2016: A Year in Highlights
2016 was a wonderful year. We were lucky enough to tour the world as we never had before.
We spent almost five uninterrupted months traveling, discovering new lands, and becoming immersed in unique cultures.
Let me share with you some of my (many) highlights of this wonderful year:
Climbing the Sigiriya Rock in Sri Lanka:
Sigiriya is a very unique destination. Located near Dambulla, in the central province of Sri Lanka, it is a gigantic fortress with a gateway built in the shape of a lion. Sigiriya rock plateau, formed from magma of an extinct volcano, is 200 meters higher than the surrounding jungles, seemingly jutting out of the earth.
The climb is tricky in Sri Lanka's heat, but along the way we can see beautiful frescoes and scribbled poems written by 8th century visitors – proving that Sigiriya has long since been a tourist attraction.
We stayed at: the unique and charming Jetwing Vil Uyana.
Taking a boat to see the great Buddha of Leshan:
In southern Sechuan province, China, we find the world's largest stone Buddha, and the tallest pre-modern statue in the world.
Construction was started in 713, led by a Chinese monk named Hai Tong. He hoped that the Buddha would calm the turbulent waters that plagued the shipping vessels traveling down the river. Curiously enough, the massive construction resulted in so much stone being removed from the cliff face and deposited into the river below that the currents were indeed altered by the statue, making the water safe for passing ships.
Carved into a mountainside, the best way to truly appreciate this magnificent monument is aboard a boat. The journey is so beautiful and the Buddha so breathtaking that we ended up making the boat trip twice.
We stayed at: A yard of Ch'an, a lovely property built in traditional Chinese style, part of Small Luxury Hotels of the world.
Visiting the Golden Temple of Amritsar at night:
The holiest site in Sikhism, the Golden Temple of Amritsar in India is a beautiful, delicate structure surrounded by water. Within rests the holy book of Sikhism. Every night, the holy book is moved from the temple in the water to another located on the other side of the bridge. The faithful gather in large numbers for this nightly occurrence – dressed in elegant and colorful saris.
It is a scene like no other. The beautiful gold reflected in the water, the cries and excitement from the crowd... solemnity and chaos become one.
We stayed at: Hyatt Amritsar.
Seeing a wild tiger in Kanha National Park:
Going out on safari in India is a crazy experience. Whether it's prowling for leopards in Rajasthan (and witnessing the close interaction between people and leopards) or tigers in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, the experience is very different from that of an African safari.
Tigers are magnificent. Even from the comfort of the jeep, it's easy to note they tremendous size (significantly bigger than a lion). Majestic and graceful, no experience matches the excitement of seeing a tiger up close. And we were very lucky, we saw seven tigers, three on a few meters away.
We stayed at: the amazing andBeyond Banjaar Tola in Kanha National Park.
Colossal Abu Simbel in Nubia:
After a over a week in Egypt – a week of gigantic temples, delicate hieroglyphics, beautiful views – it was Abu Simbel that took the crown. Breathtaking doesn't begin to cover it. Built more than three thousand years ago, it's wonderfully preserved. The interior is covered in murals and hieroglyphs.
Not many that visit Egypt make it as far south as Abu Simbel. And while Luxor and Aswan (and of course, the pyramids are Giza) are more than enough to make it a trip of a lifetime, Abu Simbel is something else. Surrounded by nothing but barren desert, standing proud after millennia, it is the most monumental glimpse of the past we can ever hope to witness. We stayed at: the majestic Four Seasons Nile Plaza and the Charming Sonesta Cruise on the Nile river.
Performing 'kora' around Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, Tibet:
Lhasa, the ‘roof of the world’, is a wonderful destination. Almost impossibly inaccessible, our first view of the red and white Potala Palace soaring above the holy city makes the long journey worth it.
But the most amazing experience is charming whitewashed old Tibetan quarter, which continues to preserve the flavour of traditional Tibetan life. It is in the old quarter that we find Jokhang Temple, an otherworldly mix of flickering butter lamps, wafting incense and prostrating pilgrims, and the encircling Barkhor pilgrim circuit around which we performed 'kora', the traditional Buddhist ritual of circling sacred sites.
We stayed at: the beautiful St. Regis Lhasa.
Borodubur at sunrise:
Borobudur is the world's largest Buddhist temple. Monumental, unique, it consists of nine stacked platforms, six square and three circular, topped by a central dome. The temple is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues. The central dome is surrounded by 72 Buddha statues, each seated inside a perforated stupa.
We climbed the nine level a few minutes before sunrise. Slowly, dawn showered the ruins in sunlight. It is a magical experience to witness as the temple comes to life, tier by tier. One of the most unique places we've ever visited, Borobudur is, without a doubt, one of the highlights of a wonderful year in traveling.
We stayed at: the monumental Amanjiwo, beautifully designed to echo Borobudur's architecture.