northanger (northanger) wrote,
northanger
northanger

The Towers of Silence & Salar de Uyuni

The Towers of Silence

But the strangest feature in these strange, unsightly structures, so incongruously intermixed with graceful cypresses and palms, exquisite shrubs, and gorgeous flowers, remains to be described. Though wholly destitute of ornament, and even of the simplest moulding, the parapet of each Tower possesses an extraordinary coping, which instantly attracts and fascinates the gaze. It is a coping formed, not of dead stone, but of living vultures. These birds, on the occasion of my visit, had settled themselves side by side in perfect order, and in a complete circle around the parapets of the Towers, with their heads pointed inwards, and so lazily did they sit there and so motionless was their whole mien that, except for their color, they might have been carved out of the stone-work.
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The corpse-bearers are properly divided into two classes, named Nasa-salars and Khandhias. The former alone are privileged to enter the Towers, but they are assisted in carrying the bier by the Khandhias, and they carry the dead bodies of the children without the aid of the Khandhias. As these Nasa-salars are supposed to contract impurity in the discharge of their duty, they are obliged to submit to certain social disadvantages. For instance, they are generally expected to eat apart from the rest of the community at social gatherings. They enjoy, however, a compensating advantage in being highly paid for the work they have to do.

Salar means "chieftain" in Persian.
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

The largest salar (salt flat) in the world, Salar de Uyuni, is located within the Altiplano of Bolivia in South America. The Altiplano is a high plateau formed during uplift of the Andes Mountains. The plateau harbors fresh and saltwater lakes, together with salars, that are surrounded by mountains with no drainage outlets—all at elevations greater than 3,659 meters (12,000 feet) above mean sea level. The Salar de Uyuni covers approximately 8,000 square kilometers (3,100 square miles), and it is a major transport route across the Bolivian Altiplano due to its flatness.

BOLIVIA, part 8; August 7, 2002

The high plateau (altiplano) region is home to the largest and highest salt lake in the world and a wildlife reserve that includes mountains, volcanoes and deserts. The altitude averages around 12,000 feet above sea level, although at times we approached 15,000 ft. The unique habitat is home to many animals including nandus (a short ostrich), several types of flamingos, vicunas, llamas, foxes, pumas and more. The area is beautiful and yet desolate and harsh.

The trip was 4 days and 3 nights. The first day we visited the salt flats which were incredible. The stark white landscape can seem like snow. (This illusion is further reinforced because it is so cold at the high altitude.) However, you are actually in a desert. We visited what used to be hotel built out of salt. The hotel is no longer in use, but we saw the abandoned buildings and sat on some of the furniture made out of salt – it was definitely surreal. (It looked like they were starting to repair the hotel, but in Bolivia, this could be an ongoing project.) Next we visited Fish Island which gets its name because of the island's shape. Ironically, there are no fish nearby and you drive on the salt flats to get to the island. This island itself is covered in sand and cacti in stark contrast to the surrounding white salt. There were also some nice hiking trails.

The other three days we spent in the wildlife reserve. The desert conditions meant the air was dry, while the high altitude insured it was very chilly. I had been warned it was uncomfortably cold in Uyuni. Fortunately, I psyched myself up that it would be unbearable and so was pleasantly surprised since it was not as bad as I had been anticipating. (I also had the proper gear -- ski clothes once again came in handy.) That said, I was surprised by the extreme wind conditions. One minute things would be still and the next minute you'd see wind whirls of dust that looked like mini-tornados. Similarly, you often couldn't open both the right and left doors or there'd be sand or snow piled in the jeep.

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