Blog WHS Visits

Aachen revisited

My first visit to Aachen Cathedral was in 2001, really at the beginning of my WHS journey. It was my 74th visited WHS. I only had a basic compact digital camera then, I still know what it looks like. It made horrible photos, certainly compared to a smartphone from 2020 (let alone a proper camera). So at the start of this long Pentecost weekend I decided to driven to Aachen again to refresh my memory and to get better photos.

The Corona Shrine.

It was my first visit to Germany post-COVID. In preparation I stocked up on some disposable face masks (compulsory in public indoor places) and cash Euro’s. Although the crisis apparently has lead to increased card payments, Germany still is much more cash based than the Netherlands and I did not succeed in paying anything by card here. On the plus side, there’s no need to pre-book time slots at the Aachen museums or at the Cathedral – which is a more common measure in Holland to keep things under control.

I started my WH visit at the Cathedral Treasury. At 10 a.m. I was the first visitor of the day and I had the museum to myself. The Treasury made headlines in March as it announced the exhibition of the Corona Leopardus Shrine. It holds the mortal remains of the early Christian martyrs Corona and Leopardus. Corona was a legendary figure, whose relics were brought to Aachen around the year 1000. She is the patroness of causes involving money and it has been suggested to pray to her during the COVID-19 pandemic to support the world economy.

The octagon looking empty.

The Treasury as well as the interior of the adjacent Cathedral are true containers of religious relics. Those relics are the physical remains of a holy site or holy person, or objects with which they had contact. In the Middle Ages, it was good to collect as many interesting relics as possible as it would attract pilgrims to your Cathedral (adding prestige and boosting the local economy). The best relics of course are those associated with Jesus and Mary; Aachen keeps 4 uber-relics: the swaddling clothes and loin cloth of Jesus, the dress of Mary and the decapitation cloth of John the Baptist.

The entrance to the Cathedral is low-key. There were about 30 to 40 other tourists present: some Dutch, some German, some Asian. As a COVID measure, the benches in the central octagon have been replaced by a few chairs in order to keep distance between the churchgoers. Also, the stairs to the upper galleries were closed to visitors. Everything else was there as you would expect it – I especially liked the Ambon of Henry II (similar to a pulpit).  

Shrine of Charlemagne

I found Aachen Cathedral not an easy site to photograph. The exterior is a hotchpotch of different styles, the original romanesque core (which is the most interesting part) is fully enclosed by gothic and even later additions. The best views are from the Town Hall side. The real treasures inside the Cathedral, such as the Shrine of Charlemagne or the reliquary Shrine of Mary, are located far into the Choir. The area is not accessible and the gold of those shrines reflects in the glass boxes they’re encaged in. Nevertheless, Aachen Cathedral just oozes medieval history and even in the 21st century is a very pleasant place to visit.

Els - 31 May 2020

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Clyde 31 May 2020

Finally something interesting related to Corona!

Blog Connections

Bird Migration WHS

May 9 was world migratory bird day. I have never really liked birds, I even was afraid of them when I was a child. I still don’t like them fluttering around my head. But last year’s visit to a bird ringing station near Lake Baikal I found fascinating – those little birds that cover such large distances and are smart enough to fly around the lake. That, and the fact that I can relate to the OCD that often comes with the serious birder, inspired me to polish up our existing connection Bird Migrations.

Barnacle Geese in Southern Öland: long-distance migrants which breed in the Russian Arctic.

The connection’s definition is: “WHS that are key stopover sites for birds on one of the major flyways.” So far it has 48 entries, let’s make some sense of it:

What’s a Flyway?

Wiki says: “A flyway is a flight path used by large numbers of birds while migrating between their breeding grounds and their overwintering quarters. Flyways generally span continents and often pass over oceans”. It’s good to keep in mind that it is a human construct, a label to be able to manage bird populations better. It's not an exact route.

Do all birds migrate?

No, most woodpeckers and owls for example don’t. But the majority of the bird species do in some way or another. Not all use the major flyways though: some only move around to feeding areas a short distance away. Approximately 1800 of the world’s 10000 bird species are long-distance migrants (source). 

How many Flyways are there actually?

The answer to this varies with the source you consult. At the highest abstraction level, there are 3: Americas Flyway, African-Eurasian Flyway and East Asian-Australasian Flyway. These 3 are usually divided into 8 to 10 more precise flyways. BirdLife International, the global organization for the conservation of birds, distinguishes the following:

Which WHS derive (part of) their OUV from bird migrations?

No less than 28 of the 48 connected WHS attribute at least a part of their OUV to bird migrations. A further 6 mention birds in general, but they may be more focused on endemic species or those that ‘only’ are involved in regional migrations. Tikal and Iran’s Hyrcanian Forests are examples of the latter.

Notable omissions among the 28 are cultural landscapes such as Southern Öland and the Saloum Delta, which have been inscribed for their human interactions but also are important bird migration wise.

Are all flyways covered by WHS?

Yes, all 8 are. The Eastern Atlantic flyway, where birds migrate from their breeding grounds in Europe to tropical Africa, apparently is the busiest route. It also has the most bird migration WHS, with important stopovers like Banc d’Arguin, Donana and the Wadden Sea.

The Central Asian Flyway is the shortest, cut short by the Tibetan plateau. The Black Sea-Mediterranean (called Western Palaearctic in some sources) also isn’t well known, but does include our perennial non-favourite WHS Lake Srebarna.

Which WHS receives the most migratory birds?

According to the comparative analysis in the nomination dossier, the Dutch and German parts of the Wadden Sea yearly receive 10-12 million birds each year. It is seen as “the most important area for migratory birds, in the context of the East Atlantic Flyway”. So that would make it the busiest stopover on the most used route.

Cormorants stopping over in the Wadden Sea.

With a coverage of 48 out of the 1121 WHS (= 4%), bird migration seems to be a subject well-covered. It is also likely that more sites could be considered for this connection: all Ramsar sites for example (we have connected 94 of them) are known for their waterfowl habitats, though these might focus on resident birds or those on shorter migration routes (such as Aldabra and Socotra). The IUCN Gaps document from 2004, outlining underrepresented themes and areas on the World Heritage List, does not mention bird migrations and instead suggests to focus on Endemic Bird Areas. This is habitat-based bird conservation, the opposite of migratory bird conservation. However, we have 57 WHS with endemic bird species also already identified. So it seems that we have exhausted the potential for bird related WHS by now.

Do you know of any great birding sites that have been overlooked?

Els - 24 May 2020

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Clyde 24 May 2020

This blog post will keep me busy this weekend! Well done once again Els :)

I don't know whether you can actually pinpoint a particular WHS for the Bird Migration connection, but Macaronesia (Azores, Madeira, Canaries, Cape Verde) is a passage route and breeding region for migratory birds (Garcia-del-Rey 2011) which is not mentioned in the connection. 

Michael Ayers 24 May 2020

I was going to suggest that Brazilian Atlantic Islands could be added to this connection. However, while it is an IBA, with one criterion being "congregations" (especially for the Black Noddy), the site's distance from shore places it outside of any "official" description of the Atlantic flyway, and I was not able to find any lists of important sites of that flyway that include it. So, it probably can't be in this connection.

On the other hand, it should be a part of the Endemic Birds connection, for its two endemics, the Noronha Elaenia and Noronha Vireo.

Nice to see you are coming over to the Feathered Side. ;-)

Blog TWHS Visits


The former Colonies of Benevolence will be on the agenda of this year's WHC meeting. This Dutch-Flemish serial transnational proposal had been referred in 2018 due to doubts about the selection of included sites. Subsequential discussions with ICOMOS and the World Heritage Centre, who advised to “take a little more time” than usually after a Referral, has led to a reduction of the proposed locations from 7 to 3. On the Dutch side, Ommerschans and Willemsoord are omitted and Frederiksoord and Wilhelminaoord are combined. In Flanders, only Wortel is left.

Small former farm in Wilhelminaoord

I had already visited the Dutch part (notably Veenhuizen) in 2011 and the Belgian part in 2016. With the full, amended nomination dossier now available I decided to have a closer look at the Frederiksoord-Wilhelminaoord component. It is also about the only (T)WHS related place which I have not reviewed before that I can reach at the moment – I am eagerly awaiting the lifting of the non-essential travel ban to Germany for example, for some more low hanging TWHS fruit.

I arrived early on a Sunday morning in Wilhelminaoord, where I parked my car to begin the 11km long “Monuments walk”. It nicely covers the Frederiksoord-Wilhelminaoord component and its main monuments. They are really prepared here for WH status and more international tourists: every building of some interest has an information panel in front of it. The panels give a comprehensive explanation of what you’re looking at, both in the Dutch and English language. Up until now, the area has only been popular with Dutch pensioners.

Frederiksoord-Wilhelminaoord was a so-called ‘free’ colony: poor city-dwellers were given a small farm and identical-sized plots of land. Communal buildings such as schools, churches and workshops were located centrally. Along the main road between the two towns, the Koningin Wilhelminalaan, many of the original small farm houses can still be seen. They often have been converted into cosy-looking family homes.

Civil servant houses in Frederiksoord

Wilhelminaoord has a well-preserved Colony Church. I was pleased to find it open – only 3 visitors were allowed in at the same time due to the Corona virus measures, but at this early hour there was noone anyway. This protestant church was built in 1851. Church attendance was mandatory in the Colonies, to promote moral standards among the poor. Furthermore, Wilhelminaoord has preserved a weaving mill, which offered alternative employment to colonists who could not do the hard agricultural labour anymore and also two homes for the elderly.

Frederiksoord was the town where the administrators of the Colonies lived. The lower-ranked among them lived in similar small houses in a row. The pretty mansion ‘Huis Westerbeek’ was used by the company director.

Forestry School (1887), Frederiksoord

The Nomination Dossier frames the Colonies as a panoptic institution – the colonists were permanently observed and disciplined. Alcohol was forbidden for example, and to prevent them from going to the next town the colony had its own currency which wasn’t valid in the outside world. The ‘panoptic’ approach apparently is visible in the landscape as well: roads and supervisors’ buildings were strategically placed to keep an eye on everyone. What surprised me however how forested this area is. The walk goes via forest lanes for about a third of its route – which makes it a very pleasant walk but I wonder how this former production forest fits into the story of permanent visibility.

Els - 17 May 2020

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Clyde 17 May 2020

Ah ok. Pity, though because the new museum really gives a good overall idea about the Colonies' importance. The official website and all the information boards in Belgium still include Merksplas. Guess they'll have to change them then, if they ever get inscribed.

Els Slots 17 May 2020

Yes I am sure about Merksplas. It is not part of the nomination dossier anymore. There are also news reports in the Flemish press about it (it was deemed not authentic enough):

Clyde 17 May 2020

Very interesting. Thanks Els. Are you sure Merksplas has been left out? Seems like Veenhuizen is the best one on the Netherlands side.

Blog WHS website

Taking Travel Risks

On March 10 I got an e-mail from Tamar Cassidy, owner of Sangha Lodge in the Central African Republic. It read: “Are you still OK to travel?”. I was booked for a long-awaited week at their mammalwatchers lodge in Sangha National Park starting March 24. Four other tourists from Europe had confirmed as well and we were all still willing to go despite the conditions for international travel worsening by the day. People around me said “You surely don’t want to go there now, their health system is appalling”. But my thoughts were – I wasn’t carrying the virus, the virus had not arrived in the Central African Republic yet and they worry about worse things there anyway.

Dzanga Bai, one of the highlights of Sangha NP

The biggest new risk that I saw was not being able to get back home afterwards: the park is such an isolated place and the Central African Republic in general gets very few international flights. But what would be the damage if I had to stay there or in a neighbouring country? I would miss work for a few weeks, but I surely wouldn’t be fired and they’d probably find it a good story. I would need to pay for my own stay abroad and transport back home, but that’s always the case when you travel. Worst case I’d loose all my yearly holidays and travel budget in one go.

By March 18, we did not need to decide anymore as someone had done it for us and closed Sangha NP. The reason was to “minimize the potential risk posed by the coronavirus pandemic to the people and great apes”. I felt mostly sad for the owners of the lodge, who have been running a succesful business in a country that for years has coloured red in foreign travel advisories with a warning against all travel. And I pitied their employees and those of Sangha National Park, as no tourists means no income.

Dutch Travel Advisory for the Central African Republic, before and during the pandemic

Preparing a trip to an expensive lodge in a far corner of the Central African Republic would be enough for most people to set alarm bells ringing, even outside of a pandemic. It’s not difficult to find horror stories: “Large areas of the country are controlled by armed groups who regularly kidnap, injure, and/or kill civilians”, malaria is endemic and the leading cause of death, and the country has "the second lowest level of human development, ranking 188th out of 189 countries”. At a closer look however, you’ll see that violence is most likely in the northern part of the country that borders Chad. Yes, there is a good possibility of contracting malaria but there are precautions that you can take. And widespread poverty does not per definition exclude tourism (as shown by also lowly ranked Gambia).

When I compare my risk appetite in 2020 with that from 20 years ago, a lot of boundaries have shifted: being a seasoned traveller makes you more comfortable with taking risks than the average person. As quoted from a recent NY Times article: “For the most part, we know that travel experience is related to perceptions of risk, and that the more people travel, the more they are exposed to different levels of risk and that they feel more equipped to be able to deal with it. So, their self-efficacy goes up and therefore their perception of risk goes down and their willingness to travel goes up.” 

I think this is a health warning

I felt (and still feel) at ease regarding to travelling to Sangha NP. I had bought malaria pills (not a thing I usually do as malaria risks are often overstated), I booked a one night stay in Nairobi beforehand to lower the chances of missing the flight to CAR and subsequent charter flight to Sangha, I relied upon the lodge to arrange my visa instead of trying to obtain one myself. I do not worry anymore about transferring large sums of money to foreign bank accounts - I'd rather give the money directly to the local business than hiring a European broker. I do not use traditional travel & cancellation insurances, as I find solely protection against ultra-high medical costs (including repatriation) is enough given my financial situation.

In general, and speaking from experience, my personal top Travel Risk Management tips would be:

  • Inform yourself – there are so many resources available for travellers nowadays, varying from official statistics to first hand accounts of other travellers. When you learn from others that have been in the same situation, it is easier to reduce the probability of a risk from happening.
  • Do your own risk assessments – only you can value what the possible consequence of a trip to XYZ is worth measured against your health, your finances, your relationship with relatives.  
  • Develop your life skills – you’ll fare better travelling when you have acquired decent life skills such as the use of foreign languages, budgeting, assertiveness, perseverance and problem-solving. I also have learned that my professional work has helped me with this, and vice versa that travelling has helped my professional career.

Els - 10 May 2020

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Durian 10 May 2020

In case you want to know, the picture of health warning broad is in Laos language and it is about tuberculosis, encouraging people who have fever for 3 weeks to visit hospital. All medical expenses to cure tuberculosis are free and supported by the government.

Bernard Joseph Esposo Guerrero 10 May 2020

I also have a few trip cancellations because of the pandemic, one of which was even a China trip for February. The week leading to the trip was troublesome as it was the time when the rest of China was following the Wuhan lockdown. Still wanted to go until I got the message from the accoms we would staying in that I was better cancel. The story got published here:

BUT, in the end, I found myself stuck in the island of Siquijor -- I'm now on day 61 here and already have a good collection of sunset photos. Hopefully can go back home after the 15th if there are no more extensions on the quarantines. The island is home to one of the baraque churches nominated as an extension to the world heritage-listed churches of the Philippines, the church of Lazi. Totally in support of any future effort to finally forward the nomination :)

Michael Ayers 10 May 2020

Great post, Els! Like you, I feel that many things that people often worry about, "official" government travel warnings, insurance, etc. are mostly a waste of time or money.

I would love to see CAR someday, perhaps a good location for the first post-pandemic Meetup? ;-)

Nan 10 May 2020

Sorry to hear you had to cancel.

It's hard to fathom why a country that has malaria as #1 cause of death (10% of the population seem to contract it each year, roughly 1% die each year) will cease operation due to Corona. Even more so when you consider their average age is (18) and their life expectancy (55). They are squarely outside the risk area.

Regarding risky travel, I am probably more worried than you, but less worried than the average. Questions I always ask myself:
* Is my life or is my money in danger. The latter I can cope with.
* Can I move freely if I behave rationally? I can live with no go areas and I will duly research where those are. But I wouldn't want to be locked down in the hotel.
* Can I rationally make the case to my mum that it's safe and that the picture in the media is overblown.

Final words re travel insurance: They rarely cover the cases that I would need them to cover (airline broke, country closed). Health insurance is mandatory, though. As is paying flights with a credit card as default insurance. And booking everything else as late possible (hotels potentially same day).

PS: Betting this will be one of those discussion inciting posts again :D

Blog TWHS Visits

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

A few weeks ago, Cambodia has added 3 of its genocide memorials to the Tentative List as a serial proposal. The sites commemorate the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime, which was overthrown in 1979. The proposal still has the cumbersome working title “Former M-13 prison/ Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (former S-21)/ Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre (former Execution Site of S-21)”.

I visited the former S-21 prison, now known as the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, in 2007. It is located in street 113 in the heart of Phnom Penh. In 2007 it saw some 50 visitors a day, but probably this has risen over the years due to the increase in global tourism - it is one of the few obvious “things to do” in the Cambodian capital. It is also a well-known place on the Dark Tourism circuit. Unfortunately I lost most of the photos of my visit, but I do still have my diary notes and the leaflet that was handed out upon entering the site.

The prison was located in an old school building. Between 1975 and 1978, some 12,000 prisoners were detained and tortured here. When further questioning was of no use, the prisoner was taken to the out-of-town Killing Fields (such as Choeung Ek, the third location of this serial tentative site). There he or she ended up in a mass grave.

The museum still resembles a school building, with classrooms, long corridors and a playground. The classrooms were divided into cells of about 2 by 1.5 meters. Parts of these have been preserved, just like the medieval-looking torture instruments. A climbing frame on the playground was used to hang prisoners.

In a number of rooms you can see original photos of those who were detained here and later killed. Among them also many members of the Khmer Rouge, who were no longer trusted. They are recognizable by their black suits and standard hairdos.

In a cinema room upstairs, the movie "Bophana" is shown which tells the human story behind this mass murder. During the Khmer Rouge regime, 2 million Cambodians lost their lives through starvation and destruction. At least two things happened that also characterize other genocides: there was a fairly large number of collaborators / sympathizers (sometimes out of conviction, but also out of opportunism or fear) and easily influencable child soldiers were used.

To determine whether this site has any chance of inscription, we must await the WHC meeting of 2020 for the results of the evaluation of “sites associated with recent conflicts”. In 2018, advisory bodies ICSC and ICOMOS each had already written their advice from which a few criteria can be filtered out:

  1. There should be a common importance for the international community as a whole;
  2. Sufficient time should have elapsed;
  3. All stakeholders should be involved. The narrative should be impartial and/or multiple narratives should be recognised;
  4. There has to be tangible fabric left related to the events (preferably outstanding on its own).

It takes an expert to really measure the 3 Cambodian genocide monuments against these criteria, but a few things do stand out:

  1. The Cambodian genocide certainly was a globally relevant event and it remains one of the most deadly genocides to date. Also, the aspired agrarian-autarkic society was “one of the most extreme examples of sociological experiment a regime or government ever tried to put in practice” (source).
  2. The killings stopped in 1979, but the regime held on to its UN seat until 1983 and only in 2003 Cambodia and the UN recognized their specific crimes to humanity (leading to the jailing of two of its leaders in 2014). So it is still relatively fresh, however “Cambodia has a very young population and by 2003 three-quarters of Cambodians were too young to remember the Khmer Rouge era” (source).
  3. Cambodia still appeared to be struggling with inclusion and the avoidance of political whitewashing as recent as 2015 (source). However, the Killing Fields site of Kraing Ta Chan is described by ICSC as a “good practice of interpretation” - surprisingly that site is not among the 3 locations included in this tentative proposal (it is mentioned in the comparative analysis and maybe dismissed too lightly).
  4. All 3 locations have immovable tangible fabric left. Tuol Sleng is probably the best preserved, but it would be a stretch to declare this concrete school building as a monument on other grounds than its link with the prison activities.

Els - 3 May 2020

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Blog TWHS Visits

Unreviewed TWHS: Lalish Temple

Lalish Temple, the holiest place for the Yazidi community, has been added to Iraq’s Tentative List a week ago. It was one of my proposals for the Arab States Top 50 Missing, so I was very happy to see it appear in the official records as well. My support for Lalish stems from my visit to the site in March 2014. It was the highlight of my tour through Iraqi Kurdistan: an introduction to one of those mysterious, small Middle Eastern religions that somehow in isolation have survived for centuries. Only 5 months later the rest of the world came to know the Yazidis as well, however in much more unfortunate circumstances – as victims from the Sinjar massacre and the genocide of Yazidis by ISIS.

Part of the temple, with the conical dome

Lalish lies about an hour's drive from modern civilization (we left from Duhok). Unfortunately the place was covered in a dense fog when we arrived – apparently it has a lovely setting in a mountain valley. The rituals that are so abanduntly attached to this holy site already start when arriving in the main street leading up to the temple: even in the streets you can only walk barefoot. Socks were also allowed for us tourists, fortunately, as the ground was quite cold.

We were met by a local guide, a young boy who spoke English quite well. He was a member of one of two families who live permanently in Lalish. Members of these families also fulfill the religious functions at the temple - his uncle being one of them. The Yazidis follow their own ancient religion, only marry within their own faith and are not popular with their Muslim neighbors – they have been persecuted since Ottoman times. The temple includes the tomb of Sheikh Uday bin Musafir al-Hakari (1072-1162), their most revered holy man and incarnation of the “Peacock Angel” (I’ll stop here in trying to explain the Yazidi religious beliefs, they are hard to grasp for the uninitiated).

Row of jars filled with olive oil

We visited on a holiday and Yazidis had come from far to visit the temple. You can have your child baptized there. Or pray for happiness by tying a knot in one of the multicolored cloths that cover the saint’s tomb. Olive oil plays an important role in the Yazidi religious experience. It is produced locally: there are olive trees in the surrounding villages. After treatment by one of the holy men, the oil becomes medicinal. In the interior of the temple, many barrels are stocked with the product (and the floor is sticky due to the oil residue). Believers dab some oil where they need healing, we saw one putting it in his ear. 

We had now arrived in the most mystical part of the complex, a cave with blackened walls. There is another activity here that hardly anyone misses: the idea is to throw a red cloth on top of a ridge in the cave. You can try three times, just like at a funfair. If you succeed, you can make a wish.

The architecture and design of the temple is uncommon as well. What you see nowadays is not that old (there have been many reconstructions). The main temple is a rectangular stone building, with conical domes on top. These particular domes represent sunrays touching down on earth. On the day that I visited they provided a beautiful backdrop for partying youngsters - accompanied by music from their phones, a group of boys danced around one of the domes in a circle.

Marble doorway with black snake image

The temple walls are decorated with carvings and inscriptions of which the meaning often has been lost over time. The gray marble doorway to the temple is the aesthetically most pleasing element. To the right of the door is a representation of a black snake: this refers to the Yazidi legend where a black snake plugged the hole in the Ark, preventing Noah from drowning.

In conclusion: Lalish Temple is quite incomparable to other WHS, both in its architectural design and its spiritual value. Iraq's tentative OUV statement highlights the old age of the Yazidi religion, graduating "from natural worship to monotheism and has its own beliefs and rituals that differ from the Abrahamic religions..... The Yazidi religion remained steadfast, despite its exposure to campaigns of skepticism, accusations and slanders". 

Els - 26 April 2020

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Blog WHS website

Remembering Iain Jackson

Yesterday I received the news that Iain Jackson has passed away. Iain had been in a friendly competition with Atila Ege for the top spot of who visited the most WHS over the past years. He ended up with an amazing number of 915 visited WHS, which is even more remarkable given the strict rules he applied for himself. Iain died suddenly in his home in Edinburgh, leaving behind his wife Freda and son Euan.

Iain (left) in front of Gorham's Cave Complex in Gibraltar

Iain had been 'bagging' World Heritage Sites since late 1987, so actually well before this website started. He did so for years in isolation, until he found out that there were people like him focusing on the World Heritage List. In the mean time, Iain had made his own set of ‘rules’ about what is needed to ‘tick off’ a WHS.

That meant for example that a visit was only valid when it was done AFTER a site had been admitted to the List. While 99% of us are looking forward to each year’s WHC meeting to see which bonus WHS they will get this year from trips done in the past, Iain must have dreaded that session. It meant more revisits to regions where he had been in the past, just to pick up the new WHS. Rigid as this approach may seem, when I talked with him about it he convinced me that in a way it was more efficient as well. He travelled from WHS to WHS, not wasting time on TWHS or other sights which may or may not become a full WHS in the future.

Another one of his rules was that for a serial WHS, he needed to have visited 50% of the locations plus 1. You will not encounter the Rock Art of the Mediterranean basin on his visited list. He also refused to cross out Edinburgh and nearby Forth Bridge, although he lived there.

Iain (left) with fellow WH traveller Thomas Buechler, at one of the Struve sites in Lithuania

My personal interaction with him was infrequent. We did exchange some e-mails now and then, but Iain was not the kind of person that spends his time behind a keyboard. He would write a review of a seldom visited WHS only after nudging from me or other community members. He did so in a wonderfully understated way – about Colombia’s San Agustín in 1996 for example when a large stash of drugs was discovered in a bus where he was travelling on. 

At his profile intro on this website he wrote “After every visit I have written by hand a 2 page report of that visit noting the date, weather conditions, names of any companions, together with a description of the site and my impressions of it.” I was always intrigued by those reports and during a visit to his home in 2015 I had the privilege of browsing through these handwritten papers. This only after me asking to see them – he was too modest to force these upon a visitor. His personality was the most opposite to an alpha male-type competitive traveller that you could think of.

Iain surrounded by WH travellers in Edinburgh last year

Since we first started doing our yearly WH meet-ups in 2015, Iain has always been present. He was there visiting the sites (although he had been to several of them before), at the drinks and the dinners, chatting to everyone. This way he also touched the hearts of many of the younger WH travellers.

We will pay tribute to Iain on this website this week.

Els - 18 April 2020

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Craig Harder 28 April 2020

Iain’s passing is a poignant reminder of how fast our 300,000 days on earth go by. He really made the most of them with his huge number of visited sites. C and I met him for the first time in Algeciras Spain. It was the first meetup for Craig and I. We were in search of the whs group as we strolled through the rustic town. I spotted a number of international révélers and had a hunch this was the crew. The beer was flowing copiously and much socializing was happening. Iain immediately approached us and was kind, welcoming, and interesting. What a travel itinerary he reeled off! I was astounded to be sitting next to his young son,
Uan, who appeared to be accompanying his dad on his lengthy trek. What a tribute that Iain was such good company that the younger generation was willing to come along and that the torch had been passed. Rest In Peace, Iain, you will be missed.

Els Slots 23 April 2020

Iain's funeral details.

Esteban Cervantes Jiménez 22 April 2020

My deep condolences to his family and the WH community.

Joel Baldwin 22 April 2020

Very sad to hear this news. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Iain and sharing a long car ride with him across Bulgaria in 2018. My condolences to his family, who can be justifiably proud of his accomplishments. Cheers Iain, I'll raise a pint for you tonight. RIP.

Shandos 22 April 2020

It's so terrible to hear the news. I had the pleasure of meeting Iain at the Bulgaria Meet-up and he was such a warm-hearted traveller, a true gentleman, who I wish I could have gotten to know better. Instead, I'll follow in his WHS footsteps, although my requirements aren't as stringent as his!

khuft 21 April 2020

My condolences to his family! Very sad to see Iain go...

Luis Filipe Gaspar 20 April 2020

I'm very sorry to read this news. I never met Iain Jackson, but really I enjoyed his trip reports. My deepest condolences to his family and friends.

Stanislaw Warwas 20 April 2020

Deepest sympathies... But He will always inspire new generations of travellers...

Zos 19 April 2020

My deepest sympathies to the family of Ian. I might not be fortunate to have met him, but as a fellow WHS traveller, we are connected in one way or another.

Thomas Buechler 19 April 2020

Very sad news indeed. I met Iain on several occasions during our visits to the Van Nelle Factory in Rotterdam, but also in Bulgaria and Lithuania where I had the privilege to discover some great Unesco sites together with him. And have a few beers together as well. I was always surprised with his profound knowledge of history. Iain will always remain a great encouragement for me and my future journeys to World Heritage Sites. You will be dearly missed by all WHS enthusiasts. My deepest and most sincere condolences goes his wife Freda and son Euan.

Els Slots 19 April 2020

As by suggestion of Nan (and seconded by Jay T) I have added Edinburgh to Iain's total. Read here what Iain's meaning was behind leaving Edinburgh unchecked.

Jacob Choi 19 April 2020

While I have never had the joy to meet Iain in person, I have, however heard about him extensively through others. The things I heard about him were only positive attributes, on top of his travel repertoire. I can only wish to be as accomplished as he was, but also have the same level of humility, respect, and liveliness as Iain. I am still inspired by him and will definitely keep his memory alive.

My thoughts and prayers are with his family: Freda and Euan.

Michael Novins 18 April 2020

Els, I’m very sorry to read this news. I never met Iain but really enjoyed his many trip reports, always helpful when I was trying to determine if I’ve crossed from a buffer to core zone. My condolences to his family.

Watkinstravel 18 April 2020

My condolences to Iain's family. I have not been part of this community for long but I'm very sad to have missed the opportunity to meet him in person. I may never live up to his high standards for counting a site as visited but he will continue to be an inspiration for myself and many others as we follow in his footsteps.

Philipp Peterer 18 April 2020

Very sad news! My deepest condolences to Freda and Euan.
We surely lost one of the greatest travelers and a very, very kind and modest person. I will cherish the memories from our meetings in Lithuania, Gibraltar, Bulgaria and Scotland with a true travel icon.
Iain, you were always there, even if there were no new sites to tick off for you. You were a fantastic travel, restaurant and bar companion and a person I honestly looked up to. Your rules to count a site made us all bow in respect and your achievements will probably not be matched by many of us. You are dearly missed. Rest in peace my friend.

Jay T 18 April 2020

I’m so sorry to hear this. I never met Iain, although he was on the forum on occasion, and he seemed like a lovely person. His love of travel was inspiring, and I’m glad he was able to share some of it with this community. I like Nan’s suggestion that Edinburgh be added as the last site visited for him on his page (pending his family’s approval). My condolences to Iain’s family.

Hubert 18 April 2020

Sad news. I met Iain at our meetups and had some fun and inspiring talks with him. I will always remember the walk through his hometown last year. My thoughts are with Freda and Euan.

Ian Cade 18 April 2020

I was only fortunate to meet Iain on a couple of occasions, and he was friendly, warm and most memorably fun.

After sharing a few drinks he said was basing an upcoming site visit in Senegal on some advice I had published and asked for any other tips I may have, which for someone of Iain’s experience was about the biggest complement I could receive. And in return Iain offered me touching advice on life as a new father.

Beyond the love of travel Iain along with his wife Freda and son Euan were such fun and warm company and my thoughts are with them now.

Wojciech Fedoruk 18 April 2020

That's really sad, my condolences to Iain's family. I met Iain in Vilnius and we discussed a lot - he was a really nice person. Big loss to our community.

Assif 18 April 2020

How sad. I was awaiting Iain's contributions on the forum. I didn't have the privilege to know him personally, but was always impressed by his knowledge and intellect as well as his openness. I like Clyde's suggestion to assign him OUV.

Nan 18 April 2020

My condolences to his family.

I had the pleasure of hosting Iain back last fall in Schleswig Holstein and giving him a tour of the Wadden Sea. He was a great traveler and I was happy to have traveled on a brief period with him.

One comment re his final count. I vividly remember that Edinburgh was to be his last WHS. I think we should count it as visited, bringing his tally to 916/917 (forth bridge).

Jarek Pokrzywnicki 18 April 2020

Extremely sad! Deepest condolences to his family. I think we are all shocked by this news

Carlo Sarion 18 April 2020

Saddened to hear about Iain's passing. My deepest condolences to his family and friends.

Clyde 18 April 2020

I'm really shocked by this sad news. Last year's meetup was already a highlight but now it is even more knowing that we met at Iain's hometown and in one of his few unticked WHS. From our few chats together in Vilnius and Edinburgh, I can only wholeheartedly say that he undoubtedly possessed OUV and will sorely be missed! RIP Iain

Kyle Magnuson 18 April 2020

Sorry sorry to hear this. He seemed like a wonderful person, I have certainly been inspired reading about his adventures.

Blog Connections

WHS in classic documentaries

I am not much of a film fanatic, so I cannot really relate to the film connections like James Bond in movies that we have on this website. What I do enjoy however is a a good documentary (also in books I like non-fiction more than fiction by the way). Fortunately we have a connection for documentaries too: WHS that have been used as a location for documentaries of high public and/or critical acclaim.

Earlier we already discovered the following WHS that fit into this connection:

  • Shoah by Claude Lanzmann (1985), Auschwitz is 1 of 4 filming locations (Auschwitz Birkenau)
  • Cave of Forgotten Dreams by Werner Herzog (2010) (Decorated cave of Pont d'Arc)
  • Virunga (2014), an Oscar-nominated documentary film directed by Orlando von Einsiedel (Virunga)
  • Free Solo (2018): profiles rock climber Alex Honnold on his quest to perform a free solo climb of El Capitan (Yosemite)

Diving a bit deeper into the subject and sifting through lists like Wiki’s List of documentary films and a Top 50 best documentaries from the Guardian, I came upon much more WHS we can connect. I have limited them to those where the WHS is central to the documentary. Those only shown in passing or in segments, as happens in most documentaries of David Attenborough for example, I have left out.

A well-known documentary from the 1990’s is Beyond the clouds. It was filmed in the Old Town of Lijiang and captured daily life in this Naxi market town when it was still relatively untouched by modern life. I visited the town in 1994, which was right about the time the documentary was shot.

“Free Solo” mentioned above seems to belong to a documentary genre of its own: that of mountain climbing movies. Yosemite also features in Valley Uprising (2014) and Dawn Wall (2017). Mt. Everest (within Sagarmatha National Park) is central to The Conquest of Everest (1953), The Climb (2007) and The Man Who Skied Down Everest (1975). The Swiss Alps’ Eiger mountain can be seen in The Alps (2007).

Historic city centers of course are good subjects as well. I found Palio (2015), focusing on Siena. Also: Days of Destruction (1966), about the Flood of the Arno River and its catastrophic effect on the city of Florence. And Le Joli Mai (1963), the result of 55 hours of footage interviewing people on the streets of Paris.

The USA features heavily in this connection. Even the Statue of Liberty (1985) has had its own documentary. And one of Walt Disney's “more unconventional and experimental works” is Grand Canyon (1958) (YouTube). It has “musical accompaniment, but no dialogue or narration”. No cartoon figures either. 

It would be great to have a video channel available to watch them all! Do you know of any more? Or where full versions can be viewed online?

Els - 12 April 2020

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Els Slots 12 April 2020

Received some more suggestions. Athos (2016) is great, there even is a version online: . Was also pointed to TV documentaries series such as "The National Parks: America's Best Idea", but like to limit the connection to full documentary films made for cinemas.

Blog TWHS Visits

Unreviewed TWHS: Bahoutdin Complex

Uzbekistan is an unmissable destination for any serious traveller, mainly for its monumental and well-preserved architectural heritage. Next to the famous higlights such as Samarkand and Bukhara, there are a number of lesser known sights that I would not hesitate to propose to for example a “Missing Top 50 Asia” list. One of those is the Bahoutdin Complex, a group of Sufi funeral and religious monuments some 10 km outside of the city of Bukhara.

Bahoutdin Naqshaband was a 14th century Sunni Sufi saint. He was the founder of the Naqshbandi order, and was considered the spiritual patron of Bukhara governors. His order became influential as far as India, Dagestan (Russia), Syria, Egypt and China. Therefore, his tomb remains the most esteemed in Uzbekistan and attracts visitors from other Islamic countries as well. It apparently is nicknamed "Mecca of Central Asia".

The tomb is part of a large memorial and religious complex, with constructions from different periods in time starting from 1544. The complex has been renovated in 1993 with Turkish and Pakistani funding, after it had been abandoned during Soviet times. When I visited (in May 2010) it was busy with Uzbek pilgrims. I was prepared to cover my arms, legs and head here due to the site’s religious nature - but many of the Uzbek women also walked around with short sleeves and without a headscarf.

The complex surrounding Bahoutdin’s mausoleum is large. After entering through the monumental gate, one first passes the rows and rows of tombs of a cemetry. Here local Bukhara governors and descendants of Tamerlane are buried. In the courtyard lies the large gray marble tomb of Bahoutdin Naqshaban. You’ll find believers praying in front of it. They also walk in circles around a beautiful small pavilion. On the grounds there is also an old mulberry tree stump that people crawl under 7 times for luck.

Most of the structures on the property are made of brick, with wooden pillars and wooden ceilings. Characteristic are the ayvan – veranda’s with wooden columns and richly painted ceilings. They were used as spaces for praying. The complex also holds two mosques, a madrassah and a khonaqo (“a hostel widely spread in the Muslim east. It includes a mosque and living rooms that mainly sheltered dervishes in the past”).

What I most remember from this visit is the vibrant atmosphere – mostly because there were so many ‘regular’ Uzbek visitors. They apparently were just having a day out, the ice cream seller was doing good business. When I sat down for a moment to take it all in, I was suddenly surrounded by a school class of 17/18-year-olds including their teacher. They came from Bukhara and wanted to know where I was coming from and going to.

Els - 5 April 2020

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Blog Connections

Unusual Entry Requirements

In February I visited the Font de Gaume Cave in the Vézère Valley. The number of visitors per day here is strictly regulated and they handle this in an old school way: on a strict in person first come first serve basis. They have painted numbers on the benches outside the entrance (unprotected against wind and rain), where you are supposed to sit. You cannot hold a seat for another person. So if you are willing to get up early, physically able to sit on a hard bench for at least 1.5 hours and brave the weather - you will get the privilege to buy a ticket.

And of course there are WHS with health and environment related restrictions. Or sites that have limited access to followers of a specific religion or gender. We do have a connection for the more serious cases of unusual entry requirements though: WHS which, either permanently or on occasion, require intending visitors to pass "tests" before entry is granted. Sometimes they ask you to do real odd things:

Bahá’i Gardens in Haifa (Israel)

In the Bahá’i Gardens visitors are allowed only to descend the terraces and not to ascend them, an act reserved to Bahai worshippers alone. The visitors are accompanied by guides who make sure the visitors follow this rule. This ‘rule’ is confirmed by reports of visitors and some websites, but I could not find it on the official website of the gardens. It may also have to do something with segregating the tourists from the worshippers and allowing them only to use the upper entrance.        

Altamira Cave (Spain)

Most original caves with prehistoric paintings in France and Spain have been closed to visitors due to conservation measures. Since a few years however, the Altamira Cave offers entrance to 5 visitors a week. They are selected by a lottery, which takes place every Friday at the Altamira museum. Between 9.30 and 10.30 a.m. you can fill out a form with your name and details, and toss it into the lottery box. There have been rumours that this opportunity would be discontinued, but the Altamira website shows the names of lucky winners until March 2020.

Saiho-ji Temple, Kyoto (Japan)

The oddest of all for sure is the Saiho-ji, a Zen Temple in Ancient Kyoto. It is also known as the Moss Temple, and for the looks of its garden the number of visitors increased significantly. Already since 1977 a system has been in place to only allow reservation by postcard. How to do this is explained wonderfully at this website. It involves Japanese etiquette to the max (“The ofuku hagaki is a set of two postcards one of which will be used by Saihoji to reply”). 

However, once you’re in the fun continues: you will be strongly requested to copy a Zen Buddhist sutra in the reception hall before entering the garden. This takes as long as it takes you to master this. You should bring your own brush-pen for this (or you can buy one at the spot).

Have you experienced any similarly unusual requests before gaining entry to a WHS?

Els - 29 March 2020

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Els Slots 3 April 2020

@Zoe: there is a separate connection for those kind of measures, "Biosecurity rules for tourists"

Zoe 3 April 2020

Visiting the Wake atoll required massive disinfecting of the boats, I'm guessing similar to visit some other places, Wrangel?

Caspar Dechmann 2 April 2020

@Durian: thanks, that is very interesting. I thought there was little logic in the selection. Do you have any article about the process or about the original list?

Durian 1 April 2020

@Casper, during the nomination the idea of WHS was still not clear with many temples' head priests. So many famous temples declined to participate, one of them was Daitokuji!

Caspar Dechmann 30 March 2020

I offen wondered about the selection of the Kyoto temples: it is really too big a bunch to be only the “crème de la crème” but they clearly left some of the best out! I miss most the important villa, which was probably my favorite Site in Kyoto but also temples like the Daikaku-ji!

Tsunami 30 March 2020

I looked at the website Els mentioned above, and it says, “Also from June 1, 2019 all visitors must be over 12 years of age.” This is probably because they don’t want young children to inadvertently go off the designated stepping stones and to step on the ever-important living moss. It was the same at Katsura Imperial Villa. But my mother, over 80 of age at that time, inevitably slipped off a stepping stone and trampled on the moss. If they don’t want this to happen, they should also ban people over 80.
BTW, why the Kyoto Imperial Palace and the Katsura Imperial Villa are nowhere to be seen on the WH list is anybody’s guess. Perhaps it’s the same reason why Ise Jingu, the single most sacred place in Japan, is not on the list.

Caspar Dechmann 29 March 2020

I visited the Saiho-ji Temple in 2013. I still remember that the reservation process was very laborious and expensive but the garden is certainly special enough to make it worth. You had to arrive at an exact time as part of a group who could enter the garden in this time window. After a while we were asked into a temple hall with rows of little desks. Then we were given a Japanese text, some kind of paper, ink and pen and we should copy the text. The text was very long but it was getting more and more fun to figure out how to use the pen correctly to get the right kind of lines for our letters. After 20 minutes or so a monk came and said it was enough, we might enter the garden. At that point I was in kind of concentration flow and rather disappointed that they didn't let us finish the task. But on the other hand it gave us more time in the gardens and you can be sure that I used it up to the last minute after the big effort of the application. Very much recommended!

Tsunami 29 March 2020

Although the entry requirement at Saiho-ji may feel unusual for foreigners, it is not at all for the Japanese and is completely normal. The O/hin-Huku/zurück-Hagaki/karte has existed in Japan ever since I was born there.
I remember back in 2009 when I took my mother to Katsura-Rikyu (Katsura Imperial Villa) in Kyoto as one of her last trips in her life. Katsura-Rikyu is known to have the single most beautiful and important garden in Japan, and my father once said to me, “You have to go there at least once in a lifetime.” So I was determined to take my mother there, as she (or I) had not been there before, and went through all the procedures religiously. So when I was in Japan in 2008, I bought an ohuku hagaki and additional stamps and brought them back to Los Angeles where I lived at the time and sent it to the Imperial Household Agency in Tokyo when I knew the date of our visit. Lo and behold, the return card arrived back in LA without incident. Nowadays, however, I believe you can make an appointment online for Katsura.

Nan 29 March 2020

Mount Athos and the Diamonitirion come to mind.

Jay T 29 March 2020

I’m not sure if this counts, since the entry requirements are for the entire island, and not just the World Heritage Site, but Easter Island in Chile is now requiring travelers to have an official invitation of entry before they can board flights to the island. In order to get the invitation, travelers must fill out an online form ( acknowledging they have a return ticket and approved lodging for all nights of their trip. Once the form is approved, the invitation will be sent to the traveler’s e-mail address, and must be shown to the gate agents at the airport.

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