“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world,” said Gustave Flaubert, French novelist. The world is vast, with different people, ecosystems, cultures, etc. Travelling helps us discover the beauty of various cultures, flora, and fauna, and psychologically, travelling reduces stress, increases self-esteem and creativity, and allows you to learn about new cultures and learn more about yourself.
27th September is observed as World Tourism Day. On this occasion, let us peek into some of the unique destinations of the world that intrigue not just the tourists but also the scientists.
Our world is home to awe-dropping natural destinations with the beauty that captures people and simultaneously challenges the scientists. Scientists have accepted the challenges while enjoying the beauty. So rather than waste our time chatting, let’s start the journey!
Destination 1: Magnetic Hill, Ladakh, India
As the Sindhu River flows to the right of the hill, the spectacular scenery of the river and mountains capture you. Imagine parking your vehicle on Magnetic Hill and watching, astonished, as it defies gravity, rolling uphill!
Science behind the curtains: It is nature’s trick of optical illusion. In reality, it is downhill but appears uphill. This optical illusion is because of the mountains’ obstruction from the horizon. With no horizon visible and no flat surface to compare, it becomes challenging to differentiate between uphill and downhill.
Did you know? The name magnetic hills was given because the older theory was that they had magnetic forces that pulled the cars uphill toward them. Magnetic Hill has caused planes of the Indian Air Force to go off their route in the past to avoid this interference.
It is said that a group of students from the Rajasthan Institute of Engineering and Technology took a magnetometer to verify the strength of the ground’s magnetic field. The device showed magnitudes varying from 25 to 60 microtesla, which the researchers claimed isn’t strong enough to pull anything, especially not a car.
If you plan to visit:
Location: Magnetic Hills is 14,000 feet and on the Leh-Kargil-Baltic National Highway in the Trans-Himalayan region.
Best time to visit: July to September is the best time to visit Magnetic Hill in Ladakh.
Leaving behind the gravity-defying slopes of Magnetic Hill, we next venture to Arizona, USA. Here, unlike the rugged mountains of Ladakh, we encounter the smooth, winding walls of Antelope Canyon.
Destination 2: Antelope Canyon, Arizona, USA
Get lost in the vast wave structures; its stunning red and orange sandstone walls attract visitors worldwide. The canyon boasts a unique structure. Sunlight bounces off its walls, creating an ever-changing, mesmerising light show. It is so beautiful that it was named “TSÉ BIGHÁNÍLÍNÍ”, meaning “the place where water runs through rocks” in Navajo.
Science behind the curtains: Antelope Canyon was formed through millions of years of erosion caused by flash floods. It is carved into the Navajo sandstone, a sedimentary rock formation that dates back to the Jurassic period, around 190 million years ago. The formation of Antelope Canyon began with the deposition of sand, silt, and gravel in a vast desert region. Over time, these deposits were buried and compacted, eventually forming sandstone layers.
Did you know? Another fascinating aspect of Antelope Canyon is the interplay of light and shadow. The narrow openings at the canyon’s top allow sunlight to penetrate the depths, casting enchanting beams of light illuminating the canyon floor. This phenomenon creates a magical atmosphere, with vibrant hues and contrasting shadows dancing along the walls, capturing the people and photographers.
The flash floods keep shaping and transforming the canyon.
If you plan to visit:
Location: American Southwest, on Navajo land east of Lechee, Arizona.
Best time to visit:
- If you want to take photos of the sun beaming into the canyon, book a tour with the tour groups in Upper Antelope Canyon around 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. from March to October. To get extra time in the canyon, book a tour with a photography group – there may be an additional fee to book this type of tour.
- If you want to do a little hiking and want a little more seclusion, book a tour of the Lower Antelope Canyon area. This portion is less busy than the Upper Antelope Canyon.
- If you want fewer tourists, visit from November to March.
Remember: it is a guided tour, so check out one of the websites that help you plan the tour. https://discovernavajo.com/antelope-canyon/
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From the vibrant hues of Antelope Canyon, we dive into the luminescent waters of Puerto Mosquito Bioluminescent Bay in Puerto Rico, where light takes on a whole new form.
Destination 3: Puerto Mosquito Bioluminescent Bay, island of Vieques, Puerto Rico
Be mesmerised in the bright, bioluminescent water body full of sparkles and vibrant colours. Each time you paddle your kayak or boat through it or even touch the water, the water will illuminate with every movement.
Science behind the curtains: Bioluminescence results from living organisms converting chemical energy into light. Mosquito Bay’s glow comes from microscopic organisms, dinoflagellates (specifically Pyrodimium bahamense), with about 700,000 in each gallon of water. These tiny creatures emit light many times larger than their size, illuminating the bay like an underwater aurora.
The bay’s unique environment sustains its bioluminescent ecosystem and its wind-driven water patterns, nutrient-rich conditions, shallow depth, water retention, and surrounding mangroves.
Did you know?
Recognised in 2006 by Guinness World Records as the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world.
Hurricane Maria devastated Mosquito Bay in 2017, destroying mangroves and disturbing the dinoflagellate population, causing the water to darken temporarily. Gradually, the ecosystem is recovering, and the bay’s signature blue glow has returned. And is brighter than before.
Fun fact: Mosquito Bay got its name from ‘El Mosquito,’ a little ship that belonged to Roberto Cofresí. He was a pirate, kind of like Robin Hood, sharing his treasures with the poor.
If you plan to visit:
Location: south side of Vieques, not far from the main town of Esperanza
Best time to visit: The darkness ensures the peak brightness on New Moon Day.
Leaving the twinkling waters of Mosquito Bay, our next stop is Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, a vast canvas reflecting both the heavens above and the earthly beauty beneath.
Destination 4: Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Just after the rains, capture the beauty of the world’s largest natural mirror and salt flat.
Science behind the curtains: The Salar de Uyuni has a geological history marked by transformations between several vast lakes, the oldest being Lake Minchin, dating back 30,000 to 42,000 years. This lake evolved into several others, the youngest of which, Coipasa, dried up around 11,500 to 13,400 years ago, leaving behind modern lakes and salt deserts, including the expansive Salar de Uyuni.
This salt flat is underlain by lacustrine mud interbedded with salt and saturated brine, featuring a solid salt crust and islands that were once tops of ancient volcanoes. These islands house unique coral-like structures and fossil deposits, remnants of the era of Lake Minchin.
Did you know? Salar de Uyuni holds over 9 million tons of lithium, constituting 50-70% of the world’s known reserves, enough to power numerous laptop batteries. Its large area, clear skies, and flat surface also make it ideal for calibrating satellite radar altimeters used in measuring surface topography, according to the European Space Agency, adding a celestial dimension to its earthly beauty.
If you plan to visit:
Location: the Daniel Campos Province in Potosí in southwest Bolivia, near the crest of the Andes at an elevation of 3,656 m (11,995 ft) above sea level.
Best time to visit: Between December and April the wet season creates a vast mirror effect.
The dry season, between May and November, is best for seeing the stunning crystallised salt patterns.
As we step back and reminisce about the gravity-defying Magnetic Hill, the vivid allure of Antelope Canyon, the twinkling waters of Puerto Mosquito, and the reflective beauty of Salar de Uyuni, it’s clear that our planet is a treasure trove of natural wonders.
These awe-inspiring locales underline the importance of this year’s World Tourism Day theme – ‘Tourism and Green Investment.’ The conservation and appreciation of such unique destinations are pivotal in preserving the diverse beauty our world has to offer.
So, pack your bags and embark on a journey of discovery, immersing yourself in the enchanting tales nature has to tell. Happy World Tourism Day!