10 places to see before you die

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What you'll find in this story: dream destinations, top vacation spots, amazing places, trips around the world, exotic travel, India travel

Excerpted from 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, Copyright © 2003 by Patricia Schultz. Used by permission of Workman Publishing Co., Inc., New York. All Rights Reserved.

Tossing aside the obvious, we narrowed it down to the 10 that really got our motors running.

Jaisalmer Rajasthan, India

Known as the Golden City, this former caravan center on the route to the Khyber Pass rises from a sea of sand, its 30-foot crenellated walls and medieval sandstone fort sheltering carved spires and palaces. So little has changed here that it's easy to imagine yourself back in the city's early days, in the thirteenth century. Jaisalmer's wealth originally came from the heavy levies it placed on camel caravans passing through, and merchants and townspeople built handsome havelis (mansions elaborately carved from the local golden stone). It's the only fortress city in India still functioning, with one quarter of its population living within the original walls.

Details: Six hours by car from Jodhpur. Stay in the Narayan Niwas Palace, a former caravansary built by the maharaja in 1840. Doubles from $48 (low season) or $60 (high season); 011-91/29922-52408, fax 011-91/29922-52101, narayanniwas.com/.

Best times: October to February.

Highland games, Braemar, Scotland

Begun in the Middle Ages as county fairs for the exchange of goods and news, these summer sporting events gave clan chiefs the chance to check out the physical prowess of the area's most promising young lads. Of the nation's 40-some annual gatherings, the ones at Braemar are the most renowned. (Queen Elizabeth usually pops in from Balmoral Castle.) A breed of gigantic men--called the Heavies--engage in "throwing the hammer," "putting the stone," and the prime event, "tossing the caber"--in which they hurl a 20-foot tree trunk weighing over 130 pounds. Expect bagpipes, bright tartans, Highlands dancing, and a nip of whiskey to help things along.

Details: Held the first Saturday in September, in Braemar's Princess Royal and Duke of Fife Memorial Park. Tickets are $20 to $36; 011-44/1339-755-377 (phone and fax), braemargathering.org/.

Giants Causeway
Bushmills, Antrim, Northern Ireland

The grand and astonishing Giant's Causeway--on the northern coast of the island--is made up of more than 40,000 volcanic basalt columns, each a foot or two in diameter. Most are hexagonal, but some have four or five sides, and others have as many as 10 (and reach as high as 40 feet). If modern-day visitors are struck with wonder at the sight, imagine the disbelief of the ancient Irish, who attributed the geological wonder to the fabled giant Finn McCool. The warrior was said to have created the Causeway as a bridge to his lady love on the Scottish island of Staffa. We now know it was formed by volcanic eruptions some 60 million years ago. Hopscotch along the columns, or marvel at the Causeway from the clifftop belvederes.

Details: 75 miles northwest of Belfast; 011-44/28-207-31855, fax 011-44/28-207-32537, northantrim.com/.
     

Moscow Metro, Moscow, Russia

Details: For information in the U.S., contact the Russian National Group, 212/575-3431, fax 212/575-3434, russia-travel.com/.

Cha Ca La Vong,
Hanoi, Vietnam

Cha Ca La Vong serves only one dish--cha ca, a succulent fried-fish masterpiece, the recipe for which has been in the Doan family for generations (the name translates roughly to "curried Red River fish"). After more than seven decades, cha ca became so entrenched in Hanoi that the city renamed the lane out front in its honor. A rickety flight of wooden stairs leads to the unremarkable second-floor dining room, full of equally rickety chairs. Patrons cook chunks of seasoned garoupa fish on a charcoal clay brazier, stirring in chives and dill. The rich, oily stew is then spooned into bowls of vermicelli rice noodles and enlivened by the addition of shrimp sauce, fried peanuts, and pickled vegetables. The secret ingredient, if you believe the rumors, is two drops of an essence extracted from the perfume gland of the ca cuong beetle.

Details: about $5; 14 Cha Ca St., 011-84/4-825-3929.

Chuuk Lagoon
Lost Fleet Chuuk, Micronesia

On February 17, 1944, American Task Force 58 engaged in Operation Hailstone, dropping over 500 tons of bombs on the Japanese navy. Today, Chuuk Lagoon (also called Truk Lagoon) holds the wrecks of 60 Japanese ships, the largest concentration of sunken ships in the world. The 433-foot Fujikawa Maru is the most famous, an aircraft carrier that sits upright in 30 to 112 feet of water, a gaping torpedo hole in her side. A combination of warm water, prolific marine life, and lagoon currents has acted as an incubator, transforming the WWII hulks--their guns, trucks, silverware, and sake bottles left undisturbed--into artificial reefs.

Details: Most air connections to Chuuk are via Guam. Stay at the Blue Lagoon Dive Resort. Doubles from $130; 011-691/330-2727, fax 011-691/330-2439, bluelagoondiveresort.com/. Dive operator: Blue Lagoon Dive Shop. Two-dive boat trip, $95 per person; 011-691/330-2796, fax 011-691/330-4307.

Best times: January to April.

El Questro Wilderness Park
Kimberely, Australia

El Questro is the ultimate outback experience: a million-acre working cattle ranch in the middle of Kimberley, just a dot on the map of massive, sparsely populated Western Australia. Explore the property's many tropical gorges or remote water holes, or go on a ranger-led horse, foot, or four-wheel-drive trek to waterfalls, thermal springs, and Aboriginal rock art. There's a fancy hotel, with suites, cantilevered over the Chamberlain River, but those whose wallets dictate Foster's instead of champagne can choose one of El Questro's three less-expensive lodging options--including camping sites under the stars.

Details: One hour by air from Darwin. Suites start at $603 per person per night (with all meals and most activities), bungalows sleeping one to four people are $147, tented cabins for two run $90, and camping is $8.50 per person; 011-61/8-9169-1777, fax 011-61/8-9169-1383, elquestro.com.au/. Closed November to April.

Sturgis Motorcycle RallySturgis, South Dakota

For one week in early August, the town of Sturgis (population 6,400) hosts America's largest motorcycle rally, now attracting well over a half-million people. Begun in 1938 by the local Jackpine Gypsies, the Black Hills Motor Classic grew over the years into a bacchanal drawing gangs of self-styled outlaws. In the late 1980s, the city partnered with the Jackpine Gypsies to civilize the event, and today law and order prevail. Baby strollers are not an uncommon sight--which is not to say that the saloons and tattoo parlors don't still do a brisk business. Wanna-bes and diehards alike partake in the hill climbs and concerts. Downtime is spent admiring each other's bikes, marveling at the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame, or eating at the Road Kill Cafe--favorites include Chicken That Didn't Quite Cross the Road and the daily special, Guess That Mess.

Details: Sturgis is 24 miles north of Rapid City. City of Sturgis Rally Department: 605/720-0800, fax 605/720-0801, sturgismotorcyclerally.com/.

Mercado de HechiceriaLa Paz, Bolivia

At La Paz's Witchcraft Market, proud chola women sit among their goods like queens, unfailingly wearing two braids festooned behind them and bowler hats adapted from the British many years ago. What they sell: herbal-tea fusions, folk cures, coca leaves, figurines, snakeskins, slabs of llama lard to be burned in offerings to the gods, and amulets to guarantee a long and happy sex life. The market has lately begun to accommodate the growing number of gringo curiosity seekers, and booths hawking colorful alpaca sweaters and woven textiles do a brisker business than the vendors pushing dried llama fetuses.

Details: Held daily, on Calle Linares between Calle Santa Cruz and Calle Sagárnaga. Best times: April to October.

Diving with Manta raysTobago, Lesser Antilles

Divers are flocking to the island of Tobago for the chance to swim with monster manta rays. A dozen or so giant mantas, 6 to 10 feet wide, live in the Batteaux Bay area, some year-round. Divers may have to settle for a sighting of the creatures, but most will be able to interact with them. The friendly mantas encourage divers to hold on for a ride--a practice that once earned them the nickname Tobago taxis. Today's more-sensitive approach is to merely swim in their presence.

Details: Stay beachside at the Manta Lodge, a dive resort with a PADI facility. Doubles begin at $95 (low season) or $115 (high season); 868/660-5268, fax 868/660-5030, mantalodge.com/.

Best times: November to April.

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