Root bridges of Cherrapunji, Meghalaya, India
To cross the rivers and streams of the Cherrapunji forest in Meghalaya state, north-east India, put your trust in a tree. There are no standard walkways to be found: instead, the tangled, twisting aerial roots of the rubber trees on the banks stretch across the water, forming a living, ever-growing bridge to the other side. These organic bridges are the result of a little human guidance and a lot of patience. Members of the local Khasi tribe control their growth by laying lengths of bamboo or betel nut tree across the water as a guide, then waiting for the roots of the rubber trees to follow along. As the roots grow, the Khasi add handrails made of vines and fill in gaps with mud and stones, creating a solid pathway. It takes up to 20 years for a bridge to become sturdy enough to cross.
Merry Cemetery, Săpânța, Romania
At the Cimitirul Vesel (Merry cemetery) over 600 colourful wooden crosses bear the life stories, dirty details and final moments of the bodies that lie below. Illustrated crosses depict Săpânța’s soldiers being beheaded and a townsperson being hit by a truck. The epigraphs are frank and often funny: “Underneath this heavy cross lies my mother-in-law … Try not to wake her up. For if she comes back home, she’ll bite my head off.” The cemetery’s style was created during the 1930s by Stan Ioan Pătraş, who began carving clever and ironic poems about the deceased and painting their portraits on the crosses. Pătraş died in 1977, having carved his own cross and left his house and business to his most talented apprentice, Dumitru Pop. Despite the darkly comic – or merely dark – tones of the crosses, Pop says no one has ever complained about the work.
Star City, Moscow Oblast, Russia
During the development of the Soviet space programme, a secret air force facility in the woods north-east of Moscow transformed into a settlement called Star City. The area centred on the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center, where prospective cosmonauts would undergo physical, technical, and psychological preparation for space flight. Following the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, the curtain of secrecy was lifted, and the centre opened its doors to the public. Today, a handful of companies offer tours of the facility, during which visitors can wear a mock spacesuit, take a ride in the centrifuge, or board a zero-gravity flight that simulates weightlessness through a parabolic trajectory. A museum of space travel and exploration contains an impressive collection of vintage spacesuits and capsules charred from re-entering the atmosphere.
• gctc.su, starcity-tours.com
Fingal’s Cave, Scotland
Like something out of a fantasy novel, Fingal’s Cave in Scotland’s Inner Hebrides is a huge (82 x 22 metre) sea cavern with walls of hexagonal basalt columns. Celtic legend holds that the cave was once part of a bridge across the sea, built by giants to fight one another. Science says it was formed by masses of lava that cooled so slowly it broke into long hexagonal pillars, like mud cracking under the hot sun. When naturalist Sir Joseph Banks rediscovered the cave in 1772, it captured people’s imagination and inspired the work of artists, writers, and musicians. Composer Felix Mendelssohn wrote an overture about the cave in 1830, the same year painter JMW Turner depicted it on canvas. Thus was born a Romantic-era tourist site that is just as entrancing today.
Underground Temples of Damanhur, Italy
Beneath the mountain commune base for Damanhur, an eco-society established in the 1970s, are five levels of subterranean temples decked out in startling new age splendour. Damanhur, 30 miles north of Turin, is based on neo-pagan and new-age beliefs with emphasis on creative expression, meditation, and spiritual healing. From 1978 to 1992, its citizens worked around the clock in shifts to excavate 8,500 cubic metres of earth. Each hall, and hallway, was decorated in a different theme, with murals, stained glass windows, mirrors, and mosaics. The 70s-style artwork depicts many things, from the history of the universe to a forest of endangered animals to the International Space Station. The perimeter of one of the circular rooms is cluttered with sculptures, due to the directive that each member of the community must carve a statue in their own likeness.
Firefly squids in Toyama Bay, Japan
The firefly squid is a cephalopod that glows brilliant blue and usually lives in the deep, dark waters surrounding Japan. But every year, from March to May, millions surface in Toyama Bay to spawn. This time of year is also prime fishing season. Nets trawl the pre-dawn waters, hauling up piles of squirming, glowing creatures and turning boats into beacons. The beaches are bathed in a blue glow as the adult squid – who have a one-year lifespan – lay their eggs and prepare to die. The Japanese government regards the annual show as a “special natural monument”. While the firefly squid are highly regarded for their magical visual effects, they are also prized for their tasty innards. After basking in the glow of the bioluminescent bay, go to a sushi joint and feast on squid served raw, boiled, or turned into tempura.