Tour our slideshow of scary monasteries, spine-chilling churches, and cathedrals made of bones.
Top 10 Mummies Worth Traveling for
When it comes to showing no fear in the face of death, Halloween is mere child's play compared to mummification, the process of preserving bodies for eternity. Come with us on a tour of the world's most lifelike corpses.
AZAPA VALLEY, CHILE
Despite widespread belief to the contrary, Egyptians may not have been the first ancient civilization to preserve their dead. Mummies from 5,000 to 2,000 B.C.—at least 2,000 years older than the Egyptian mummies—have been found in what is now northern-most Chile. The Chinchorro people embalmed their dead, swapping out internal organs and muscles with clay, reeds, and other materials. Skin was, um, reupholstered and given a black or red finish. Four of these mummies, roughly 4,000 to 7,000 years old and mostly discovered in 1983, are on display
in the Azapa Valley's superb Museo Arqueológico San Miguel de Azapa (Museum of Archaeology in San Miguel de Azapa), which covers Peruvian history from 8,000 B.C. up to colonial times. Lean into the glass cases to see how some skin and hair remain on the bodies. Admission about $2, Camino Azapa, eight miles from Arica, 011-56/58-205-551, uta.cl.
Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov was the spiritual leader of Ivolginsky Datsan (Ivolginsky Monastery), the most important Buddhist monastery in Russia at the time of his unexplained death in 1927. When Itigilov's body was exhumed in 2002, it was almost lifelike, sitting upright in the lotus position and looking meditative. Ever since, during the annual summer Maitreya Festival and other select times, purple-robed monks display the remarkably composed body of the 12th Khambo Lama under glass on the upper floor of the main temple. The religious complex is about 14 miles southwest from the nearest town, Ulan-Ude, in the Russian republic of Buryatia. While the bus ride is only 35 rubles ($1.15), it's best to hire a guide with a vehicle to navigate and translate, for 1,500 rubles, or about $50. Admission free, Ivolginsky Datsan, Buryatia, datsan.buryatia.ru.
You'll need a guide to see the 500-year-old Timbac Caves mummies near Mount Pulag National Park—the locals don't like their Ibaloi ancestors visited without a proper chaperone. As it happens, the guides are tremendously helpful. They'll lead you on the two-hour drive (or five-hour hike) to the site, unlock the iron gates that now protect the cave entrances, and pop open the coffin lids so you can see the flaking skin and protruding bones up close. Unlike mummifiers elsewhere in the world, the Ibaloi left the internal organs inside the bodies and merely dried the corpses out with heat and smoke and then bathed them in herbal preservatives. Get additional background and additional mummy sightings back in the village of Kabayan at a branch of the National Museum of the Philippines. Admission to Kabayan Branch of the National Museum of the Philippines about 50¢, admission to caves about $2.30, guide from the visitor's center of Kabayan about $30, Kabayan, 011-63/2-527-4192, nationalmuseum.gov.ph.
HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM
Vietnam History Museum
Step into Room 4 at the Vietnam History Museum, a pagoda-like structure by the Botanical Gardens in Ho Chi Minh City, and glimpse the mummy of Mrs. Tran Thi Hieu, who died in 1869 at around age 60. Found 17 years ago during a scientific excavation, the body remains in remarkably good shape. Researchers identified her based on a silk monogrammed item of clothing with a woman's name on it, which was found next to the corpse. Mrs. Tran is now housed underneath glass and wearing traditional Vietnamese burial garments; her rings, bracelets, and other jewelry are displayed in an alcove. Expect to overhear local visitors muttering "Troi oi" (or, "Oh, my!"). Enough said. Admission about 72¢, 2 Nguyen Binh Khiem, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, 011/84-8382-98146, asiaforvisitors.com.
RED SQUARE, MOSCOW, RUSSIA
Every 18 months, the body of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (known worldwide as Lenin) is re-coated in paraffin, then re-dressed in a dark, Swiss-made suit, his eyes and lips left carefully sewn shut. His mausoleum on Red Square— once one of the most visited mausoleums in the world—is a stark pyramid of red, gray, and black stone, designed by the Soviet Union's Immortalization Commission. Ironically, Lenin had never wanted his body to be on display, having instead asked to be buried in a private plot next to his mother's grave in St. Petersburg. But his political successor, Joseph Stalin, wanted to showcase the body like a holy relic, presumably to inspire patriotic feelings in the Russian people. Another irony: This temple to Communism is no longer state run, and it's said that Lenin's skillful embalmers offer their services on the private market, commanding sky-high prices for their handiwork on others. Admission free, Red Square, lenin.ru.
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