I love stepping into a house, a street, a city, and feeling like I have travelled back in time. Perfectly preserved furniture, perfectly preserved buildings, perfectly preserved people; these are the visual aids that do it, and they are becoming increasingly rare in homogenised modern society. Here are a few of my favourite time capsules.
Time capsules: Asia
Sand. Sand, sand, sand. Then this, rising up from the desert. A city: Khiva. Full of houses, public squares, minarets, madrasahs, mosques; all the trappings of a city. But never, in Khiva, do you feel free of the desert. Khiva is a city of sand, a city of the desert. The occasional splash of aquamarine tiles only heightens the sandy palette.
Welcome to Bhutan: the Land of the Thunder Dragon; a tiny, landlocked nation in the eastern Himalayas. Capital: Thimpu. Population: 750,000. Home of the Sunkosh, Trongsa, Manas, and Wang Rivers. Home to Gangkhar Puensum, the world’s highest unclimbed peak (7570m).
Time capsules: Middle-east
Misfat Al Abriyeen doesn’t merely exist amidst this arid, treeless landscape; thanks to the falaj system it has transformed the local environment into a fertile oasis.
Time capsules: Central America and the Caribbean
Granada has been a strategically important city since its founding in 1524. Its positioning, on the western shoreline of Lake Nicaragua – making it accessible by boat from the Caribbean Coast, and by stagecoach from the Pacific Coast – made it so.
Cuba is trapped in a time bubble. Walk down the main street of Havana today and you’ll swear you’ve been sent back to the 1950s; easily one of my favourite excursions back in time.
It’s a surreal experience, but how long will it last?
Time capsules: Europe
Why are there so many watchtowers? That’s what I keep thinking as I pick my way along the muddy, disorderly, old-world laneways of Ushguli in the mountainous Svaneti region of Georgia.
There’s a watchtower attached to every house. They dominate the village, rising up above the stone houses, the stone fences, the stone sheds; it gives the place a cold, menacing, hostile atmosphere.
I can’t believe there are so few tourists here in Berat. How can there be picturesque laneways like this one, and yet, no tourists? It makes no sense. But the scarcity of tourists in Albania is one of the reasons travelling here is so great.
The city dates back to 168 BCE. At the time it was known as Acruvium, and was part of the Roman Empire (don’t forget Italy lies on the opposite shore of the Adriatic Sea, less than 200 kilometres away).
Time capsules: Africa
There are only three vehicles on Lamu: a tractor, a three-wheeled ambulance, and a car reserved for a member of the local government. For everyone else it’s either donkeys, or your own two feet.
What springs to mind when you hear the name?
Spices? Dark alleyways? Crumbling colonial mansions? Beaches? Omani architecture? Ancient dhows sailing the seas? The slave trade? Birthplace of Freddie Mercury?
I like dramatic arid landscapes, I like sprawling fortresses built atop rocky knolls, I like decaying mud brick cities, and I like Game of Thrones; no wonder then that I took such a liking to Aït Benhaddou in the deserts of Morocco.
Time capsules: South America
All the gold recovered by the conquistadors in Peru transited through Popayán on its way to Spain. Popayán became wealthy and important; it became the White City. It remains one of the best preserved colonial cities in Colombia.