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Posts from April, 2013

Sightseeing in Amritsar

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Golden Temple
From a historical, architectural and religious perspective, there is plenty to see and admire in Amritsar. Two themes dominate this city’s cultural and historical landscape – war and the Sikh religion. Amritsar has a glorious history but it is of violence and spirituality. In this city, they do not seem at odds.

A vast majority of the monuments in the city are dedicated to religious events and incidents.  Many a religious shrine is a memorial to heroes and martyrs of various conflicts with the Afghans, Mughals and the British. The city is inextricably linked with Sikh religious and political history.

On another level it is also a hub of tourism in Punjab. Its commercial activities include light engineering, producing superb carpets and handicrafts. It is also a fabric manufacturing and farm producing centre.

The highlights of Amritsar’s sightseeing attractions include among others:

Golden Temple (Harmandir Sahib)
Inevitably this is the first and most visited site in Amritsar. The sheer beauty of the structure, its silvery holy water tank and marble walkways is worth every minute spent. The building is three storeys high with the first floor white marble. The upper two are gold plated and topped off with a dome shaped like an inverted lotus.

Akal Takht
Right next door to the Golden Temple is the Akal Takht, which is the temporal seat of the Sikh governing body. The Sikh Holy Book or the Adi Granth is housed on the ground floor and taken out in procession every morning to the Harmandir Sahib and returned at night.

Jubbi Trees
There are three ancient jujube (ber) trees within the precincts of the Golden Temple. Older than the temple there are stories attached to each of them and have individual names – Lachi Ber, Ber Baba Buddha Ji and Dukh Bhanjani Ber.

Wagah Border
Not strictly in Amritsar city, the Attari-Wagah Border post is 28 kilometres away. It is the border between India and Pakistan.There is a daily routine colourful flag-hoisting and lowering ceremony.  A barely suppressed aggressive and dramatic changing of the guard by army personnel of both countries adds plenty of interest to the proceedings.  

Jalianwala Bagh
An enclosed park, accessible only by a narrow lane, it is the site of the mass killing of Indians by General Dyer in 1919.  It contains the memorial and Martyrs’ Gallery, which is open every day from 9am to 5pm. The bullet-ridden walls stand as testimony of that gruesome day.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh Museum
A little distance from Amritsar’s main railway station are the Ram Bagh Gardens. They enclose the Maharaja Ranjit Singh Palace, which has been turned into a museum. There is a rather interesting bathing tank installed by a French General.

Durgiana Temple
Modelled on the nearby Golden Temple this massive 16th century Hindu temple is dedicated to the goddess Durga. The goddess Lakshmi and god Narayan are also worshipped. The temple sits in the middle of a lake.

The Old City
Amritsar’s Old city area is a revelation and a treat!  Its narrow streets date back to the 17th century with nothing having changed very much. It is divided into ‘katras’ or independently run units. Trades and crafts practised for centuries are still handed down from generation to generation. Entire streets with rows of shops are given to specialised trading and selling just one particular product. Some of the items are gold jewellery, steel and brass utensils, papads, Indian jams, pickles, dried mango slices, dry fruits and glass bangles.

There are more things and places to see in Amritsar. Take a walk around and discover your own particular gems.
 

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Cristo Redento Statue in Rio de Janeiro

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Cristo Redento

With wide eyes looking out from a serene art-deco concrete and soapstone face, Cristo Redento stares out across the vast urban sprawl that is Rio de Janeiro.  The statue faces Sugarloaf Mountain and Guanabara Bay while keeping an eye on the golden sands of Copacabana and Ipanema beaches.

The 30 metre tall statue of Christ the Redeemer stands at the top of Corcovado Mountain overlooking Rio de Janeiro.  Its arms spread out, symbolically embracing the whole world; the statue is the 5th largest, of Jesus, in the world.

Otherwise known as Christ the Redeemer, this icon of a city and symbol of a country is considered one of the new wonders of the world.  The panorama that the location affords is breathtaking for the two million people who make the trip up to the statue every year.

The idea of building a religious monument was first suggested, in the 1850s, to Princess Isabel of Spain by a Catholic priest, Father Pedro Maria Boss. It did not get very far. The statue idea came up again in the early twentieth century with several designs being put forth. The open-armed statue representing universal peace was chosen. The French-Polish sculptor Paul Londowski began sculpting it in 1922. It was completed in 1931 at the (then) cost of US $250,000 (equivalent to $3,200,000 in 2013).

In 2006, a chapel was built under the towering statue and its pedestal. It is dedicated to the patron saint of Brazil – Nossa Senhora Aparecida or "Our Lady of the Apparition".

The statue has been the target of nature and humans. In 2008 lightning struck it during an electrical storm. The head, fingers and eyebrows suffered damage. To repair it soapstone from the quarry where the original material was sourced was used. New lightning rods were installed.

Two years later Paulo Souza dos Santos, a house painter, took his trade a bit too far. He spray-painted graffiti on the statue’s head and right arm. He was arrested and convicted for his delinquent artistic ‘crime against the nation.’  Besides these two incidents, maintenance work needs to be regularly done because of the strong eroding winds to which the statue is subjected.

The statue has featured in several films including Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious and numerous video games. It was controversially blown up in the disaster movie 2012. It also has songs dedicated to it.

Views of the statue and from it are spectacular and almost otherworldly – especially on cloudy nights. The face of the city is one of the most amazing structures and landmarks of the world.
 

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Nicaragua Tourism

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Nicaragua

Nicaragua is a wonderfully diverse country. Whether it is the flora, food, culture, women’s clothing, languages or people you will get an exciting smorgasbord bursting with colour.

Nicaragua is located on the Central American isthmus – that piece of land that joins the two Americas. The countrNicaragua is a wonderfully diverse country. Whether it is the flora, food, culture, women’s clothing, languages or people you will get an exciting smorgasbord bursting with colour.

y is bordered by the Caribbean Sea to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. It has two large lakes – Lake Managua and Lake Nicaragua. The climate is tropical.

Nicaragua is subject to frequent volcanic activity, which occasionally causes damage but also provides it with some of the most fertile soil in the region. It is that fertility that has given the country a luxuriant biological and botanical variety making it a designated biodiversity hotspot.

The people and culture are just as diverse. The Spanish ruled here from the 16th century till 1821 when Nicaragua gained its independence. Their influence is still strong, most notably in the central and western regions of the country. It can be seen in the costumes of the indigenous Mestizo women, the music and religion. The indigenous tribes have merged into the Spanish culture.

The aromas, colours and language of Nicaragua carry a strong British accent too. The Caribbean facing region was once a British Protectorate and English is dominant. The province has much in common with Jamaica. The native peoples in this area have managed to retain their identities and languages, which are Miskito, Sumo and an English patois.  

Till the early 20th century, agriculture was Nicaragua’s main economic activity – growing coffee, tobacco and cotton – with a major portion exported. Beef and rum (Flor de Ca?a) are also big export items. However, tourism has made a huge surge in cash earning value for the country. It has now become the second largest industry with rather stunning growth rates.

It is easy to understand why tourism has blossomed in Nicaragua. There are many beautiful beaches. There are plenty of trekking, ecotourism and adventure tourism opportunities in the lush lowlands or the verdant forests of the central mountain region. Many towns (especially León and Granada) have beautiful Spanish colonial-style buildings and superb architecture.

Food in Nicaragua is a very interesting and pleasurable mix and definitely one of the country’s highlights. The traditional cuisine is fruit, beans and corn-dominated but varies from coast to coast and in-between. Seafood on the Caribbean side of the country is a staple with coconut used in the cooking. Nicaragua grows many indigenous fruit such as jocote, mango, papaya, tamarindo, pipian, banana, avocado, yucca, and herbs such as cilantro, oregano and achiote.

Some of the more famous dishes (corn-based) are nacatamal and indio viejo. Sweets and desserts too are made from corn. The drinks, again made from corn, are pinolillo and chichi.  The national dish, gallo pinto, however is made from white rice and red beans.

From a tourism perspective, Nicaragua has plenty to offer but the infrastructure lags far behind the needs of this growing industry. There are many resorts and a good selection of hotels of varying standards.

It is roads, support facilities and services, public transportation, and emergency services that is very often missing or non-existent. Getting around can be quite a chore and sometimes unsafe and unreliable. Regulation of many aspects of Nicaragua’s tourism is minimal.

Baseball introduced to the country in the 19th century is the most popular sport played in Nicaragua.
 

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Two New Vatican Tours, Just in Time for the New Pope’s First Easter

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Well, Easter is over and that can only mean one thing for Pope Francis- relief. The newest pontiff conducted his first Easter Mass in front of over 250,000 people in St. Peter’s Square this past Sunday. Already unusual for following the first pope, Benedict XVI, to abdicate his position in over 700 years, the first Latin leader of the Catholic Church has further raised eyebrows when he visited a youth detention center in Rome to wash the feet of 12 children- including Muslims and girls on Holy Thursday. Previous popes had only performed this traditional Christian rite with other priests.

 

The Easter ceremonies in the Vatican are infamously gruelling, involving week-long celebrations that have the Pope ritually conducting masses and interacting with the worshippers. Processions, parade and ritual kept the pope and the many Vatican visitors busy throughout the holiday. Many have noted that Pope Francis has been characteristically energized for most of the ceremonies, choosing to speak outside of scheduled events even, in regards to battling poverty and promoting peace.

 

Still- it is unlikely that he will join in the traditional Easter celebrations that are held throughout Italy around the holiday. Instead, it is likely that Francis will continue to settle in to his new lifestyle and home in the Vatican. Surrounded by all that the neighborhood has to offer, from the St. Peter’s Basilica to the Square I can’t imagine he will be missing out!

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Delhi’s Spice Market

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Delhi Spice Market

Delhi’s spice market lies in Khari Baoli road in the old city. It is the quintessentially touristy picture of a bustling, crowded, colourful Eastern bazaar. I think it’s probably the original model for all bazaars of the world! Called Khari Baoli, the name has nothing to do with spice.  The place got its name from khari or khara (salty) and baoli (step well). There used to be a salty, brackish water well in the area. It was used for bathing only.

You need to have dancer’s feet and the alertness and agility of a cat when you go down to Delhi’s centuries old spice market. It is crowded and busy; a narrow street made narrower with sweating men pulling or pushing long, narrow barrows filled with sacks of produce.  You better watch your toes or you will have them trod and your elbows bruised.

The place is amazing, as sweaty labourers lift and carry sacks of stuff up dark, narrow stairs on to carts, long barrows and other transport vehicles. In a way, Delhi’s Spice Market – Khari Baoli – is a sensual place that strikes the nose and eyes. It is a place of kaleidoscopic colours and thousands of unrecognisable, exotic, exciting smells.

Khari Baoli is Asia’s largest spice market. It came up around 1650 when the Fatehpuri Masjid was built by one of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s wives. The marvellous thing is that not much has changed in the centuries since. It is still manpower intensive. The trading methods are the same. The suppliers, traders, sellers and buyers have been in the trade for generations.

There is plenty of history here but of the hard-nosed kind. Transactions in this seemingly old-world, low-tech market run into the millions of rupees (or dollars). Even today, businessmen and traders come here from as far away as Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Everyone is looking for a good deal and the best bargains and get them. Technically it is a wholesale market but one can still buy small quantities for the home.

Occupying the western end of historic Chandni Chowk and the Red Fort, Khari Baoli is filled with the colours and aromas of myriad spices, chillies, lentils, chutneys, pickles, nuts, lotus seeds, dried mango slices, dried mushroom and teas. Items that, for centuries, have been transported to other parts of Asia and Europe by camel, horse and heaven knows what other transportation means. Just to add a bit of more spice to the locality, Delhi’s red light district (G.B. Road) operates at one end of the market.
 

Photo Credit: *_*

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Fascinating Facts about the Colosseum (Rome)

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The Colosseum
Iconic!  Magnificent!  The Symbol of Rome!  The Greatest Roman Architectural Work!

These and many more adjectives and praises have been poured upon the glorious ruins of stone and cement that sit in the heart of modern Rome. It is one of the most visited monuments in the world. Any and every movie that features the city has to have a shot of the Colosseum in it!

Here are some interesting facts about the Colosseum that you may or may not know.

•    It stands just east of the Roman Forum

•    It was commissioned around A.D. 70-72 by Emperor Vespasian of the Flavian dynasty as a gift to the Roman people

•    It was built on the site of Nero’s Golden Palace. An enormous complex that Nero had built for himself after a great fire ripped through Rome in A.D. 64

•    Nero also built a statue of himself – the Colossus. This gigantic statue gave the building its current name.

•    It took only about 8 years to build; a relatively quick time period for such a grand project

•    Officially opened in A.D. 80 by Vespasian's son Titus

•    Was officially known as the Flavian Amphitheatre

•    The opening ceremony went on for 100 days with games, including gladiatorial combats and wild animal fights

•    During the course of the inauguration some 9,000 wild animals were killed.

•    What stands today is only a third of the original structure

•    It measures about 620 by 513 feet (190 by 155 meters) and is a freestanding stone and concrete structure.  It stands more than 48 meters (159 ft) in height

•    The great amphitheatre covers 6 acres

•    It was clad in marble

•    There were 160 larger-than-life statues in the arches on the upper floors

•    The Colosseum was the largest amphitheatre in the Roman world

•    Unlike previous and other amphitheatres it was not dug into hillsides for support

•    It has four stories – above ground – with 80 arched entrances supported by semi-circular columns

•    The columns on each storey are different in style.  The lowest were the simple Doric columns. Above them were columns of the Ionic form and topped by the intricate and beautiful Corinthian style

•    The Arch of Constantine was built in A.D. 315 near the main entrance

•    At its peak usage the Colosseum could seat more than 50,000 people – must have been quite a squeeze!

•    The upper story contained seating for lower classes and women

•    The lowest story was preserved for prominent citizens.

•    Below ground were rooms with mechanical devices and cages containing wild animals. The cages could be hoisted, enabling the animals to appear in the middle of the arena

•    The area beneath the Colosseum was called the Hypogeum (meaning underground). It had a two-level subterranean network of tunnels and 32 animal pens. It had 80 vertical shafts which provided instant access to the arena for animals and scenery.

•    The Colosseum was covered with a giant sail known as the velarium. This protected the spectators from the sun and rain. It was attached to large poles on top of the Colosseum and anchored to the ground by large ropes.

•    The events featured gladiatorial combats, hunts, wild animal fights

•    There were over 20 different types of Gladiators

•    There were also larger and dramatic mock naval engagements for which the arena was flooded with water

•    Most of the combatants were men (though there were some female gladiators). Gladiators were generally slaves, condemned criminals or prisoners of war

•    From its early history, the Colosseum has suffered damage from natural causes such as lightning and earthquakes

•    It has been plundered for its materials that was used in numerous buildings including St Peter’s Cathedral, Cathedral of St John Lateran, the Pallazo Venezia and fortifications along the River Tiber

•    About 2/3 of the original Colosseum has gone.  Its original marble facing, the statues decorating the arches and the lavish decoration of the interior have either disappeared of adorn other buildings in and around Rome

•    Restoration started in the latter part of the 19th century and still continues today

•    Before the overgrowth of vegetation was cleared away in 1871 over 400 species of plants grew on the ruins

•    Was in regular use for over 400 years

•    42 Roman Emperors witnessed the events at the Colosseum

•    An estimated 700,000 have people died in the various sports at the arena

•    There isn’t much evidence to support the claims that early Christian martyrs met their fate in the Colosseum
 

Photo Credit: jimmyharris

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Top 5 Things To-Do in Finland

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     Hiding in the Northern part of Europe is the beautiful, Nordic country of Finland. Bordered by Sweden to the west, Norway to the North and Russia to the east, Finland has always lied beneath the shadows of its neighboring European countries. Known for it’s snowy climate, excellent education and peaceful economy, Finland is an ideal destination for relaxation and perfection. The following list is a countdown to the Top 5 things to do in Finland!

5. Husky Dog-Sled Safari
     If Cool Runnings is your favorite movie, then the Husky Dog-Sled Safari is for you! The tour begins with a heart warming meeting with you’re friendly husky team. Once acclimated with your crew, begin your journey through the majestic forests and magnificent mountains of Rovaniemi, Finland.

4. Find the North Pole
     Get as close to Santa as possible with a Reindeer Farm Visit and Sleigh Ride in Lapland. Santa might be hard to find at this time of the year, but his trust reindeer are there to lead the way. With a complimentary hot juice or coffee, this sleigh ride is a perfect activity for family and friends.

3. Rauna Wildlife Park
     If reindeer are not exotic enough for you, make sure you check out the Rauna Wildlife Park. Located in Rovaniemi, and is the northernmost zoo in the world, the park is filled with exotic and unique animals that you will not be able to find in the London Zoo!

2. Helsinki
     Opposite of Rovaniemi is the southern city of Helsinki. Filled with breathtaking artwork and the largest maritime fortress in the world, this city is filled with adventure and magic. The Helsinki card grants you access to all major sights and over 50 museums. This card is the best way to immerse yourself in the Finnish culture. 

1. Hunt for the Northern Lights
     You do not want to miss out on the chance to see the greatest light show on earth! Allow the moon to light up your path to the most radiant sky illumination in the world! The Northern Lights is a Finland staple and should not be missed! 

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Skiing in Rossland

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Skiing in Rossland; Credit - Alarobric

Deep in the heart of the Canadian Rockies sits the little big town of Rossland. Located in the Monashee Mountains, it was a former gold mining town. Rossland is just about 5 miles (8 kms) from the US and south-eastern British Columbia border. It is only a 2.5 hour drive from Spokane.

What is outstanding about this little nook in the mountains of West Kootenay is that it is a fabulous destination for all snow related sporting activities. The region is blessed with an annual snowfall of about 300 inches (750 cms). It is light, dry and powdery.  

The Rossland area offers nearly every grade of slope and trail for enthusiasts (professional and amateur) of hiking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating, downhill skiing, snowboarding and cat-skiing. The diverse, challenging and magnificent terrain is magnet for many other sports fans too including mountain bikers. Of course the main activity is skiing.

The Rossland Ski area comprises of two main summits – Red Mountain and Granite Mountain. The base is 3,888 feet (1,185 metres) above sea level. It has a terrific vertical drop of 2,919 foot (884 metres). There are also superb glade tree skiing and wide-open groomed runs, terrain parks – all of which are easy to access.

Red and Granite Mountains are serviced by four chairlifts and a T-Bar. This affords nearly 4.5 square miles (6.8 square kilometres) of skiable area. Then there are vast skiable areas not serviced by chairlifts. Overall the Rossland Ski Area has more than 10 square miles (17 square kilometres) and 88 runs of for winter sport activities.

A third summit, Grey Mountain, is being expanded and developed. It should be ready for the 2013 season. That means there will be an additional 900 odd acres of ski slopes; a Sno-Cat shuttle and a quad chairlift.

Rossland is the oldest skiing area in North America. Skiing in Rossland has a history that is closely tied up with the Norwegians who came here during the gold rush of the 1890s.  Olaus Jeldness, a mining engineer, who came to Rossland in 1896, was responsible for starting and popularising the sport.

The first recorded skiing competitions in Canada were held here. These were held as part of the Winter Carnival, held from as early as 1896 until 1918. The Carnival still takes place every year.

The Rossland and Red Mountain region has been voted as “Best Powder,” “Best Steeps” and among “Top 5 Free Ride Spots.”  To cater to all the skiing enthusiasts and just plain holiday makers there are modern and fine ski schools, equipment rentals, free shuttle services, ski inns, cafes, spas and pubs.
 

Photo Credit: Alarobric

 

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Seattle Art Museum- Where Past meets Present

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Welcome to Seattle!  Owing to the long spring season, the Emerald City (Seattle) has been a famous tourist hub among the travelers of all ages. February marks the beginning of beautiful tourist season when rains relent and the shades of narcissus and plum change the hues and scent that would last for months. It is perhaps one of the few American cities where travelers can be outdoors all the year-round without either shivering or sweating. There are many things to do and see in Seattle. Space Needle, Pike Place Market, Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo and Seattle Aquarium are a few among these.  If you are connoisseur of art, a visit to Seattle Art Museum is a must visit attraction.

Established in the year 1933, Seattle Art Museum has been a top-notch institution of visual arts for about 8 decades now. Aficionados of art would find no better place than SAM to experience the nostalgia of 20th century and developments in 21st century together. When SAM was founded it had only 1926 pieces of art and by the end of 2008 its collection grew to almost 25000 pieces of art.

Ever since its establishment, Seattle Art Museum has been received a good number of visitors. In the very first year 346287 people visited the museum and in 2007 attendance grew to 797127. "Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris" held in 2010 had been the most remarkable event in the history of SAM when more than 405,000 people attended the exhibition.

The permanent exhibitions at SAM consists of African art, American art, Ancient Mediterranean & Islamic art, Australian Aboriginal & Oceanic art, Chinese art, Decorative art, Southeast Asian art, European art, Japanese art, Korean art, modern and contemporary art native and Mesoamerican art,  and northwest art and textiles.

SAM has three major facilities: SAM, SAAM and Olympic Sculpture Museum.  

Seattle Asian Art Museum: The museum of Asian Art in Seattle nestles at Volunteer Park on the Capitol Hill. Abbreviated as SAAM, Seattle Asian Art Museum incorporates the 1933 Art Moderne building, the original home of SAM's main collection.  

Admission is free on the first Thursday and Saturday of every month.

Olympic Sculpture Park: Opened in 2007, Olympic Sculpture Park attracts visitors because of its uniqueness. Sprawling over 9 acres, it has an outdoor sculpture museum park and also a beach. Amazing museum, isn’t it?  

Admission to outdoor sculpture park is free.

Author Bio: Rachna Dave works with CheapOair, one of the best known online travel brand in the U.S., to promotes travel and tourism globally. They offer low fare guarantee on economy as well as business class travel.

Seattle Travel Tip by Author: Tourism in Seattle surges up in spring. To book cheap flights to Seattle, plan your travel in advance. Prior booking at times helps in getting a business class travel deal at a fare of economy class.
 

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White Salmon River, Washington

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White Salmon River

The very name conjures up shimmering, silvery bodies of fish flashing through the water on their way upstream to spawn. Green trees throng its sides and shrubs lean over the banks of the river as it picturesquely twists and turns it way down canyons. And that is exactly what you get with White Salmon River.

The river has a length of only 44 miles (71 kilometres) and runs on the southern border of the Pacific North-western US state of Washington. It has its source in the glaciers of Mount Adams and runs partly through the Adams Wilderness region.

White Salmon is a tributary of the Columbia River, emptying into it near the community of Underwood. In 1986, the strip between Gilmer Creek and Buck Creek was designated “Wild and Scenic” and in 2005, the upper stretch near Gifford Pinchot National Forest was designated the same.

The river is stunning and truly beautiful. Its white-tipped waters churned by rapids and fed by numerous springs and glacier melting has made it a favourite destination for white water rafters and kayakers. There are excellent boating opportunities in calmer waters of its lower reaches. The Native Americans, particularly those of the Yakama Nation, have lived off the bounty of the river for centuries.

Yet the reason for the river’s name was lost for 100 years. That was because of the Condit Dam. The 125 foot high dam was completed in 1913 and proved impassable to the salmon and steelhead fish. They were restricted to spawning in only three miles of the river.  The dam also affected the river’s natural cycle as mineral rich sediment was blocked from moving downstream.

Fortunately the dam has outlived its usefulness and in October 2011 was breached. In November 2012, the final concrete section of Condit Dam was removed and the river now runs free. In the short span of a year there is nothing to show that the dam ever existed.

What is even more amazing (and exciting) is that in the same time the salmon have returned and are spawning abundantly.

As a recreation and adventure holiday site, White Salmon River is easily accessible. It is only about 90 minutes from the Portland/Vancouver area. The river has plenty of Class III and IV rapids as it surges through thickly forested gorges.

Now that the dam has gone and the fish are back, you can add fishing to the attraction of the river. As if that were not enough, the White Salmon River area is forested, enjoys great weather and the water itself is clear. So hiking or rafting trips of one or two days is a great way to spend the holiday.
 

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