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Varanasi – Lonely Planet Travel Video

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Varanasi – Lonely Planet Travel Video

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Varanasi also commonly known as Benares or Banaras and Kashi is a city situated on the left (west) bank of the River Ganga (Ganges) in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, regarded as holy by Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains. It is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world.

The Kashi Naresh (Maharaja of Kashi) is the chief cultural patron of Varanasi and an essential part of all religious celebrations. The culture of Varanasi is closely associated with the River Ganges and the river’s religious importance. The city has been a cultural and religious centre in northern India for several thousand years.

The Benares Gharana form of Indian classical music developed in Varanasi, and many prominent Indian philosophers, poets, writers, and musicians resided or reside in Varanasi, including Kabir, Ravidas Their Guru Swami Ramanand,Trailanga Swami, Munshi Premchand, Jaishankar Prasad, Acharya Ram Chandra Shukla, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Girija Devi, Hariprasad Chaurasia, and Ustad Bismillah Khan. Tulsidas wrote his Ramacharitamanas there, and Gautama Buddha gave his first sermon at Sarnath near Kashi.

Varanasi is home to these four universities: Banaras Hindu University, Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth, Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies and Sampurnanand Sanskrit University. Residents mainly speak Kashika Bhojpuri, which is closely related to the Hindi language. People often refer to Varanasi as “the city of temples”, “the holy city of India”, “the religious capital of India”, “the city of lights”, and “the city of learning.”

American writer Mark Twain wrote: “Benares is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.”

Known Personalities

  • Madan Mohan Malavia, Founder of Banaras Hindu University
  • Lal Bahadur Shastri, Former Prime Minister of India
  • Ustad Bismillah Khan, Noted Sehnai Vadak
  • Pt.Ravi Shankar, Sitatvadak,Bharat Ratna
  • Bhagwan Das,Bharat Ratna

Etymology

The name Varanasi, has its origin possibly from the names of the two rivers Varuna and Assi for it lies with the confluence of Varuna with the Ganges being to its north and that of Assi and the Ganges to its south. Another speculation about the origin of the name is that the river Varuna itself was called Varanasi in olden times, from where the city got its name. This is generally disregarded by historians though there may be some earlier texts suggesting it to be so.

Through the ages, Varanasi was variously known as Avimuktaka, Anandakanana, Mahasmasana, Surandhana, Brahma Vardha, Sudarsana, Ramya, and Kasi.

Recent terrorism

In March of 2006 an bomb blasts from terrorists resulted in 20 people being killed and many injured. One of the bombs was planted in the Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple, a shrine dedicated to Lord Hanuman, while another was planted on a platform of the Varanasi Cantonment Railway Station, the main railway station in the city.

An Islamic group, Lashkar-e-Kahab, claimed responsibility for the terror attacks. In November 2007 Varanasi endured another bomb blast. The bomb was placed in the civil court of Varanasi. More than 20 people died and over 100 were injured.

Holy City

Varanasi is a holy city in Hinduism, being one of the most sacred pilgrimage places for Hindus of all denominations. More than 1,000,000 pilgrims visit the city each year. It has the holy shrine of Lord Kashi Vishwanath (a manifestation of Lord Shiva), and also one of the twelve revered Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva.

Hindus believe that bathing in Ganga remits sins and that dying in Kashi ensures release of a person’s soul from the cycle of its transmigrations. Hindus regard Kashi as one of the Shakti Peethas, and that Vishalakshi Temple stands on the spot where Goddess Sati’s earrings fell.Hindus of the Shakti sect make a pilgrimage to the city because they regard river Ganga itself as Goddess Shakti. Adi Shankara wrote his commentaries on Hinduism here, leading to the great Hindu revival. Vaishnavism and Shaivism have always co-existed in Varanasi harmoniously.

Varanasi is one of the holiest places in Buddhism too, being one of the four pilgrimage sites said to have been designated by Gautama Buddha himself, (the others being Kushinagar, Bodh Gaya, and Lumbini). In the residential neighborhood of Varanasi lies Sarnath, the site of the deer park where Gautama Buddha is said to have given his first sermon about the basic principles of Buddhism.

The Dhamek Stupa is one of the few pre-Ashokan stupas still standing, though only its foundation remains. Also remaining is the Chaukhandi Stupa commemorating the spot where Buddha met his first disciples (in the 5th century or earlier, BC). An octagonal tower was built later there.

Varanasi is a pilgrimage site for Jains along with Hindus and Buddhists. It is believed to be the birthplace of Parshvanatha, the twenty-third Tirthankar. Islamic culture has also had an influence on Varanasi. There has been some degree of continuous tension between different religious communities in the city.

Demographics

The population of Varanasi urban agglomeration in 2001 was 1,371,749; the sex ratio was 879 females every 1000 males. However, the area under Varanasi Nagar Nigam has a population of 1,100,748 with the sex ratio being 883 females for every 1000 males.

The literacy rate in the urban agglomeration is 77% while that in the municipal corporation area is 78%. Approximately 138,000 people in the municipal area live in slums. The crime rate in the city in 2004 was 128.5 per 100,000 which is higher than Uttar Pradesh rate of 73.2 but lower than the national rate of 168.8.

Transport

Auto rickshaws and cycle rickshaws are the most widely available public transport within Varanasi. In outer regions of the city, mini-buses are common. Small boats and small steamers are used to cross the river Ganga.

Varanasi is well connected by air, rail and buses with all the main Indian cities. Its distance from Delhi is 776 km. The Babatpur Airport is about 25 km from the city center (about 45 minutes by taxi) and it is well connected to Chennai, Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Nepal. All the major domestic Indian carriers, including Jet Airways, Kingfisher Airlines, Indian, Spicejet, and Alliance Air operate from here.

One of the major factors in Varanasi’s sustained existence as an inhabited city is its role as an established transportation hub between different cities. Dating to ancient times, the city was connected to cities like Taxila, Ghazipur, Pataliputra, Vaishali, Ayodhya, Gorakhpur, Agra etc.

The city was connected by a single road from Taxila going through Pataliputra during the Mauryan empire. This road was later renovated and extended by Sher Shah Suri during the 16th century and later came to be known as the famous Grand Trunk Road.

The traffic is slow-moving and chaotic inside the city. The first railway line to Benares was opened in December 1862: this was the line from Kolkata built by the East Indian Railway Company.

Tourism

Probably due to its unique culture, Varanasi is a major tourist destination for foreign tourists in India. A number of 3, 4 and 5 star hotels are present in the city, as well as more efficient housing for Western student researchers. All sort of cuisines are available mostly as street food due to rich and hospitable culture of Varanasi.

Varanasi is a noted centre for silk weaving and brassware. Fine silks and brocaded fabrics, exquisite saris, brassware, jewellery, woodcraft, carpets, wall hangings, lamp shades and masks of Hindu and Buddhist deities are some of Varanasi’s shopping attractions. The main shopping areas include the Chowk, Godaulia, Vishwanath Lane, Lahurabir and Thatheri Bazaar.Assi Ghat, a midway point between Godaulia in the heart of downtown and youth culture of Benares Hindu University, is the district where most young, foreign, long-term residents stay.

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Mongolia: Lonely Planet Travel Video

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Mongolia: Lonely Planet Travel Video

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Mongolia is a landlocked country in East and Central Asia. It borders Russia to the north and the People’s Republic of China to the south, east and west. Although Mongolia does not share a border with Kazakhstan, its western-most point is only 24 miles (38 km) from Kazakhstan’s eastern tip. Ulan Bator, the capital and largest city, is home to about 38% of the population. Mongolia’s political system is a parliamentary republic.

The area of what is now Mongolia has been ruled by various nomadic empires, including the Xiongnu, the Xianbei, the Rouran, the Gökturks, and others. The Mongol Empire was founded by Genghis Khan in 1206. After the collapse of the Yuan Dynasty, the Mongols returned to their earlier patterns. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Mongolia came under the influence of Tibetan Buddhism.

At the end of the 17th century, most of Mongolia had been incorporated into the area ruled by the Qing Dynasty. During the collapse of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, Mongolia declared independence, but had to struggle until 1921 to firmly establish de-facto independence, and until 1945 to gain international recognition. As a consequence, it came under strong Russian and Soviet influence: In 1924, the Mongolian People’s Republic was declared, and Mongolian politics began to follow the same patterns as Soviet politics of the time. After the breakdown of communist regimes in Eastern Europe in late 1989, Mongolia saw its own Democratic Revolution in early 1990, which led to a multi-party system, a new constitution in 1992, and the – rather rough – transition to a market economy.

At 1,564,116 square kilometres, Mongolia is the nineteenth largest and the most sparsely populated independent country in the world, with a population of around 2.9 million people. It is also the world’s second-largest landlocked country after Kazakhstan. The country contains very little arable land, as much of its area is covered by steppes, with mountains to the north and west and the Gobi Desert to the south. Approximately 30% of the country’s 2.9 million people are nomadic or semi-nomadic. The predominant religion in Mongolia is Tibetan Buddhism, and the majority of the state’s citizens are of the Mongol ethnicity, though Kazakhs, Tuvans, and other minorities also live in the country, especially in the west. About 20% of the population live off less than US$1.25 per day.

Independence

With the fall of the Qing Dynasty, Mongolia under the Bogd Khaan declared independence in 1911. However, the equally newly-established Republic of China claimed Mongolia as part of its own territory. The area controlled by the Bogd Khaan was approximately that of the former Outer Mongolia.

The 49 hoshuns of Inner Mongolia as well as the Mongolians of the Alashan and Qinghai regions expressed their willingness to join the new country, but to no avail. In 1919, after the October Revolution in Russia, Chinese troops led by Xu Shuzheng occupied Mongolia. However, as a result of the Russian Civil War, the White Russian adventurer Baron Ungern led his troops into Mongolia in October 1920, defeating the Chinese in Niislel Khüree (Ulaanbaatar) in early February 1921.

In order to eliminate the threat posed by Ungern, Bolshevik Russia decided to support the establishment of a communist Mongolian government and army. This Mongolian army took the Mongolian part of Kyakhta from the Chinese on March 18th, 1921, and on July 6th Russian and Mongolian troops arrived in Khüree. Mongolia’s independence was declared once again on July 11th, 1921. These events led to Mongolia’s close alignment with the Soviet Union over the next seven decades.

Democracy

The introduction of perestroika and glasnost in the USSR by Mikhail Gorbachev strongly influenced Mongolian politics leading to the peaceful Democratic Revolution and the introduction of a multi-party system and market economy. A new constitution was introduced in 1992, and the “People’s Republic” was dropped from the country’s name. The transition to market economy was often rocky, the early 1990s saw high inflation and food shortages. The first election wins for non-communist parties came in 1993 (presidential elections) and 1996 (parliamentary elections).

Transportation

The Trans-Mongolian Railway is the main rail link between Mongolia and its neighbors. It begins at the Trans-Siberian Railway in Russia at the town of Ulan Ude, crosses into Mongolia, runs through Ulaanbaatar, then passes into China where it joins the Chinese railway system in Jining. A separate railroad link connects the eastern city of Choibalsan with the Trans-Siberian Railway; however, that link is closed to passengers after the Mongolian town of Chuluunkhoroot.

Mongolia has a number of domestic airports. The only international airport is the Chinggis Khaan International Airport near Ulaanbaatar. Direct flight connections exist between Mongolia and South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and Germany. MIAT is Mongolia’s largest carrier in Mongolia and provides both domestic and international flights.

Most overland roads in Mongolia are only gravel roads or simple cross-country tracks. There are paved roads from Ulaanbaatar to the Russian and Chinese border, and from Darkhan to Bulgan. Some road construction projects are currently underway, for example construction of the east-west so-called Millennium Road.

Languages

The official language of Mongolia is Khalkha Mongolian, which uses the Cyrillic alphabet, and is spoken by 90% of the population. A variety of different dialects are spoken across the country. In the west the Kazakh and Tuvan languages, among others, are also spoken.

The Russian language is the most frequently spoken foreign language in Mongolia, followed by English, though English has been gradually replacing Russian as the second language. Korean has gained popularity as tens of thousands of Mongolians work in South Korea. Interest in Chinese, as the language of the other neighbouring power, has been growing. Japanese is also popular among the younger people.

A number of older educated Mongolians speak some German, as they studied in the former East Germany, while a few speak other languages from the former Eastern Bloc. Besides that, many younger Mongolians are fluent in the Western European languages as they study or work in foreign countries including Germany, France and Italy. Mongolian is one of the Mongolic languages. Mongolic is frequently included in the Altaic languages, a group of languages named after the Altay Mountains that also includes the Turkic and Tungusic languages.

Religion

According to the CIA World Factbook[31] and the U.S. Department of State[32], 50% of Mongolia’s population follow the Tibetan Buddhism, 40% are listed as having no religion, 6% are Shamanist and Christian, and 4% are Muslim.

Various forms of Tengriism and Shamanism have been widely practiced throughout the history of what is now modern day Mongolia, as such beliefs were common among nomadic people in Asian history. Such beliefs gradually gave way to Tibetan Buddhism, but Shamanism has left a mark on Mongolian religious culture, and continues to be practiced. Amongst the Mongol elite of the Mongol Empire, Islam was generally favored over other religions, as three of the four major khanates adopted Islam.

Throughout much of the twentieth century, the communist government ensured that the religious practices of the Mongolian people were largely repressed. Khorloogiin Choibalsan complied with the orders of Joseph Stalin, destroying almost all of Mongolia’s over 700 Buddhist monasteries and killing thousands of monks.

The fall of communism in 1991 restored the legality of public religious practice, and Tibetan Buddhism, which had been the predominant religion in the region before the rise of Communism, again rose to become the most widely practiced religion in Mongolia. The end of religious repression in the 1990s also allowed for other religions, such as Islam and Christianity, to spread in the country. According to the Christian missionary group Barnabas Fund, the number of Christians grew from just 4 in 1989 to around 40,000 as of 2008.

Culture

The main festival is Naadam, which has been organised for centuries, consists of three Mongolian traditional sports, archery, horse-racing (over long stretches of open country, not the short racing around a track practiced in the West), and wrestling. Nowadays it is held on July 11 to July 13 in the honour of the anniversaries of the National Democratic Revolution and foundation of the Great Mongol State.

Another very popular activity called Shagaa is the “flicking” of sheep ankle bones at a target several feet away, using a flicking motion of the finger to send the small bone flying at targets and trying to knock the target bones off the platform. This contest at Naadam is very popular and develops a serious audience among older Mongolians. In Mongolia, the khoomei, or throat singing, style of music is popular, particularly in parts of Western Mongolia.

The ornate symbol in the leftmost bar of the national flag is a Buddhist icon called Soyombo. It represents the sun, moon, stars, and heavens per standard cosmological symbology abstracted from that seen in traditional thangka paintings.

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Alaska: Lonely Planet Travel Video

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Alaska: Lonely Planet Travel Video

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Alaska

Alaska is the largest state of the United States of America by area; it is situated in the northwest extremity of the North American continent, with Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south, with Russia further west across the Bering Strait. Approximately half of Alaska’s 683,478 residents reside within the Anchorage metropolitan area. As of 2009, Alaska remains the least densely populated state of the U.S.

The U.S. Senate approved the purchase of Alaska from the Russian Empire on March 30, 1867, for $7.2 million at two cents per acre, about five cents per hectare. The land went through several administrative changes before becoming an organized territory on May 11, 1912 and the 49th state of the U.S. on January 3, 1959. The name “Alaska” was already introduced in the Russian colonial time, when it was used only for the peninsula and is derived from the Aleut alaxsxaq, meaning “the mainland” or more literally, “the object towards which the action of the sea is directed.” It is also known as Alyeska, the “great land,” an Aleut word derived from the same root.

Demographics

The United States Census Bureau, as of July 1, 2008, estimated Alaska’s population at 686,293, which represents an increase of 59,361, or 9.5%, since the last census in 2000. This includes a natural increase since the last census of 60,994 people (that is 86,062 births minus 25,068 deaths) and a decrease due to net migration of 5,469 people out of the state.

Immigration from outside the United States resulted in a net increase of 4,418 people, and migration within the country produced a net loss of 9,887 people. In 2000 Alaska ranked the 48th state by population, ahead of Vermont and Wyoming (and Washington D.C.). Alaska is the least densely populated state, and one of the most sparsely populated areas in the world, at 1.0 person per square mile (0.42/km²), with the next state, Wyoming, at 5.1 per square mile (1.97/km²). It is the largest U.S. state by area, and the 6th wealthiest (per capita income).

Race and ancestry

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, White Americans made up 69.3% of Alaska’s population. Blacks or African Americans made up 3.5% of Alaska’s population. In addition, American Indians and Alaska Natives were the largest minority group; they made up 15.6% of Alaska’s population. Asian Americans made up 4.0% of Alaska’s population. Pacific Islander Americans made up 0.5% of Alaska’s population. Individuals from some other race made up 1.6% of Alaska’s population while individuals from two or more races made up 5.4% of the state’s population. In addition, Hispanics and Latinos made up 4.1% of Alaska’s population.

In terms of ancestry, German Americans were the largest single ethnic group in Alaska; they made up 16.6% of Alaska’s population and they were the only ethnic group in the state to number over 100,000 members. Irish Americans made up 10.8% of Alaska’s population while English Americans made up 9.6% of the state’s population. Norwegian Americans made up 4.2% of Alaska’s population and French Americans made up 3.2% of the state’s population.

As of the 2005-2007 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, White Americans made up 68.5% of Alaska’s population. Blacks or African Americans made up 3.8% of Alaska’s population. American Indians and Alaska Natives made up 13.4% of Alaska’s population; still remaining the largest minority group. Asian Americans made up 4.6% of Alaska’s population. Pacific Islander Americans remained at 0.5% of the state’s population. Individuals from some other race made up 1.9% of Alaska’s population while individuals from two or more races made up 7.2% of the state’s population. Hispanics or Latinos made up 5.5% of Alaska’s population.

In terms of ancestry, German Americans remained the largest single ethnic group in Alaska; they made up 19.3% of Alaska’s population and were still the only ethnic group in the state with over 100,000 members. Irish Americans made up 12.5% of Alaska’s population while English Americans made up 10.8% of the state’s population. Norwegian Americans remained at 4.2% of Alaska’s population and French Americans made up 3.6% of the state’s population.

Languages

According to the 2005-2007 American Community Survey, 84.7% of people over the age of five speak only English at home. About 3.5% speak Spanish at home. About 2.2% speak an Indo-European language other than English or Spanish at home and about 4.3% speak an Asian language at home. And about 5.3% speak other languages at home.

A total of 5.2% of Alaskans speak one of the state’s 22 indigenous languages, known locally as “native languages”. These languages belong to two major language families: Eskimo-Aleut and Na-Dene. As the homeland of these two major language families of North America, Alaska has been described as the crossroads of the continent, providing evidence for the recent settlement of North America via the Bering land bridge.

Religion

Alaska has been identified, along with Pacific Northwest states Washington and Oregon, as being the least religious in the U.S. According to statistics collected by the Association of Religion Data Archives, only about 39% of Alaska residents were members of religious congregations. Evangelical Protestants had 78,070 members, Roman Catholics had 54,359, and mainline Protestants had 37,156.

After Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, the largest single denominations are The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons/LDS) with 29,460, Southern Baptists with 22,959, and Orthodox with 20,000. The large Eastern Orthodox (with 49 parishes and up to 50,000 followers[33]) population is a result of early Russian colonization and missionary work among Alaska Natives.[34] In 1795, the First Russian Orthodox Church was established in Kodiak.

Intermarriage with Alaskan Natives helped the Russian immigrants integrate into society. As a result, more and more Russian Orthodox churches[35] gradually became established within Alaska. Alaska also has the largest Quaker population (by percentage) of any state. In 2003 there were 3,000 Jews in Alaska (for whom observance of the mitzvah may pose special problems).[37] Estimates for the number of Alaskan Muslims range from 2,000 to 5,000. Alaskan Hindus often share venues and celebrations with members of other religious communities including Sikhs and Jains.

Roads

Alaska has few road connections compared to the rest of the U.S. The state’s road system covers a relatively small area of the state, linking the central population centers and the Alaska Highway, the principal route out of the state through Canada. The state capital, Juneau, is not accessible by road, only a car ferry, which has spurred several debates over the decades about moving the capital to a city on the road system, or building a road connection from Haines. The western part of Alaska has no road system connecting the communities with the rest of Alaska.

One unique feature of the Alaska Highway system is the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, an active Alaska Railroad tunnel recently upgraded to provide a paved roadway link with the isolated community of Whittier on Prince William Sound to the Seward Highway about 50 miles (80 km) southeast of Anchorage. At 2.5 miles (4.0 km) the tunnel was the longest road tunnel in North America until 2007. The tunnel is the longest combination road and rail tunnel in North America.

Rail

Built around 1915, the Alaska Railroad (ARR) played a key role in the development of Alaska through the 20th century. It links north Pacific shipping through providing critical infrastructure with tracks that run from Seward to Interior Alaska via South Central Alaska, passing through Anchorage, Eklutna, Wasilla, Talkeetna, Denali, and Fairbanks, with spurs to Whittier, Palmer and North Pole. The cities, towns, villages, and region served by ARR tracks are known statewide as “The Railbelt”. In recent years, the ever-improving paved highway system began to eclipse the railroad’s importance in Alaska’s economy.

The railroad, though famed for its summertime tour passenger service, played a vital role in Alaska’s development, moving freight into Alaska while transporting natural resources southward (i.e., coal from the Usibelli coal mine near Healy to Seward and gravel from the Matanuska Valley to Anchorage.)

The Alaska Railroad was one of the last railroads in North America to use cabooses in regular service and still uses them on some gravel trains. It continues to offer one of the last flag stop routes in the country. A stretch of about 60 miles (100 km) of track along an area north of Talkeetna remains inaccessible by road; the railroad provides the only transportation to rural homes and cabins in the area; until construction of the Parks Highway in the 1970s, the railroad provided the only land access to most of the region along its entire route.

In northern Southeast Alaska, the White Pass and Yukon Railroad also partly runs through the State from Skagway northwards into Canada (British Columbia and Yukon Territory), crossing the border at White Pass Summit. This line is now mainly used by tourists, often arriving by cruise liner at Skagway. It featured in the 1983 BBC television series Great Little Railways.


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