Where to Go in 2017: For Cultural Adventures

Global encounters on a local level.  
Tribesmen in Mount Hagen, Papua New Guinea, take part in a sing-sing, a tribal gathering full of chants and dancing. Photo: Angela Japha
Tribesmen in Mount Hagen, Papua New Guinea, take part in a sing-sing, a tribal gathering full of chants and dancing. Photo: Angela Japha

Papua New Guinea

Why Go Now: Unprecedented access to remote villages
Time ignored much of Papua New Guinea, or P.N.G., an isolated and rugged Garden of Eden. Located in the South Pacific north of Australia, P.N.G. includes the eastern half of the world’s second biggest island, New Guinea, and about 600 small islands. For indigenous cultures in secluded villages, life goes on pretty much as it has for centuries. Recent grass-roots tourism initiatives, such as lodging and travel website VillageHuts.com, make it a bit easier for adventurers to visit P.N.G.’s untamed rainforests—home to threatened tree kangaroos and Queen Alexandra’s birdwing, the largest butterfly in the world—volcanic fjords, and vibrant coral reefs. At Tufi Resort, new sea kayaking expeditions allow visitors to paddle between out-of-the- way villages and stay overnight in local guest houses (www.tufidive.com). And Walindi Resort will offer liveaboard dive trips in 2017 to the outlying Witu Islands and Father Reef, both packed with whirling schools of big colourful fish (www.febrina.com; 7-night stay on liveaboard $3,130/₹2,14,470 per person double occupancy). —Maryellen Kennedy Duckett

Guadeloupe

Why Go Now: Be moved by Caribbean heritage
Guadeloupe, or “Gwada,” has one foot in France, one in the Caribbean, and a rich culture all its own. Located between Dominica and Antigua, the five-island archipelago moves to the beat of Gwoka, a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage art form combining Guadeloupean Creole lyrics, African call-and-response singing, traditional Ka drum rhythms, and dancing. The sounds (along with the food, art, and most things Gwada) braid the islands’ Afro-Indian, Afro-French, and Afro-Caribbean traditions.

Learn how the African slave trade shaped Guadeloupe’s culture at Mémorial ACTe. This museum and research centre uses location-based beacon technology to track your movements and trigger powerful audiovisual displays, such as actor portrayals of slaves, slave owners, and abolitionists (fr.memorial-acte.fr; closed Mondays; entry €15/₹1,090). —MKD

Chengdu, China

Why Go Now: Savour a UNESCO City of Gastronomy

Changdu China

Cooks in downtown Chengdu keep busy preparing some of Sichuan’s famed specialties: hot-and-sour rice noodles and steamed dumplings. Photo: Steven Chou Zhou Zheng

Chengdu is hardly a fabled destination in Asia—even though this fogbound river town of ten million is the only city in China known by the same name for more than two millennia. But if you’ve been to a Sichuan restaurant anywhere on Earth, you can attest to the region’s legendary culinary specialties: kung pao chicken, twice-cooked pork, tea-smoked duck, ma po tofu, hot pot, and more. It’s no wonder that UNESCO designated Chengdu its first Asian “City of Gastronomy,” citing it as “the cradle and centre of Sichuan cuisine.” At street stalls, markets, and food courts, a panoply of dishes—from dumplings to duck tongues—is bathed in generous helpings of bright red heat, provided by the famed Sichuan peppercorns. Temper the surfeit of spice at one of Chengdu’s numerous teahouses, among China’s most authentic. As the hub of booming western China, more than three hours’ flight from coastal Shanghai, Chengdu has seen its white-painted back streets largely overtaken by glass-walled office towers.

Yet there are plenty of picturesque between-meals stops, and five World Heritage Sites nearby. The thatched cottage of acclaimed Tang dynasty poet Du Fu exudes tranquillity, while the Wide and Narrow Alley district brims with restaurants, bars, and shops selling handicrafts. And Chengdu’s other leading claim to fame is that it is the gateway to panda country—just 160 kilometres from the Wolong Nature Reserve, a panda breeding and research centre that is also home to the rare red panda. In Chengdu, antidote to an increasingly bland China, everything seems cast in a passionate crimson. —John Krich

Georgia, U.S.A.

Why Go Now: Listen up for great American music
Old sweet songs aren’t the only tunes keeping Georgia on music lovers’ minds. Current homegrown performers—including Young Jeezy and Luke Bryan—are building on the lyrical legacy of legends such as James Brown and Ray Charles. Hear live music or join a jam session at the Historic Holly Theater in Dahlonega or Atlanta’s Apache Café. Discover the roots of the Georgia sound in Macon, where Jessica Walden and her husband, Jamie Weatherford, operate Rock Candy Tours. “It’s no coincidence that Otis Redding and the Allman Brothers all tapped into the city’s soul, found their voice, and created a sound from it,” says Walden (rockcandytours.com; walking tours from $10/₹685). Rock on at one of Georgia’s 75 music festivals, such as June’s AthFest in Athens, home of the B-52s and R.E.M. —MKD

Canton Uri, Switzerland

Why Go Now: Zoom through the world’s longest rail tunnel

Uri Switzerland

In Switzerland’s Canton Uri, the Désalpe festival marks the cattle’s annual autumn descent from summer mountain pastures. Photo: Uripix

Canton Uri is the Swiss army knife of Alpine travel experiences. Craving clanking cowbells and traditional cheesemaker huts? Check and check. How about snow-capped peaks and wild flower meadows? Uri’s got you covered. Dream of soaring over glacial lakes in a gondola or peering into the abyss on a gravity-defying train ride? Yep. That’s Uri too. Then there’s Gotthard Pass (elevation 6,909 feet), a magnet for James Bond wannabes itching to drive ridiculous hairpin turns. Their route of choice—an old cobbled road over the Alps—is the adrenaline-pumping way to travel from German-speaking Uri to Italian-speaking Canton Ticino. But it’s the slow lane compared with the new Gotthard Base Tunnel. The 56-kilometre-long rail tunnel (longest of its kind in the world) took 17 years to build yet takes only 17 minutes to zip through via high-speed train. —MKD

Cradle of Humankind, South Africa

Why Go Now: Pay a visit to your ancestors’ cave
It turns out you can go home again. Rewind any family story way, way back some two to three million years and you’ll arrive at the Cradle of Humankind. Located under the rolling Highveld grassland an hour northwest of Johannesburg, the sprawling subterranean boneyard provides a window into human evolutionary history. Within the Cradle’s limestone caves and dolomite sinkholes, scientists have discovered one of the world’s greatest sources of hominin fossils. Get an overview of the discoveries at Maropeng (Setswana for “returning to the place of origin”), the Cradle of Humankind’s burial mound–shaped visitors centre. Then dig deeper on a guided tour of Sterkfontein Caves, site of the longest running (five days a week since 1966) archaeological excavation (www.maropeng.co.za; open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; entry Maropeng adults ZAR120/₹580, children 4-14 ZAR65/₹315, under 4 free; entry Sterkfontein Caves adults ZAR165/₹800, children 4-14 ZAR97/₹470, under 4 free). —MKD

Appeared in the January 2017 issue as “Where to go in 2017: Culture”.

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