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The world’s most unusual travel experiences?
Go eagle hunting with tribal Kazakhs in Mongolia, visit a state which doesn't officially exist, celebrate Africa's most spectacular dating festival, hunt for mammoth bones in Siberia, visit the City of the Dead, witness a Bwiti initiation ceremony: as travel experiences go, Native Eye offer some of the most unusual on the planet.
You thought your bucket list was complete? It is now...
Deep in the Altai mountains, spend three days with the Kazakh eagle hunters, going out hunting with them each day and staying with them and their families at night. The hunters use female eagles for hunting as they are larger and more aggressive than the males, and are trained to catch fox, wolves, rabbits and wild cats. It's an unforgettable experience, and one which few tourists have ever taken part in.
The breakaway republic of Transdniestr is one of Europe’s oddest entities and something of a throwback to the days of the Soviets. Transdniestr, or Transnistria, is a tiny breakaway state within Moldova between the River Dniestr and the Ukrainian border that is unrecognised by other nations but to all effects and purposes functions as a completely separate country, with its own government and army. Explore the ‘capital’ Tiraspol with its stark monuments and also visit the town of Tighina, once an important trading centre and with an impressive 16th century fortress to explore.
For hundreds of years, the Fang people have participated in healing and initiation ceremonies which includes ingesting the psychoactive root bark of the iboga plant, to promote radical spiritual growth, stabilise the community and family structure and meet religious requirements. Held in the high temple, and led by the spirtual leader, the N'ganga, you'll be witness to a dramatic performance involving the whole community, with intensely loud drumming, dancing with fire, chanting and an electric atmosphere which goes on all night, sometimes longer...
Tucked away in three valleys of the Hindu Kush is a tribal population who unlike the rest of the countries they are surrounded by are pagan, not Muslim. According to legend the Kalash are descended from four of Alexander the Great’s generals, to whom Alexander gave the Chitral Valley as a reward, and whatever the truth they look very different from most other Pakistanis, with fairer skin, blue-green eyes and distinctly Eurasian features. Join them as they celebrate Uchao, a festival to celebrate and give thanks for a successful harvest, drinking wine brewed from mulberries and some delicious cheese. It's one of the most colourful celebrations in Pakistan.
Located in the world's coldest place, in the Verkhoyankiy District of Arctic Yakutia , where winter temperatures have been known to dive as low as -80 degrees, lies a mammoth graveyard. Each summer the melting permafrost pushes bones, tusks and teeth of ancient fauna out of the ground and river banks. Remains of mammoths, sabre-toothed tigers, bison, cave lions and woolly rhinoceros can be found just lying around on the ground. Accompanied by a local palaeontologist from Yakutsk, you'll be able to identify which animals the bones we find belonged to and which parts of the animal they were from. As well as being the coldest place on earth, the mammoth graveyard near Betenkyos is amongst the most isolated places in the world, a thousand kilometres north of the nearest road or railway.
Often referred to as the 'City of the Dead', the village of Dargavs is considered to be one of the most mysterious sites in Russia. Hidden away in the Caucasus mountains, the “city” is actually an ancient necropolis full of tombs or crypts. From a distance, it looks like the remains of a medieval village, with almost 100 'dwellings' grouped together on a grassy hill. Go closer, and you realise there's no-one - living, that is - here. For hundreds of years, residents of nearby villages have been burying their dead in this necropolis, with each crypt holding skulls and bones. There's many myths and legends surrounding the site, and until recently, local people refused to go there in case they didn't come back alive. A burial site for medieval plague victims is perhaps the most likely explanation, though.
The 60 metre crater of Darwaza, Turkmenistan, is one of the most unusual sites in Central Asia, a vast opening in the earth where natural gas has been set alight and has been burning for more than forty years. This was originally a site where Soviet geologists drilled for gas – not knowing what to do when the drilling rig collapsed, they set it alight for fear that poisonous gas would seep into the atmosphere and contaminate a nearby settlement, expecting that it would burn itself out in a matter of days. Forty years on, it's still burning, with flames up to 15 metres high. Its otherworldly appearance have led local people to name it the ‘Door to Hell’, camp overnight here (guess what's the campfire?) for an experience you'll never forget.
Although Native Eye specialise in tribal adventures, if we had to pick a favourite, this would be it. Each year the semi-nomadic Mbororo people gather for a week of incredible celebrations known as the Gerewol, a colourful festival that is one of Africa’s most spectacular. Few westerners are privileged to see this, but you'll travel to a remote part of the Sahel to stay with these intensely traditional people, joining them as they congregate for feasting, racing, dancing and finding lovers. The Gerewol is renowned for the way in which young Mbororo men decorate themselves, donning make up and jewellery and ‘displaying’ to young women in search of a partner.
It's smelly (sulphur fumes), colourful (minerals, chemicals and potash making for a spectacular display) and, with an average annual temperature of 34°C, renowned to be the hottest inhabited place on earth: the hot springs at Dallol are a must - see, if you can stand it. During a visit, look out for the long 'caravane de sel', camel trains loaded with salt.
There's mountains, and then there's flaming mountains (we know which we'd rather visit). Jutting out into the Caspian Sea, the Absheron Peninsula is home to some of the country’s finest sights, all within a day trip from the capital, Baku. One of the most unusual is the ‘flaming mountain’ of Yanardag, another of Azerbaijan’s bizarre geological features where natural gas seeps from the rock, accidentally ignited in the 1950s and burning to this day. At Ateshgah, the ‘temple of the fire-worshippers’ surrounds an eternal flame, another reminder of why this country is often called the 'Land of Fire'.
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