(Almost) 48 hours in Osh

At the end of a mind-blowing road trip along the Pamir Highway (which you can look forward to in a later post), my two fave travel friends and I are in Osh.

Driving most of the day from Karakul Lake across the border in Tajikistan, we arrive in town late afternoon. We had booked a couple of nights in Osh, to relax and refresh, and to have a look around – before flying off to old familiar places, i.e. Bishkek. I’m glad we didn’t just hasten through.

Kyrgyzstan’s second city is located in the romantically named Fergana Valley. A crossroads on several centuries-old trade routes, it’s the end (or starting) point of the Pamir Highway, about 30 minutes from the Uzbek border, and just across the Alay mountains is Kashgar (another deliciously exotic name) in China’s far west. Not least, it is smack in the middle of the fabled Silk Road that connected East and West – from China to Constantinople. With all this transit traffic through the ages, Osh has become a melting pot of cultures, with more than 80 nationalities and 3000 years of history.

Things to do in Osh

I won’t bore you with details about the relaxing and refreshing, other than to say: Hotel Classic, swimming pool, sauna… bliss! More interesting for you, is a look at things to do in Osh. We spent a full day traipsing about town, looking, listening, smelling, tasting. Here are the highlights:

Sulaiman-Too Sacred Mountain

Climbing to the top of Sulaiman-too (Solomon’s Mountain) is an experience not to be missed in Osh. UNESCO agrees, and added this holy rock to the world heritage list in 2009. The peculiar little mountain can be seen from practically everywhere around town, and everyone has been there, it seems. Including Mohammed. Naturally, this five-peaked mountain is a pilgrimage site, and has been for 1500 years. You’ll find several little caves and clefts and nooks and crannies along the incline – a total of 17 holy places still in use – some with curative properties, some with the gift of fertility.

We are English and Norwegian, inherently pragmatic, so we are not here to be cured of anything, but rather for the views, for curiosity, and a little bit for the exercise. And exercise it certainly is on this sweltering day; about 20 minutes up stairs which become narrower and steeper, and twist and turn as you near the top.

Turn around, and this is what you see. Careful when scrambling to the top.

(Also, prepare to be invited to be a part of family photos with people from around the world. I’ve only ever experienced this with my kids before. Here in Osh, we even bump into a young man taking selfies with people from different countries. I’m the first Norwegian in his collection, he says. Sounds slightly ominous.)

Lenin

The founder of the Soviet Union is alive and well in Osh. This statue of Vladimir Ilyich is the largest in all of Central Asia. Not sure what that means, if anything. But here he is, towering – across from city hall, with a bright red Kyrgyz flag waving before him.

Food and drink

After 8 days on the road, we’re in the mood for something other than Central Asian cuisine. We try – and can recommend – these two international eateries (No pics, I’m afraid. Too busy with the eating and drinking):

Izyum: Next to the river, Izyum has different dining areas, some with sofas and cushions. Good food, and mellow music, interspersed by the live variety: a local man (possibly one of the waiters, but I can’t be sure) singing his heart out. There’s also dancing, mostly by a local hen do when we visit; a very civilized hen do, it must be said.

Tskarskii Dvor: Above Navoi Park, this place looks like it could be in the Alps, or even a cheery collection of Christmas market stalls. In addition to the delicious chicken shashlik, my favourite feature is the cosy swings, perfect for after-dinner drinks.

Lepyoshka bread

And as we’re on the subject: let’s talk about baked goods. Lepyoshka bread, to be specific. Almost too pretty to eat, these. Almost. Especially delicious when crispy, hot and fragrant. Served with every meal in these parts.

Jayma bazaar

The special tool to decorate such beautiful yeasty creations is available for sale in Osh’s 2000-year-old bazaar.

…along with any number of other items you need, like a children’s poster with the Cyrillic alphabet…

… and perhaps a few things you didn’t know you needed.

I’m strangely intrigued by this particular stall:

This huge market place has everything: food, clothes, pitchforks, books, cigarettes, perfume, household goods, cattle… The traders are local Kyrgyz folk, as well as Chinese, Uzbeks, and Tajiks.

There’s also a meat market, but that isn’t of interest to this flexitarian. If you’re more of a carnivore, you’ll find beef, mutton and horse meat, as well as numerous lamb and sheep byproducts: heads, eyes, ears and so on. And brain served with a spoon.

Navoi Park

Navoi Park is a delightful place to while away a few hours, with the scent of shashlik pervading the air. Have an ice cream, laze about in a swing, watch old men playing chess (why always men?) or kids playing anything …

Just be sure not to miss the Soviet era Aeroflot Yak40 by the ferris wheel.

Things to do in Osh Kyrgyzstan

Public art in Osh

We end our little jaunt through Kyrgyzstan’s second city with colourful works of art – Soviet and current.

Osh Kyrgyzstan things to do

 

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Sulaiman-Too Sacred Mountain is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Here are more UNESCO World Heritage sites around the world.

Astana

What do you think of when you hear Kazakhstan?

Astana things to do

  • OK, let’s get it over with: Borat. If nothing else, Sacha Baron Cohen did place Kazakhstan on the map.
  • Enormous flat steppes, once the secret home of Soviet gulags and a nuclear weapons testing zone.
  • Also, once the secret home of the Soviet space programme: this is where Yurij Gagarin, first human in space, took off from. Today, you can be like Yurij, you space tourist, you. Baikonur is the world’s only operative space launching station.
  • Wolves outnumber people.
  • If you remember Soviet times, and you’re into winter sports (I’m Norwegian, so that’s the default) you might recall Alma Ata (now named Almaty) as an important player on the skiing and speed-skating scene, especially.
  • Perhaps you know that Kazakhstan is the 9th largest country in the world – and the largest landlocked country?
  • And maybe you remember it was the last of the 15 Soviet republics to declare independence back in 1991?

But what about Astana?

Astana: where to even begin?

Astana is the new capital of Kazakhstan. Or newish. All over town, I see signs commemorating 20 years as capital. 6 July. It appears I missed the celebratory fanfare and fireworks by 21 days.

It’s an odd city. Unusual. Although, as I walk around, I’m frequently reminded of Dubai. Cutting edge architecture, wide avenues, flashy cars – and space, lots of it. I’ve not yet visited that even more elusive Central Asian capital Ashgabat, but I suspect the atmosphere might be similar. (Will let you know, an opportunity will undoubtedly pop up.)

Here’s another slightly whimsical thought: with tempers simmered down, and tons of money invested (from China, perhaps), I shouldn’t be the least bit surprised if this is how Pyongyang will appear, a few decades into the future. Let’s talk in ’38.

20 years back in time, however, the government of newly independent Kazakhstan decided to relocate its capital from Almaty to Tselinograd, 12 hours north. To mark the occasion, a new name was in order, and Astana it was, meaning ‘capital city’ in Kazakh. Simples. And it has a nice ring to it. Astana! Could be a warrior queen from Alpha Centauri.

(Curiously, 20 years later, local telecom provider Kcell hasn’t caught up. My iPhone photos are quirkily labelled Tselinograd).

So, I’m rather liking the sound of Astana. But the look of it? The feel?

Astana is a mix of Soviet chic and space age shiny metal, courtesy of the winner of the 1998 competition to design the master plan of the new capital, Kisho Kurokawa. Other world-renown architects and urban planners were brought in as well, notably Mancunian Norman Foster, famous for designing the new airports in Hong Kong and Beijing, London’s Millennium Bridge, and heaps more eye-catching high-tech creations. Here in Astana, you’ll see him all over town.

Kurokawa’s principal idea was a transition from the ‘age of machines’ to the ‘age of life’, uniting history and the future. Is that the result? Well, other than the (Soviet) age of machines, there was perhaps not so much history to work with. And as for the ‘age of life’, Kurokawa may have referred to an architectural principle. I’m a mere layperson and have no such constrictions. To me, a city of life – or an age of life – means people. Alive. Boisterous. Outdoors.

Taking into account that Astana is one of the world’s coldest capitals (−40 °C and °F is not unheard of), perhaps life outdoors is a bit much to ask. In winter. But on this + 28 °C late July weekend, I see surprisingly few people out and about. Where is everyone?

Like Brasilia, Washington DC, Ankara, Canberra, Abuja, Sharm el Sheikh and for that matter, Dallas and Milton Keynes, Astana is a planned city. Which leaves the burning question: can you really plan a city? I don’t mean street scenes and buildings; obviously you can, I’m surrounded by one here. But can you plan a real, living, breathing city? Or are we, humankind, too unpredictable, too erratic, too individual, too contradictory, too deliciously chaotic… to fit in a plan? I hope we are. And that we will remain so.

However,

have a look at the photo below! It’s part of the current outdoor exhibition Astana Around Us ’18. Looking around me, I can easily picture these cars on the ground here in a not-very-distant future. And I gotta say, that’s pretty exciting!

But then I always preferred the Jetsons to the Flintstones.

The central oval

The main tourist drag in Astana forms an oval between Ishim River and Khan Shatyr, this cosmic 150-metre high luminous tent/entertainment centre…

…comprising 14 hectares (that’s 35 acres) of squares and cobbled streets, an internal park, shops, amusement park rides, a children’s playground, a river with boats, and a beach on top. With sand imported from the Maldives!

I can’t help but be struck by nightmarish visions of a future where entire cities are built in like this. Where life has moved indoors, entirely. Watched too much sci-fi during my formative years, probably.

Leaving Khan Shatyr, I move along the oval, passing through an underpass with a piano (free for all), to Lovers’ Park with restaurants and fountains. I try a Georgian and an Italian restaurant in this area, both very good. In fact, I’m whiling away a few hours just now, scribbling in a swing chair at the latter.

Further along, more jaw-dropping architecture.

 

I quite like the Northern Lights buildings: beautifully curvaceous and simple – and it reminds me a bit of Oslo’s Barcode district:

Bayterek Tower

Then, Astana’s pièce de résistance, the golden orb bursting out from the big bang: Bayterek Tower (Norman Foster again), 105 metres tall, and the symbol of the city. Visible all round.

You can go to the top. I did; queued for nearly an hour to get in the doors. Then, once on top, I queued for nearly one hour more, to measure my freckly little hand against the famous golden, huge one of President Nursultan Nazarbayev. He always wins.

I can’t be certain if all this queueing (mostly locals) means people visit to show respect for the Leader of the Nation, or if it’s merely a cool photo op.

After Bayterek Tower, I pass the two golden towers either side of Acorda, the presidential palace. Not sure of the symbolism here, but… all that glitter (Dubai!). Rumour has it, locals call them the beer cans. I appreciate the irreverence.

Acorda is the office of the be-all and end-all, Nursultan himself. The first, and so far, only president of Kazakhstan, in the last round (April 2015), a whopping 97.75% of the voter turnout wanted him to remain in office. OSCE has had observers present at 8 elections in the country and has this to say about them.

Outside the central oval, the crane seems to be the main bird. (That’s what Beijingers said about their city pre-2008 Olympics.) Much of Astana is a building site. A metro is being built, which will connect the city to the airport (Dubai!), meanwhile there are busses (easy to use), taxis (official and unofficial), and – your feet.

I walk and walk. And walk and walk and walk, feeling I’m not exactly the centre of attention. Not referring to me personally here, but as a human wanting to explore on foot. (Again, Dubai!) Vast distances and seemingly miles between each zebra crossing.

Unless you want to take life in your hands and just run across the wiiiiide avenues, there’s going to be some roundabout routes. I intended to walk the measly 3.3 kilometres between Bayterek Tower and the National Museum, but my phone said 17 107 steps. That should be about 12 kilometres. Granted, that included quite a few intentional detours to look at something interesting (I forget what), and a lot of backtracking where there was only one way in/out. All in all, though: in Astana, 3 km by car does not necessarily equal 3 km on foot.

Crossing the river, I pass by the flower-shaped Central Concert Hall…

…have a look at Acorda from the other side – fishermen in the foreground,

… then continue to the pyramidic (is that a word?) Palace of Peace and Reconciliation (Foster again!) …

… one of Astana’s stunning white mosques (Hazrat Sultan Mosque below):

… Shabyt – Palace of the Arts (Kazakh National University of Arts):

… and, not least, the enormous glass-and-marble National Museum of the Republic of Kazakhstan on the equally enormous Independence Square, with yet another reminder of the capital’s 20th anniversary.

Inside the museum, I’m welcomed by a golden, larger than life Nursultan, as well as a golden eagle hovering over us both, also larger than life. Soon, I’m feeling larger than life myself, and ponder whether to have a golden statue of myself erected… somewhere. (Not sitting in a chair, though. Maybe in the midst of a cartwheel…)

The museum covers the country’s nomadic culture, its various ethnic groups, and affords a glimpse of the oppressive Soviet years. There’s also a section on contemporary Kazakh art. The halls are spacious and exhibits are presented orderly. Entrance is 700 tenge (1.75 EUR/2 USD), with an additional 1000 tenge if you want to see the sparkly Golden Hall (treasury).

Khan Shatyr seen through the gate of the KazMunayGas HQ (Kazakhstan’s state-owned oil and gas company). Does it look familiar? Think Hotel Atlantis the Palm in (where else but) Dubai.

Would I recommend Astana? Yes, why not. You want to experience everywhere, don’t you? Like Dubai, it makes an interesting stop-over. And Air Astana is a nice airline. Two days/two nights is good.

Will I return? Almaty remains my favourite Central Asian city, and I can’t see that changing. But a few decades from now, for a brief spell, I wouldn’t mind landing my little spacecraft in the car park in the photo above. Let’s say 2038 for this one, as well. Could be sooner.

Baalbek, Anjar and wine: 3 highlights of the Bekaa Valley

Crossing Mount Lebanon, I’m now deep into the Bekaa Valley, in Heliopolis. You might know it better as Baalbek. This is Hezbollah country, visible by the militant organisation’s characteristic flag – green logo on yellow background –  but not much else.

My first glimpse of the legendary temple complex here in Baalbek is from the verandah of my charming hotel. It looks a wonder in daylight – even more so lit up at night.

Baalbek

We’re not quite finished with Lebanon’s wonderful heritage sites yet, see.

Baalbek is 90 km from Beirut, along the Beirut – Damascus International Highway – about halfway between the two capitals. It’s possible to visit Baalbek as a day trip, but I wouldn’t advise it. Stay the night, preferably at the quirkily delightful Hotel Palmyra. You’d be in good company. Agatha Christie stayed here. So did Kaiser Wilhelm, Albert Einstein, Nina Simone, and heaps of others – all here to see the best preserved and most massively magnificent Roman ruins in all of Lebanon; some would say in all of Rome. The sheer size of this complex demonstrates the might of the Empire very well; Baalbek was one of Rome’s largest sanctuaries.

The complex was built over a period of two centuries, in layers – one on top of each other: Phoenician, Greek and Roman. It comprises temples to Jupiter, Venus, and Bacchus. So we have the king of gods, the goddess of love, beauty and fertility, and god of the vine – and of fertility. How appropriate here in the fertile Bekaa Valley. Also, these three are the Roman version of Phoenician fertility gods that were worshipped here even earlier. The three religions have all been mixed up at Baalbek. I think modern religions/societies could benefit from adopting this pragmatic world view.

Entering by the Temple of Venus, I’m not sure the goddess would be overly happy with the condition of her shrine. It’s mostly rubble. Maybe that’s her there, sending down a defiant beam.

Temple of Venus

But things immediately improve. Venus’ temple is a bit outside the main area of the complex. From there we enter the site proper through the old ceremonial entrance, this human-dwarfing stairway.

After that, it’s all Roman pomp and grandeur. Everything here is colossal and solid and surrounded by the Anti-Lebanon range, snow-topped even now in May.

Next to Jupiter is Bacchus. Looks like his massive temple could have been in use yesterday, doesn’t it? Be sure to get in close – and look up – at the finely carved details.

Bacchus Temple

Graffiti through the ages

 

And from modern times… the gate keeper office:

Outside the temple complex are a few stalls selling souvenirs, including Hezbollah t-shirts. I considering buying one – but hesitate. And then the peddler simply hands me one. Can’t say no, could I? Though, where I could possibly wear a Hezbollah t-shirt…

Hajjar al-Hibla: Stone of the pregnant woman

In Baalbek, you can also see the pregnant woman’s stone, billed as the largest monolith in the world. Maybe. At 20 m long, 4 m high and 4 m wide, it’s certainly one of the largest.  (I’m reminded of Hatshepsut’s unfinished obelisk in the quarry in Aswan.) The peculiar name has many back stories, one of them says that touching the stone will increase a woman’s fertility.

Just down the street from ancient Baalbek, we bid adieu to contemporary Baalbek at this cheerful sign. Onwards to the city of the Umayyads.

Anjar, city of the Umayyads

About one hour south of Baalbek is the Umayyad city of Anjar. We’re now 5 km from the Lebanese border. On the other side is Syria, yet the Syrian border is more than 20 km away. The area in between is no man’s land; not in a dangerous sense, but because the borders are either side of the mountain.

Here at Anjar, we’re in the Arab world. Anjar was a stronghold built in the 8th century by the Umayyads (rulers who took over after the death of Muhammed) then abandoned, leaving behind the ruins of their city.

The ruins aren’t nearly as grandiose as at Baalbek (are they anywhere…?), but they do appear Roman. No wonder. Anjar was built with stones taken from Roman buildings that were already there. So you have an Arab town, but with Roman columns and arches.

Anjar was discovered in the 1970s, and is only partially excavated, but still an interesting site to explore. Keeping in mind that this was a city rather than just palaces and temples, the atmosphere feels different. There are homes, thermal baths, places of worship, shops, a sewage system… almost like a miniature Pompeii, only Arab. All within the city walls, covering a rectangular area of only 114 000 sq metres. The fact that we’re only about 10 people in total walking around this ancient city, makes it even more intriguing.

Wine in the Bekaa Valley

20 minutes from Anjar is your opportunity to sample the nectar of the gods, i.e. the wonderful wine of the Bekaa Valley. There are several wineries in the valley; we have a look – and a taste – at Château Ksara, the country’s oldest.

It isn’t known how long wine has been produced in the Bekaa Valley, but considering the enormous temple to Bacchus at Baalbek, I think it’s safe to assume 2000 years, at least.

These words from Ksara is an appropriate end to our little series of posts from this captivating country:

 

Fe sahetek!

 

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Baalbek and Anjar are UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Here are more UNESCO World Heritage sites around the world.

 

 

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World at a Glance: Petroglyphs in Tamgaly Gorge

As this goes to publish, flight schedules on point, I’ll be ambling about the airport in Constantinople (something about that name…), Central Asia bound yet again, and I was reminded I still haven’t told you about the rock carvings in Kazakhstan’s Tamgaly Gorge.

Now, Tajikistan will be the major player this journey. We will be in Kazakhstan only for a few days, for a bit of declimatisaton (is there even such a word?) at the end. Much as I love experiencing new places, there’s comfort in the familiar. However, there isn’t time to return to Tamgaly. And I say that with some regret.

Petroglyphs… I seem to have a thing for them, don’t I? Or at least, I stumble over them all over the place. And write about them. In Southern Norway, way above the Arctic Circle in Northern Norway, in Sweden, in Azerbaijan, and in the Caribbean. Let’s add Kazakhstan to the list.

Tamgaly horse

Tamgaly Gorge is about 170 km northwest of Almaty.

I don’t think there’s any practical way to get there by public transport. I hired a car and driver, organised by the receptionist at my hotel. Someone he knew, friend of a friend. Yet another country where everyone seems to have a guy. This guy didn’t know much about the petroglyphs, nor did he speak much of any other language than his own, and my knowledge of Kazakh is sadly lacking. In retrospect, I should have researched a bit more and found a guide/driver, as my driver wasn’t much of a guide. Hindsight…

Life, death, bread and circus

This is what I gleaned from a few noontide hours clambering about on rocks on an exceptionally hot July day two years ago:

The site in Tamgaly Gorge has about 5000 petroglyphs, most of them from the Bronze Age, and most of them (that I saw) depicting animals and worship in one form or another. That makes sense; animals/food and the god force will have been a major focus area 3000 years ago.

You can also see a pregnant cow with the foetus visible – a sort of Bronze Age ultrasound. Then a woman giving birth. War scenes. Birth and death, the eternal cycle. And there’s what appears to be a dance troupe. Bread and circus: food and entertainment. Seems we haven’t changed much over the millennia.

Back in Almaty, I was told there are a few examples of petroglyph porn at Tamgaly as well, which I completely missed – yet another reason to have had a guide. I normally prefer tripping about on my own, without much planning, just taking it in. That usually works very well, and frequently leads to happy accidents. This time, not so much. I missed out on interesting stuff. Learn from my mistakes, folks.

The ‘glyphs have been subject to the vagaries of time, weather and humans. Some are covered in graffiti; some stones look like they might have had petroglyphs cut out! Some have partially succumbed to frost, then heat, then frost, then heat again – and even earthquakes.

As well as petroglyphs, Tamgaly Gorge contains graves and burial mounds. What might this area have been used for back in the Bronze Age day? Well, there’s plenty of water here, and greenery – more so than the surrounding mountain landscape which appears arid, brutal. Unusually (to me, at least), the rocks are mostly black and a bit glossy. A very cool site, actually. Even in the heat.

I wish I had more photos to show you. Unfortunately, a memory card breakdown meant they got lost somewhere in the invisible bin out there in cyber space. Sorry about that.

World at a Glance is a series of short articles here on Sophie’s World, with a single photo, portraying curious, evocative, happy, sad, wondrous or unexpected encounters.

 

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Petroglyphs within the Archaeological Landscape of Tamgaly is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here are more UNESCO World Heritage sites around the world.

Hiking Qadisha Valley and the Cedars of God

Lebanon is a small country packed with sights and landscape of great variety. There’s winter and summer in one day (ski Mount Lebanon in the morning, chill at the Mediterranean beaches in the afternoon), there’s the bustling nightlife in Beirut, there’s jaw dropping remnants of ancient Phoenicia and Imperial Rome, there’s nectar from a number of wineries in the Bekaa Valley, and there’s excellent hiking in spectacular nature. How’s that for superlatives? All true!

Fascinating as they are, we’ll leave the ancient ruins for now – and have a look at nature and Lebanon’s mighty cedar trees.

Horsh Arz el-Rab: The Cedars of God

Qadisha Valley and the Cedars of God

Have you noticed the cedar tree in the Lebanese flag? Here it is, bobbing in the oh so blue waters of the Med.

The monumental cedar is native to the country, and once covered all of Mount Lebanon. Unfortunately for the cedar, it makes excellent building materials, and just about anyone who set their conquering foot on these shores – Phoenicians, Romans, Babylonians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, Ottomans… I might even have forgotten a few – contributed to deforestation. Even British troops in the First World War cut down trees to build railways.  Today, only a few cedar patches remain, scattered about. Here in this landscape, about 400 trees remain, I’m told. And I may well have photographed every one of them. But 400 is 400. In Cyprus, only a single cedar tree remain, and a rather puny one at that; only 25 metres tall.

But why cedars of god?

Well, it’s a magnificent tree, tall and majestic – and spoken of no less than 103 times in the Bible. Here’s one quote from Ezekiel:

Behold, the Assyrian was a cedar in Lebanon with fair branches, and with a shadowing shroud, and of an high stature; and his top was among the thick boughs

and another, this one from Job:

He moveth his tail like a cedar: the sinews of his stones are wrapped together.

Interesting as that is, I can’t quite figure out who Job is talking about here, even after having read the entire chapter; (chapter 40, if you’re interested).

The ‘god’ bit seems to go back further than the Bible, though; all the way back to the gods of Mesopotamia. Gilgamesh (the first to mention the great flood in writing) is said to have built Uruk, his city, with cedar trees.

Qadisha Valley

The stunning canyon that is the Qadisha Valley is 1000 metres deep and home to holy caves and monasteries; a place of refuge from religious persecution for a thousand years.

According to UNESCO

Ouadi Qadisha is one of the most important settlement sites of the first Christian monasteries in the world…

 

they go on:

Its natural caves, carved into the hillsides – almost inaccessible – and decorated with frescoes testifying to an architecture specifically conceived for the spiritual and vital needs of an austere life.

 

I forgo the monasteries, as I’m short on time, with a flight to catch n’all. Also, I’m more interested in walking through this slightly inhospitable and mysterious landscape. Nature is its own church. I wonder if the pilgrims of old thought the same.

The Prophet in Qadisha Valley

You may have read The Prophet. You may even like it. If so, you won’t want to miss the Khalil Gibran Museum. The author was born here in Bsharre and is buried here as well. His coffin rests in the hermitage which is part of the museum. Here he is:

 

Views from Gibran Museum:

What’s a photogenic museum in photogenic surroundings without photogenic cats…

…somehow, on this journey, what I’ve found most intriguing about Lebanon is the colours (as you may have noticed). In that spirit:

 

Mount Lebanon

Time to leave Mount Lebanon, but first, as we’re about 1800 metres up, a little walk – and a snowball fight. In the rough and rocky terrain, I spot a lone flower, pink – and 3 spent casings, blue. The panorama below is the infamous Bekaa Valley, beautiful in a ruggedly Biblical way. Heading down to Baalbek, we descend into the Bekaa, ever closer to the border with Syria. Wee touch of excitement. Can’t help it.

 

Qadisha Valley and Cedars of God – practicals

On my last night in Beirut, I impulsively decided to spend the next day hiking in the Qadisha Valley. As I was flying out in the evening, I needed to start early – 5am. I had been in the cedar forest a few days earlier, so only wanted the hike. Fortunately, the hotel receptionist knew a guy who could help. In Lebanon, everyone seems to know a guy that can help. My excursion turned a bit more dramatic than anticipated, with an unplanned bout behind the wheel in the lunatic frenzy that is Beirut traffic. But I got to the airport in time.

Chances are you’re more organised, and will have more options. You can take a day tour; the price is upward of USD 75, including lunch. Or you can take a local bus; there’s a direct minibus to Bsharre, which costs 7000 LBP (about € 4 / US$ 5). The drive from Beirut takes about 2 hours. The local bus route takes 2.5 – 3.5 hours; if you go that route, you’d be well advised not to try to fit in both Qadisha Valley and the Cedars of God in one day.

 

 

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Ouadi Qadisha (the Holy Valley) and the Forest of the Cedars of God (Horsh Arz el-Rab) is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here are more UNESCO World Heritage sites around the world.