Wakakusa Yamayaki: The Mountain Burning Festival

Fireworks are a great way to celebrate any occasion, but like NuanQuan’s molten iron throwing festival, the Japanese city of Nara (the city of deer) has taken their festivities a notch higher.

Just behind Nara Park, stands an old, extinct volcano, called Mount Wakakusa, that rises gently to a height of 350 meters. From its peak, one can have unobstructed views of the entire city. Mount Wakakusa is hence very popular for walking and strolling. The mountain is covered by grass, and lining the slope of the mountain are cherry trees that are usually in full bloom around early April. But as winter approaches, the grass begins to die and the cherry trees lose their leaves and the mountain looks very bald. This is when the famous Wakakusa Yamayaki festival takes place.

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Photo credit: Nagoya Taro/Wikimedia

Grandma Prisbrey's Bottle Village

Grandma Prisbrey's Bottle Village is tucked away in a small residential neighborhood of Simi Valley, California. In an area one-third of an acre, there are over thirty sculptures and sixteen houses built by Tressa Prisbrey out of an estimated one million bottles and other discarded items which she collected from a nearby dump.

Grandma Tressa Prisbrey began building the Bottle Village in 1956, when she was sixty years old. Tressa was collecting pencils, as a hobby, for the last few decades and had amassed 17,000 of them. She needed a place to keep them. At first she thought she would build a storehouse, but when she realized that cinder blocks are too expensive, she decided to make one out of bottles instead. Tressa got the idea after seeing a bottle house at the Knott's Berry Farm theme park in Buena Park, California.

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Photo credit: Jonathan Haeber/Flickr

Da Shuhua: Molten Iron Throwing Festival

On the 15th and final day of the Chinese Lunar New Year festivities, while the rest of the country celebrates with traditional fireworks, the small town of NuanQuan, about four hours' drive west of Beijing, puts up a unique pyrotechnic show. A small team of blacksmiths scoop hot molten iron from buckets and throw it against a brick wall. On impact, the molten metal explodes into a thousand brightly glowing shards like sparks shooting from exploding fireworks. The locals call it Da Shuhua, which translates as “tree flower”, so called because the blobs of metal, after they have been smacked against the wall, form floral pattern once they cool.

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Photo credit: www.everfest.com

The Valley of Balls, Kazakhstan

The valley of balls or Torysh, as it’s called in Kazakh, is located at the Northern tip of the Western Karatau, close to the town of Shetpe in Western Kazakhstan. The area consist of numerous ball-like rock formations strewn across a wide range of steppe land. The balls come in different sizes, but most are 3-4 meters in diameter.

The balls are believed to be concretions —a hard, compact mass formed by the precipitation of minerals. They are  often spherical and usually forms in sedimentary rock or soil. The phenomenon is not rare — examples of such concretions are found all over the globe. What is rare, however, is the size these concretions have reached. Concretions as large as those in valley of balls are found only at few places on earth. The Moeraki Boulders of New Zealand is another example.

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Photo credit: Alexandr Babkin/Wikimedia

The Smoking Hot Springs of Beppu, Japan

The Japanese island of Kyushu is a hotbed of geothermal activity, thanks to the country’s most active volcano Mt Aso, that the island is home to. The most famous of these natural hot springs are located near Beppu, a small city tucked between a bay of the Inland Sea and two dormant volcanoes on the east shore of the island. Beppu has more than 2,900 hot spring vents that discharges more than 130,000 tons of hot water from the ground every day, second only to that of the Yellowstone National Park in the United States. Vapors rising up from these vents make it seem as if the entire city is on fire.

Of particular interest are the “Jigokus” or “Hells” —the city’s famed steaming hot springs. Beppu has eight famous jigokus, and they are indeed, hell on earth. These hot springs have temperatures that ranges from 50 to 99.5 °Celsius. Needless to say, the jigokus are not suitable for bathing, but they the most popular attraction in the city.

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Steam escaping out of thousands of vents in Beppu. Photo credit: seiko tomono/Flickr

Colossi of Memnon: The ‘Singing’ Statues

The Colossi of Memnon, also known as Colossus of Memnon, are two massive stone statues on the west bank of the River Nile, opposite the modern city of Luxor, in Egypt. The statues are incredibly tall, about 18 meters high. They represent Pharaoh Amenhotep III, who reigned ancient Egypt some 3,400 years ago.

The twin statues depict the pharaoh in a seated position, his hands resting on his knees and his gaze facing eastwards towards the river. They once stood at the entrance gate of Amenhotep's memorial temple, a massive construct built during the pharaoh's lifetime, where he was worshipped as a god-on-earth. When built, the temple complex was the largest and most opulent in Egypt, although very little of the temple remains today. Annual flooding of the Nile gnawed away at its foundations until later pharaohs decided to demolish the entire temple and reuse the stone blocks for other buildings. The statues were spared, although they are badly ruined.

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Photo credit: Dan Kit/Flickr

Drone Photos Capture The Rich/Poor Divide in Cape Town

Although South Africa’s apartheid era ended more than twenty years ago, there is still a palpable economic tension between the blacks and the whites. The black majority occupies the bottom rung of the society where they continue to be confronted by deep poverty, unemployment and inequality. The economic divide gets even more tangible once you get airborne. That’s what American Photographer Johnny Miller, who now lives in Cape Town, wanted to capture when he began his photo series “Unequal Scenes”.

“Drone photography is interesting because it affords people a new perspective on places they thought they knew,” Miller told CityLab. “Humans have this amazing ability to think we know a situation, having seen it so many times from the same perspective. It becomes routine, almost a pattern. When you fly, you totally change that.”

“I wanted to disrupt that sense of complacency that I felt, and that I knew a lot of privileged people in Cape Town feel,” he said.

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Lava Lakes: The Exposed Guts of Volcanoes

Most volcanoes have a deep inner chamber of molten rocks, but this chamber is typically capped shut by cooled, solid rock. But sometimes the magma chamber is exposed at the top of the volcano in a giant caldera of rolling, bubbling and spluttering lava. This happens when an active volcano continuously pushes new molten rocks up the vent to form a pool inside the caldera, while solidified lava sinks back into the depth to be re-melted. Volcanologists often describe lava lakes as “windows into the heart of volcanoes.”

“Persistant lava lakes are very rare, and require a delicate equilibrium between heat supply and heat loss,” says VolcanoDiscovery.com. “Heat supply is provided by rising magmatic gasses from the magma chamber through a liquid-filled conduit, and is counterbalanced by intense heat lost at the surface of the lava lake.”

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The lava lake of Mount Nyiragongo. Photo credit: Olivier Grunewald/Boston.com

The Mysterious Mima Mounds

In the prairies near Olympia, in Washington, in northwestern United States, thousands upon thousands of grass-covered humps bulges out of the ground like an enormous bubble wrap. These humps are called mima mounds, named after the Mima Prairie, and they range in size from near imperceptible to more than two meters tall, and several meters across. Since their discovery by Charles Wilkes, a US naval officer and explorer, in 1841, these mysterious mounds have intrigued scientists and provoked curiosity, speculation, and debate.

Wilkes initially thought that the mounds were graves of ancient Indians but when he ordered his men to dig up, they found no bones. We now know that these mounds are thousands of years old but we still don’t know who or what created them. Over the years dozens of theories have been advanced implicating everything from earthquakes to glaciers to gophers to even aliens.

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Photo credit: Washington DNR/Flickr

The Indestructible Bust of Pablo Iglesias

A little off the tourist trail in the northern barrio of Madrid lies a reproduction of a bust of Pablo Iglesias Posse. Founder of both the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) and the General Workers Union, he is to some one of the most important and respected figures in modern Spanish history but relatively unknown to the younger generation. The reproduction bust was unveiled in 2001 to a mixed reception from the nominally conservative Madrilenos. While the reproduction is nothing special to the look at, the back story of the original is a story certainly worth telling.

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