“If there is a paradise on Earth, it is here, it is here, it is here.” These are the words penned by Sufi poet Amir Khusrau as he stood in awe of the magnificence of Kashmir. Like a city out of a fairytale, Kashmir is blessed with beauty in abundance. Every corner of the Kashmir Valley from its crystal blue rivers to its idyllic viridescent meadows inspires visitors and devotees of wonder all four seasons of the year.
While Kashmir might have the pen of a famous mystic backing up its claim to being “paradise on Earth”, the travel trope of visiting sites of natural splendour for a taste of heavenly glory is nonetheless a well-loved cliche.
More than anything, the common phrase “paradise on earth” evokes ideas and images of the natural world untouched by man. Traditional Judeo-Christian creation stories speak of the Garden of Eden as a site not so much of indulgence as of a beauty that fulfils and transcends.
This promised atmosphere of “transcendence” is generally what travellers look for when seeking out global sites touted to be “paradise on earth”. Be it standing under the Northern Lights dancing like ribbons across the Norwegian night sky or diving among the coral and fish in the Maldives, what we all seek is an experience that moves our very soul.
An Un-Natural Paradise?
While many such sites are understandably found in the natural environment, I believe this definition can be broadened to include man-made destinations as well. Paradise takes many forms, and not all of them involve an idyllic site in the middle of the great wide beyond. If what we are after is a soul-stirring experience, I am sure many of us know from first-hand experience that this can be found in many a manmade-location as well. Ranging from the quirky to the traditional to the well-beloved, following on are five man-made sites of spellbinding allure.
Chefchaouen, (Marrakesh, Morocco)
Located near the northern tip of Morocco, Chefchaouen is a city known for and by its colour. Bathed in jewel-tones of bright blues and striking whites, this city originated as a kasbah and became the stronghold of the Jewish and Moorish communities fleeing the Spanish Reconquista during the 15th century. Some believe that the walls were painted blue by its Jewish inhabitants who wanted their city of peace to resemble heaven. Others postulate that the colours were chosen to keep its inhabitants cool under the harsh Moroccan sun. Regardless of what the reasons are for its quirky colour, Chefchaouen has been likened to an oasis in the middle of a desert, or a fallen puzzle-piece of the sky on earth. As spoken by one of its inhabitants: “The roots of Chefchaouen are in the sand but its spirit and its life are in the sky.” This is a city that strives towards eternity.
Musée du Louvre (Paris, France)
The Lourve is certainly paradise for all lovers of art and history. Exhibiting over 38,000 artifacts, wandering through the maze like halls and levelled wings of this great museum surrounded by the world’s most precious artworks is a joy to be experienced at least once in your lifetime. The artworks ranging from prehistoric times up until the 21st century are certainly irreplaceable treasures, but the building housing these works—the Louvre Palace—once the residence of the French Kings, is a stunning work of architecture in the French Renaissance style in its own right while the more modern additions, such as the iconic glass and steel pyramid in the courtyard has become a symbol of the collective consciousness of Paris. Never has a museum been more alive with beauty, inspiration and animated sentiment.
Mauna Kea Observatories (Hawaii, USA)
The summit of Mauna Kea plays host to the largest telescopes on earth. One of the most popular stargazing spots for astronomy aficionados and research scientists alike, the observatories here will gift your eyes with sights of the literal heavens. The dry atmosphere and high altitude makes a journey up quite a climb, but the telescopes on Mauna Kea are scientific marvels worth looking through at least once in your life. For many of us earthlings, a look through those telescopes is the closest we will get to the great unknown.
Chand Baori (Rajasthan, India)
The largest stepwell ever built can be found in the Abhaneri village of Rajasthan. Built more than a thousand years ago to provide clean water to the surrounding community, Chand Baori, literally translating to “moon well” or “silver well” is one of mankinds’ greatest hidden wonders. When the brilliant rays of the sun strikes the building’s stones, the whole space ignites in a spell of silver. Although it is no longer in use today, this site continues to be a spiritual source for the local community who continue to pray to the water that collects at the base of its narrow steps. Visitors are often astounded by the mathematical geometry and the play of light and shadow at different times of the day. The significance of the Chan Baori extends beyond that fo an architectural marvel: this stepwell is a testament to the spirit of humanity.
Disneyland (Florida, USA)
Disneyland is the paradise children (and definitely some adults!) dream of visiting on their birthdays. Visiting Disneyland is so much more than fulfilling a childhood fantasy. This is a space for the dreamers and the lovers in all of us—for those who love fun and colour and a little sparkle of magic. To think in the terms forged by Walt Disney is to believe in a world of characters who persevere in hope against the odds, who rise from the ashes after being knocked into the dust, and who never give up on the dream of Happily Ever After. Disneyland is more than just a park, to enter through its gates is to embrace a set of ideals where a little pinch of pixie dust can really help you soar into the skies.
Paradise means different thing to different people, and whichever destination fills your heart with joy and wonder, perhaps that’s yours. Have you found your paradise on earth?