Cappadocia Turkey Underground Cave Cities


It was while watching a SCI FI Ancient Aliens show I first heard about the underground cities of Derinkuyu, Kaymakli and Ozkonak.  These and the other 200+ Underground Cities are a huge mystery that may never come to full light.  Everything we know is just from what has been found in excavating what remained.  This could be remnants from those who were last there, as these caves could be much much older. There really are so many cave systems and underground tunnels and essentially full cities underground that it may never be fully excavated.  These cities contained wineries, stables, churches, school, cellars, storage rooms.  The largest of the underground city of the in the Derinkuyu district in Nevşehir Province, Turkey.  It’s only been open to visitors since 1969 and less than half of what has been excavated is accessible to tourists.  At peak this city could have supported 20,000 residents and was up to 85 Meters deep!!!  According to the Turkish department of culture the cave is 8th to 7th century possibly built by the Phrygians either for religious purposes or refuge. 

Derinkuyu Yeralti Sehri

 

Now if you’re looking to visit this region, Goreme, Turkey is a great central location and really setup well for tourists where you can sleep in your own cave, but not part of any major tunnel system.  Goreme has shuttles to and from the airport.  Warning: If you are planning on not renting a car (which you shouldn’t need to do), you need to make sure you arrange ahead of time with one of the shuttle companies, the small airport in Kayceri has no ticket desk for shuttles and the taxi ride is pretty steep comparatively.  I was denied entry into a shuttle bus even after offering to pay him his price.  The driver won’t take money, it has to be pre-arranged.  I ended up catching a ride with an older couple that was headed into the city.  Really I got lucky, I didn’t want to pay the high price of the taxi, and there were no bus options that were convenient.  It was going to be a long walk and an inconvenient trek to the bus station, and who knows how long I may have had to wait.  WIth as many tourist shops and vehicles as there are in Goreme it was amazing to me how there was really NOTHING at the airport.

 

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On the surface you really wouldn’t even know it was down there, save the entrance sign and a few air vents that look like wells.

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Based on the size of the 500KG door that’s only able to be opened from the inside, I can definitely imagine it being used for refuge and for hiding from someone or something.

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There are some spaces that are very wide open such is just outside the church which makes the shape of a cross, underground, or the very tight spaces that is speculated as being a doorway that forces the person to be penitent.  They must go onto their knees to enter.  The self inflicted punishment is they would go around and around through the small tunnel to learn humility, kind of like the hail Mary or doing rosary beads.

When inside unless you’re claustrophobic, you feel very safe.  The walls seem very solid and there isn’t any crumbling rock.  There are some areas where you need to bend over to avoid hitting your head, but the hall near the church has a lot of room, and supports really large gathering of people.

You can take a virtual tour of the caves at http://www.muze.gov.tr/derinkuyu

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Look closely at these boards and you have one of the primary tools used to carve the stone with much sharper stones.  The would drag the board across the softer stone and it would essentially carve away the stone.  In this way they could remove the stone in large swaths.  For smaller areas, they would use smaller tools.

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Those who speculate that it was designed to be very temporary need to explain the graves in the area called the Morgue.  Here the rooms in this section of the cave are designed to handle the dead… Is it possible these graves were temporary holding places for the dead until they could find peace long enough to bury their dead.

 

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Yes, it was very dark 7-8 stories down.  The little lights are wired up and brought in through wires attached to the wall.

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Nevşehir Province has several other underground cities and Derinkuyu itself connects to Kaymakli via an 8 km tunnel. The deepest cave city is Derinkuyu and the widest is Kaymakli.  You can’t travel the tunnel between them.  Derinkuyu is about 30 minute drive from Goreme, which is the city where most of the hotel and tourist support is.  Access to these cities is no longer open to local residents without going through the main entrance. They remain generally unoccupied. In excess of 200 underground cities containing a minimum of two levels have been discovered in the area between Kayseri and Nevsehir.  Some 40 of those contain a minimum of three levels or more. The troglodyte (underground) cities at Kaymaklı and Derinkuyu are two of the best examples of habitable underground structures.  Reaching Derinkuyu or Goreme and the underground cities and cave churches, one can purchase a domestic ticket on Turish Airlines to Keyseri or Nevsehir. There are overland bus routes as well from across the country with flying being the shortest and not a bad way to reach the city.  Turkey is a big country so plan accordingly.

 

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Why you need to visit Cappadocia the Underground Cities and Cave Churches

There are so many incredible things to see in Cappadocia that you could spend a weeks here and still discover new places. The main ‘must-see’ attractions are the open-air museums which are essentially groupings of caves, cathedrals and homes and the two best underground cities. At the same time it wouldn’t make sense to go this whole way and not see the incredible Rose Valley, the Ihlara valley which has many of its own small cave churches, but even just outside the Goreme Open Air museum is one of my favorite cave churches.  What you’ll find when you arrive is there are many tourist companies that have organized the tours into the blue route, and red route, and so on, to group the various activities for those with limited time.  As well, don’t forget to get up as high as you can to check out the valley, this may be in a hot air balloon or on a hike to the top of the canyons.  One thing you must do is explore.  There’s so much to see and not everything is behind closed doors.  Even just hiking the valleys, you’ll be amazed to find abandoned caves.

  • Goreme Open Air Museum: cave churches with frescoes
  • Zelve Open Air Museum: an empty cave town with churches
  • Kaymakli Underground City: the largest underground city
  • Derinkuyu Underground City: the deepest underground city
  • Ihlara Valley: the deepest gorge of Anatolia
  • Uchisar: Roman rock-cut castle. You’ll see it driving back and forth.  Very cool looking. 
  • Ortahisar: Roman rock-cut castle.
  • Pasabag: mushroom-shaped fairy chimneys, monks valley
  • Devrent: animal-shaped fairy chimneys, imagination valley
  • Hacibektas: center of Bektasi sect of Islam
  • Gulsehir: first settlements in Cappadocia

I shared some of my stories on the Open Air Musuem, the Ihlara Valley and Monestary in “Early Cave Churches of Cappadocia Turkey” and more on the “Underground Cities

Christian Cave Churches and Monasteries in Cappadocia Turkey


Iconic Early 5th Century Christian Cross

As a traveler one of the thing that really stands out in digging in to understand a people is how much of culture is influenced by faith and religion.  In Europe you must visit the cathedrals because it was the center of the universe for the people.  In Istanbul you must visit the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia or you haven’t seen Istanbul. I have found Israel, Jerusalem, Bethehem, and Jordan to be quite amazing.  Even Cairo had places that reminded me of Moses and the red sea.  I have found the cathedrals across Europe to be quite amazing, even Ireland had some amazing history as it relates to early Christianity.  Rome and the catacombs.  Early Christians in Ireland, or Monserrat in Spain… incredible.  These early Christians driven into caves and into the mountains the hermits of Bulgaria and Macedonia are fascinating and must see.  The monasteries in the cliffs of Meteora where they survived from decimation for more than 500 years.  I love thinking about Thessaloniki or the Thessalonians.  My visit to Armenia and connecting with locals and making friends the thoughts and attitudes of the people cannot be separated from their faith as a people.  Mount Arrarat and Noah’s Ark and God’s dealing with the Armenian people is so deeply ingrained in their art, their life and spirit.

A One trying to understand the mind of the pre-Nicean church can do much study the rich art and paintings captured on the walls of the hundreds if not thousands of painted caves now abandoned art work of Cappadocia.  The cave paintings while much has been destroyed have preserved a lot of history and messages through the images.  I find it quite inspiring and very peaceful.  In some of the churches that you pay to see one with no cameras allowed.  I could easily spend an hour staring at the ceiling and unweaving the thoughts in the heads of these early christians.  Their faith, their perspectivies, their stories.  Much of the tradition has been preserved, but a lot has been lost as well.  Lots of contemplation are required to understand not just the story, but the perceptions of the artist.

Cave homeMary the mother of Jesus

This photo is not a direct photo, but actually a photo of what I saw, but photographed from a book at the gift shop, or a post card.  You can see how much color is still in the images.   The color alone is quite the story as the paint was made from pigeon poo.

My travels took me to Goreme, in central Turkey.  These natural occuring ferry chimneys are amazing.  I’ve only been in a few places in the world where they have these, Utah’s Goblin Valley, and Bryce Canyon, but what those places don’t have are the primitive Christian churches and the underground cities.  The Tuff left from the volcanic ash turned rock helped provide a substance that was very easy to carve, but also very strong, like a more dense pumice.

Goreme Open Air Museum Entrance

There are multiple locations in Cappadocia where you can find these cave churches.  First the largest collection in a small area is the Goreme Open Air Museum.  There are lots of great cave hotels in Goreme.  I recommend staying in a cave at least one night.  It’s a unique experience and it’s quite affordable.

Unfortunately nearly all of the churches would not allow photography or video cameras at the Open air musuem.  You could take pictures outside, but definitely not as  compelling.

high cave churchThe Snake Church

There were a few select churches that they allowed photography in.  The names of the churches come from the art work inside.  Apple church, snake church, etc…

Christian Column Inside the cave church

While these may look impressive, the reality is these were pretty bare.

On a walk through the various churches you’d mostly get directed at the various figures and stories from the bible, but it was stories like the animal below that represents paganism that really caught my interest.  I was interested in the explanations of what was different and how they lived and what they believed.  Like can you believe that most of the well preserved cave paintings have the eyes of the people carved out.

Pagans

I was told the local muslim people felt threatened and the eyes alone could convert.  So you have these scary pictures where the eyes are carved out.

Greek Influece on Caves in Turkey The Hive of Caves

Not only were the churches carved into the stone, the people as well lived in caves in stone where archways could be fancied up.  On the left you have the homes of displaced Greeks in Turkey.  Most of them moved back to Greece.

Next we travel to the Ihlara Valley were over a dozen caves were turned into churches.  One of the most amazing hikes… Combines peaceful walk along a stream with basalt canyon walls like the snake river valley in Idaho or, and pillars of the Giants Causeway in Ireland.

Ihlara Valley Map

As you can see by the little yellow dots along the slides of the river in the Ihlara valley, for miles along the river, caves were turned into places of worship.  If you were simply walking along the river, you would have really No idea this was happening.  It’s Fantastic!!

Ihlara valley cave churchesPainted Cave

Do these caves above look like they might contain this… image to the right.

Beautiful art still remains on the walls.  Much has been destroyed or defaced.  Eyes of the saints in the pictures are scratched out.  One guide told us that the people were worried about how the beautiful icononic art might convert them.  The watching eyes were just too powerful.  So much so that for much of what you see there are few eyes you’ll find.

The Three Magi

Below the three magi or wisemen and their gifts for the birth of the savior minus their eyes.  If you look near the hat you can see names in Greek.  It looks like the names of the magi were added afterward. The shape of their hats is interesting.  It brings a historical understanding.  Studying this brings much more understanding of the early 6th century church.

Mary on a donkey

Mary on the Donkey… Did you know the reference to Mary riding a donkey is actually not found in the bible, but in apocryphal writings in the text the Infancy Gospel of James?  This may be one of the earliest paintings that exists showing Mary on a Donkey.

The dome in pigeon poo

It is very incredible to think of the condition that these paintings were made.  These were painted many many years prior to the crusades, and the spread of the ottoman empire.  These were made at time when the Christians were hiding in caves.  The paint was made from pigeon droppings.  To think about that part of it it’s really very remarkable much remains at all.

Open Air churchesGoreme

When in Goreme and surrounding you’ll find that you need at least 2 to 3 days to simply race through everything.  4 days to a week will allow you to take a slower pace to really enjoy the valleys and take more in.  The tours are very inexpensive, and they are organized into the blue tour, the red tour and so on, and they really are packed with places to see and visit.  One morning you need to do the balloon ride for the adventuresome.  If you are thinking about the balloon, don’t wait till the last day because they are frequently cancelled due to weather conditions.

Goreme from above

View of Goreme from the top of the hills.

Abandoned fairy homes

The Fairy chimneys… turned home and now abandoned. A honeycomb of mystery and intrigue.

The Messiah scratched out

The Messiah, with a scratched out face…

Selime Cathedral

For more adventure… On one end of the Ihlara valley is the Selime Cathedral.  Walking to simply get to this Cathedral makes you feel like you’re rock climbing.  It isn’t for little old ladies or old men.  This requires a little bit of skill to navigate across the rocks, through tunnels and a bit of scrambling…

Selime Cathedral

But the payoff is big.  Huge rooms with archways and columns still remain while much of the artwork is destroyed and soot covers the ceilings.

Selime Cathedral

If you look closely you can still see remains, of what was once majestic.

Cappadocia Central Turkey Valleys and the all seeing eye

If there was any doubt that this valley wasn’t backed with mystery, intrigue and wonder… I hope a few of these picture have opened your mind.  Goreme and Cappadocia still remains one of my favorite destinations and the my appreciation for the early church and their cave dwelling days has shaped what we think of even as a catheral or church.  We have much to share in appreciation for these devoted follower of central Turkey.

Bahrain – Top 5 Things to See and Do


  Bahrain Architecture

Formula one

Bahrain is your oyster.  You’ll likely start your travels of Bahrain in the capital of Manama.  Manama means “Sleeping Place” and while it may seem quaint, there is some fascinating places to see and visit.  Bahrain has changed a lot in the last decade, and is poised to change even more in the decade to come in competiting with it’s neighbors to be the Next Dubai, or compete for fans of Forumula one.  People come to Bahrain to relax and have fun.

Many may plan their trip to Bahrain around a race, or football competition.  The stadium is huge, and the infrastructure is designed to host a very large crowd.  There’s also a lot of international food places that will surprise you that they’ve got.  You likely didn’t know some of these places made their way to a place like Bahrain, but that’s also important in understanding the future of Bahrain.  Once you think you’ve got it figured out… it will surprise you.  There will likely be more struggles in this country in the future, it is a place of change.

1. Manama Souq

Manama Souq, known for it’s pearls and gold in the warren of streets behind Bab al-Bahrain.  The souq is the place to go for electronics, bargains, spices, sheesha bottles and a other Bahraini essentials.  It definitely isn’t just a tourist destination.  You’ll see all types of people shopping Most shops in the souq are open from about 09:00 to 13:00 and 16:00 to 21:00 Saturday to Thursday, and after evening prayer on Friday.  It’s a great way to people watch and see a great variety of people from the well dressed upper class Bahrainy to the working class folks.  May I even entertain the idea that you can see Shiite and Sunni doing business together in the market?

2. Mosques: National Mosque – Al-Fatih Mosque

Muslim Mosque GuideBahrain National Mosque

The national mosque is open to visitors.  Happy to share information about the life of the Muslim and more of the faith of Islam this grand mosque has very informative guides. The Al-Fatih Mosque is the largest building in the country and is capable of holding up to 7000 worshippers. The mosque was built with marble from Italy, glass from Austria and teak wood from India, carved by local Bahraini, and has some fine examples of interior design.

 

 

National Mosque of Bahrain

3. Tree of Life

The Tree of Life BahrainTree of Life

Before and After pictures of the Tree of Life… out in the desert.

Located in the middle of the desert, the Tree of Life, a 500 or 800 year old mesquite tree, stands alone. It is a mystery as to how it stays so green and alive in the waterless desert.  Standing alone in the desert about 1.2 miles (two kilometers) from the Jebel Dukhan.  It’s quite large and has huge branches. It looks too old, but the leaves still fresh green…

The tree source of water remains mystery, some others believe that it gets nourishing from the underground but no one knows why this tree still surviving.

It was quite the trek out of the city to go track down the tree, and I was disappointed to find someone had tried to burn it, and vandalized it.  I found a lot of what’s going on in the region in the appearance of the tree and it’s treatment.  It seems to represent life.  It’s undergone some rough times, and this tree has seen a lot and despite all of that it has continued to persist.

While we were out there looking at the tree, we could see a group of tanks doing military exercises.

3. Dilmun Burial Mounds – A’ali Burial Mounds

Bahrain Burial Mounds Archeologist dig

As far as the eye could see, thousands and thousands of mounds dating from far back as 4000 years ago.  Not the size of the normal burial plot, but the size of a small house.  Over 350,000 ancient burial mounds covering spanning over 1000 years.  Some think it’s where Adam and Eve came from.  Could be the largest pre-historic ancient burial plot in the world covering many square kilometers.  There are so many that even today the locals are debating what to do with it.  If they excavate they can reuse the land, but some debate there isn’t much in them beyond pots and modest means, but some have copper and bronze weapons, jewelry, pottery that could tell the story of Dilmun civilization, an ancient trading hub that connected Mesopotamia, South Arabia and India, is believed to have inhabited Bahrain during the Bronze Age.    While I was there I saw an archeological team digging, finding bones, and pieces of pots, and so on.  The national museum has an exhibit on these strange mounds.

If you think there are a lot of mounds now, there’s only 1/5 of what use to exist, cleared for housing or already looted.  UNESCO has considered adding some of the burial mounds to it’s list.

4. Bahrain National Museum

Burial Mound

The most popular destination is the National Museum.  (It’s nearby where the Pearl Monument was located were recently (Mar 2011) it was destroyed during the civil unrest in uprisings that occurred there.  Bahrain is still known as one of the more liberal countries in the Persian gulf.)

This Museum Bahrain National Museum is the best place to start for an intriguing, well-labelled introduction to the sights of the country.  It’s also walking distance to the waterfront. The museum showcases archaeological finds from ancient Dilmun and includes beautiful agate and carnelian beads and earthenware burial jars – used for the body as well as its chattels. It also outlines the local history of pearl fishing including information on the boats the dhow, complete with pearl divers.

Read more about this and other attractions on Lonely Planet guide to Bahrain.

5. Fort, Bahrain

Fort Bahrain

A UNESCO World Heritage, Fort Bahrain is a remnant of a former time when the port was controlled by the Portuguese in the 15th and 16th centuries.  This was during the times when they dominated trade routes in the Indian Ocean  One of the more important historic buildings on the island, the Bahrain Fort (or Qala’at al-Bahrain in Arabic). This fort is one of several built in Bahrain and around the Persian Gulf to protect these trade routes.  You can climb all over it and there are great views of the water from there.  Nearby there are some more ancient ruins (4000 years ago) of the Dilmun capital referred to in Sumerian writings (bronze age) surrounding the fort.

There are a couple of other forts as well in Bahrain worth seeing if you liked this one:  Arad Fort (near airport) and Riffa Fort (near Riffa).

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As you explore Bahrain you will continue to find things to see… there are some older sites to see including this ancient Mosque no longer has its roof and a few remaining walls.  You can still climb the minaret in the old mosque from 1400’s.

Enjoy exploring this fascinating country that isn’t going to stay still… it’s a progressive place and modernizing like crazy.  Expect Bahrain to be the place to be with the likes of Doha, and Dubai.

Finding Peace, Relaxing in Laos

Sunset in Laos

Sunset in Laos
Beautiful sunset with palm tree with stupa

Michael wanted to go to Myanmar, and I wanted to go to Laos.  So we compromised and flew to Thailand.  The wonderful thing about Thailand is it is a great hub.  The people are amazing, the food is amazing, the culture is very rich, and it’s very cheap to get around.  Can you believe it’s 30 Baht to the $1?  It’s a good time to visit Thailand for sure.  Day tripping from Chiang Rai to Myanmar or Laos is very easy.  We ended up spending a couple of days in Laos, but in hindsight it was really really peaceful and relaxing.

Peaceful Laos monks
Is there anything more peaceful than young monks

After getting a couple of photos for a couple of dollars on the Thailand side, we cross the river in Chiang Kong.  I think we paid less than the equivalent of a dollar to cross the river into Laos.  The first place we visited was this temple pictured above.  The oldest monk we ran into was the one next to me.  A very young contingent of monks and what was different about these guys was their interest in us.  For the most part when I’ve visited buddhist temples the monks usually avoid the camera and stay in the background.  In contrast these very friendly monks were very interested to get to know us and understand why we were visiting.  It also explained why there was a guy on a guitar playing to a group of monks as we ascended the hill up many stairs to visit this temple on top of the hill.

Gyitar music with laotian monks
Acoustic tunes with the monks

What’s more relaxing than listening to some acoustic guitar with monks as the sun goes down?  These brazilian guys were really relaxed as well… no hurry at all.

When I say this is a great place to relax, I’m obviously not talking about getting away from it all, and taking life at a different pace.  Very easy to leave your worries behind and take a breather.  I was amazed how immediately it seemed to happen, almost within seconds.  The river really takes a hold of you.

From where we were, you could go upstream to China, or downstream to LPQ.  One thing that really surprised me was the integration of army surplus.  This hut is literally built on B52 bombs.  These were either unused or duds.  Most of the explosive material has been taken out, but I’m not sure they still wouldn’t have enough to cause problems if the kids started hitting these with a hammer.

Tribal hut on B-52
Tribal hut on B-52

Let me give you a quick list of why it was so relaxing…

1. The people aren’t keeping up with the joneses.  In fact they are just surviving and thinking about their families.  They could be working on bamboo for the roof, or working on making whiskey a long and drawn out process.

2. The numerous number of temples and monks who seem so peaceful and make me want to sit on a pillow and meditate.  I took that opportunity a couple of times.  Very peaceful.

3. Industry – What do the locals do?  They aren’t doing major commutes, they simply walk or ride their scooters everything is very local.  Our guide owned duck farm, fish farm, and he was a guide on the side.

4. The River – those who have studied Siddhartha know it was the river that helped him find peace.  Right outside our $20 hotel was the river.  The Mekong gives life.  Life revolves around the river.

5. Massage – A good massage is so valuable.  I can’t resist a good massage.  Especially when it’s very accessible and cheap.  It’s the right price and the right time.

I don’t want to tell the MAN, but I know Laos is one place that’s a great place to escape the pace of life and focus on peace if I ever need to.

Road Less Traveled: Top 5 Travel Destinations of Armenia

Crazy Foot bridge

Rickety Old Foot bridge

Armenia view Mt. Ararat, the site where Noah’s Ark landed, according to Genesis 8:4. In addition, Armenia has the distinction of being the first country to adopt the Christian faith (301 A.D.) and being evangelized by two of Jesus’ apostles (Bartholomew and Thaddeus). The landscape is dotted with ancient churches and monasteries.

Armenia may not currently be a top of tourist destination due to the challenge of getting there, but my experience is there is a lot of hidden gems and may be one of the top emerging religious tourist destination yet to be discovered, it’s off the radar for most.  It’s definitely an ancient kingdom that has been passed from empire to empire until it gained it’s independence from the Soviet Union.  Since that time it’s had a hard time with a couple of it’s neighbors.  There’s some disputed Territory that was a gift from Stalin to Azerbaijan and another to Turkey.  The Turkish relationship isn’t as strained it appears, but the Azerbaijani relationship is still strained with land disputes.

Khor Virap Monestary

(Above: Khor Virap Monestary)

There are some amazing destinations in Armenia.  The history of Armenia is fascinating.  I do think it’s worth visiting and not one to overlook in your visit to the former soviet union and in your visit to the Caucuses.  You really have to plan your routes through this region of the world.  For example simply flying into Armenia is a challenge.  We found getting from Georgia to Armenia was a great way of seeing the region and there were many more flight options into Tbilisi such as through Istanbul (one of my favorite cities for extended layovers).  Both Georgia and Armenia are Christian nations.

1. Where Noah landed the Ark – Mt Ararat viewing from Khor Virap Monastery – The Khor Virap Monastery is a 17th century Church provides a spectacular and majestic view of Mount Ararat and one of the most visited church and tourist spot of Armenia.  Saint Gregory was imprisoned in a pit for 13 years and as the story goes came out and the miracle of surviving this pit resulted in a conversion of the King and further prostylting led to the country converting to Christianity in 301 AD.

Khor Virap - The pit

The Pit – Climbing down these steps is a freaky experience.  It feels like the latter isn’t straight up and down.  It feels like you’re leaning backward.

Khor Virap in the shadows of Mt Ararat

Khor Virap Monestary with the Bible famous Mt Ararat in the Background.  There were some farmers burning their fields that day, so the mountain isn’t as looming in this photo.

2. Garni Temple – The oldest and best preserved Pagan temple in the world.  This building plays a significant role in the establishment of Armenia as a country and hence has been preserved where a lot of pagan temples around the world were destroyed with the rise of Islam and Christianity.

Garni Pagan Temple in Armenia

The nearly 2000 year old temple has some older structures around it including some interesting mosaics and likely one of the most incredible views of river valley which remind me of the Ihlara Valley in Turkey and have similar looking basalt columns of the Giants causeway of Ireland.

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(View inside of the Garni temple)

While we were there, some pagans were holding a ritual for one of their members who was off to join the military.

3. Etchmiadzin Cathedral is the oldest state-built church in the world.  While meditating in the old capital city of Vagharshapat, Gregory had a vision of Christ’s coming to the earth to strike it with a hammer. From the spot rose a great Christian temple with a huge cross. He was convinced that God intended him to build the main Armenian church there. The Etchmiadzin Cathedral is the oldest state-built church in the world. The original vaulted basilica was built in 301-303 by Saint Gregory the Illuminator with the Kings help when Armenia became the first officially Christian country in the world.He renamed the city Etchmiadzin, which means “the place of the descent of the only-begotten.”  This UNESCO herritage site is a 4th Century church with a rich history of the Christian nation of Armenia.

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Courtesy Wikipedia

There was construction going on on the turrets while I was there so my photo didn’t turn out this great.  The church is part of a greater complex of religious buildings including religious seminaries.

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Above: Seminary Students and Armenian Priests in the greater complex

4. Armenian Genocide Complex – Memorial Complex of Tsitsernakaberd

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Right near the national stadium is the Genocide memorial with an eternal flame and a pillar pointing toward heaven.  My friend Marvel told us stories of his families making the experience very personal.  The Government of the Ottoman Empire ordered the  destruction of Armenians in Anatolia (Eastern Turkey) in an organized expulsion and extermination of Armenians. Women, children and elderly were from February 1915 sent on death marches towards the Syrian desert.  Some 1 million to 1.5 million died.

Apparently there is controversy in the use of the term “genocide” as Turkey and Azerbaijan choose to say these events were part of the war.  It’s very sad.

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Armenian Genocide Memorial 1915-1922, the flowers pile up in a circle around the flame.  Online there’s a 3-D video of the Armenian Genocide complex including the ability to place flowers.

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5. Yerevan Republic Square – The Republic Square is the place where ceremonies and meetings are held. The statue of Lenin used to be located in the southern forehead of the square, but when Armenia regained its independence, the statue was brought down.  Now you’ll find dancing fountains in the summer.

The square is surrounded with seven major buildings:

  • The National Gallery and the History Museum building (north).
  • The Ministry of Territorial Administration (north-east).
  • The Government House: holds the main offices of the Government of Armenia (north-east).
  • The Central post-office of the Republic of Armenia (south-east).
  • The “Mariott Armenia” hotel (south-west).
  • The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (north-west).
  • The Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources (north-west).

Republic Square Yerevan

Republic Square Yerevan

Christmas in central republic square

Vernisaj Market in Yerevan Armenia

Vernisaj Market in Yerevan, this is a must see on the weekends.  Lots of fun things for travelers.  Lots of crafts involving Noah and the local landscapes.

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This is the Old Yerevan Restaurant Band.  There were tons of fun.  Lots of great food to eat.  The food was one of my favorite things about Armenia.  Lots of great food.

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Incredible India Series: The World Famous Temple of Rats

Temple of the Rats

Our world is evolved enough people should NOT be dying of hunger any longer. End of story.  I don’t think we should put up with it any more.  If a handful of priests can keep alive 20,000 rats in the lap of luxury. We surely can apply some of these principles to help sustain communities all over the world.  In my next post I’ll tell you what we can learn from the rat temple, a place that’s one of my favorite because it’s sooo different from the culture I’m use to.  I spent a couple of weeks across India and Nepal with a couple of friends… Majid from Iran and Michael Noel from San Francisco.

While traveling in India I came across a peculiar place unique to any other on the planet.  It was the Karni Mata Temple known as the Rat Temple in Rajisthan province near Bikiner.

Karni Mata the world famous Rat Temple

The world famous shrine of Karni Mata can be found in the town of Deshnoke 30 km south from Bikaner on the road to Jodhpur. Karni Mata is worshiped as an incarnation of Goddess Durga.  This temple is famous for rats which can be seen everywhere in the temple.  The rats are treated as sacred and given protection in the temple.  Thousands of people travel to the temple by foot. The temple draws Hindu visitors from across the country hoping for blessings, as well as curious tourists from around the world. Inside, you are required to remove your shoes, it’s good luck to have rats run across your feet as this brings good luck.  It’s also good luck to find a white rat.  Apparently among the 20,000 rats there are 4 or 5 white rats.  We spent a while listening to the children who were telling us stories of where the white rat had hid in a wall and we waited around hoping to catch a glimpse.  The temple is an ancient building from the 1500’s built in beautiful white marble and has a silver door complete with images of rats that was donated by a rich ruler nearby.

The priests of the temple are protectors of the rats.  They bless the pilgrims and give them a special sacrament.  This sacramental food that is a mix of rat saliva and other stuff that comes out very yellow called prasadam, a candy like food for the rats. Eating food or drinking water that previously has been sampled by a rat is considered to be a supreme blessing.

Why Rats?  In India as well as in the west Rats aren’t that special.  In fact they are seen as animals that carry disease, but these rats are special.  For generations they have been taken care of in this prime state.

The story of the rat temple is quite unique.  I’ll put the story in my own words and then let you discover a number of online variations of the story.  The story goes that Karni Matta was the reincarnate of the goddess Durga.  One of her children died and she tried to bring it back to life only to be told by Death that had cursed her and her child was reincarnated as a rat and all of her clan would be reincarnated as rats.  Other versions I’ve found say she made a deal to have her clan come back to life as rats and those rats would come back as humans.  Either way, you don’t want to hurt or harass the rats here, as they are very special, but these are relatives of a reincarnate goddess.

There are a few amazing things about the Rat Temple:

  1. Look for the white rat definitely a fun and rewarding activity
  2. Apparently of the 20,000 rats it’s difficult to locate any baby or younger rats. In our trip I think we saw some juveniles, but for the most part they all did look about the same size and age.
  3. No one apparently has ever gotten sick from the rats.
  4. Careful where you lean, there may be a rat on the ledge or railing. Killing a rat would result in you needing to replace it with a solid gold or silver one.

While at the temple I saw the largest mixing bowls in my life.  These huge huge bowls are set over a fire and the priest cooks the food for the rats in mass quantities.  They are feeding 20,000 rats and for a handful of priests it saves a lot of time to work with industrial sized feeding bowl.  In my next post I’ll share a social biz idea to solve world hunger based on this amazing place.  I refer to the idea as social mush.

Read more about this very unique temple on National Geographic’s Rats Rule at India Temple

Bali Indonesia Land of Peace and Land of the Monkey King

Bali Indonesia Culture

Bali is clearly one of the most beautiful islands in the world.  Beyond that the people and the culture there is the richest I’ve found in all my travels.  The people are so humble, so nice, and so culturally rich.  I had the chance to witness a Balinese wedding.  Bali is far from where I live, and yet I still feel a very strong longing.  I find there’s a real peace tangible there.  Life in Bali is simple.  The word simple doesn’t do it.  It’s something much more pure, it’s not about how rich you are, it’s not about how smart you are, you feel that it’s not about judgment either.  It’s more about understanding sincerity.  It’s about being true to yourself, and respecting others.  I understand why Eat, Pray, Love ends in Bali.  The protagonist really finds something about themselves that they couldn’t find otherwise.  I don’t care if you liked the movie or thought it was long and boring.  The beauty in Bali in the movie was great, but what you really didn’t get to fully realize it there is something about it.  Something special there.  I hope I can covey a piece of what I experienced.

When I arrived at the airport in Bali, I was already feeling very relaxed.  I hadn’t decided yet how I was going to get to my $6 hostel a block from the beach in Kuta.  I was still at the airport, looking for some wifi when I was sitting in some little café when I noticed a young girl was staring at me.  I’d look back and she was really staring at me.  I smiled and she smiled back.  It was great.  I think I figured it out.  I was strange to this young girl.

Later on, my first stop of my personal tour.  In fact I hired a driver from the airport to take me to my hotel, drop my stuff and then we’d go visit a large torso statue.  While I was taking pictures, a man approached me and asked if his daughter could take a picture of me.  I was a bit shocked, but remembered the girl from the airport.  Sure.  I replied and handed him my camera.  The girl took a picture, but didn’t seem ok.  I asked what was wrong.  He then explained she wanted to be in the picture with me.  She then approached and was much much happier as she stood next to me and her father took a picture of her.  This would repeat itself multiple times, and in other parts of Asia.  I have learned to embrace it.  It’s gets even better when I have my kids with me.  It’s much more “lucky” to have pictures with my pale skinned kids.

Now let me tell you about Kuta.  Kuta is known for it’s surfing, it’s a great tourist town, great shops, relaxing atmosphere, and it really attracts the tourists.  Lots of Australians, lots of Japanese, and Koreans.  Kuta is becoming more of a resort area.  Most of the hotels on the island are in Denpassar, Ubud and Kuta the beach suburb.  Ubud has everything a tourist could want minus the beach, which is why Kuta is popular… the great beaches.  Bali is a very cheap place to learn to surf.

The south end of the island is Uluwatu.  An incredibly beautiful Hindu temple on a cliff overlooking an amazing rocky shore.  The sun begins to set and monkeys run around.  A troop of monkeys including itty bitty little monkeys.

I was walking around, soaking up the sun and taking some video when this little monkey jumped onto my shoulders.  I was taken by surprised as he treated me like a fellow monkey and started picking at my hair, face, and ears.  It was then he started climbing down my arm to check out my camera.  He was really getting quite comfortable, and I was definitely enjoying it when I started walking and he got freaked out and jumped back off.

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Thailand Trekking: Traveling by Elephant in the Land of Smiles


I grew up really LOVING “Ripley’s Believe it or Not”, reading the comic strip, reading the books, and later watching the shows.  I imagined myself having a job like his.  Travel the world and capture images and stories the bizarre and fantastic.   My trip to the golden triangle of Thailand included amazing animals including elephants, tigers, monkeys, and cobras, with people so far removed from my world, from indigenous people living off the land, to refugee hill tribes are simply happy to find peace.  The refugees escaping oppression and seeing extreme contrast in Thai joy and Burmese oppression. Visiting the hill tribes especially the long neck Karen tribe was the fulfillment of a childhood dream.  What a joy to spend time in the “Land of Smiles.”

Long Neck Karen - Giraffe Hill Tribe

The big question is why did they start putting these rings on their necks?

Long Neck Karen Children Weaving

There are a number of reasons to describe why they have the rings on their necks.

  1. The rings actually coils make them more beautiful are a sign of beauty and wealth
  2. The coils are designed to protect their necks from tigers!
  3. The coils make the women unattractive to the nearby tribes.

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Cultural Philippines in the heart of Manilla


Getting Ready for Battle

I really, really love South East Asia.  Going to Manila was a huge treat.  One thing that’s always important to me whenever I visit a place is to see the place in it’s authentic beauty and warts.  I want to see the best and not best of a place.  We were staying at the amazing Shangri la hotel, one of the most beautiful hotels in Asia.  They are famous as having 5 and 6 star hotels in the big capitals in Asia.

Paul (black t-shirt) and I (in the red shirt, yes flash, and yes Big Bang Theory) were happy to pose with the staff.  Beautiful hotel.  Very posh.  We were definitely very pampered.  One thing you should know about Manila is it is very easy to spoil yourself.  Manila is very modern, and you can get anything you need.  My friend Dux Raymond Sy, who is very popular in the SharePoint community grew up in Manila.  It was great to meet his family.  Dux moved to the U.S. and if you talked with him you’d have no idea where he came from in fact he speaks perfect English.  No accent at all, and smart, very smart guy.  We were all in town for Sharing The Point Asia which would get us to China and Vietnam as well.  Fabulous tour.

We had a day in the nicer parts of Manila, and had some amazing food.  I was then very anxious to try other foods.  One early morning Michael, Dux and I escaped early to catch the sunrise over the sea.  We got up early enough we could get the first catch.  We had squid in it’s ink, prawns, and very fresh sushi.  Amazing seafood breakfast.

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Secrets of Cambodia from Angkor Wat to the Killing Fields

Tomb Raider

The largest religious complex in the world.  Angkor Wat is one of the most amazing structures in the world.

Sure, Karnak in Luxor, Egypt is the largest religious structure, but Angkor Wat stretches over miles and miles including many many buildings.  I’d like to see a comparison of Tikal to Angkor Wat.  It’s a UNESCO world heritage site for good reason.  The complex itself was built 1110-1150.  It’s estimated it would take 300 years to do today, but took 40 years back then with thousands of workers brining in stones from all over.  Ok, read more on Wikipedia article on Angkor Wat beyond my research… If this was the only building that was constructed it would still be one of the most amazing in the world, but it is among 74 others in the complex of buildings many many miles apart.

This is definitely a bucket list item.  A New Seven Wonders runner up.  One of the most amazing places in the world!

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