- Travel and Places
Three Beautiful Places Tainted By War
Natural beauty spots can become lost in war torn lands. Hidden gems that were once the epitomes of natural beauty are marred by conflict, subsequently transforming the area into inaccessible landmarks for only a few to admire.
If these same scenes were transported onto safer accessible terrain they’d see many tourists visiting, perhaps becoming some of the most popular destinations for any keen sight seer to experience. These places were not fabricated using man made constructions. There were no materials, makeup or beauty products applied onto the faces of these landmarks, simply natural beauty created by the Earth’s core and elements.
Swat Valley, Pakistan
Nicknamed “Switzerland of the East” for its luscious green landscape and white tipped mountains the Swat Valley is spoilt with beauty. In between its goliath mountainous landscape furious rivers flow and rippling streams sing out, making it a massive shame that such a picturesque spot is barely obliging.
Around the 70s the Swat Valley was considered a ‘must’ visit for adventurous Westerners (usually Hippies). People used Swat Valley as a refuge away from the hustle and bustle of Western civilisation. Its vast scenery and peaceful atmosphere provided the perfect spiritual rest. However, around the very same period the Swat district also became a retreat for the Taliban; who at the time were escaping the control of the Pakistani government.
Although attempts were made by the Austrian government in 1986 to fund the first ski resort on Swat, which saw efforts to promote skiing in Pakistan, in the early 2000s and in the wake of the Afghan invasion the Taliban once again saw Swat as their playground. From the 1990s up to recent times Swat Valley has become the stomping ground for the Taliban. They’ve spread their ideas and beliefs to catastrophic effects, using areas of the Swat Valley to destroy schools and torture those accused of adultery and homosexuality.
In 2009 and with the Pakistani military admitting that Swat Valley was dominated by Taliban fighters they embarked on a huge offensive. This saw over 1.5 million natives become homeless because of the fighting. Habitants fled the area and it soon became one of the world’s worst refugee crises since the Rwandan Genocide. Nowadays things are little more stable with military advances helping to install some sort of hope and serenity. Yet this unforgiving landscape is still a very hostile and precarious situation. From the outside it may look like the Alps on a sunny day but it certainly doesn’t share its substance as much of its land is still regarded as a no go zone for tourists.
Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of The Congo
This spectacular plot of land was created by King Albert I of Belgium in hope to protect the mountain Gorillas that lived in the surrounding forests of the Virunga Mountains. With around 3,000 square miles this National Park is home to 200 of the remaining 790 Mountain Gorillas in the world, a staggering amount for one single spot.
Its landscape captures a variety of elements which makes it the perfect spot for a whole host of creatures. The Virunga National Park is well recognised as a special natural hub, it contains more breeds of birds, mammals and reptiles than any other protected area on African soil. The park is situated in the north-east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, just on the border of Uganda and Rwanda. This beautiful space of land captures a mixture of settings, from the Lava Lake of the Nyiragongo Volcana (largest in the world) to the fresh fields of grass shared by the Silverback’s.
Despite the area’s impressive diversity and amazing landscape the Virunga National Park has seen its fair share of violence becoming an epicentre of destruction and fear. The 1980s saw a surge of rebel groups stamp their intention in the centre of the national park. At first the area saw bursts of violence but this natural beauty spot became fully embedded in violence around 1997 when Dictator Mobutu Sese Seko was removed from power. Since then and most noticeably in 2008, rebel reinforcements held overall authority of the national park, evicting staff and occupying the park’s headquarters.
Although significant fighting may have ceased, the surrounding area is still regarded as the ‘rape capital of the world’ and is heavily influenced by rebel control. It’s still a very volatile location, with the National Park’s website frequently changing its status to ‘Tourism in Virunga is currently suspended due to insecurity in the region’. For such an enchanting and important plot of land which helps endangered species to thrive it’s a huge shame that violence plagues its environment.
Mt.Baekdu - Cheonji Lake, North Korea
It’s a travesty that somewhere called ‘Heaven Lake’ is obscured and unattainable due to politics and beliefs. More than 9, 000 feet above sea level, and at the top of Mt. Baekdu, sits a dormant volcano that hosts a spiritual lake oozing of tranquillity and serenity. According to folk law this lake was where future Koreans first descended to earth.
The peak is on the Northern end of the Baekdu Daegan mountain range which runs down the length of the Korean peninsula for 1, 000 miles. Although the South Korean area is free for visitors to explore, you do run the risk of coming to the North Korean border which is rife with military activity. State Departments warn against visiting, with numerous examples of tourists being arrested by N Korean intelligence, sometimes facing years of punishment.
If it wasn’t for the tricky S Korean v N Korean face off then Cheonji Lake (Heaven Lake) would certainly be a natural wonder accessible for all to admire. The spiritual, legendary and peaceful atmosphere is hard to replicate, with it also being very dynamic and showing individual terrain unlike most volcano’s and mountainous landscapes. Although it’s a beautiful and enlightening spot it would take a very brave soul to explore its entirety, there are in fact tours set up by South Korea but straying off the map could lead to abduction, questioning and slavery. It may be tempting but it’s certainly not advised.