

I arrived in Zamość on Saturday around dinner time after a long day of driving and had looked forward to eating a meal at the famous Rynek square. But, lo and behold, a full stage had been set up there and a classical concert was about to start. Everyone who had managed to secure a spot at one of the terraces obviously stayed put to listen in.

Some time ago in our Whatsapp group we discussed what spoils a WHS visit (or a photo thereof): a parked car in front of the object, a person wearing too bright coloured clothing. But a full-size concert stage obscuring parts of the famous colourful ‘Armenian’ houses certainly was a low point for me.

The next morning I started my town visit with a full loop outside of the fortifications. These are mostly reconstructions from a later date than the early 17th century origins. A footpath has been created along most of them and it was a pleasant walk. There are information panels along the way to read as well. Some mentioned the similarities with Naarden-Vesting (part of the TWHS Nieuwe Hollandse Waterlinie). But it reminded me of Visby as well.

It took me only 45 minutes to complete the full circle. This demonstrates how small the historical center of Zamosc actually is. When you have seen the Rynek, the central square, you’ve seen most of it. The Town Hall with its 52m high tower is the major point of attraction, plus the row of 5 colourful houses next to it with façade reliefs. In the surrounding streets you’ll find the restored synagogue and a number of churches. The latter were fully in use as it was Sunday morning when I visited: at some of them people even had to stay outside to follow the sermons as the church was full. This is a common sight in Poland, something I had noticed before on a tour along the Wooden Tserkvas (they either build churches that are too small or the population grows more than the number of churches).

I had to think hard about my final ‘verdict’ on Zamość. It surely is special to find such a well-designed urban center in what is now a remote corner of Poland. And the restorations have been done very well. But it is a bit museumish and I couldn’t stop thinking about vibrant L’viv, just 130km away on the other side of the border. Part of the same trade route, but with a more obvious cultural mix of Armenian, Jewish, Hungarian and German heritage.

Els - 16 June 2019

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WHS #701: Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls is an easy add-on to a Botswana trip because of its proximity to Kasane, the starting-point or endpoint of most safari tours through the country. From Kasane I was swiftly delivered in about an hour to Victoria Falls town in Zimbabwe. I saw the smoke and heard the thunder already the day before I visited the Falls itself – at the Ilalla Lodge where I was staying there is a constant noise as if there was an airport nearby. But it is that huge waterfall making itself heard 24x7. 

My 'official' visit to the Falls started on the Zimbabwean side. I walked there in less than 10 minutes, that is how close they are to the town of Victoria Falls. Here you walk down a path with 19 vantage points. You hike for a bit, then you make a small detour to a lookout point and then you continue on the original path. Due to the large amount of water falling down and the spray that creates, it was especially hard to see anything in the central part of the Falls. The best photos can be taken from the side, at viewpoint #2 for example. At viewpoint #12, it gets really wet.

On the following day I did a 'breakfast cruise' on the Zambezi river. There has been little rain this year and the Zambezi - although still very wide - is not exactly a roaring river. We navigated to approximately 2 km from the Falls. The guide stated that even if the engine of the boat failed, we would not fall off the Falls: the last few hundred meters are so full of rocks that the river is no longer navigable.

We saw many hippos in the water and that naturally raises the question whether they ever fall over the edge. The answer is Yes ... they are not swimmers but walkers on the river bottom, and if the water is too high then it sometimes goes wrong. Last year, when the water was very high, even 5 elephants came tumbling down the Falls. Usually they can move from island to island through the water, but at that time they were captured by the current.

I got a third look at the falls when I crossed the border from Zimbabwe to Zambia. I decided to walk across it - first about 10 minutes to the Zimbabwean border post and then some 2km more to the border post on the other side. In the meantime you walk over the impressive Victoria Falls bridge, constructed in 1905 as a railway bridge. I found that the best view of the entire width of the falls was from the center of the bridge.

Finally, a day later, I also visited the Zambian side of the falls. It makes a somewhat less organized impression than the Zimbabwean side. There are various hiking trails that you can follow. You will also get wet here: the 40-meter-long Knife Edge Bridge was completely immersed in splashing water. I hiked the so-called Photography path which runs along the edge of the protected area, with views especially of the Victoria Falls bridge and the deep gorges. Somewhere there I found a family of bush hyraxes who were warming up in the morning sun. The path continues all the way beyond the border crossing (there is a fence in between, so you cannot leave the country like this).

The site sees half a million visitors a year, but it wasn’t busy at all when I went. I was there at 8 am at both sides – good for the Zambian side, somewhat later in the day (between 2 and 4 pm I was told) is better for the Zimbabwean side as you will look into the sun earlier. See more practical tips here for visiting. I also discovered a few more connections: there is a cenotaph at the Zambian side (remembering WWI) and Victoria Falls is part of the Sri Chinmoy Peace-Blossoms programme.

Els - 9 June 2019

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The TWHS registered as Chobe Linyanti System comprises the Chobe National Park and adjacent private wildlife reserves such as Selinda and Linyanti. Chobe NP itself actually already consists of 4 different zones, of which I visited Savuti and Chobe Riverfront (aka Serondela). Both were on the itinerary of my 6 night mobile camping safari, so I stayed in private camp areas inside the parks.

Chobe NP ranked 13th in the latest poll of best African safari parks and destinations: before Kruger and Etosha, but behind Serengeti, Mana Pools and South Luangwa (and its Botswana neighbours Okavango and Moremi). It is characterized as “Boat and classic safari, Big 5 present (rhino very rare), abundant elephants”.

Our first 2 nights were spent in Savuti. Savuti is named after the Savuti Marsh, a large former inland lake whose water supply is fed erratically by the Savuti Channel. It last overflowed in 2012 and in one of the artificial waterholes around the park you can see a breathing reminder of that: one hippo could not get away in time before it all dried up again, and he now spends his time alone in a little pool. A sad story, but he looks healthy.

From the 3 locations the mobile safari covered (Moremi, Savuti and Chobe Riverfront) this was the one with the most scarce wildlife. Or we were just unlucky. Our guide/driver kept on persisting, following leopard tracks (a mother and a young!) in the early morning around the so aptly named Leopard Rock. Each time we passed it we did a loop just to check. We also canvassed the massive central grassland that now has come into existence since the water has gone.

Much more spectacular is Chobe Riverfront. This is what its name says: the Chobe River and the land in front of it. On game drives you mostly drive up and down the road along the river. The river here is utterly scenic. The area is known especially for showing large herds of mammals. Our first sight was that of hundreds, maybe thousands of zebras. During the day these herds walk from the surrounding forests to the river bank – you will also encounter them half way, we once saw dozens of buffalo’s resting in the shade among the bushes.

Chobe Riverfront is also the most touristy area of Botswana’s northeast: here we encountered some 20 safari vehicles a day, where at Moremi for example there were only 5-10 and you would rarely find yourself at a sighting with another vehicle. These numerous vehicles made for a large number of stops because of the customary exchanging of pleasantries and information between all guides.

Another sad story came to us via this way, I had read beforehand “The park is noted for having a population of lions which prey on African elephants, mostly juveniles or subadults but occasionally adults”. And indeed, on our last day there a lion had killed a baby elephant. The grieving mother stayed with the corpse and dented 2 cars of onlooking tourists. We decided not to go there.

If Chobe would ever be brought forward by Botswana to get inscribed, the focus certainly would be on its elephant population. At some 120,000, it is said to be the largest in the world. Just this however is part of a current debate: there are actually too many of them. ‘Refugee’ elephants from neighbouring countries such as Angola and Zambia have chosen Chobe as their new home. Botswana just last week allowed (limited) elephant hunting again and fears are that the sell of ivory is on the table as well.

Els - 2 June 2019

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Zoë Sheng 2 June 2019

While sad you noted yourself that there are too many elephants and the lack of movement due to park constraints mean they destroy the habitat with constant eating and rubbing trees. One way is to move them to parks with less elephants or, shockingly, culling... (Kruger did the latter)

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WHS #700: Okavango Delta

The Okavango Delta was the 1000st WHS on the List, it “… has long been considered one of the biggest gaps on the World Heritage list” and was deliberately planned to gain this milestone marker at the 2014 WHC. Almost the same amount of coordination was done by me in my 2019 travel planning to let this magnificent and truly unique site be my 700th visited WHS. I stayed there for 4 nights: 2 in a lodge near Chief’s Island and 2 nights camping in Moremi Game Reserve.

My first acquaintance however with the Delta was on the way back per helicopter from the Tsodilo hills. We flew south-eastward along the water channels. This central area of the Okavango turned out to be pretty dry as well. What you see from the air is a patchwork of coloured ‘islands’ among dried up land and trails made by animals. Animal sightings included pools full of hippo’s, slowly moving elephant trains and crocodiles sunbathing on beaches.

On the next day I was transported by one of these lovely bush planes to Oddballs’ Enclave on Chief’s Island. Oddball’s Enclave is a more recent (and even more expensive) offspring of the historic ‘hippy’ camp mentioned by Solivagant in his review of a visit in 1988. In the shoulder season of May the rack rate here is 510 USD per person per night. For that you sleep in a tent and have to use a bucket shower. Yes the tent does have a real bed and the restaurant serves three course dinners – but it certainly isn’t extravagant luxury.

Oddballs’ is marketed as a ‘water camp’ based in the heart of the delta which focuses on the traditional mokoro and walking safaris. The water level however this year is so low, that no water based activities could be done while I stayed there. So with my personal guide (his services are also included in the room rate) I hiked every morning and late afternoon. It’s a different way of getting to know the landscape but I enjoyed it. Interestingly, the Bradt Guide for Botswana does not encourage walking safaris in Botswana at all as the author believes the guides aren’t trained well enough and don’t carry guns. The 3 Oddballs’ camps near Chief’s Island however routinely do walking safaris with their guests and to me it felt safe & professional.

We mostly hiked through the high grass that covers the small island where the lodge is located and the adjacent Chief’s Island. Parts of the grass lands recently burned out, by wild fires spreading more and more now there is no water to stop them. One of the first mammals that we saw was the red lechwe – this is an antelope that only lives in northern Botswana and feels right at home with their feet in the water. Furthermore we saw large herds of elephants (2 of them went on to keep me awake during the first night, feeding and peeing and defecating all night long next to my room). The best sighting though was that of a serval, right near the airstrip.

In Moremi Game Reserve, near the Khwai River in the far north of the core zone of the WHS, we camped out in the bush. This is an area very rich in wildlife. The animals aren’t shy either. We were exceptionally lucky with lion encounters here: 4 separate sightings in 2 days, of which an early morning visit to a group of 10 including 2 males and 3 playful babies was the best. At the Khwai River we also did the obligatory mokoro safari, the trade mark traditional mode of transport in the Okavango. With so little water left, it was quite a touristy affair and the mokoro’s could not get us far.  

My view of the Okavango Delta obviously is clearly tainted by the lack of water the year 2019 has brought to it. In the coming years we will see whether this was an incidental ‘bad’ year or more of a permanent change that will affect the whole ecosystem of the Okavango Delta and its unique features.

Els - 28 May 2019

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Michael anak Kenyalang 1 June 2019

congratulations on your 700th!! It's not easy to keep the passion so long and not easy to maintain this web page. Great job! May you have more to count in the future!

Els Slots 29 May 2019

Forgot to add that they also have a special sign at the Moremi gate to point out that Okavango was no. 1000 at the WH List:

Zoë Sheng 29 May 2019

Congrats on your #700!

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WHS #699: Tsodilo

Tsodilo currently ranks 953rd out of 1092 on our list of most visited WHS. That low position has at least 2 reasons: it isn’t a well-known site among the general travel audience and it lies somewhat out of the way from Botswana’s main tourist zone between Maun and Kasane. Those difficult logistics almost beat me as well: the only logical route is when you’re coming from Namibia (the Caprivi Strip) with a rental car like Svein & Randi did last month - then you’ll pass it.  However, I had no car and was staying in Maun. The company that I booked my safari with proposed to fly me north and put me in a “fishing lodge” for 2 nights – I could take a day tour from there. But I found a tantalizing alternative: a half-day tour by helicopter from Maun to Tsodilo!!

So on a Saturday morning I reported at Maun airport at 6.30 am for my flight up there. They fly with small helicopters, there’s only room for the pilot and 3 guests. It takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes to get to the Tsodilo Hills. The pilot had to yell a few times to wake up Maun air traffic control – we were the first to leave just after sunrise. The flight was relaxing, flying rather low over first the farmlands with cattle and then the Okavango Delta. We saw some wildfires but no water at all in this southwestern part of the delta. Only elephants could be seen moving around.

Already from dozens of miles away the Tsodilo Hills appear on the horizon. The rest of the landscape is very flat and these hills do stand out as a beacon. There are some nasty winds blowing around them and the pilot wondered aloud why the helipad was constructed at the backside of a mountain. But we made it to the ground safe and sound. At the Tsodilo airstrip a jeep from Nxamaseri Lodge was waiting for us. The driver had driven all the way from the Okavango panhandle over an hour away just to transport us 10 minutes to the entrance of Tsodilo, from the so-called 'Male' hill to the 'Female' hill. Important as well though he brought the food for brunch - there are no amenities at Tsodilo (except toilets).

We (the pilot, the driver, myself and a local guide) however first started out on the Rhino Trail. This is the most commonly chosen path along the major rock art, at the foot of the ‘Female’ hill. At just after 8 am, it was still very cool especially on the shaded side. The path is mostly flat and sandy. The panels with rock paintings are signposted with numbers and easy to see. Some are so close to the path that you could touch them (it does damage them so that’s forbidden and also one of the reasons you can only walk around with a local guide). Others are higher up the impressive coloured rocks of this mountain. It is recommendable to bring a camera with a good zoom, as that’s the only way that you can see details like hand paintings

The trail also shows some of the caves the San hunters would hide in. A large one was used as a kind of refrigerator, to store meat and cool water in ostrich egg shells. In the early morning sand we also saw footprints of leopard and kudu – a clear sign that the wild animals depicted at the rock paintings are still out there. The oddest rock art panel is the one with a penguin (could be a duck as well) and a whale. They are said to have been made by San that came from the Namibian coast.

Back at the entrance I had a quick look in the museum. Besides the paintings the Tsodilo site is also known for its archeological findings: at the top of the mountain there were two settlements. Lots of fish bones and ostrich eggs have been discovered, but they all seem to have been whisked away to museums elsewhere. Only a few pots are shown now at the site museum, probably because the safety of the objects could not be guaranteed here. We finished our tour at the picnic site, among the squirrels, with a well-deserved brunch and cool drink.

Els - 19 May 2019

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Debunking travel blog myths

I love travelling, I like reading about travel, I have been actively contributing to travel websites in both the Dutch and English language for over 20 years. But I sincerely hate 95% of all travelblogs! And I do so even more when their owners try to influence this website.

The birth of a new genre among websites could have been so beneficial to travellers, to learn from each other’s experiences on the road. And you need no technical knowledge to create a perfectly acceptable blog. But this trend has quickly turned into something dominated by vanity, commercialism and copycat behaviour.

Recommendation 1: DSW Photo, great photos & action-packed itineraries


In explaining what it is that exactly annoys me so much, I will try to debunk 3 rationalizations often given by those travel bloggers for their behaviour:

“Even though I may receive compensation for posts or advertisements, I will always give my honest opinions”

At the moment you start writing about something that was offered to you for free by a commercial company, you’re done. Sometimes it’s just obnoxious – in the case of a simple link to a hotel booking website or a book seller in the hope for commission. This does little harm besides affecting the aesthetics of the website when it is plastered with cookies and advertising.

It gets more serious when your travel calendar is determined by the freebies you got. When you go on a “press trip” to let’s say Oman, you (a) don’t spend that time anywhere else of your liking,  (b) you visit the places they want you to see and (c) stay in the accommodations that you cannot afford on your own. It results in a report of a press trip and not in a travel story.

In the end it can lead to misleading your audience, because you have something at stake. Real examples of giving bad advice that I encountered:

  • Urging to book a group tour to Colombia (from a specific company of course) claiming solo female travel is not 100% safe.
  • Directing traffic to commercial visa services while you can easily arrange a visa online yourself to a run-of-the-mill destination at lower cost.
  • Recommending a specific travel insurance, where the right travel insurance is a very personal thing depending on where you’re from, what your other insurances are etc

Recommendation 2: Kathmandu & Beyond, off-the-beaten track & architecture


“We would love to be able to run an ad free site”

Generating money with a blog or website is often explained as “we need money to keep this going”. What do these costs really entail? Out-of-pocket costs for a website like the World Heritage Site yearly are 231 EUR for the website hosting plus 15 EUR for the web domain name ( and 10 EUR for a SSL certificate (to make website access secure). So a total of 256 EUR a year. And you will even find packages as low as 100 USD per year to get all the basics.

Can you really not pay that meagre sum yourself?

“It’s my job so I do have to get the word out there”

Travel blogging is only a job for the happy few. Just as in the past only really good travel writers and travel journalists could make a living out of it, this also applies to travel bloggers. Most will always stay amateurs. Be humble about what you do, treat it as a nice hobby (plus accept that hobbies cost money) and generate your income to live on in another way.

In the end I believe it annoys me so much because it is such a waste of something that could have been so good. When all travellers would share their honest experiences, funny encounters, serious achievements, warnings, best photos, practical tips, preparations, itineraries etc that would make one great travel community. I've linked two of the better examples via the pictures above.

Some recommended further reading on this subject, from different perspectives:

Els - 12 May 2019

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Michael Ayers 12 May 2019

Excellent post Els! I agree with everything you wrote.

I read an article a couple of months ago stating that the touristy island of Siargao in the Philippines is trying to discourage want-to-be Instagram "Influencers" from visiting there. Apparently, the endless stream of people showing up and saying "Hey, I'm an Influencer, can I stay at your hotel for free?" was getting to be too much for them to deal with (especially since most of those people had minimal followings when they arrived). I have tentative plans to go to Siargao later in my current trip, and am looking forward to laughing sarcastically if anyone there mentions Instagram or any social media (never used it-and never will).

Nan 12 May 2019

@Els: I think part of the annoyance is that plenty is done in the name of SEO. Backlinks from here are a nice way to improve your page rank. And channel some visitors to your page. Both obviously helping with the travel blog and influencer credibility.

Problem I have found is that this sites content, though regularly superior, gets lower page ranks, at least for the popular sites. It does feel we should SEO ourselves a bit...

@zoe: wouldn't call travel blogging a long term career option either ;)

Nan 12 May 2019

@clyde: the five star hotel is rarely an insider tip. Best hotel in Hamburg is Vier Jahreszeiten. No need for a travel blogger to tell you that.

Clyde 12 May 2019

Well written, Els. I totally agree that getting paid ultimately has a direct or indirect effect on the content and or readers/blogger.
Nan, as long as only the name of a hotel (5 star or less) is mentioned mainly because of its location, I see no harm and find it useful - obviously I still compare accomodation online but once in a while, on special occasions or to enhance a particularly remote WHS, I tend to spend more than my usual budget.

Zoë Sheng 12 May 2019

Most of these travel blogs are just for showing off their achievement, truth is they reap very little financial rewards and there is always some kind of "work with us", "buy my book" or "book hotels via my link" in the articles. There are surely some successful bloggers but it gives the idea that this is a model to follow. "Quit your day job and move to Chiang Mai to teach English while you travel" - so when I get to 40 I have no career and thus no pension, no way to pay my health insurance, that's all college kid thinking then.

Nan 12 May 2019

I have to admit that I rarely read travel blogs on their own. Too much "Greatest", "Bestest" with gorgeous pictures that get repetitive fast.

With our mode of travel I also have less need to figure out where to go. I have a large backlog of places I want to visit. And for these places I already know my mandatory waypoints: the world heritage sites.

My primary interest re travel are practicalities. How do you get there? How do you get in? ... Travel blogs that got a driver etc. paid for are not helping in this regard. And while I think I am a reasonable well off traveler I can't and won't afford to stay at 5* hotels for a full vacation. So the post of the luxury resort in Oia/Bali/Antigua has zero benefit.

I do think I (and everyone in this community) have the maturity to sort out the sponsored content from the rest. I try to figure out the local prizes so I can judge if an offer is fair. I also try to evade all organized tours because I hate those. Hotels are done via; me and their rating system are aligned. Restaurants via lonelyplanet or

For me the problem isn't with sponsored content per se. If you manage to pay for your travels by being an influencer, congrats!

To me the problem is that sponsored content has a too high signal to noise ratio.

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WHC 2021: Sarnath

Sarnath is an important Buddhist pilgrimage site just outside Varanasi, 1 of the 4 most spiritually rewarding sites pointed out by Gautama Buddha himself. Or as I have seen it described less poetically: “the location where Buddha gave his first sermons in a deer park”. There are some indications that Sarnath might be India’s nomination for 2021. Maybe surprising, as it has been lingering on the Tentative List since 1998 without noticeable action. The recent reports in the news state that “a 600 page nomination dossier is being prepared” – which may even take a few years beyond 2021!

I visited Sarnath on a North India trip in 1993. I did consider Varanasi the highlight of that trip, but I have no notes about nearby Sarnath left. The photo album contains 4 photos labelled ‘Sarnath’, which is quite a lot from pre-digital times:

  • The first one is of a Golden Temple. Online research shows this is the Kashi Vishwanath temple – not in Sarnath at all but a Hindu temple in Varanasi!
  • On to the second one: displaying an archaeological site, with a stupa in the far distance. It resembles Ayutthaya. These are the remains of ancient monasteries at Sarnath. There is a white covered structure as well, does it hold the remains of the lowest foundation of the Ashoka pillar?
  • The third one is the iconic view of the massive Dhamekh Stupa. This is supposedly erected at the exact place where Buddha gave his first sermon. Emperor Ashoka reconstructed this stupa after putting the Buddha’s relics here. 
  • And the final one, a close-up of that same stupa. It partly has the original carved stones with geometric and floral designs.

What I did not see or do not remember having visited:

  • The on-site archaeological museum (1910), which includes the Lion Capital of Ashoka's sculpture. No photos are allowed here. 
  • The many modern monasteries developed by current Buddhist countries, from Thailand, Tibet (1955), Myanmar, Japan etc. A practice that I remember seeing in Lumbini and from what I gather is present in Bodh Gaya as well.
  • There is a descendant of the original Bodhi tree in the compound that came here from Bodh Gaya via Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka.
  • I certainly did not see the 24m tall Buddha statue: it was not built yet in 1993. The statue was made from sandstone between 1997 and 2011 as a friendship project between India and Thailand. The idea behind it was conceived after Taliban authorities in Afghanistan destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhist statues.

I am wondering on what criteria India is going to pitch this site. Is it really necessary to have all 4 main Buddhist pilgrimage sites covered as a WHS? Has the current Indian government a positive attitude to Buddhist sites at all? What besides that intangible value does it offer? Or they may take a non-religious approach: the official site description only counts 154 words, of which none is “Buddhist”. However “Mughal”, “Ashokan” and “brick” are there. Mughal has already 9 connected sites, Ashokan 5 and brick architecture even 80. So I guess we should be prepared for a typical Archaeological Survey of India nomination, if it ever materializes at all.

Els - 5 May 2019

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WHS #698: Naumburg Cathedral

We all know about the bumpy road the Naumburg Cathedral had to take to get placed on the List. I decided not to look back on that episode, not to even prepare my visit and just take it at face value. I visited it on ‘Holy Saturday’, the day before Easter. I drove all the way there, 620km from my home, just for my 698th tick!

Naumburg an der Saale lies in the former GDR. This may be the main reason why this cathedral wasn’t proposed earlier – the GDR did have a Tentative List, but came late to the scene in nominating anything. It wasn’t until after the reunification in 1990 that Potsdam as the first former East German site was placed on the List. Naumburg itself still isn’t really on the beaten tourist track, although on the sunny Saturday when I was there both the town and the cathedral were well-visited by Germans.

The cathedral lies a bit outside of the historic town center. With its 4 towers and irregular shape it is already an attractive sight. Admission costs 6.50 EUR plus another 2 EUR to be allowed to take photos. This policy also is emblematic for what the former cathedral represents nowadays: more museum than church. It is owned by a foundation and does not receive money from church taxes or public funds.

Of course I thought “I have already seen so many cathedrals, what more can this one add”? Naumburg does stand out though as a niche site for medieval church architecture: it has preserved its lay-out and design from the 13th century. So it is a much more authentic experience than the many cathedrals that have organically grown over the centuries. One of its oddities is its duality:

  • It has two sets of towers, each set covering its own choir structure. So from the entrance – which is to the side – there is a choir plus altar to the right and a choir plus altar to the left. Both choirs are hidden behind rood screens. There’s a bunch of chairs in the middle for regular churchgoers, but they do seem irrelevant.
  • It has been a simultaneous church for quite some time after the Reformation: so Catholic and Lutheran services were practiced in the same building, albeit in different corners (and probably not at the same hour).

The original features include the two rood screens, a common feature in the Middle Ages that has become obsolete in more recent times. The one in front of the west choir has polychrome biblical sculptures by the Naumburg Master. When you walk underneath the arms of Jesus into the choir, you’re surrounded by the 12 lifelike images of the founders of the church. Especially the sculptures showing the two founder couples are fascinating.

The east choir does lack great sculptures but has some nice woodwork. And I discovered a bit of historical graffiti here from 1689 at the foot of the stairs climbing up to one of the towers. Apparently there is more graffiti carved into the wooden benches.

The nicest part of the cathedral complex lies actually just after the entrance, in the main church. You can also visit the cloister and the garden, buy something in the museum shop, watch an interesting video and descend to the Treasury. The latter is an exhibition space where there are even more statues of the Naumburg Master that once stood in the church. Certainly worthwhile, if only for the sculpture of the severed head of John the Baptist presented on a scale.

Els - 28 April 2019

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Blog Connections

Why people die at WHS

With the visitor numbers of sites all over the world rising and the recent selfie-craze leading to irresponsible acts, the number of fatal accidents at WHS increases as well. Just in the last few weeks “A man fell off the edge of the Grand Canyon, the third visitor death in eight days” and another “Tourist died of hypothermia after falling into Lake McDonald, Glacier Park”.

We have a connection Fatal accidents or 'disasters' about these unfortunate events. It includes sites:

  • where there have been "disasters" causing significant numbers of human deaths from a single incident,  or
  • where repeated "tourism related" deaths have totalled a significant number

Loosely ordered by overall number of fatalities, here are the main reasons why people die at WHS:

Mining Disasters (1350+)

Perhaps surprisingly, mining is the biggest killer of them all. We already had 2 serious mining disasters in this connection: at Le Bois du Cazier (Mining Sites of Wallonia) the last major mining disaster in European history cost 262 lives. 50 years earlier, the Courrières disaster (Nord-Pas de Calais) resulted in almost 1,100 deaths.

Potosí’s Cerro Rico is a still active mining WHS: according to the latest reports that I could find there were 19 and 20 deaths from mining accidents in 2009 and 2010 respectively. These all of course included workers and no tourists.

Climbing Accidents (400+)

Among tourists / travellers / explorers, climbing accidents are the biggest life-takers. More than 296 people have died trying to climb Mount Everest. Mt Kilimanjaro takes about 10 lives a year and even the less popular Kangchenjunga has seen over 50 deaths since 1905.

And it's not only the climbing, the fatigue & the falling: avalanches and earthquakes in the climbing areas also contribute. The 2015 Sabah earthquake claimed 18 fatalities on Mount Kinabalu for example.

Terrorist Attacks (300+)

Terrorist Attacks are part of a separate connection, but they have made hundreds of victims. One event that in particular stands out is the attack on Queen Hatshepsut's tomb in Ancient Thebes, in November 1997. 62 people died, mostly tourists.

Plane Crashes (150+)

I would have guessed that plane crashes would be higher up the list, as they often have large numbers of fatalities. Planes often fall down close to an airport or near a mountain however, WHS core zones are relatively free of major crashes. Smaller accidents have appeared in Te Wahipounamu, at the Nasca Lines and even several times at the Everglades.

Human Stampedes (150+)

Wikipedia even has a List of Human Stampedes. It features an event in Valletta from 1823: about 110 children died in a stampede while attempting to leave the Convent of the Minori Osservanti during the Carnival celebrations. We already had discovered 2 more of these freak accidents which wiki has not listed: at least 26 people were crushed to death in a deadly stampede in the famous Djinguereber mosque in the city of Timbuktu (2010) and at the Qutb Minar a stampede of schoolgirls inside the tower when the power inside the tower failed lead to 20 deaths (1979).

Attacks by wild animals (35+)

People dying after an attack by a wild animal in a WH designated area seems to happen very rarely. Among the safari destinations Mana Pools stands out in a negative way: I found incidents with lions and with an elephant at Mana Pools. No direct link with the park's policy to allow walking safaris seems to exist. Last year, 2 people were killed by a hippo at Lake Navaisha. All these are not ‘significant’ enough to warrant a connection however.

More dangerous to human life are bears. Glacier NP reports 9 fatal bear attacks since the 1960s. Jasper NP has 3. Since Yellowstone was established in 1872, 8 people have been killed by bears in that park. To put this in perspective though: more people in Yellowstone have died from drowning, burns (after falling into hot springs), and suicide than have been killed by bears. 

The real killer animal though is the tiger: both at Chitwan and the Sundarbans, significant numbers of people have been killed by this big cat. In 1988, 65 deaths were reported during a fourmonth period at the Bangladeshi part of the Sundarbans. It's unclear whether they occurred inside the core zone or also at the buffer zone, but the significant numbers can be explained due to the high population density around these parks.

Boat accidents (25+)

15 people died after a sightseeing boat sank in Lake Ohrid (2009) and at Ha Long Bay 12 tourists were killed on a boat that sunk in February 2011. These are the only 2 WHS that I found with significant boating accidents that took a human toll.


Els - 21 April 2019

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Els Slots 21 April 2019

Thanks for the updates, I have added them to the connection. I started researching and updating the topic after looking into deaths by wild animals.

Watkinstravel 21 April 2019

Another to add to the mining disasters would be Sewell WHS in Chile. Site of one of the largest metallic mining disasters in history in 1945 when 355 miners died.

Jay T 21 April 2019

Rather morbid, but timely, topic, since I had just come to the site after watching the film “Hotel Mumbai” to see if there was any mention of the terrorism event of 2008 at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. I’d forgotten how many casualties were at the railway station (58 dead and 104 injured).
The air disaster section reminds me of an event largely forgotten by Americans: the 1956 Grand Canyon mid-air collision, which killed 128 people after two planes had changed altitude unbeknownst to each other. The planes crashed into the canyon (near Chuar Butte and a Temple Butte). This disaster led to Congressional hearings and the creation of the Federal Aviation Agency (now Administration), which has oversight of US airspace. I learned about this crash through a rather grim but fascinating book a co-worker has recommended called “Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon”, which, like this post, details the myriad ways visitors to Grand Canyon have died. There is also a companion book called “Off the Wall: Death in Yosemite” that I haven’t read.

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