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Tourists hail ‘haunting beauty’ of ancient caves in Al-Baha

JEDDAH (Arabnews): With the Saudi winter season providing opportunities for tourism investment, Shada Mountain, one of the most popular spots in the Arabian Peninsula, has transformed into a popular destination for visitors, attracting tourists from within the Kingdom, the Arab region and Europe.

Shada Mountain is located in the southern region of the Kingdom in Al-Baha, rising 1,700 meters above ground. It is geologically composed of granite rock, and contains a large variation of plants and greenery.

Split into high and low segments, the mountain is intricate and has withstood the test of time; its vast caverns have been used to house civilizations, and retain carvings that go back to the era of the Thamud and the Sabaeans.

Nasir Al-Shadawi is a history researcher and owner of one of the caves that has turned into a tourist attraction. He said that he might be the first person to attempt to transform the caves, upgrading them into larger spaces that can house tourists.

“These caves used to act as homes, and they didn’t require anything but a little building with exposed sides. I also worked on adding washing basins and faucets made of granite,” he told Al-Arabiya TV.

Al-Shadawi adorned the road leading to the caves with stones to guide incoming tourists and prepare them for the experience, before they even enter the caves.

Popular among commoners and poets alike, the mountain has been mentioned by several Arab poets and explorers like Abu Mohammed Al-Hamadani and Yaqut Al-Hamawi.

Saudis have taken note of the tourist site and are excited to check it out. In fact, some were enticed to visit it after learning that it has inspired famous poets.

“I would love to sense what the poets saw and felt when they explored the mysterious caves. I think witnessing these mountains and their prominent existence adds to the historical and cultural richness that Al-Baha has,” said Amani Al-Ghoraibi, a language instructor at a university in Jeddah.

Al-Ghoraibi said that the atmosphere of the caves was its most important aspect, adding that it brings the most appeal. “There is a haunting beauty that seems to call in the visitor, urging them to explore these caves,” she told Arab News. “They seem to echo an ancient history that goes beyond what our modern day life seems to perceive.”

Amal Turkistani, 55, has taken on adventuring within the Kingdom, and Shada Mountain has presented a new location to visit.

“The interest in historical sites and the investment going into revitalizing these sites is unprecedented here in Saudi Arabia, and it gives us a variety of activities to share among families and friends,” she told Arab News.

Growing up, Turkistani said that she lacked that luxury and often chased after history and culture in other countries. Now that the Kingdom’s wondrous sites have been revealed, she wants to know them, as well as introduce them to her grandchildren.

“One of my deepest regrets is not learning about my country, and my children had no clue either. I would love to take my family to explore these caves and try to submerge ourselves in the past for a few days,” she added.

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Nepal to transform Everest trash into art

KATHMANDU (Reuters): Trash collected from Mount Everest is set to be transformed into art and displayed in a nearby gallery, to highlight the need to save the world’s tallest mountain from turning into a dumping site.

Used oxygen bottles, torn tents, ropes, broken ladders, cans and plastic wrappers discarded by climbers and trekkers litter the 8,848.86 metre (29,032 feet) tall peak and the surrounding areas.

Tommy Gustafsson, project director and a co-founder of the Sagarmatha Next Centre – a visitors’ information centre and waste up-cycling facility – said foreign and local artists will be engaged in creating artwork from waste materials and train locals to turn trash into treasures.

“We want to showcase how you can transform solid waste to precious pieces of art … and generate employment and income,” Gustafsson told Reuters.

“We hope to change the people’s perceptions about the garbage and manage it,” he said.

The Centre is located at an altitude of 3,780 metres at Syangboche on the main trail to Everest base camp, two days’ walk from Lukla, the gateway to the mountain.

It is due for “soft opening” to locals in the spring as the number of visitors could be limited this year due to coronavirus pandemic restrictions, Gustafsson said.

Products and artwork will be displayed to raise environmental awareness, or sold as souvenirs with the proceeds going to conservation of the region, he said.

Trash brought down from the mountain or collected from households and tea houses along the trail is handled and segregated by a local environmental group, the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee, but the task in a remote region that has no roads is a huge challenge.

Garbage is dumped or burned in open pits, causing air and water pollution as well as contamination of soil.

Phinjo Sherpa, of the Eco Himal group involved in the scheme, said under a “carry me back” initiative, each returning tourist and guide will be requested to take a bag containing one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of garbage back to Lukla airport, from where the trash will be airlifted to Kathmandu.

In 2019, more than 60,000 trekkers, climbers and guides visited the area.

“We can manage a huge amount of garbage if we involve the visitors,” Sherpa said.

Everest was first climbed by New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay in 1953.

Nearly 4,000 people have since made 6,553 ascents from the Nepali side of the mountain, which can also be climbed from the Tibetan side in China, according to the Himalayan Data base.

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Sri Lanka reopened to tourists after 10 months

Monitoring Desk

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka reopened to foreign tourists Thursday after a nearly 10-month pandemic closure that cut deeply into the Indian Ocean island nation’s lucrative travel industry.

Full operations also resumed Thursday at the island’s two international airports, accommodating the commercial flights.

Under new protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19, tourists must be tested for the virus in their country 72 hours prior to their flight, when they arrive at their hotel in Sri Lanka and again seven days later. They must stay in a “travel bubble” designated in 14 tourism zones without mixing with the local population. About 180 hotels have been earmarked for tourist accommodations.

The resumption of tourism follows a pilot project that began Dec. 26 in which 1,500 tourists from Ukraine visited Sri Lanka in such a travel bubble.

The government closed the country to tourists last March when an outbreak of the virus surfaced. The international airports were closed except for limited flights enabling Sri Lankans to return home.

Tourism is a vital economic sector for Sri Lanka, accounting for about 5% of its gross domestic product and employing 250,000 people directly and up to 3 million indirectly. Hotels, other businesses and their employees faced crippling income losses.

Sri Lanka had fewer than 4,000 cases of coronavirus infection until October when clusters centered on a garment factory and fish market spread in the capital, Colombo, and its suburbs. As of Thursday, it has confirmed more than 55,000 cases with 274 fatalities.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— People traveling to Australia from most other countries from Friday will need to test negative for the coronavirus before they depart. Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said Thursday that he’d signed orders which require international travelers to have a negative test within three days of leaving for Australia. All internationals passengers will also need to wear masks on their flights. “The success at home, the agonizing challenges abroad, the fact we have new more virulent strains that are emerging around the world — these remind us of precisely why we have been able to keep Australians safe,” Hunt told reporters in Melbourne. New Zealand and a few Pacific Island countries are exempt from the new rules.

— China is making some of its toughest travel restrictions yet as coronavirus cases surge in several northern provinces ahead of the travel rush for Lunar New Year. Next month’s festival is the most important time of the year for family gatherings and is often the only time many migrant workers are able to return to their rural homes. However, any wishing to do so this year will need a negative virus test within the previous week and may face sometimes-onerous restrictions, including quarantines, in some communities. The National Health Commission on Thursday reported an additional 126 cases of local transmission over the past 24 hours, the largest number, 68, in the northern province of Heilongjiang, part of the vast region formerly known as Manchuria. Commission spokesperson Mi Feng also said the international experts visiting Wuhan have had video conferences with Chinese experts as part of their work. The World Health Organizations are in quarantine at the start of their trip to investigate the origins of the virus. Chinese officials have tightly controlled such research while promoting fringe theories that the virus may have originated overseas.

Courtesy: AP News

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In these dark times, Romanian people vow to do something good every day

Monitoring Desk

NUCSOARA, Romania (AP) — A gentle hero to many in Romania, Valeriu Nicolae says that, at heart, he is more like former NBA star Michael Jordan — highly competitive and eager to improve in what he does best. In Nicolae’s case that is helping others.

The Romanian rights activist has earned praise for his tireless campaign to improve the lives of the Balkan country’s poorest and least privileged residents, particularly children.

This is a daunting task in the country of 19 million where hundreds of thousands of children lack basics and are unable to attend school. Romania is a member of the European Union but bad management and widespread corruption have stalled economic and social progress.

Nicolae told The Associated Press that for society to change, individuals should, too. He also thinks it should become mandatory for politicians to help someone before they take public office.

“It should be the basics: do good things for others!” he said. “Even a tiny bit of good for someone around you, and no bad at all.”

Since starting in 2007, Nicolae’s humanitarian organization Casa Buna, or Good House, has taken upon itself to support and supervise 315 children. The group provides aid and backing for the children and their families, including clothes, computers or books — but on condition they do not drop out of school.

Nicolae is a strong advocate of education to keep children off the streets and prevent them from straying later in life into alcohol or drugs. His work has gained further importance during the coronavirus pandemic that has increased social isolation and made life even harder for the poorest around the world.

On a frosty and snowy day this month, Nicolae’s team visited villages at the foot of the Carpathian mountains, some 200 kilometers (120 miles) northwest of Bucharest, to deliver aid such as flour, sugar or hygiene products to people enduring the cold winter weather.

Many holding children, the residents of Nucsoara came out of their homes to greet Nicolae. Most of the houses in the village are unfinished, and families live cramped in small rooms. Among the necessities Nicolae brought along were toothbrushes, and he showed some of the children how to use them properly.

“There is nothing better than seeing you’ve changed the life of a child for the better,” he said. “I don’t think there are many people more rewarded by what they do than me.”

Himself coming from a poor background among Romania’s Roma, or Gypsy, community, Nicolae said he also was motivated by the help he received as a child which he said pushed him forward later in life. Throughout the Balkans, Roma minorities routinely face discrimination and remain among the poorest and most neglected communities.

Painfully aware of the anti-Roma sentiments that are widespread in his country, but also of global racism, Nicolae was among the initiators of the Respect anti-racist campaign during the soccer 2010 World Cup in South Africa. He has won international awards in recognition for his children’s education bid.

“I was successful in helping many children and adults. I am stubborn and don’t do things just for one day,” he said. “I also failed thousands of times but that has placed me in a position to succeed (the next time). I never failed in the same way twice.”

A rare failure was Nicolae’s bid as an independent candidate in Romania’s December parliamentary election, when he fell just 17 votes short of a winning a seat after being denied a recount. Nicolae had hoped to press for education reforms to enable access to basic schooling, and also for better management of public money.

“I want to be a better person, a little better every year if possible,” he said. Jokingly, he added: “I don’t want to be a saint, because saints tend to have a tragic end.”

Courtesy: AP News

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Ancient Saudi Arabian City of Hegra Opens To Public After 2,000 Years

Monitoring Desk

f you are looking for a truly unique tourist destination, look no further than this ancient desert city. Hegra, or Mada’in Salih, is an archaeological site in AIUIa, a city in north-western Saudi Arabia. For the first time in nearly 2,000 years, this incredible city is opening for the public.

David Graf, an archaeologist of the ancient Near East and professor at the University of Miami explains what it is like to visit Hegra and shares his hopes for visitors’ experiences: “It should evoke in any good tourist with any kind of intellectual curiosity: who produced these tombs? Who are the people who created Hegra? Where did they come from? How long were they here? To have the context of Hegra is very important.” However, these questions are not so easily answered.The Ancient Saudi Arabian City of Hegra Is Open for Tourism After 1,000 Years

Photo: Stock Photos from RCU2019/Shutterstock

Nabataeans, an often-forgotten civilization, used Hegra as an important center for international trade. You may recognize the culture and architecture of Nabataeans from the more famous and long-visited tourist attracted of Petra. Archaeologist Laila Nehmé, co-director of the Hegra Archaeological Project—a French-Saudi partnership working to safely excavate the site—explains why Nabataeans remain such a mystery despite their influence. “The reason we don’t know much about them is because we don’t have books or sources written by them that tell us about the way they lived and died and worshipped their gods,” she says. “We have some sources that are external, so people who talk about them. They did not leave any large mythological texts like the ones we have for Gilgamesh and Mesopotamia. We don’t have their mythology.” These external documents that Nehmé refers to accounts from Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans who traded and interacted with Nabataeans.

To some, this lack of information adds to the mystery and excitement of exploring this relatively untouched site. What we do know is that Nabataeans were originally nomads who came to hold influence in their region in the incense and spice trade routes. We know that they were active from the 4th century BCE through the 1st century CE and that their land is currently found in Jordan, the Sinai Peninsula, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Syria. Similar to tourists in Petra, visitors to Hegra will notice that there is little trace of the bustling merchant city we imagine. Instead, the beauty is found in the 111 intricate tombs scattered across the desert city. Ornamentation and architecture is clearly influenced by Greek, Roman, and Egyptian culture with symbolism found in their mythology.The Ancient Saudi Arabian City of Hegra Is Open for Tourism After 1,000 Years

Photo: Stock Photos from Sainuddeen Alanthi/Shutterstock

The new opportunity for tourists to see these works is in part due to Saudi Vision 2030, a plan for Saudi Arabia released in 2016 to help the country expand in tourism and trade. This will help the country shift from its current dependence on oil and help diversify its economic resources. The novel experience open to tourists who are interested in Hegra is one of the first steps to implementing these plans. Tour guides are carefully chosen and trained to introduce outsiders to the history and majesty of a truly unique ancient city.

The ancient city of Hegra has been sitting undisturbed for nearly 2,000 years, but now it’s open to the public for the first time.

The Ancient Saudi Arabian City of Hegra Is Open for Tourism After 1,000 Years

Photo: Stock Photos from Hyserb/Shutterstock

Nabataeans, an often-forgotten civilization, used Hegra as an important center for international trade.

The Ancient Saudi Arabian City of Hegra Is Open for Tourism After 1,000 Years

Photo: Stock Photos from Sainuddeen Alanthi/Shutterstock

111 intricate tombs with clear influences from Greek, Roman, and Egyptian architecture and mythology are scattered across the desert city.

The Ancient Saudi Arabian City of Hegra Is Open for Tourism After 1,000 Years

Photo: Stock Photos from RCU2019/Shutterstock

Courtesy: My Modern Met

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Well-Preserved European Cities From Medieval Times

Monitoring Desk

Medieval times—most often called the Middle Ages—refers to a period of about 1000 years between the fall of the Roman Empire and the onset of the Renaissance in Europe. The end of the iconic medieval era itself occurred over 500 years ago. For that reason, it’s even more impressive that tokens of that historic time have survived to the modern-day. In fact, it’s not just small artifacts or weathered shards of history that have been preserved, but entire medieval cities that remain standing to this day.

As if pulled straight from the pages of a storybook, these historic locales will transport you back in time, to an age far removed from our own. Though an article listing the entirety of medieval cities dotting Europe’s vast geography would likely fill an entire book, we’ve compiled a small selection to pique your curiosity. And it’s quite possible that you are very familiar with a few of them.

These European cities are living museums of medieval times, and they are so well preserved that you can still visit them today.

Here are six well-preserved medieval cities you can still visit today!


Bruges, Belgium City From Medieval Times

Photo: Stock Photos from NAPA/Shutterstock

Often referred to as “Venice of the North,” Bruges is considered one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Europe. The city was a major center of trade and culture during its golden age from the 12th to 15th centuries, though it experienced a gradual decline in its prosperity after the year 1500.

With the majority of its medieval architecture remaining intact, it’s easy to feel as if you’ve been transported back in time when faced with Bruges’ beautiful gothic cityscape. In the year 2000, its historic city center was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And after a period of revitalization during the latter half of the 19th century, it has become a major tourist destination.


Carcassonne, France City From Medieval Times

Photo: Stock Photos from trabantos/Shutterstock

This fortified medieval city truly looks like a picture straight out of a children’s storybook, with tales of valiant knights and impossible quests. Carcassonne’s imposing fortress walls measure around 1.9 miles long with 52 monstrous towers strategically placed throughout its length. This impressive structure was designed as a stronghold to protect the city from attacks, and it has a long and storied history of many battles won and lost.

Many years after the medieval fortress was demilitarized by Napoleon Bonaparte under the Restoration, it had deteriorated to such a state that in 1849 the French government decided it should be demolished. However, thanks to vehement opposition from local citizens, it was instead preserved as a historical monument and later restored. In 1997, Carcassonne was also made a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A very popular tourist attraction, Carcassonne competes with the fairytale medieval island village of Mont-Saint-Michel as one of the most visited medieval sites in France.


San Marino, Italy City From Medieval Times

Photo: Stock Photos from Vladimir Sazonov/Shutterstock

The City of San Marino is the capital of the Republic of San Marino—the only surviving city-state in Italy and an independent republic since the 13th century. It sits majestically atop Monte Titano, which is the highest point in the country. The heart of the city is surrounded by a fortress wall connecting its three watchtowers—built at different times between the 11th and 14th centuries to protect the city from outward threats.

The city still exists today, remarkably preserved and relatively untouched in its medieval state. Partly for that reason, the Historic Centre of San Marino on Mount Titano also makes the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.


Monsanto, Portugal City From Medieval Times

Photo: Stock Photos from Vladimir leoks/Shutterstock

While this may not look like your typical medieval town—with prominent church spires and a hulking border wall dotted with imposing towers—the quaint village of Monsanto is truly a medieval gem preserved in the mountainside, seemingly frozen in time. In addition to its medieval architecture—in both Romanesque and uniquely Portuguese Manueline style—Monsanto’s most striking feature is the plethora of gigantic boulders that define its landscape.

Rather than move the boulders or break them apart to use as building materials, Monsanto’s early inhabitants instead constructed the village around them, even incorporating some into their buildings’ structures. As a result, some houses seem to be wedged between the enormous masses of stone, while others appear to be crushed beneath them. The streets are also too narrow to accommodate modern vehicles, so the preferred method of transport aside from walking is by donkey.


Prague, Czech Republic City From Medieval Times

Photo: Stock Photos from Jasmine_K/Shutterstock

Prague is arguably one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe. And thanks to the fact that it was left virtually undamaged by the events of WWI and WWII, it is generally considered to be the best-preserved large medieval city in Europe as well. Beautiful gothic architecture is a prominent feature throughout the city, but especially in the Old Town Square—which also makes the list as one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.

As stated on UNESCO’s website, Prague’s historic center stands as “a supreme manifestation of Medieval urbanism.” It is even the location of the oldest medieval astronomical clock in the world that is still functioning.


Toledo, Spain City From Medieval Times

Photo: Stock Photos from Anton_Ivanov/Shutterstock

Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986, Toledo is perhaps one of the most intriguing medieval cities that still exists today. It is known as the “City of Three Cultures,” thanks to the influences of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities that dwelled there throughout history—at times coexisting peacefully. Consequently, not only will you find a magnificent gothic cathedral within its city walls but also Sephardic synagogues and gorgeous mosques, all dating from the Middle Ages.

It is incredibly easy to get lost in Toledo’s winding cobblestone streets as you immerse yourself in the beautiful history surrounding you. And with its extensive list of historic monuments, there is no end to the things you can do and see there.

Courtesy: My Modern Met

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Researchers find out that Spanish conquistadores butchered at least a dozen women and their children

Monitoring Desk

MEXICO CITY (AP) — New research suggests Spanish conquistadores butchered at least a dozen women and their children in an Aztec-allied town where the inhabitants sacrificed and ate a detachment of Spaniards they had captured months earlier.

The National Institute of Anthropology and History published findings Monday from years of excavation work at the town of Tecoaque, which means “the place where they ate them” in the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs.

Residents of Tecoaque, also known as Zultepec, captured a convoy of about 15 male Spaniards, 50 women and 10 children, 45 foot soldiers who included Cubans of African and Indigenous descent, and about 350 allies from Indigenous groups in 1520. All were apparently sacrificed over the space of months.

When he heard about it, conquistador Hernán Cortes ordered Gonzalo de Sandoval to destroy the town in revenge in early 1521.

Archeologist Enrique Martínez Vargas said excavations suggest the inhabitants of Tecoaque knew a reprisal attack was coming and tossed the bones of the Spaniards — some of which had been carved into trophies — and other evidence into shallow wells.

The townspeople also tried to erect some primitive defensive works along the main thoroughfare of the town, none of which worked when De Sandoval and his punitive expedition rode in.

“Some of the warriors who had stayed in the town managed to flee, but women and children remained, and they were the main victims,” the institute said in a statement. “This we have been able to demonstrate over a 120-meter (yard) stretch of the main thoroughfare, where the skeletons of a dozen women were found who appeared to be ‘protecting’ the bones of ten children between the ages of five and six.”

Photos of the excavations show children’s bones beside those of the adult females, with some of the women’s skulls or arm bones turned toward the youngsters.

“The placement of the burials suggest these people were fleeing, were massacred and buried hurriedly,” the institute said. “Women and children who were sheltering inside rooms were mutilated, as evidenced by the discovery of hacked bones on the floors. The temples were burned and the statues were decapitated.”

Cruelty was on display on both side in Tecoaque, the site of one of the worst defeats in the Spanish Conquest of 1519-21.

The heads of the captive Spanish women were strung up on skull racks alongside those of men. An analysis of the bones revealed the women were pregnant, and in pre-Hispanic practice that may have qualified them as “warriors.” Another sacrificial offering included one woman’s body that was cut in half near the remains of a dismembered child aged 3 or 4.

One Spanish male was dismembered and burned to replicate the mythical fates of Aztec-era gods, according to one myth known as “El Quinto Sol,” or Fifth Sun.

The convoy was comprised of people sent from Cuba in a second expedition a year after Cortes’ initial landing in 1519 and they were heading to the Aztec capital with supplies and the conquerors’ possessions. Cortes had been forced to leave the convoy on its own while trying to rescue his troops from an uprising in what is now Mexico City.

Members of the captured convoy were held prisoner in door-less cells, where they were fed over six months, the experts said. Little by little, the town sacrificed and apparently ate the horses, men and women. But pigs brought by the Spaniards for food were apparently viewed with such suspicion that they were killed whole and left uneaten.

In contrast, the skeletons of the captured Europeans were torn apart and bore cut marks indicating the meat was removed from the bones.

Cortes went on to conquer the Aztec capital later in 1521.

Mexico is marking the 500th anniversary of the conquest this year with a special round of research and scholarly conferences.

Courtesy: AP News

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UK closes all travel corridors to avoid having to quarantine

LONDON (BBC): All UK travel corridors, which allow arrivals from some countries to avoid having to quarantine, have now closed.

Travellers arriving in the UK, whether by boat, train or plane, also have to show proof of a negative Covid-19 test to be allowed entry.

The test must be taken in the 72 hours before travelling and anyone arriving without one faces a fine of up to £500.

All passengers will still be required to quarantine for up to 10 days.

The isolation period can be cut short with a negative test after five days in England, but it does not apply in Scotland, Wales or Northern Island.

The government has said the travel corridor closure will be in force until at least 15 February.

Those arriving from some Caribbean islands are exempt until 04:00 GMT on Thursday 21 January.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the BBC’S Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that Public Health England would be stepping up checks on travellers who must self-isolate.

He said enforcement checks at borders would also be “ramped up” and added that asking all arrivals to self-isolate in hotels was a “potential measure” the government was keeping under review.

Passengers arriving into London’s Heathrow airport on Monday said they had been met with “substantial” lines at passport control and one couple complained they had “felt unsafe” due to what they described as poor social distancing.

Andy Hart, from London, who had arrived into the UK from Nairobi, said: “We felt that even though everyone was masked they were far too close together.

“It took an hour and 10 minutes. I’ve been flying 30 times a year for 20 years. I mean, once or twice have I ever seen it [airport queues] like this. How can this happen during Covid times?”

Meanwhile on Sunday, the government announced that a financial support scheme for airports in England would open this month in response to the new travel curbs.

Aviation minister Robert Courts said the aim was to provide grants of up to £8m per applicant by the end of this financial year. The scheme was first announced in November but without a start date.

Industry groups have warned there was only so long airports could “run on fumes”, following the announcement of the new quarantine rules.

Airline industry ‘needs $80bn more government aid’

EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren said the closure of the travel corridors will not have a “significant impact” on his airline in the short term as flight numbers were already limited due to the pandemic.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the minimum number of days arrivals must wait to take a negative test releasing them from quarantine could be reduced from five days to three days.

Karen Dee, chief executive of trade body the Airport Operators Association, said she supported the decision to close the travel corridors but stressed the need for “a clear pathway out”.

A ban on travellers from South America, Portugal and Cape Verde also came into force on Friday, having been imposed over concerns about a new variant identified in Brazil.

New variants causing concern have previously been identified in the UK and South Africa, with many countries imposing restrictions on arrivals from both nations.

Scientists fear the variants seen in South Africa and Brazil may interfere with the effectiveness of vaccines and evade parts of the immune system.

The travel industry has said closing the travel corridors was understandable due to the health emergency, but warned it would deepen the crisis for the sector.

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, said the system had been “a lifeline for the industry” last summer but “things change and there’s no doubting this is a serious health emergency”. He said he assumed the government would remove the latest restrictions as soon as it was safe.

“We’ve had no revenue now effectively for 12 months, give or take a few months in the summer last year. If we’re going to have an aviation sector coming out of this we need to open up in the summer,” he told the BBC.

The Department for Transport has said it is supporting the travel industry with an extension to the furlough scheme until the end of April, business rates relief and tax deferrals.

With all parts of the UK under strict virus rules amid high levels of infection, only essential travel is permitted.

On Sunday, another 671 deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid test were reported in the UK, and a further 38,598 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus.

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First K2 winter ascent made by 10 Nepalese Sherpas mountaineers

Monitoring Desk

The first-ever winter scaling of K2 in Pakistan goes to 10 Nepalese Sherpas. The world’s second-highest peak, known as the “savage mountain,” ranks as more dangerous than Everest.

The first-ever winter ascent to the summit of K2, known as Pakistan’s “savage mountain” and the world’s second-highest peak, has been claimed by 10 Nepalese mountaineers.

“We did it,” a trekking firm tweeted.

“A team of 10 Nepalese Sherpas has scaled the K2 this afternoon,” said Karrar Haideri, of the Alpine Club of Pakistan. “This was never done by anyone before in winter,” Haideri added.

At 8,611 meters (28,251 feet), K2, near Pakistan’s border with China, had never been scaled beyond 7,650 meters in winter — until Saturday. It was first summited in 1954.

On Facebook, Nirmal Purja, one of the triumphant mountaineers, described “a very special moment.”

“The whole team waited 10m below the summit to form a group then stepped onto the summit together whilst singing our Nepalese National Anthem,” Purja wrote.

Haidri said Saturday’s summit push had started at 1 a.m. local time, with the 10 climbers conquering K2 just before 5 p.m.

K2 has a dreaded “bottleneck,” a narrow, steep passage, where in August 2008, an avalanche killed 11 climbers in the peak’s worst known tragedy.

On it, winds can blow at more than 200 kilometers per hour (125 miles per hour) and temperatures can drop to minus 60 degrees Celsius (minus 76 Fahrenheit).

K2 lies at the western end of the Himalayas, in Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan region that has 18 of the world’s highest 50 peaks.

Since the maiden attempt back in 1988, just a handful of winter expeditions had been attempted until Saturday.

Courtesy: DW

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Nepalese climbers become first to reach K2’s summit in winter

F.P. Report

ISLAMABAD: A team of Nepalese climbers on Saturday made history after becoming the first to summit Pakistan’s K2 in winter, according to a trekking company leading one of the expeditions.

Dozens of mountaineers have been competing over the past few weeks to summit the world’s second highest mountain, the last peak above 8,000 metres to be topped in wintertime.

“WE DID IT,” tweeted Seven Summit Treks.

“The Karakorum’s ‘Savage Mountain’ been summited in most dangerous season: winter. Nepalese climbers finally reached the summit of Mt K2 this afternoon at 17:00 local time.”

Since the maiden attempt in 1987-1988, just a handful of winter expeditions have been attempted on the storied 8,611-metre (28,250-feet) mountain in the Karakoram range along the Chinese border.

None had got higher than 7,650 metres until Saturday when the good conditions allowed the climbers to push ahead.

This winter an unprecedented four teams totalling around 60 climbers converged on the mountain, more than all the previous expeditions put together.

The 10 Nepalese climbers had earlier been spread across the different teams, but formed a new group in order to claim the feat in Nepal’s name.

Known as the “savage mountain”, winds on the peak can blow at more than 200 kilometres per hour (125 miles per hour) and temperatures drop to minus 60 degrees Celsius (minus 76 Fahrenheit).