Monday, 31 October 2016

Iran - The Gem of the Middle East

Just some of the stunning architectural detailing

Iran. Often when you mention to a friend or family member that you plan to travel there or have an interest to, it is often met with WHY? Unfortunately many people think of Iran as dangerous and part of the ‘Axis of Evil’ thanks to the media and frosty relations with the US and West. However, nothing could be so far from truth when experiencing one of the oldest nations and cultures in history.

First of all, let’s talk about the incredible hospitality and generosity of the Iranian people. This is probably the first thing most visitors mention when describing their travels around Iran. Iranians are some of, if not the most, friendliest and most-welcoming people to encounter in your travels. This makes a huge difference when travelling in a foreign land, and it is these genuine interactions with locals that really stick with you.

Secondly, the culture and history is probably one of the most richest the world. From ancient Zoroastrian temples, Achaemenid Empire ruins (Persepolis being the highlight), centuries-old Islamic architecture and Silk Road towns, plus the natural beauty of the mountains - there is so much to see!

You will be rewarded generously by pushing past the stereotypes that most people have of Iran. Not only will the incredible sights blow you away, but so to the Iranian people. For all your Iran travel information contact Blue Dot Travel.

Book your trip to Iran with Blue Dot! Click here.

Location of Iran

Ancient Persepolis
Iran is filled with stunning architecture

The elaborate tile work never fails to catch the eye and impress

Mixing it with the locals for tea or coffee is a must

A traditional Persian house and garden

Yazd skyline


Bam Citadel
The perfect combination of tradition and modernity

Monday, 24 October 2016

The Tribes of the Omo Valley, Ethiopia

Karo tribes people


The Omo Valley, in the remote south-west of Ethiopia, is a vast river basin fringed in the far distance by mountains. Life here has largely stood still.  No Ethiopia trip is complete without visiting the Omo. 

There are a number of tribes in the region living a subsistence life with their cattle, goats and some basic crops.   Most of the zebu cattle use the dry river beds as highways to and from the Omo, which has the only flowing water in the region.

The villages for the Karo and Hamar tribes are divided into family compounds, surrounded by fences made from sticks and thorn bush. If a man has more than one wife, the wives share a house while he lives in a separate dwelling.

The distinctions between people from the Karo, Hamar and Dassanech tribes in dress and ornamentation are fascinating, and their behaviour is largely unchanged over hundreds of years. Customs vary between the tribal groups, but it seems that boys get some schooling while girls are completely uneducated by our standards.

The Karo men go in for white ochre face and body painting. Both sexes pierce under their lower lips to insert a feather or a piece of wood or metal. Boys are presented with a Kalashnikov when they reach a certain age, to defend their families against lions and those rascally tribesmen across the river. Bare breasts and chests are the norm.

The women of the Hamar tribe are unselfconscious, and hold themselves proudly aware of their sexuality. They love their bead work, and wear asymmetrical skirts made from tanned goatskin. The older girls and women wear their hair in a helmet style, with a multitude of twisted ringlets anointed with a mixture of butter and red ochre.

Most of the men wear abbreviated hip wraps, and they sport a number of head and neck ornaments. The men carve small stools our of acacia wood. These also serve as head rests at night. It’s common to see a Hamar man carrying his rifle over his shoulder with his stool/pillow dangling from his hand.

Your Ethiopia trip will be filled with memorable experiences. 

Book your trip to Ethiopia especially for Timkat festival with Blue Dot! Click here.

The Omo Valley

Karo tribesmen                                     Dugout canoes on the Omo River

Typical thatched round houses made from acacia wood
Karo tribesmen sitting on wooden stool which doubles as their pillow when they sleep

Oh how the Karo men like to dress up

Hamar tribe woman

Mursi Tribe

Monday, 17 October 2016

Samarkand, Uzbekistan on the Silk Road - the ancient trade route linking China to the Mediterranean

Exploring Samarkand


Samarkand. It conjures up so much when you say the name. One of the oldest inhabited cities of Central Asia, Samarkand was a legendary stop along the Silk Road, being strategically situated between China and Europe, in modern day Uzbekistan.

During the 14th century, Samarkand came under the rule of the conqueror Tamerlane who had a passion and commitment for the arts. In fact, it is said that while being ruthless with his enemies, he would spare the lives of skilled artisans and craftspeople and bring them to Samarkand to improve the city - and the result of such compassion is clearly seen through the city’s ornate architecture. With an impressive skyline of domes and minarets you can easily see why Samarkand is the star destination of Uzbekistan. Looking more closely at each of these sights reveals an incredible amount of intricate detail with the use of ornate tile work in an array of blues and turquoises.

No trip to Uzbekistan would be complete without visiting these notable architectural marvels:
The Registan - a public square surround by three madrasas, Ulugh Beg, Tilya Kori and Sher-Doh.
Babi-Khanym - one of the most important buildings in Samarkand - it was once the largest and grandest mosques in the world.
Gur-e Amir - a mausoleum which contains the tombs of Tamerlane and his sons.
Shah-i-Zinda - a necropolis that contains a cluster of mausoleums and areas for religious rituals.

Not only is Samarkand an architecturally significant city, it still is home to many craftspeople and artisans, and thus you will see an abundance of hand made textile and ceramic pieces including embroidered suzanis and hand painted dinnerware, which make for a special Silk Road souvenir for your home.

After exploring each of the amazing sights in Samarkand, sit back, have some tea and enjoy the incredible city skyline that sits before your eyes.   The best time to visit Uzbekistan is Spring (April to May) & Autumn (September to early November).

Book your trip to Uzbekistan and the rest of ‘the Stans’ with Blue Dot! Click here.

Map of Uzbekistan

Tile details at the Registan

Sher-Dor Madrasah

Handcrafts for sale at local markets

Blue Dot on tour
The entrance to Gur-e Amir
Inside Gur-e Amir

Dried fruits and nuts at a local market

The ornate and stunning Shah-i-Zinda

Beautiful tile details at Shah-i-Zinda

Walking through Shah-i-Zinda

Bibi-Khanym Mosque

Enjoying the peace and quiet

The Samarkand skyline

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Bukhara - an ancient city in Central Asia's Uzbekistan

Kalon Mosque and Minaret

One of my favourite Silk Road cities is the town of Bukhara, located a few hours west of Samarkand. Like Samarkand, Bukhara is also home to significant and stunning architectural sites (like the Ark, Po-i-Kalyan and Char Minar), however while they may not be as grand in size and scale, it is the city as a whole that makes Bukhara a truly special destination. The Old Town in particular has an atmosphere and feel that in moments will make you feel as if you have travelled back in time. You will see people living their day-to-day lives, in their beautiful courtyard houses, whilst also being surrounded by historic architecture and significant monuments.

The heart of the Old Town is Lab-i-Hauz, a beautiful pool and courtyard-like area, surrounded by old Madrassas (buildings for Islamic education). It makes for a great place to rest under the shade and take time out when exploring the city - especially in the scorching hot summer. In fact, you’ll notice the town has a few ponds dotted throughout, another unique feature. These were much more common and were once Bukhara’s main source of water, however most were filled in during the 1920s to stop the spread of disease. However, on my visit they were being used by local kids as spot for swimming.

Your Uzbekistan trip should include another highlight is the Taqi-Zargaron market, also known as the Trading Domes, and is the spot for picking up a gorgeous souvenir. There are carpet sellers, antique dealers and jewellers all under the one roof, which happens to be a collection of beautiful (and quite minimal) domes. You will find the usual mass produced items here, but you will also find some truly unique Silk Road treasures, especially of the textile variety. Suzanis (embroidered blankets which were used as part of a dowry), ikat fabrics (dyed fibres that are woven, creating beautiful patterns) and traditional clothing items are all here in various shapes and sizes.  

After travelling throughout Central Asia you may start  to feel a bit fatigued with the Blue Domes and Madrassas, however the Old Town of Bukhara and it’s inhabitants are what make this city a really special experience and a standout on your Silk Road journey.
Tour Uzbekistan and the rest of ‘the Stans’ with Blue Dot! Click here.
Map of Uzbekistan

One of the many characterful faces of Bukhara
The Ark of Bukhara

Traditional ceramics

Kalon Mosque

Lab-i Hauz

Some of the local wild life

Colourful Ikat fabrics
Bukhara Old Town

Black tea

A traditional Bukhara mansion

Overlooking Bukhara

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Nuraghes from prehistoric Sardinian culture


No one can visit Sardinia without becoming aware of the island’s ancient Nuraghes, built between 1500-1200 BC. They are Bronze Age circular towers built with local rock without mortar of any form. We visited the Nuraghe Losa which contains a tall inner chamber that tapers like the bee hive tombs in ancient Greece. Originally it would have had a second chamber above it, and a terrace circling the top of the tower. 

Unfortunately local builders over the centuries have used Nuraghes as a quarry. What survived was buried in soil and bushes. These mounds are slowly being excavated, with an estimated 7,000 Nuraghes in Sardinia. The larger Nuraghes had secondary towers and were surrounded by the circular foundations of huts. The bigger complexes look rather like ancient castles.

Where you have villages you also have cemeteries. In the case the Nuragic people they had communal burials once thought to be Giants’ Tombs because of their length. Some speculate that the tombs were built on sites of special power designed to improve well-being. Although one could be sceptical about how such powers could assist the well-being of the dead. 

I have to admit that my lower back felt considerably more flexible after about ten minutes propping up the stone at the false entrance to the tomb.   

Why not take advantage of our private Sardinia vacation packages or join one of our small group tours.

Book your trip to Sardinia, plus Corsica and Malta with Blue Dot! Click here.

Map of Sardinia

 One of the 7,000+ nuraghes discovered on Sardinia
 Looking for somewhere interesting for a wedding?

The typical shape of a nuraghe is a truncated cone

The nuraghe interior is lined with smaller stones
Nuraghes are the main type of ancient megalithic edifice in Sardinia

 There is no consensus on the function of nuraghes

The origin of the word nuraghe is uncertain and disputed

The size of the stones diminishes with the nuraghe's height

Each nuraghe contains tonnes of stones

The tallest nuraghes stood 25-30 metres

These sturdy structures stand only by virtue of the weight of the stones