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  1. By Mushfig Bayram, Forum 18 Prisoner of conscience Daniil Islamov is preparing to appeal for the last time to Tajikistan's Supreme Court against a six-month jail term for refusing compulsory military service. If this appeal is rejected, he is likely to appeal to the UN Human Rights Committee. Jehovah's Witness prisoner of conscience Daniil Islamov is preparing to appeal for the last time to Tajikistan's Supreme Court against a six-month jail term imposed in October 2017 for refusing compulsory military service (see below). The government and the Supreme Court have not ordered prisoner of conscience Islamov's release, despite the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on 5 October publicly stating that Tajikistan should release him "immediately" (see below). If the Supreme Court rejects this final appeal, prisoner of conscience Islamov is likely to file a complaint with the UN Human Rights Committee (see below). In Yavan Prison with fellow-prisoner of conscience? Prisoner of conscience Islamov is thought to be being held in Yavan Prison in the south-western Khatlon Region, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 on 27 February. This is the same prison prisoner of conscience Bakhrom Kholmatov is held in. Protestant Pastor Kholmatov was jailed for three years in July 2017 for allegedly "singing extremist songs in church and so inciting ‘religious hatred'". He decided in November not to continue appealing against his jail term. The government threatened family members, friends, and church members with reprisals if they revealed any details of the case, trial, or jailing (see F18News 5 December 2017
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    ). If prisoner of conscience Islamov is in Yavan Prison, his address is: Tajikistan Yavan Ispravitelno-Trudovaya Koloniya, yas. 3/6 6th otryad Daniilu Ruslanovichu Islamovu Prisoner of conscience's jailing upheld Judges Jamshid Akhmadzoda and Abdugafor Tagozoda of the Military Panel of the Supreme Court on 11 January rejected the appeal of Daniil Ruslanovich Islamov (born 31 January 1999). The Judges "unilaterally rejected Islamov's appeal to acquit him and release him from prison," Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 on 9 February. "Inexplicably, the judges conducted the case in their private chambers without a hearing and upheld Islamov's conviction on the false charge of evading military service." Why? Prisoner of conscience Islamov was forcibly conscripted in April 2017, despite heath problems preventing him doing military service even if he wanted to do it. After refusing to serve in the army, he was detained in a military unit. Colonel Musa Odinazoda, Deputy Chief of the General Staff and Head of the Organisation and Mobilisation Department, told Islamov's mother that he cannot do alternative service because there is no domestic legal provision for this (see F18News 31 August 2017
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    ). Colonel Odinazoda has not answered Forum 18's questions about the case. The UN Human Rights Committee has twice urged Tajikistan to recognise the right to conscientious objection and to provide alternative civilian service. But the government has failed to do this. Human rights defenders in Tajikistan, such as the Office of Civil Freedoms, have also repeatedly called for alternative service to be introduced (see F18News 31 August 2017
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    ). Prisoner of conscience Islamov was charged under Criminal Code Article 376, Part 1 ("Evasion by an enlisted serviceman of fulfilment of military service obligations by way of inflicting on oneself injury (self-mutilation) or evasion by simulation of sickness or by other deception"). Yet Lieutenant Colonel M. Kulmakhmadov, commander of the military unit Islamov was held in, refused to say to Forum 18 what exactly the prisoner of conscience had done which could be said to break this article of the Criminal Code (see F18News 31 August 2017
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    ). On 5 October 2017 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention publicly stated that Tajikistan should release prisoner of conscience Islamov "immediately". The Working Group's Advanced Edited Opinion (A/HRC/WGAD/2017/43) finds that Tajikistan has contravened the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. "The Working Group considers that, taking into account all the circumstances of the case, the appropriate remedy would be to release Mr. Islamov immediately and accord him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law" (see
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    ). Yet on 13 October 2017 Qurghonteppa Military Court, in Khatlon Region, sentenced prisoner of conscience Islamov to six months' jail. The 13 October decision noted that sentence started from that date, so his sentence ends on 12 April 2018 (see F18News 20 October 2017
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    ). Prisoner of conscience Islamov appealed against his conviction to the Supreme Court on 23 October 2017. On 28 November, the Supreme Court rejected his appeal, but ruled to send his case back to the first instance Court for "correction of mistakes in the decision". They did not specify what these "mistakes" were (see F18News 5 December 2017
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    ). Final Supreme Court appeal, appeal to UN Human Rights Committee? On 20 February 2018, Islamov's lawyer filed a final cassation appeal to the Supreme Court against its 11 January decision, Jehovah's Witnesses told Forum 18 on 21 February. Judge Akhmadzoda, one of the judges who made the 11 January decision, told Forum 18 on 21 February that the Court will consider the cassation appeal. Forum 18 asked him: why Islamov, who is willing to do alternative service, must suffer because Tajikistan does not offer this; and why the Court regarded him as a military serviceman despite his not taking a military oath. Judge Akhmadzoda replied: "I cannot comment on that." He then refused to talk more to Forum 18. "If the Court rejects this final appeal, Daniil Islamov will have no further legal remedies available within Tajikistan and is likely to file a complaint with the UN Human Rights Committee," Jehovah's Witnesses stated. "The will of the people" ? Deputy Murodullo Davlatov, a member of Parliament's Lower Chamber and Deputy Head of its International Relations Committee, claimed to Forum 18 on 15 February that "the people of Tajikistan do not want alternative service, and Parliament represents the will of the people." Tajikistan has never held an election found to be free and fair by Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Election Observation Missions (see Forum 18's Tajikistan religious freedom survey
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    ). Asked whether prisoner of conscience Islamov and human rights defenders do not represent people of Tajikistan, and whether Islamov is entitled to his human rights, Deputy Davlatov replied: "He violated the law, which is why he was arrested". Jehovah's Witnesses are banned in the country, possibly because of their pacifist beliefs and refusal to do compulsory military service (see Forum 18's Tajikistan religious freedom survey
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    ). Concurrent freedom of religion and belief violations Deputy Davlatov has also backed January Religion Law changes allowing the state to restrict freedom of religion or belief on illegitimate grounds, increase religious communities' reporting obligations, require state approval for all imams, and increase state control on religious education. The new restrictions are primarily aimed at Muslims (see F18News 19 February 2018
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    ). Tajikistan has claimed to have closed almost 2,000 mosques in 2017. Officials claimed they were closed at the request of local residents, but have not been able to explain why they only allow mosques with a capacity far below the possible numbers of worshippers (see F18News 26 February 2018
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  2. A United Nations committee is calling for the immediate release of an 18-year-old Jehovah’s Witness the panel says is being unlawfully detained in Tajikistan because of his faith. The U.N.Â’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention says Daniil Islamov is imprisoned in Tajikistan for conscientiously objecting to the countryÂ’s mandatory military service. Though JehovahÂ’s Witnesses pay taxes, IslamovÂ’s faith precludes him from reciting patriotic pledges, singing nationalistic songs, or joining the military. The right of JehovahÂ’s Witnesses to adhere to their faithÂ’s rejection of military service — they believe their allegiance is to God alone — is recognized in the U.S. and other Western countries. But Tajikistan has no law concerning conscientious objectors. Islamov sought permission for alternative civilian service but was denied, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, which oversees the Working Group. “The Working Group considers that, taking into account all the circumstances of the case, the appropriate remedy would be to release Mr. Islamov immediately and to accord him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law,” a resolution passed by WGAD on IslamovÂ’s case reads. Islamov, who turned 18 in January, was forcibly conscripted into TajikistanÂ’s military in April and promptly arrested for refusing to wear a military uniform and take the oath of service. From the JehovahÂ’s WitnessesÂ’ New York world headquarters, spokesman David A. Semonian said itÂ’s encouraging that the Working Group declared IslamovÂ’s pretrial detention arbitrary. READ: Soldiers of Conscience: The War Within Those Trained to Kill But “we are very concerned that the Working GroupÂ’s opinion had no effect on the courtÂ’s subsequent decision to convict and imprison him for conscientiously refusing to serve in the military,” Semonian said. “We will update the Working Group on this disturbing development, and we expect that they will issue an even stronger directive to release Daniil.” JehovahÂ’s Witnesses have recently suffered crackdowns in Russia and other former Soviet republics, including Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine. In April, Russia declared JehovahÂ’s Witnesses “extremists” and formally banned them. In May, the Witnesses, who number about 8 million worldwide, released a report documenting 50 cases of persecution, including harassment, beatings, the closing of churches, and arson attacks. Increasingly, the crackdowns are focused on the young, including children. Among them was the case of an 8-year-old Russian girl forced by her principal to sing patriotic songs before her classmates. JehovahÂ’s Witnesses have appealed RussiaÂ’s decision to ban them, but that appeal was denied. A second and final appeal is in process. Via Religion News Service. Â
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  3. The NSC secret police in Khujand arrested Protestant pastor Bakhrom Kholmatov on 10 April after raiding his church and seizing Christian literature. Officials claim songbooks and a book "More Than a Carpenter" are "extremist". The pastor is being investigated on "extremism" criminal charges. On 10 April the National Security Committee (NSC) secret police in Tajikistan's northern Sogd Region arrested Bakhrom Kholmatov, Pastor of the Sunmin Sunbogym (Good News of Grace) Protestant Church in the regional capital Khujand. He remains in NSC secret police custody, apparently under investigation on criminal charges of "extremism". The charges follow the seizure of Christian books during a raid on his Church. "Pastor Kholmatov's family and Church members don't know what the NSC secret police is doing with him," Protestants from Sogd Region who are closely following the situation and who, for fear of state reprisals, asked not to give their names, complained to Forum 18 on 20 April. They said they have had no news of Pastor Kholmatov's physical conditions or state of health since his arrest. Reached on 28 April, the duty officer at the NSC secret police in the capital Dushanbe refused to transfer Forum 18's call to anyone. He consulted a colleague, then gave another number, which turned out to be that of a pharmacy (which said it often receives calls from people given the number by various state agencies). Called back, the NSC duty officer again said he would consult a colleague, then came back and told Forum 18 it had called a wrong number. He then put the phone down. The Deputy Head of the State Committee for Religious Affairs in Dushanbe, Khuseyn Shokirov, refused to explain why Pastor Kholmatov is under arrest accused of "extremism" (see below). The NSC secret police, together with the State Committee for Religious Affairs and other law-enforcement agencies, began raiding Sunmin Sunbogym's affiliated congregations in Sogd Region in early February. Officials closed down the congregation in the town of Konibodom in March after interrogating and beating church members. NSC secret police officers arrested Pastor Kholmatov after they raided the Khujand Church in April (see below). Meanwhile, officials in Dushanbe have closed down two kindergartens. One was closed after officials found a Christian songbook, the other apparently because Protestants were employed there (see below). "Extremism" punishments Officials have not revealed what criminal charges Pastor Kholmatov will or might face. The Criminal Code punishes a number of crimes related to "extremism". Criminal Code Article 307-2 punishes "leading or organising an extremist community". Punishments are prison terms of up to 12 years (if conducted by an individual using their official position). The Article allows an individual to be freed from punishment if they voluntarily agree to stop their activity. This Article was among several related to "extremism" added to the Criminal Code in December 2015. As elsewhere in the region, the Tajik authorities frequently use "extremism"-related charges to punish individuals for exercising freedom of religion or belief outside the framework of religious communities that the state allows to operate. Such charges are mainly levelled against Muslims. In April 2016, a court in Sogd Region handed down an eight year prison term to Imam Khamid Karimov, the leader of the Mosque in Unji-Bobojon village. The Judge handed down seven year prison terms to each of four members of his Mosque. These – and many other Muslims, especially those accused of being Salafis – were imprisoned using Criminal Code "extremism" punishments (see F18News 19 May 2016
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    ). Harsh state restrictions on exercising freedom of religion or belief In defiance of its international human rights obligations, Tajikistan severely restricts rights to freedom of religion or belief. The authorities impose a ban on all exercise of freedom of religion or belief without state permission; severe limitations on the numbers of mosques permitted and activities allowed inside those mosques; arbitrary official actions, including the arrests of Jehovah's Witnesses using police agent provocateurs; bans on Jehovah's Witnesses and some Islamic and Protestant movements; the banning of Central Asia's only legal religious-based political party, the Islamic Renaissance Party, and the arrest as prisoners of conscience of its senior party figures; forcing imams in state-controlled mosques (the only sort permitted) to preach state-dictated sermons; forcible closure of all madrassahs (Islamic religious schools); a ban on all public exercise of freedom of religion or belief, apart from funerals, by people under the age of 18; and state censorship of and bans on some religious literature and websites (see Forum 18's Tajikistan religious freedom survey
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    ). Interrogations, beatings to close church Sunmin Sunbogym Protestant Church in Khujand was officially registered with the State Committee for Religious Affairs in 1993 as a "missionary centre" (Forum 18 has seen the certificate). After the new Religion Law entered into force in 2009, when all registered religious communities were required to re-register to continue to be allowed to exist, the Church was re-registered on 23 October 2009. Its affiliated congregations gained local registration. In early February 2017, the NSC secret police, together with the State Committee for Religious Affairs and other law-enforcement agencies, began raiding Sunmin Sunbogym's affiliated congregations in Sogd Region. They particularly targeted the church in the town of Konibodom. The authorities "put all kinds of pressure on the Church leaders and members so that they would cooperate with the Police for the closure of the Church in Konibodom," Protestants complained to Forum 18. "Officers insulted the believers by shouting and swearing at them. They demanded that they renounce their faith and leave the Church." The Protestants lamented that "some believers were even beaten." Finally in March the authorities sealed the church building, they added. The Protestants added that some members of the Konibodom Church were dismissed from their jobs under NSC secret police pressure. For fear of state reprisals, they declined to give the names or the details of the dismissals. Asked why officials had forcibly closed down the Konibodom Church, Khuseyn Shokirov, Deputy Head of the State Committee for Religious Affairs in Dushanbe, overseeing work with religious organisations, insisted to Forum 18 on 26 April: "The Church was closed down because its members wished so, and it is their internal matter." He gave no evidence for his claim. Why is Pastor being charged with "extremism"? In early April the authorities began raids on the central Sunmin Sunbogym Church in Khujand. They searched all the Church's premises, Protestants told Forum 18. Officers seized Christian songbooks and other literature. As in Konibodom, the law-enforcement officers in Khujand "interrogated believers and beat them." They complained that the authorities "threatened them that they must cooperate with them." NSC officers arrested Pastor Kholmatov after these raids. NSC secret police told Church members during interrogations that their "purpose is to close down Churches in Tajikistan and take away their property," Protestants told Forum 18. Lieutenant Colonel Mashraf Istamzoda, Chief of Sogd Regional Criminal Police, and Amis Usmanov, Chief of the Region's Organised Crime Police, said that the Police are not involved in Pastor Kholmatov's case. Istamzoda told Forum 18 from Khujand on 26 April that the NSC secret police "usually leads such cases". The NSC secret police "could not find anything illegal" in the activity of Sunmin Sunbogym Church, Protestants from Sogd told Forum 18. Officers then decided to use the Church's Christian hymns from a songbook and Christian books against the Pastor. The NSC secret police asserts that the songs "Praise God, oh the godless country," "God's army is marching," "Our fight is not against flesh and blood," are "extremist". Protestants pointed out that the words of these songs are references to texts of the Bible. Officers told Church members during interrogations that these songs are "extremist and call on the people to overthrow the government". The NSC secret police also deemed one book they had found, "More Than a Carpenter" by American Protestant author Josh McDowell, "extremist". Officers told Church members that the group of religious "experts" concluded that both this book, and the songs, are "extremist". "All these so called experts are Imams," Protestants complained. "How can Muslim experts give an opinion of Christian literature as extremist?" "Experts" on religious literature of the State Committee in Dushanbe, Abdurakhmon Mavlanov and Alinazar Aliyev, told Forum 18 on 25 April that "no list" of banned Christian books exists in Tajikistan. "We undertake an expert analysis of each Christian book and then make our decision whether or not it can be allowed for import or distribution," Mavlanov told Forum 18. The two officials did not discuss state censorship of religious literature of other faiths, including Islamic literature. Asked whether McDowell's book "More Than a Carpenter" is allowed for distribution in Tajikistan, both "Experts" gave similar answers: "I am not sure." Mavlanov asked Forum 18 to call back the next day, 26 April. The telephones of Mavlanov and Aliyev went unanswered between 26 and 27 April. Told that according to the State Committee "Experts" no Christian books are banned in Tajikistan, State Committee Deputy Head Shokirov refused to discuss this or any further questions and put the phone down. All religious literature must undergo state censorship before it can be printed, published, distributed, sold or imported. Those who violate these censorship provisions are liable to punishment (see Forum 18's Tajikistan religious freedom survey
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    ). Dushanbe kindergartens closed for Christian songbook, employing Protestants Meanwhile, authorities in Dushanbe closed down two kindergartens where Protestant Christians were employed, Protestants from Dushanbe, who asked not to give their names or details of the closures for fear of state reprisals, complained to Forum 18 on 20 April. "In one kindergarten the authorities found a songbook of Christmas carols during a raid," they explained. "The other one was closed down just because they found that Christians worked in it." The authorities have particularly targeted any educational activity related or perceived to be related to religion. Officials finally closed the country's last surviving state-approved madrasahs (Islamic religious schools for children) in 2016 (see F18News 6 September 2016
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  4. There's fresh impetus to explore Namibia's startling landscapes this year CREDIT:FOTOLIA 6 JANUARY 2017 • 12:31PM If your ambition this year is to try new things and explore new places, you're in luck. From Nicaragua to Tajikistan, a number of hitherto "undiscovered" destinations are increasingly catering to discerning holidaymakers, with a host of new resorts opening and experiences launching over the year to come. Read below for more on the most exciting outdoor adventures to be enjoyed around the world in 2017, or for something more sedate see our guides to 2017's best wellness and fitness breaks; 2017's best luxury beach holidays; the year's best yachting and sailing holidays; and the best cities to visit over the next 12 months. The Desert Circuit: Namibia Exclusive Lodges The four new luxury lodges on the Namibia Exclusive circuit are located in some of the most remote and beautiful northern parts of the country, each designed by architect Greg Scott and built of local materials that reflect the region’s landscapes and cultural traditions. Sorris Sorris Lodge in Damaraland has been built into huge granite boulders scattered across the desert landscape, its modern African rammed-earth structures and pool offering views over the Ugab River and the mountains of the Brandberg Massif. Sorris Sorris Lodge Omatandeka Lodge is surrounded by vast plains inhabited by the Himba people, table-top mountains and a vital wildlife corridor used by mountain zebra, oryx and endangered black rhino, while Sheya Shuushona Lodge, on the northern boundary of Etosha National Park, is surrounded by photogenic salt pans that change colour with the seasons and turn into a lake in the rainy season. Finally, Xaudum Lodge, the most recent addition, is surrounded by the sand dunes of the Kalahari, home to some 3,000 elephants. All four lodges are located in areas with indigenous communities and contribute funds so these people can continue to live in traditional ways on their ancestors’ land. The Explorations Company offers a nine-night safari, staying at three Namibia Exclusive lodges, from £8,985 per person including flights, air transfers, full board and guiding. The Italian Castle: Castello di Ugento, Puglia There are few buildings in Europe in which guests can stay above a Norman keep, dine beneath 17th-century Baroque frescoes and wander around a garden in which Bronze Age artefacts have been found. In April, on the southern heel of Italy, the (rather wonderfully named) d’Amore family will open their restored thousand-year-old Castello di Ugento to paying guests for the first time (doubles from £260). Visitors can relax within walled gardens, in which more than 100 medicinal and aromatic plants are grown for the kitchen and spa; admire the frescoes painted in 1694 to portray the noble family’s history; sample local wines in an ancient cistern-turned-cellar; and take cookery lessons in a wing turned by the Culinary Institute of America into its first European school. A maximum of 18 guests will sleep in stone-walled rooms with high, star-vaulted ceilings and views over Ugento’s rooftops, and they will feast on Puglian favourites cooked by Milanese chef Odette Fada, whose refined cuisine at the renowned Rex Il Ristorante in Los Angeles and San Domenico NY made her name as one of America’s finest Italian chefs. The nearest beaches are two miles away and Baroque towns such as Lecce are a short drive from the castle. The Urban Forest: Aman Shanghai Aman’s latest property in China (its fourth) must be one of its most anticipated to date. The Shanghai retreat (rates not yet available) is a picture of leafy tranquility – and full of surprises. If a visitor were to drop into the 100-acre property, planted with thousand-year-old camphor trees and interspersed with historic Ming- and Qing-dynasty houses, they’d never believe that they were within easy reach of buzzy downtown Shanghai. Neither the forest nor village are native to this area; both were moved here over the past 10 years from Jiangxi, some 500 miles southwest, by Ma Dadong, a pioneering businessman, when the building of a reservoir threatened their survival. Aman Shanghai Now that the painstaking replanting (which took three years) and the building of the hotel are complete, the 37 villas in the new sanctuary are being decorated with original beams, floors, sculptures and carvings from the uplifted village homes. Kerry Hill, the project’s architect, has taken care to reflect traditional Chinese culture while blending in contemporary comforts and natural tones of earth, moss and creamy whites. Guests can take day trips to Shanghai, walk in the forest, sample Eastern cuisine, or relax in the spa, beside the two pools or in the Nan Shu Fang contemplation garden. The South American Sleeper: The Belmond Andean Explorer, Peru For the first time in May 2017, travellers will be able not only to traverse the Andes in one of the most luxurious trains on earth, but to sleep overnight on one. The Belmond Andean Explorer has been built to carry up to 68 passengers in en-suite cabins decorated by the South African designer Inge Moore in contemporary light woods and comforting alpaca-wool colours. Each of the train’s cars is fitted with expansive windows to frame views of the Andean plains, mountains and grand architecture, including the Unesco World Heritage Site of Arequipa. Although another two trains already operate in this area – Belmond’s Hiram Bingham, which offers day trips to Machu Picchu, and the more traditional Inca Princess – this is the first modern luxury train to offer trips from Cusco to Lake Titicaca and Arequipa, on one- and two-night journeys. Chefs from the Hotel Monasterio in Cusco will serve modern Peruvian cuisine in two dining cars; guests can also enjoy spacious lounge and observation cars, and an open deck. Doubles from £738 , all-inclusive, for one night. The Gorilla Camp: Bisate Lodge, Rwanda One of the key trends in Africa in 2017 is the growth of camps that offer both sustainable luxury and adventure. Hence Wilderness Safaris’ decision to open Bisate Lodge in June as a luxury base for tracking the 10 habituated gorilla groups in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park (doubles from £1,762 full board, excluding gorilla permits). The lodge, raised high above the forest floor in the amphitheatre of an eroded volcanic cone, has been designed by architect Nick Plewman to echo the spherical, thatched structures that dot the hills, as well as the layout of traditional Rwandan palaces. The interiors by Caline Williams-Wynn have been inspired by the rich detail of Rwandan textiles, many of which are made using a technique called imigongo, an ancient art form incorporating geometric shapes. When the first guests arrive, they will be able not only to track gorillas, but to hike to Dian Fossey’s grave and her former research station at Karisoke, to trek to the top of a nearby volcano, and then to relax in the extensively reforested gardens. The Jungle Retreat: Nekupe Sporting Resort and Retreat, Nicaragua Nicaragua’s first luxe mountain resort sits in the lush landscape of Nandaime, just 40 minutes’ drive from the pretty colonial city of Granada. Nekupe – or heaven, in the indigenous Chorotega language – was designed with the help of a feng shui architect to have the highest energy flow and least environmental impact possible, and the four freestanding villas and four expansive suites, with king-sized beds, made-for-sharing bathtubs and alfresco showers, are decorated in earth tones and warm woods that echo the serene setting (doubles from £720, full board). Floor-to-ceiling windows frame views over Mombacho volcano’s perfect cone, and wraparound terraces are perfect for sipping daiquiris, before farm-to-table feasts of nuevo-Nicaraguan cuisine. Nekupe will provide access to Nicaragua's underexplored nature reserves The surrounding nature reserve, which echoes with the sounds of primates and toucans, can be explored on ATVs, as well as on paths created for hikers, bikers and horseback riders, or on zip wires, which soar above the forest canopy. For those not expending energy on target-shooting, tennis and yoga, there is an infinity pool and a spa. The Cook Ski Spot: Lech, Austria Size matters to ski resorts, so the hotly anticipated coronation of Ski Arlberg as Austria’s largest contiguous ski area is big news indeed. Encompassing eight villages, including big hitters St Anton, Lechand Zürs, Ski Arlberg is already one of the best-known ski areas in the Alps. But now its four new lifts are open, linking the entire area to deliver 109 miles of pistes (three more than Val d’Isère), Ski Arlberg will join the ranks of the world’s über resorts. New developments have given Lech a leg up The four connected lifts, known as the Flexenbahn, will place Lech at the epicentre of the ski area (stealing some thunder from St Anton). While expanding its lifts, Lech has also been consolidating its position as Austria’s leading town for luxury ski chalets. In December – hot on the heels of properties like the Aurelio Clubhouse, Chalet N, Chalet 1597 and Überhaus, which have raised the luxury bar in recent years – Severin’s Alpine Retreat will open its doors. The nine-suite hotel will be fitted with only the best: Minotti furnishings, a spa with an indoor infinity pool and hypoxic chamber for altitude training, and a ski room with bespoke Indigo kit. Guests can take over the chalet, for free rein over the suites, restaurant, capacious spa and fire-lit lounges, or plump for The Residence: a sleek four-bedroom private apartment spanning two floors with a professional kitchen, cinema, bar and outdoor hot tub. The Oxford Ski Company offers a week for two people at Severin’s Alpine Retreat from £6,440, including transfers and flights. The Rugged Destination: Pamir Mountains, Tajikistan Tajikistan was the second-fastest growing tourist destination in the world in 2015, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC). Which is why in 2017 Edge Expeditions will be running a two-week Luxury Tajikistan tour of the country’s spectacular Pamir Mountains: one the most diverse, wild, exhilarating and least-explored corners of the planet. With a team of expert guides, a maximum of eight guests will traverse the raw wilderness by either four-wheel-drive vehicles, with a driver, or motorbikes. Journeying along the legendary Pamir Highway, travellers will spend days exploring azure mountain lakes, hidden valleys, ancient ruins and high mountain passes that very few outsiders ever get to see. The trip starts off at a five-star hotel in the capital, Dushanbe, while on the road the ground crew will prepare yurt camps with hot showers, comfortable beds, Egyptian cotton sheets and gourmet meals prepared by the expedition’s private chef. Along the way, both British and Tajik guides will interpret the layered history of the region, while astronomers with telescopes will also be on hand to explore some of the least light-polluted night skies in the world. Edge Expeditions is offering a 14-day Luxury Tajikistan journey by four-wheel-drive or motorcycle, from £9,495 full board, starting and ending at Dushanbe, including transfers, motorcycle rental or vehicle (with driver), back-up vehicles, guides and medic, but excluding international flights.
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