Sometimes we tend to take for granted how really, really large the earth is, and how diverse and complex its geography and ecosystem are. As children, we read how Phileas Fogg circumnavigated the world in just 80 freaking days in Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days. And yet today, even with modern air travel and land transport system, one could barely experience even 0.001% of what earth has to offer in less than three months.
In fact, one could spend years traveling and still barely scrape the surface of all the known wonders the planet has to offer – and this is before we even start looking at the lesser known locations. Locations that appear to be more at home in science fiction novels or film sets. Locations that will take your breath away and forever change the way you see the world. We’re surely exaggerating, right? Not really. Come and take a look for yourself.
♦ Rainbow Mountains of Zhangye National GeoPark, Gansu, China
Imagine rainbow-colored rolling hills, valleys, jagged cliffs, and other rocky outcrops – the Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park is filled with such formations. It is as if a giant wandered through the mountainous region with a paintbrush and wooden palette, and rained colors on the land. No such luck though. As impressive it looks, the explanation behind this geomorphologic anomaly is actually rather simple – it is the culmination of a 25-million-year blending process of red sandstones and other colorful mineral deposits. This phenomenon is however unique to China.
♦ The Pink Lakes of Australia, Canada, Azerbaijan, Spain and Senegal
You’ve seen blue, green and muddy lakes, but have you seen pink ones? There are actually eight pink lakes in the world – and when we say pink, we mean cotton candy kind of pink, not some light shade of pink. Pink lakes, which contain high concentrations of salt, are caused by saline-loving algae or bacteria such as dunaliella salina and desulfohalobium retbaense. Once the salt level of these bodies of water crosses a certain threshold, and the water and ambient temperature reach a sufficient level, there will be an explosion in the growth of said algae and bacteria. These lifeforms will subsequently release mainly pink-colored carotenoids into the water – hence the pink lakes. While the lakes may appear inviting, take great care before stepping into one – the extremely high salt content (as much as 40-50% concentration) could damage your skin, at the very least.
The eight known pink lakes are as follows:
• Lake Hillier, Hutt Lagoon and Pink Lake in Western Australia, Australia
• Lake Retba, Cap Vert, Senegal
• Salt Pans of Torrevieja (Two Salinas de Torrevieja), Alicante, Spain
• Dusty Rose Lake, British Columbia, Canada
• Lake Masazir, Baku, Azerbaijan
• Saline di Cervia, Sardinia, Italy (seasonal)
♦ Door to Hell, Derweze, Turkmenistan
It all began in the summer of 1971 when engineers discovered natural gas reserves near the small village of Derweze (sometimes spelled Darwasa or Darwaza) in Turkmenistan. They quickly erected a rig to start mining the natural gas, thought to be one of the largest in the world at the time. As fate would have it, the rig collapsed and the entire area was sealed off to prevent workers and villagers from breathing the poisonous methane gas.
To stop the fire, an incendiary device or explosive material (the story is not clear) was thrown at the site of the collapsed rig. The objective was to start a fire that will burn itself out after depleting the methane in the air. Unfortunately, their actions resulted in an explosion that created a massive 200 feet wide and 70 feet crater with an unending supply of natural gas from beneath the earth.
The crater looked exactly like how one would imagine the gateway to hell would look like – a fiery red fissure that echoes Dante’s images of the underworld. The effect is even more pronounced at night; you could probably imagine some primeval, malevolent creature climbing out of the crater. 44 years on, and the fiery gate of hell continues to burn.
♦ Chamarel Seven Coloured Earth, Rivière Noire, Mauritius
Unknown to many, the tiny resort island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean holds another attraction to tourists – its one-of-a-kind seven-colored, naturally-occurring earth. Even if you move and mix the soil, its seven colors will eventually segregate in different layers of blue, brown, green, purple, red, violet and yellow.
The soil is a blend of volcanic dust and clay. Through a millennia-long process, the soil is stripped of its water content through chemical weathering and decomposition of trace organic and mineral solubles, leaving the dominant iron and aluminum oxides content relatively unscathed. The seven colors are produced through the organic blending of these two minerals with other compounds such as goethite and kaolinite.
The result is stunning colorful earth, unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.
♦ Sea of Stars, Vaadhoo Island, Maldives
“Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art, not in lone splendour hung aloft the nigh?”
John Keats, the great English romantic poet, would probably go into conniptions if he ever saw the starry beaches of Raa Atoll, Maldives – for the stars lies not in the heavens, but on the shallow shores of the Sea of Stars on Vaadhoo Island.
This phenomenon is caused by the presence of bioluminescent phytoplanktons that emanates a blue glow. Multiply the effect by a few of million, and the entire length of the beach seem like a mirror to the sky on a cloudless night. The radiance is simply breathtaking.
Song of the day: Simply Red – Stars