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The good shepherds

This year Japan suffered its worst ever whaling season. The reason? Battle-hardened conservationists.

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They might be modern-day pirates, as one US court damningly ruled, but their motive is nothing like gold and silver. Sea Shepherd, a non-profit marine wildlife conservation organisation, is renowned for using direct and aggressive tactics to prevent ocean killings on the high seas. Diplomacy is thrown overboard. Whatever needs to be done, will be done.

The Japanese government is well aware. It is among the few countries that hunt and kill whales. The practice was banned in the 1986 international moratorium on commercial whaling, but Japan claims it uses whales for scientific purposes. That exploits a loophole in the law...

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Wild wonders

The Canadian Rockies make a perfect playground for adrenaline-seeking adventurers. 

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By now, the story is well known. In 1883 three construction workers toiling away on the Canadian Pacific Railway stumbled across a cave in the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. They encountered a series of hot springs. After various disputes, it was decided the area be protected. In 1885 Banff National Park was created; the very first in Canada.

The protected area that is the Rocky Mountains – or the ‘Canadian Rockies’ – evolved from there. Numerous national parks later emerged to give this vast terrain the protection it deserves...

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Avant-garden

The futuristic Gardens by the Bay have become one of Singapore’s major attractions since opening one year ago.

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It looks like a scene from a science fiction movie. Stroll down Singapore’s Marina Bay and you will see 50-metre-tall trees branch out across blossoming gardens. Two air-conditioned conservatories lurk by the seaside, with glasshouse exteriors akin to giant snail shells. Inside one of them, a 35-metre-high mountain releases the world’s largest indoor waterfall. Welcome to the Gardens by the Bay.

The high-tech facility spearheads a strategy by the National Parks Board to increase the flora and green spaces in Singapore. The wider target is to boost the quality of life. In January 2006 they launched a designer competition for the complex...

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The place to be

The Swiss village of Gstaad is a luxurious getaway for celebrities and Hollywood A-listers.

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In the 1960s, TIME magazine summed it up when describing it as “the place to be”. Gstaad, a small settlement in the municipality of Saanen, south-western Switzerland, had already attracted personalities such as Grace Kelly and Roger Moore. Others included David Niven, Peter Sellers and Elizabeth Taylor. They fled to the Alps to escape busy lives.

Half a century later, little has changed. The village’s high-life society today includes people such as Roman Polanski, Mick Flick and Bernie Ecclestone. One writer called it ‘Monaco with snow’ which is entirely appropriate...

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In the shadows

Beside the Taj Mahal, the Agra Fort stood as an impregnable bastion under the Mughal Empire.

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In 1565, Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar, the third ruler of the Mughal Empire – which controlled large parts of India in the 16th and 17th centuries – built the main constructions of the Agra Fort. He erected walls around what became a fortified city. The provincial city of Agra became the empire’s capital.

In 1627, Akbar’s grandson, Shah Jahan, became the empire’s fifth ruler. Years later he moved to Delhi. He constructed the Taj Mahal, the famous white marble monument, in memory of his deceased wife Mumtaz Mahal. He built it only a few kilometres from the Agra Fort.

Jahan fell ill in 1657 and resigned his throne to Dara Shikoh, the eldest of his four sons. His brothers were jealous...

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Food for thought

The Slow Food organisation aims to protect local food culture, and has grown into an influential international movement.

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It all started in Bra, a town in north-western Italy of about 30,000 people. In 1986, Carlo Petrini founded ‘Slow Food’ as a wine and food association. The purpose was to enjoy quality cookery as part of a slow, leisurely lifestyle. It countered the expanding fast-food industry. It also fought the disappearance of local food traditions and a rising apathy towards nutrition.

The association soon expanded into a movement. The first international congress was held in Venice in 1990. The network came to include humanitarian and environmental issues such as fair prices, animal welfare and production methods...

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A new direction

EU parliamentarians have voted to limit food crop-based biofuels. That could be good news for developing countries.

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Biofuels were always supposed to be a good thing. But not all kinds. In July, the European Union’s (EU) Environment Committee voted to cap the volume of food crop-based biofuels. It said no more than 5.5 per cent of member nations’ transport fuels must originate from food crops. With the current output at just beneath five per cent, the move dramatically limits the £14billion industry. The decision will pass for a full European Parliament session in mid-September.

There is widespread debate behind the decision. Green campaigners have said the EU’s biofuel policy negatively impacts developing countries...

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Celebration of the lizard

The world’s largest lizard is a shrewd predator that will stop at nothing for its next meal. Meet the Komodo dragon.

Tatiana-Morozova

Dinosaurs may have been extinct for hundreds of millions of years, but reptiles remain that carry their legacy. That, at least, is the impression one gets of the Komodo dragon, a three-metre-long killing machine whose favourite preys include pigs, deer and large water buffalos. Even humans are unlikely to escape its wrath: in February, two people were attacked by a giant dragon that had somehow wandered into their office. They ended up in hospital.

The home of this sinister-looking lizard is a group of volcanic islands in the centre of the Indonesian archipelago. The government created a national park here in 1980 to protect it, with UNESCO adding its endorsement in 1991...

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Backyard science

In Canada, a grassroots project is highlighting climate change by focusing on the country’s most treasured cultural possession: skating rinks.

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Some months ago, a group of environmental students came to notice that Canadian winters had changed. There was less ice, warmer temperatures. What was worse, it affected the skating rinks, which are about as sacred in Canada as football pitches are in Brazil. According to a study by Montreal scientists, there would be fewer days where skating was possible. Some regions, they said, would end up with no rinks at all.

The students, of Wilfrid Laurier University, in Waterloo, south-east Canada, teamed up with a couple of professors to create RinkWatch. They set up a website where, on a Google map, people could pin down their local ice rink...

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The supervolcano

Yellowstone National Park is a geological masterpiece of hot springs and active geysers, but beneath lies a sleeping giant. 

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When transfixed by the geothermal features of Yellowstone National Park, it is easy to forget what powers it all. The sights can be so beautiful they are spellbinding: the spectacular hot springs, the geysers, the lava formations, the fumaroles; not to mention the wildlife of grizzly bears, wolves and bison; the scenic landscape of wild forests, majestic waterfalls and large canyons.

Indeed, Yellowstone is easily among earth’s greatest geological treasures, and has been recognised as such. The 9,000-square-kilometre area (3,478 square miles) was the very first national park of the United States, created in 1872, with UNESCO listing it in 1978...

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City of temples

In a Cambodian forest, the temple of Angkor Wat stands as a grandiose symbol of the mighty Khmer Empire.

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In the early 12th century, Suryavarman II, the king of the Khmer Empire, decided to build a temple. Around 50,000 people were sent to work, slaving away for 37 years. They dug a 200-metre moat, bridged by a causeway. They built three square plateaus on top of each other, protected by towering walls. At the top they erected five large towers. Around the temple, they created fine artwork, courtyards and corridors. In 1150 they completed the job. Angkor Wat was ready for use.

The new home of Suryavarman II reflected the power of his kingdom...

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On top of the world

The Great Himalaya Trail is the mother of all hiking routes, and could be used to help impoverished mountain villages.

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Nearly five years ago, Robin Boustead, a British explorer and mountaineer, started a journey across the high mountains of Nepal. He had been researching treks there for five years, having fallen in love with the Himalayas back in 1992. In September 2008 he set out. He wrote down routes, trails and distances; using GPS, he mapped water sources, villages and campsites. He crossed the entire country, marking up a 1,700-kilometre route (1,050 miles). It crossed passes as high as 6,200 metres and included 150,000 metres of climbing and descending. In July 2009 he completed the trail, having lost more than 20 per cent of his bodyweight...

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A golden age

The city of Jerash is an archaeological titan among the Roman relics of the east. But what sparked its monumental constructions?

Aivolie

In their magnificent forum, one can only wonder what the wealthy citizens of Jerash got up to. The city became a booming trade centre in Roman times, as evident by its grandiose facilities: paved and colonnaded streets, towering temples, fine theatres, public squares, city gates, fountains and baths. It became a prime example of Roman urbanism. How? Well, because it could afford it.

The city is among the best preserved ancient civilisations known to man. For reasons to be explained, it was gradually abandoned after the eight century. It was later covered in sand, and remained undiscovered until the early 1800s...

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Idyllic island

From ‘agrotourism’ to serene walks, coastal biking trails and ancient ruins, Cyprus offers more than its size suggests.

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The history of Cyprus may involve its fair share of turbulence, but contemporary visitors are likely to discover an environment of tranquillity. The 9,250-square-kilometre island (3,500 square miles), the third largest in the Mediterranean after Sicily and Sardinia, is a haven for beach holidays, but also for slow, mind-clearing walks along the coastline. Also on the menu are biking, archaeology and rustic resorts. Action-packed adventures will have to wait: here, it is all about taking it easy.

The island’s arch-typical selling point is that of sandy beaches and scorching heat...

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Create an eco-friendly home

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Conceptions and aspirations of the eco home are no longer confined to the domain of the ‘eco warrior’ in a grass-roofed hut. The modern ecological home can look like any other, hiding its clever environmentally friendly or economical features in inconspicuous ways. However, the ultimate eco-friendly home cannot be achieved in one easy step; it requires several significant changes from the way an ordinary house is built and managed. If you’re building a house, a cabin or a second home, here are some tips for building in an eco-friendly way and creating an eco-friendly living facility.

Start with the design

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Starting in the design process with an eco home in mind is preferable to ‘retrofitting’ to achieve an eco-friendly build...

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Spicy delights

Let us guide you through five classic meat-free dishes of the Indian cuisine – the world’s vegetarian wonderland.

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The Indian cuisine is a galaxy of diverse and tasteful plates. In a country of more than 1.2 million people, every region has its own take on how food should be prepared. A signature dish in one area may be virtually unknown in another. More generally, Indian food has been heavily shaped by both religious and historic factors. Trade routes, foreign invasions and colonialism have had strong influences, with Persians, Arabs and Brits all leaving their mark.

India is also a haven for vegetarians. According to a study in 2006, as much as 40 per cent of its households consider themselves to be vegetarian. That is more people than the rest of the vegetarian world combined...

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Green retreat

Businesses seeking sustainable solutions could do worse than book in at Green & Away – Europe’s only tented conference facility.

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In a field where innovation is highly prized, the Green & Away conference centre is exploring the boundaries of sustainable living. Here air-conditioned meeting rooms and excessive corporate facilities make way for wooden cabins, organic bars, solar-powered showers and compost toilets. The reason, says co-ordinator Helen Cranston, is simple: “We want people to make changes in their lives to be more sustainable by experiencing low-impact living.”

Green & Away was set up for a camping weekend in 1990 on a farm in Gloucestershire, England...

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Halfway to heaven

The Metéora monasteries were built atop of giant stone pinnacles in an era of no technology. Here there have been Monasticism, bombings and James Bond scenes.

AlexTois

At some point in the 14th century, on the plains of Thessaly in mainland Greece, a group of monks are likely to have debated the location of a new monastery. They had a habit of preferring remote, inaccessible places, but this time they took it to the extreme: they settled on a series of 400-metre high sandstone pinnacles close to the town of Kalambáka; a near-inaccessible location designed for prayer and spirituality. A few centuries later they had built 24 monasteries on the site, making Metéora the second largest Greek monastic area after Mount Athos, in Macedonia.

The building process was anything but easy...

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Chop and change

Amazonian deforestation has been greatly reduced in recent years, but changes to Brazil’s legislation on natural protection areas have filled conservation groups with skepticism.

Jenny-Leonard

Everyone wants a piece of the Amazon. Last year, the Brazilian government made changes to the forest code, an old law that determines how large an area Amazonian land owners are required to leave untouched. The farmers, represented by the powerful agri-business sector, demanded the legislation be relaxed, so they could develop more land, produce more goods and expand their business. Environmental NGOs argued that more deforestation would further threaten the rainforest’s biodiversity. In the end, the changes appeared to be a compromise between the two sectors. But conservationists were not happy.

The Amazon, ...

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Into the wild

In July last year, a ‘bear cam’ was set up in Alaska to livestream bears hunting for food. But it does not compare to the real experience.

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When you have trekked into the wild and find yourself standing close to a giant bear, there are a few things you should remember. Firstly, that these are among the wild’s most dangerous creatures. Note that they are excellent swimmers, frighteningly intelligent, with a better sense of smell than dogs. They can weigh up to 680kg. Think you can run away? Forget it: in short bursts, bears can run up to 65 kilometres per hour (40 miles). “These are wild animals, and you need to really respect that,” says John Quinley, assistant regional director at Katmai National Park, in southern Alaska. “You don’t want to sneak out a sandwich in front of them...

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