What is an unforgettable place? A place you will remember for the rest of your life, certainly, but to me an unforgettable place is more than that. It is the sort of place that is so special that as soon as you discover it exists you just know you have to go there. While you might remember many things about daily life from time spent in India, for example, it will have been the desire to gaze upon the timeless beauty of the Taj Mahal that prompted you to make the journey. This book contains my own selection of 40 unforgettable places.
Certain places around the world, such as the Taj Mahal, Uluru (Ayers Rock), the Grand Canyon, Manhattan and Machu Picchu, have entered our collective consciousness. All of these crop up on most people's lists of places they would love to see, and not to include them just because they are so popular would have been silly. I hope their appearance here will act as a reminder that these places really should be seen at least once in lifetime.
I have also tried to highlight some places that are less well known and that you may never have thought of visiting. Hopefully, featuring them here will prompt you to put them firmly on your 'to do' list. The mystical city of Samarkand, the majestic hidden stone churches of Lalibela, and even the warren that is the town of Zanzibar are all places that deserve to be more widely appreciated.
I have also included what I consider to be the best of a number of 'generic' places. How many of us have said that we would love to see 'the rainforest' or a truly phenomenal waterfall? Well, this book looks at places that I consider to be the very best of their kind: the Sosussvlei National Park is in arguably the most amazing desert in the world, Taman Negara is the oldest rainforest in the world, the Iguassu Falls has to be the best waterfall in the world, and the Ngorongoro Crater is the single most spectacular place to view wildlife in Africa.
Many of the places I have chosen are exceptional in any terms. But will you agree with my choice? I honestly doubt it. By its very nature this book is judgmental and invites disagreement. Several people have asked why Paris, for example, is not in the book, but if you had to include just one romantic European city in this list then, for me, a wintry Venice beats Paris hands down any day of the week. Everyone will have their own favourite places; their own 'unforgettables'. But these are mine - a selection based on many years of travelling.
I have tried to give this book immediacy. Thousands of pictures are available of many of the locations in this book, but instead of using existing, often out-of-date, images, or views that cannot be seen by the average traveller, my co-photographer, Marc Schlossman, and I decided to photograph them afresh. So we captured most of the images you see here in a period of just nine months, spending only a few days in each location. We therefore saw these places in the same way that you might see them. This is not a book of unattainable sights - if you spend three or four days in the Galapagos, or Rio, or even Venice or the Ngorongoro Crater, this is what you can expect to see. Sometimes the skies have a few more clouds than they do on postcards, but remember that we criss-crossed the world taking these pictures on a frenetic schedule. I have tried to keep some of that excitement and enthusiasm in this book.
I also wanted to provide a sense of place. Wherever practical, I have avoided sweeping generalisations and focused on one, sometimes quite specific, location. The sort of view, for example, that you could lead someone to, blindfolded, then reveal to them the world in its splendour. For New York City, this has to be Manhattan Island. For the 2000-km-long Great Barrier Reef, it has to be Heron Island - one of the few coral cays that lies directly on the reef that you can actually stay on.
Although armchair travellers will love this book, I hope it will inspire people to hit the road themselves. At a time when there is concern about terrorism, disease and all manner of political instability I have constantly had my sanity questioned for going to so many places around the world. However, in all of my flights and solo wanderings around places noted for their bad reputations, not once have I been robbed or threatened, had a bag lost by an airline or had any particularly close shaves - except literally, by a barber in the old town of Godaulia in Varanasi. I have walked on my own down Copacabana Beach at sunrise with a brace of cameras, hiked alone through rainforest, visited a Middle East virtually deserted by western tourists at the height of a war, and received nothing but courtesy and unceasing hospitality. Sure, bad things do happen when you travel, but they happen far, far less than you might expect. And, anyway, on the road you should have insurance to cover most mishaps.
Travelling brings memories, and lots of them. There will be the big, 'blockbuster' memories - the kind that friends and family will clamour to share through your photographs and postcards: sunrise at Angkor Wat, sunset at Uluru, that first view of Piazza San Marco as you arrive in Venice by boat from the airport. These are experiences you will remember, quite literally, till you die. But your search for them will also bring you smaller, personal memories that can't be replicated: joining Bedouin for a barbecue in the mountains around Petra, haggling for spices in an Uzbekistan bazaar, picnicking with an extended Tibetan family after a festival in the stunning city of Lhasa. These experiences cannot be bought. You won't get them on a commuter train or in a supermarket. The addictive quest for sights, smells, feelings and experiences will make you feel truly alive.
I hope that this book inspires you to travel to at least some of these unforgettable places, and to create some indelible memories of your own.
Steve Davey 2004