Top 5: Culture shock holidays

Published on: Tuesday, August 29, 2017

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For a holiday with a difference, discover the thrill of centuries-old cultures and traditional ways of life in some of the world’s most undiscovered locations

A remote corner in India

Immerse yourself in Buddhist culture while getting a dose of fresh mountain air by trekking through the Spiti Valley in the Indian Himalayas. The best time to visit is from June to October; during the winter months, the valley is often cut off from the rest of the world as blizzards block the mountain pass. A highlight here is Tabo Monastery, one of the oldest Buddhist monasteries in the world, which is covered in thousand-year-old beautiful murals and frescos. The Monastery is home to practising monks who host the Chakhar Festival every three years, usually during September or October. During this festival, monks from near and far gather to pray and perform a masked dance ceremony.

Be aware of altitude sickness, as this valley is between 10,000ft and 15,000ft (3,048m to 4,572m) above sea level. Accommodation options are limited so most visitors choose homestays, which give you an opportunity to experience simple village life.

How to get there
Fly to Kullu from Delhi, then arrange for a local transfer (or hire a motorcycle) to get to Spiti via one of two routes – Rohtang/Kunzum pass or Kinnaur pass. The journey from Kullu takes around seven hours.

The highlands of Papua New Guinea

Up on Tari Highlands in Papua New Guinea, the bare-chested Huli Wigmen, or Haroli, spend a good part of the day looking after their hair, which they grow and make into ornamented wigs to use in ceremonies or sell to other tribesmen. Every August and September, they host singsings (festivals) during which the Huli men paint their faces yellow, red and white and put a quill through the nose. They also wear an elaborate apron of leaves with a belt of dangling pigtails and carry a clawed axe. These men are excellent dancers too – best known for a bird dance which mimics the birds of paradise.

How to get there
Fly to Jacksons International Airport outside Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea, then transfer to a local flight (a turbo-prop by Air Niugini) to Tari.

A sacred place in Peru

What better way to experience vibrant Cusco, once the revered capital of the Incan Empire, than to settle into the home of a Peruvian family. Placed in the heart of this historical hub that fuses ancient Incan culture with the legacy of Spanish colonialism, you’ll be plunged headfirst into fascinating local culture. Test your Spanish skills and enjoy Peruvian gastronomical delights with your host family. You’ll leave feeling like a true local with a new second home. For an alternative Peruvian adventure, there are carefully controlled eco-tours taking explorers deep into the misty rainforest of Manu National Park.

How to get there
Fly into Lima then take a local flight to Cusco. There are several airlines serving the Lima-Cusco route including LATAM, Peruvian Air, LC Peru, Avianca and Star Peru. Flight time is one hour and 20 minutes.

Spear fishing in Thailand

Near the Thai-Burmese oceanic border in the Andaman Sea lies the Mu Ko Surin National Park, which consists of five tropical islands boasting sparkling blue sea fringed by beautiful sandy beaches. The islands are home to a small number of Moken people, locally known as ‘chao le’ (people of the sea). They are nomadic sea gypsies who free-dive down to 20m without any diving gear to spear fish and collect sea cucumbers – their main diet. The national park is closed from May to October during the rainy season. There aren’t any hotels on the main island (Ko Surin Nuea) – only a few bungalows, lodges and campsites that you will need to rent from the National Park Office.

How to get there
Fly to Surat Thani, then hire a boat to get to the main island Ko Surin Nuea. The boat journey from Surat Thani takes about four hours, and there is a 500 Thai Baht entrance fee for foreigners. Be aware that some boat transfer companies may advertise Koh Ban, Koh Tachai and other islands as part of Surin – they aren’t; they belong to Similan group of islands.

Ukraine

If diving and body-art aren’t your thing, instead head to a mountain homestay in Kolomyya in the wild Carpathian Mountains in Ukraine. Despite being ruled by Poland, Moldavia, the Ottoman Empire, Russia and now Ukraine, Kolomyya is fiercely proud of their Hutsul culture and pysanka (Easter egg decorated with traditional Ukrainian folk designs using a wax-resist method). While you’re there, visit the fascinating Hutsul Museum, take up local cooking classes, go hiking to explore the region’s scenic beauty, or see local shepherds at work on the meadow.

How to get there
Fly into Lviv and take a train to Kolomyya. The train journey is about two and a half hours.