Bangkok, 5 June 2016

My wife and I both agree that without a doubt the Bungle Bungle National Park was the highlight of our recent tour of the Kimberley (I suppose I should use its proper name, Purnululu National Park, but Bungle Bungle is such a delightfully silly name that I shall stick to that). It has been chosen as a World Heritage Site and for once I agree with this. What we have here is a deeply eroded range, and I think the best way to appreciate the unique geology of the Bungle Bungle is through an aerial photo
or two
or three.
Readers will immediately notice the smooth rounded shapes into which the rocks have weathered – beehives is a commonly used descriptor and seems very apt. The guidebook with which we were thoughtfully supplied on our coach stated that this type of formation is very rare – only a few other places on Earth have it, and not nearly as extensively as in the Bungle Bungle Range. UNESCO, in its World Heritage Site write-up, notes approvingly that “the Bungle Bungles are, by far, the most outstanding example of cone karst in sandstones anywhere in the world.” Without going too much into the geological whys and wherefores, the fact that the rock has eroded into these smooth rounded shapes seems to have to do with the bands in the rock, seen quite well in the third photo above and even better in this photo taken by my wife from ground level.
The key to the bands’ existence is the clay content of the rock. The darker bands have more clay, which means they hold moisture better, which in turn allows a very thin film of cyanobacteria to grow on the rock. It is this film which gives the rock its darker colour. The red bands, on the other hand, having less or no clay, dry out quicker and so cannot support a colony of bacteria. Instead, they have been stained orange-red by iron and manganese deposits. The bacterial film protects the rock from too rapid an erosion, which allows the rounded shapes to form.

Geological considerations aside, it’s a delight to walk through these humped and rounded rocks, which are split by numerous gorges and chasms, a number of them having trails laid along them. We walked just two, the Cathedral Gorge and the Echidna Chasm. The Cathedral Gorge narrows slowly


to finally finish in a pool partially covered by deep overhangs.

DCF 1.0

The Echidna Chasm, on the other hand, is a deep, narrow gash in the rock, at times so narrow that it is hard to get through. After the surprise of coming across Livistona fan palm trees at its mouth (palms are not the first trees that come to mind in this hot and arid landscape)
one edges into the chasm itself. There is a certain fun in threading one’s way through, at some points having to climb and clamber over huge boulders, sections of the walls which have come crashing down; one keeps looking nervously up to see if others might not be about to give way and squash one like a beetle. But there is also an ethereal beauty in this chasm. At certain times of the day, the sun catches the rocks and makes them literally glow. Our iPad cameras were too feeble to catch this wonderful light, but this photographer has managed beautifully.
We would gladly have stayed longer in this Park and done more of the trails. But that is the downside of organized tours: the tyranny of The Schedule.

After detailed discussions, my wife and I have agreed on two more modest scheduled highlights, both, interestingly enough, having to do with water. One was the boat ride on a section of the Ord River near Kununurra, which has been dammed for irrigation purposes. From such utilitarian objectives has come a very pleasant body of water, in the form of several kilometers of the river which are filled year-round with water (a rarity in Australia).


“Water is life” our driver-cum-guide would constantly intone, and this stretch of river was the living proof of this. Apart from several well-fed freshwater crocodiles which we spied along the banks with a twittering of excitement, we saw a large number of birds, the most majestic of which was undoubtedly the white-breasted sea eagle
and the sweetest of which was the Jesus bird (aptly named since it seems to walk on water).
The mother hatches the chicks, the father is then solely responsible for their upbringing (many of the ladies on board noted this division of labour with approval; the men said nothing). But perhaps the most interesting wildlife we came across was a colony of fruit bats hanging out (literally) in a couple of trees along the bank, making quite a noise as they yelped and barked – when do they sleep, I wonder?


From the mutterings of disapproval among our Australian companions and the spirited defense of the bats put up by our guide, we surmise that they are considered a nuisance in more urban settings, no doubt because they sink their fangs into the fruit of your garden which you had been looking forward to eating.

The second modest scheduled highlight was Windjana gorge, in the King Leopold Ranges (why the British explorer who first came across these ranges named them after the King of the Belgians is a bit of a mystery to me; my guess is he was hoping the guy would fork out for his next expedition). Apart from the frisson we got from seeing twenty or more freshwater crocodiles all in one place waiting in complete stillness on the banks or in the water for their next meal to go by
the gorge itself was very pretty
and once again the rocks glowed orange-red in the setting sun.

There was one other highlight, which wasn’t marked in The Schedule, and that was the night sky. In many places, we camped far, far away from any polluting light sources. This, combined with the normally clear skies, meant that when the moon didn’t get in the way we had glorious views of the night sky. It was a sky without the constellations of the Northern Hemisphere with which my wife and I are familiar, but nevertheless a magnificent site to behold, especially on the nightly walks to the toilet to which I alluded in the previous post.
Our last night out, we dragged our camp beds out of our tent, and as we dozed we watched the Milky Way wheel across the sky. Wonderful. But as they say, there is no gain without pain. I am still spreading anti-histamine cream on the dozen or so bites I got from the accursed Australian mosquitoes that night, may they rot in Hell.


Bungle Bungle aerial view-1: dau/the-apt-experience/photos-and-videos/photo-gallery
Bungle Bungle aerial view-2:
Bungle Bungle aerial view-3:
Cathedral Gorge trail: my wife’s photos
Cathedral Gorge pool-1:
Cathedral Gorge-2: my wife’s photo
Livistona palm trees: my wife’s photo
Echidna chasm:
Ord River: my wife’s photos
White breasted sea eagle:
Jesus bird:;birds
Fruit bats:
Crocodiles, Windjana Gorge:
Windjana Gorge:
Night sky:


Beijing, 9 March 2014

I was recently in Dubai with my wife for a long weekend. If you don’t like shopping, which I fervently do not, if you don’t get much of a kick out of visiting the tallest building in the world, which is definitely my case, if you don’t quite see the point of going skiing in a mall, which I certainly don’t, then your to-do list in Dubai is really quite short. On one side of the saltwater creek which wends its way through the middle of the city


you can visit gold and spice souqs of dubious antiquity. On the other side, you can visit a small remnant of the old town, saved, so it seems, from the wrecker’s ball by the intercession of Prince Charles with the Sheikh of Dubai. You can follow this up by a visit to the Dubai Museum, housed underneath a quaint little old fort and filled with a rather pathetic set of dioramas showing the old ways of life in the sheikhdom. A 20 minutes’ walk downcreek will bring you to the Sheikhs’ old residence (or rather, a nearly complete reconstruction of it) filled with some old photos of Dubai. You can cross from one side of the creek to the other in supposedly old wooden boats which ply the waterway. And that’s it. Of the four days that my wife and I spent in Dubai, we actually only needed two to visit the city itself. We used one of the days to visit Abu Dhabi (or rather, the planned eco-city district of Masdar) and while I was sitting in a conference my wife used another to visit Al Ain, an oasis town some two hours’ drive from Dubai.

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s really very pleasant to wander around without haste, poking your nose in here and there, snapping photos of this and that, taking long lunch and coffee breaks, and enjoying mild and sunny weather. But what really got my goat was a small exhibition which we stumbled across somewhere in the souqs, which proudly announced that some time this year Dubai expected UNESCO to nominate the creek and its immediate surroundings as a World Heritage Site. Give – me – a – break! The Dubai creek a World Heritage Site?! That’s ridiculous!! For those readers who may not be familiar with this UN programme, I should explain that it implements an international convention, the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, whose purpose is to protect and conserve for present and future generations cultural heritage (monuments, groups of buildings, sites) or natural heritage (natural features, geological formations, natural sites) of outstanding universal value. Please note: outstanding universal value. Those are big, big words. Put another way, the sites which are nominated as World Heritage Sites should be so fantastic that it would be a crime for me and every other citizen in the world not to do everything in our power to protect them for future generations to marvel at. Does that describe Dubai creek? I – don’t – think – so!

I had first entertained serious doubts about the World Heritage Site listings when we went on a family holiday to Finland some ten years ago. I had seen that a church along our itinerary had been listed. Intrigued, I dragged the somewhat unwilling family to visit it (to this day, my children remind me of this and other churches I forced them to visit in Finland). What we were confronted with was a small, rustic church whose three main claims to fame were (a) that it was quite old, (b) that it was made entirely out of wood, and (c) that no nails had been used to make it … this was “outstanding universal value”?? Puh-lease! My cynicism over World Heritage Site listings only deepened over the following years as everywhere I went I came across really quite ordinary sites which had been listed. UNESCO’s convention has obviously been hijacked by the tourism industry and its hacks in Ministries of Tourism to brand national sites and raise tourism revenues. And no doubt political correctness has reared its head. It won’t do for just a few countries to have all the heritage sites of outstanding universal value, every country should be able to claim at least one …

This debasing of the World Heritage Site brand is a pity, because I think there are a number of places around the world which through some magical combination of geometry, colour, light, and siting really do have an outstanding and universal value to all of us in the world and whose preservation truly deserves the concerted attention of the global community. My wife and I put our heads together, and what follows is our list. Its main weakness is that it is based only on places which we have seen – so much of the world for us still to see …

Since Dubai got me going, I’ll start with cityscapes:

– Venice, which must be the most beautiful city in the world


view from ferry

– Paris, especially the part along the banks of the river Seine running from Notre Dame Cathedral to the Eiffel tower

Paris-Notre Dame

Paris-Eiffel tower

(I find Paris to be at its best at night, when all its buildings are lit up like theatre backdrops)

– Rome, especially the Baroque part of the city

Rome Piazza Navona

where, though, older Roman urban fabric can poke through

Rome Pantheon

– The historic nucleus of Istanbul, on its peninsula jutting out into the Bosphorus


– Old Prague


– On a smaller scale, San Gimignano in Tuscany

San Gimignano-1

San Gimignano-2

which can stand for all those wonderful hilltop towns and villages scattered throughout central Italy (Siena, Todi, Gubbio, Assisi, Volterra, Arezzo, Perugia, Urbino, and on and on …)

– I will add Savannah in Georgia. My wife and I stumbled on the city by chance thirty years ago, and we were blown away


I wonder if I should I add Edinburgh? My wife is doubtful, but the New Town there is really very nice, with a magificent view over the Firth of Forth


and there is the dramatic backdrop of Edinburgh castle


What about Manhattan?

Manhattan Office Vacancy Rate Drops In Second Quarter

I’m torn. Manhattanites certainly think that the borough has outstanding universal value, non-residents may not be so sure.

After cityscapes we list a series of buildings and complexes that stand out because of the beauty of the buildings themselves, often highlighted by their siting:

– Taj Mahal, which must be one of the most sublime buildings in the world

Taj Mahal

and which can stand in for a series of wonderful Mughal edifices dotted around northern India (Fatehpur Sikri, the Mausoleum of Akbar at Sikandra, the Jama Masjid mosque in Delhi, the mausoleum of Humayun, …)

– Angkor Wat


with its wonderful faces carved in the temple walls


– The rock gardens and temples of Kyoto

Kyoto Tofuukuji rock garden-2

kyoto kinkakuji

kyoto ginkakuji

– The chateaux of the Loire in France, especially Chenonceau

Chateau de Chenonceau

and Azay-le-Rideau


– The Alhambra palace in Andalusia


with its typical Arab love of water


We don’t just list old buildings. We would add at least two modern buildings:

– the Sydney Opera House

sydney opera house 014

– the east wing of the National Gallery in Washington DC

east wing national gallery

My wife thinks we should also list Labrang, the Tibetan Buddhist monastery-town in Sichuan


I’m not convinced that it really has outstanding universal value, yet.

I’ll add here a couple of the wonderful garden-parks which were created around some of the grander country houses in the UK in the 18th century.

– Stowe gardens


Stowe gardens-house

– Fountains Abbey and Gardens

fountains abbey

fountains abbey gardens-1

fountains abbey gardens-2

Which brings us naturally to our last list, our choices of natural heritage sites of outstanding universal value. We would start with the canyons in the American west. Rather than list the Grand Canyon, which some might consider the natural choice, we would list some of the smaller canyons:

– Bryce Canyon, especially lovely in winter, which is when we saw it:

bryce canyon

– and Canyon de Chelly


– We are moved to list here too the Atlas mountains in Morocco. When we first saw them, we were immediately reminded of the canyonlands in the US

Atlas mountains

but what was even better was that the locals were still making their villages from the local clay so that villages seemed to grow out of the landscape

atlas mountains-villages

– From canyons on land to canyons on the sea, and here we found the fjords in New Zealand more striking than those in Norway

New Zealand South Island Fiordland National Park Milford Sound

– From water to none, with the red sand dunes of Namibia

Namibia -Dune 45

– and back to water again, with the Amazon River

Amazon river

– from hotter to cooler, with the high meadows of the Alps in the Trentino in Italy


– from grass to trees, in this case the truly magnificent sequoias


– and finally back to grass and water, with the Scottish Highlands



Well, that’s our list of cultural and natural sites which we would consider to have outstanding universal value. As I said earlier, the list is no doubt incomplete simply because there are still lots of places we haven’t visited. We’d be interested to know how readers feel about this. What sites would they put on their own list?


Dubai creek: [in
Venice-aerial view: [in
Venice-worm’s eye view:
Paris-Notre Dame: [in
Paris-Eiffel tower: [in
Rome Piazza Navona: [in
Rome Pantheon: [in
Istanbul: [in
Prague: [in
San Gimignano-1:
San Gimignano-2:
Savannah: [in
Edinburgh-New Town:,%20Midlothian/IMG_9890.jpg [in
Edinburgh-castle: [in
Manhattan: [in
Taj Mahal: [in
Angkor Wat: [in
Angkor Wat Gods: [in
Kyoto Tofukuji rock garden: [in
Kyoto Kinkakuji: [in,31489,2049375_2049370_2048907,00.html%5D
Kyoto Gingakuji: [in
Château de Chenonceau: [inâteau_de_Chenonceau%5D
Château Azay-le-Rideau: [inâteau_d’Azay-le-Rideau%5D
Alhambra: [in
Alhambra-2:!!-!!4.jpg [in
Sydney Opera House: our photo
East Wing National Gallery: [in
Labrang: [in
Stowe gardens: [in
Stowe gardens-House: [in
Fountains abbey: [in
Fountains abbey gardens-1: -[in
Fountains abbey gardens-2: [in
Bryce canyon: [in
Canyon de Chelly: [in
Atlas Mountains: [in (Toubkal National Park)
Atlas mountain village: [in
Milford Fjord New Zealand: [in
Namibia-Dune 45: [in
Amazon River: [in
Alps in Trentino:×800/67/alps_italia_italy_trentino_alpi_1280x800_66754.jpg [in
Sequoia national park: [in
Scottish Highlands: [in