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The remotest places on Earth
April 20, 2009 9:26 PM   Subscribe

Ever wondered where the remotest place in the world is? Short answer according to New Scientist: the Tibetan Plateau. Lots of cool maps showing transport times and methods.

I was wondering about this and I was going to spend a question on it. Now I get to save my question for yet another week. Yay!
posted by Joe in Australia (61 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
I guess there's no chance of getting there with public transit.
posted by LSK at 9:28 PM on April 20, 2009


Makes me continue to appreciate Heinrich Harrer's 7 Years in Tibet.
posted by christhelongtimelurker at 9:39 PM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


That's where the guy from The Illusionist - was it Wolverine? - had his Fortress of Solitude and hiked there to smoke the flower that turned him into OwlFace from Watchmen, and then he had that showdown with the Quing-Jing guy from Tekken! Daft Punk turned up at some point. I don't know. I was pretty wasted.
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:40 PM on April 20, 2009 [7 favorites]


I have a new goal in life!
posted by LarryC at 9:50 PM on April 20, 2009


$100 says it won't be so remote 5 years after this is printed, re-printed, put on CNN, blogged about, and finally used as an answer in a Cosmo survey.

Any takers?
posted by hal_c_on at 9:55 PM on April 20, 2009


The map is pretty cool. The remote areas are mostly right where you would suspect--the Australian Outback, the upper Amazon, Borneo, Saharan Africa. But it is still mesmerizing to stare at the map and day dream...
posted by LarryC at 9:57 PM on April 20, 2009


This is pretty cool! I just wish the maps were higher-res.
posted by Rhaomi at 10:07 PM on April 20, 2009


Sorta the human settlement variant of the poles of inaccessibility.
posted by dhartung at 10:08 PM on April 20, 2009


Ever wondered where the remotest place in the world is? Short answer according to New Scientist

My pants!

Wait...
posted by dirigibleman at 10:27 PM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I love how there's an entire swath of land stretching down from Siberia, across Mongolia, and into western China that is that far from anything urban. Actually find it comforting, to be honest.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:32 PM on April 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think too many people take for granted the particulars of geographic location in the midst of that 9-hour plane flight -- they just slap the window shades down and tune everything out. You're putting a DVD movie in your laptop with a blanket while meal serve is coming down the aisle and you look forward to stretching out at the hotel in a few hours. Yet more often than not you're often over one of those menacing dark-colored areas on that map, or an empty expanse of ocean, where 10 or 100 miles doesn't make a difference. The cocooning of culture and civilization in the middle of nowhere at 30,000 ft and the contrast with what's just below has always intrigued me. There's stuff down there. Some of the early explorers would have sold their soul to the devil to see some of those vistas, yet what do we do... we pull windowshades down, open some crackers, and watch Paul Blart: Mall Cop.
posted by crapmatic at 10:39 PM on April 20, 2009 [16 favorites]


Now I know where to put the space-based solar power generator.

And a Domino's pizza.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:07 PM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


To be strictly accurate you must note that the terms are somewhat artificial: the time taken using land or water transport from the nearest town of more than 50,000 people. You might get different results if you reduced or increased the size town. I'm pretty sure that the Tibetan Plateau would still win, though - the article says that it takes 20 days of hiking and a day of driving to reach the nearest town.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:11 PM on April 20, 2009


Yet more often than not you're often over one of those menacing dark-colored areas on that map

Making them not as remote as you'd hope. You somehow get to the Tibetan plateau, you hear that familiar noise, you look up, and there's another damned Made in USA jetliner overhead leaving a long manmade trail across the sky.

A place isn't really remote at all if you always know exactly where you are and your satellite phone can bring fairly quick air rescue right to you. Being really remote on Earth would be going far from civilization and leaving all of the electronics at home. Or go to the far side of the moon, though even that will soon be much closer.
posted by pracowity at 11:14 PM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Without wishing to be snarky, I'd always thought it was an island like Tristan da Cunha, where a journey (on the assumption you get to Cape Town on the exact day a schedule boat service leaves) takes 7 days. [Podcast about life on TdC]
posted by MuffinMan at 11:41 PM on April 20, 2009


cool - i've been there! (well, at least to the part of the plateau that crosses the border into india) - two days by bus through mountains to the nearest town worth mentioning.

and nothing in between but one or two army tent-camps, and a few bunches of very despondent looking roadworkers.
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:25 AM on April 21, 2009


Yes, Tristan da Cunha is a lovely place (penguins and three species of albatross!) and way the hell away from the big places, but you'd still be on an island you could walk around (guessing from the map) with a British settlement of 270 people. I wouldn't feel as if I were really remote from everything if a day's walk in any direction would inevitably lead me to a safe, quiet village full of people who speak my language, medical care, a warm house, a good meal, a pub, a telephone, an internet connection, a comfortable bed, and a reliable way to book a ticket home.
posted by pracowity at 1:04 AM on April 21, 2009


I'd always thought it was an island like Tristan da Cunha, where a journey (on the assumption you get to Cape Town on the exact day a schedule boat service leaves) takes 7 days

The seven days would still be okay as long as there is some certainity in the schedule :-) From the link:-
A landing after the passage depends on the weather, although the Agulhas normally flies passengers ashore immediately except in severe weather conditions. All dates are provisional.
posted by the cydonian at 1:30 AM on April 21, 2009


What am I missing? Surely the south pole is more remote. That map doesn't even have antarctica on it!
http://wikitravel.org/en/South_Pole says it takes 65 days of skiing to get there. All the other options include air travel.
posted by Osmanthus at 1:38 AM on April 21, 2009


Maybe because Antarctica is crawling with research stations, apart from the one at the pole itself? Not sure how far apart the bases furthest apart from each other are, though, to be honest. I hadn't checked.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:33 AM on April 21, 2009


Perhaps there's a motorized means of getting there that's faster than skiing? Like a car with skis tied to the wheels or a motorcycle with ice skates? I don't know what you cold-climate people use to get around.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:49 AM on April 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


The rural development organisation I worked for briefly in west China, just on the eastern fringes of the Tibetan Plateau, was asked to help out with some projects in Sershul County, which has to be up there with remotest. A lot of our participatory appraisal techniques were based on meetings at village level to decide on development priorities democratically, but administrative villages in Sershul could be made up of "hamlets" (small nomad camps really, apparently) that were a day and half by horse just from the rest of the village.
posted by Abiezer at 3:04 AM on April 21, 2009


Tristan da Cunha may have 270 people and Antarctica may be crawling with research stations - but the definition being used here is based on distance from the nearest city of 50,000 or more. Perhaps you can get from the South Pole to, I don't know, Punta Arenas? in less than three weeks with the right vehicles; and I imagine you could get to Cape Town from Tristan da Cunha in less than three weeks with a suitable boat. It does seem a bit arbitrary in some respects, but I like the maps anyway. It was unexpected that railways correlate so well with overall national wealth (though perhaps it shouldn't have been).
posted by Phanx at 3:19 AM on April 21, 2009


I also liked the railroads map - especially that tiny little strip which begins and ends deep in the Amazon rain forest.

And now, just for fun, here are some live webcam feeds from a few Antarctican research bases:

Scott Base

Mawson Station

Macquarie Island Station

Davis Station

Casey Station

Their locations can be found here.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:28 AM on April 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


It was unexpected that railways correlate so well with overall national wealth (though perhaps it shouldn't have been).
This (or perhaps a corollary) was one of those points driven home to me in my time looking at rural development - to stereotype it a bit, grassroots development can seem to be all about encouraging organic yoghurt weaving, but what really gets the economy going in poor places is fuck-off gurt engineering of the socialist heroic era - the tunnel under Erlang Shan cut hours off the journey from Chengdu, the provincial capital, to Kangding (Dartsedo) and tourism subsequently boomed (coincided with a massive rise in private car ownership amongst urban middle class) with all the good and bad that brings. On one visit back to the region saw a three kilometre tail-back in the middle of nowhere out on the Tibetan Plateau created by all the May Day holiday traffic; one of those "the world is changing" moments.
posted by Abiezer at 3:34 AM on April 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


I thought the most remote place was that island in the Atlantic Ocean in between South Africa and South America. It's like a British Colony.
posted by Eugenek at 3:55 AM on April 21, 2009


Wikipedia has a great list of extreme points of earth and DRB did a nice photo essay on Tristan da Cunha.
posted by glider at 4:48 AM on April 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


(which I think may be what Eugenek is referring to).
posted by glider at 4:49 AM on April 21, 2009


That's a crazy map - it would be crazier if we could see a progression of how the 'dark' areas on the map shrunk over say, oh the last 1000 years or so.
posted by From Bklyn at 5:37 AM on April 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


I guess there's no chance of getting there with public transit.

Not now that the Sherpas have mostly migrated to Nepal.
posted by gman at 5:56 AM on April 21, 2009


Neat maps and a good post, but I have a gripe about a quote from the train map:

Railway networks in India, Argentina and parts of Africa give clues to their colonial heritage.

Argentina stopped being a colonial possession in 1810, when railroads hadn't even been invented, you ignoramus! (Viva el veinticinco de mayo!) To quote Railway Expansion in Latin America, by Frederic M. Halsey (J. H. Oliphant & co., 1916), pp. 10-11:
The first railway in operation in Argentine Republic, was a little six mile line extending from Buenos Ayres to a suburb known as Flores. This railway was chartered January, 1854, and opened to the public in 1857. Its owners, not being over supplied with funds, availed themselves of an opportunity to purchase a quantity of second-hand locomotives and cars which had been captured by the British during the siege of Sabastopol in the Crimea. This equipment had been built for an extremely broad gauge, viz: five feet six inches. The Argentine Company laid its tracks to accommodate these cars and to this day the five feet six inches gauge is in general use throughout central and eastern Argentina. ...

It was not until after the year 1880 that any amount of railway construction work was carried on throughout Argentine. That Republic, which to-day is as settled and well governed as practically any country in the world, was, during its early days, frequently torn by revolution and strife.
That last bit makes melancholy reading these days, but at that time Argentine was, as Halsey says, "the richest nation per capita in the world" (no thanks to its Spanish colonizers, who shipped its wealth right back to the mother country and gave it little in return). Sic transit!
posted by languagehat at 6:13 AM on April 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


The author of the article addresses why Antartica was not included in the comments: "[T]he maps were designed to measure the remoteness of certain areas in terms of how long it would take a person living there to travel to the nearest city. Since no one lives in Antarctica full-time it wasn't seen as relevant to this project."
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:54 AM on April 21, 2009


documentary about traveling to the most remote place remaining in the lower 48 states (hint: it is in Yellowstone) and a survey of the environmental impacts of roads.
posted by huckhound at 6:54 AM on April 21, 2009


Yeah, it's odd that they excluded Antarctica. It's got plenty of scientists but no large cities to speak of. If New Scientist's definition of "remote" is "time it takes to travel to a city of 50,000 or more", then surely the 65-day trek to the South Pole would qualify?

Eugenek: "I thought the most remote place was that island in the Atlantic Ocean in between South Africa and South America. It's like a British Colony."

They're remote in terms of distance, but by plane or ship they're not that far from major cities. The truly remote places are the rugged, difficult terrains that make travel expensive and slow.
posted by Rhaomi at 6:56 AM on April 21, 2009


"Maybe because Antarctica is crawling with research stations, apart from the one at the pole itself? Not sure how far apart the bases furthest apart from each other are, though, to be honest. I hadn't checked."

All the population of all the bases doesn't even come close to 50K though. Looks to me like they just didn't include Antarctica. Heck you essentially can't get to the south pole at all for months during the winter. Some Canadians flew a plane down there once to rescue some one during the dead of winter and I don't think it's been done since.
posted by Mitheral at 6:57 AM on April 21, 2009


(On non-preview: thanks, DevilsAdvocate)
posted by Rhaomi at 6:58 AM on April 21, 2009


Antartica's biggest research station houses 3,000 people. That is a huge research station.
posted by kbrower3 at 7:23 AM on April 21, 2009


I traveled through Tibet 4 years ago. I've lived in the northeast US my whole life and the hugeness of the landscape was just mind-boggling. We could drive for 16 hours straight - up a 5,000 meter peak and down again, past massive gorges and plains, winding around the sides of mountains on tiny dirt roads - and not see any other signs of human life. When we did see a nomad's tent, or another vehicle, or a single yak herder, it was a big deal, worth stopping and sharing some candy. Man oh man was it beautiful. Really the top of the world. It's hard to even describe what it was like to be there.
posted by Cygnet at 7:32 AM on April 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


Interesting, considering the Blood Falls. There's remote and then there's really remote.
posted by Saturn XXIII at 7:53 AM on April 21, 2009


The 2006 documentary Riding Solo to the Top of the World captures some of what Cygnet describes. Somewhat in a similar vein is Alone Across Australia.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:54 AM on April 21, 2009


Okay, I know what "spend a penny" means. Do I want to ask what "spend a question" is code for?

Frickin' Brits.
posted by Eideteker at 7:58 AM on April 21, 2009


Closer to home (my home anyway), Owl's Head in the White Mountains of New Hampshire may be the most remote place in the eastern U.S. It's not really remote, but it's rare to find a place in the region that can't be visited in a day via a walk from a car and back.
posted by exogenous at 8:02 AM on April 21, 2009


Am i the only person that read "remotest" and thought hey! ... shouldn't that be "most remote"?

Or is this the "moderner" way of doing it....
posted by 5imian at 8:04 AM on April 21, 2009


I would figure someplace like Christmas Island or one of the nearby relatives, where you are about as far from a mainland in any direction as it is possible to get.
posted by quin at 8:22 AM on April 21, 2009


What about Greenland? There are bits of Greenland that are exceedingly hard to get to. Tibetan Plateau, you're a pussy-ass mall rat next to the ice cap!
posted by Mister_A at 8:31 AM on April 21, 2009


Some of the early explorers would have sold their soul to the devil to see some of those vistas, yet what do we do... we pull windowshades down, open some crackers, and watch Paul Blart: Mall Cop.

Some of the plane travellers meet at the back of the plane to stand near the exit door window, striking up conversations with each about whether it's Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan below us, and whether those ruins are ancient forts and towns or the relics of more recent soviet activity. In another age we would be staring across the vast horizons from the back of a horse or camel, quietly rejoicing in the fact that civilisation was now so far behind us, we were finally free.




Also, where's the least remote place?
posted by Sova at 8:48 AM on April 21, 2009


I guess if you're willing to parachute in, you can get to most places pretty quickly. Rugged terrain or trees could pose some difficulty though.
posted by exogenous at 8:55 AM on April 21, 2009


More remote then the south pole?

Now I know where to put the space-based solar power generator.

I'd put mine in space.
posted by delmoi at 9:05 AM on April 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


That's a good point. I suppose that in order to rule out the convenience of air dropping, the most remote place on earth is probably the core.

It's the furthest place on earth from any of us, and no one has ever visited it.

Probably because the travelogues make it sound really hot, stressful, and depressing.
posted by quin at 9:09 AM on April 21, 2009


In Tibet, at least around the edges in the mountains, it takes an incredibly long time to travel relatively short distances, because you're traveling vertically as well as horizontally, over all those mountains, through dozens of switchbacks. Plus, you can't "take the short cut" - 99% of the time there's only one road between point A and point B. Plus, the roads are pretty universally one-lane dirt roads in terrible disrepair. The roads and bridges are often washed out by mudslides in the spring, and it's hard to find anybody who's both willing and capable to fix them. There are distances that could have easily been covered in 2 or 3 hours in the US, even on smaller roads, that take 12 hours or so in Tibet. And of course, that's in a jeep. If you don't have a sturdy car (and most people living in Tibet don't), you're going to have to either bicycle or walk over the foothills of the Himalayas to get anywhere. (People do this remarkably often, and with astounding success, but it still takes a long time!)
posted by Cygnet at 9:34 AM on April 21, 2009


Probably because the travelogues make it sound really hot, stressful, and depressing.

Meh, can't be any worse than DC in August. if you can't stand the heat stay out of the mantle I always say.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:44 AM on April 21, 2009


Am i the only person that read "remotest" and thought hey! ... shouldn't that be "most remote"?

You thought wrong..
posted by languagehat at 10:26 AM on April 21, 2009


I don't guess it qualifies as having "been there," but a couple of summers ago I took the (then new) train from Beijing to Lhasa. Now, I've done some traveling, and been about as remote as you can get in the Rockies, but I'm forced to use the cliche of it's being like another planet.

The scale of everything is completely mind-boggling. For two and a half days all I did was stare out the window and drink Budweiser and yeast liquor (all they had on the train, strangely... no Pabst at least?). The strangest part was when there was somebody on foot in the truest sense of the middle of nowhere. There would be nothing but snow and rocks as far as the eye could see... days' travel, even if there was a village or yert on the other side of that mountain 40 miles away. Where were they going? Where had the come from? How?
posted by cmoj at 10:45 AM on April 21, 2009


I think that this may qualify. Or this. What?
posted by bz at 11:38 AM on April 21, 2009


How's your ivory tower, Tibetan Fox?
posted by LordSludge at 11:41 AM on April 21, 2009


Am i the only person that read "remotest" and thought hey! ... shouldn't that be "most remote"?

You thought wrong..


At the very least they are both correct. Same basic article, "most remote" used.

Remotest just sounded strange to me. On closer examination, I don't really care all that much.
posted by 5imian at 11:46 AM on April 21, 2009


That's the Plateau of Leng, right there.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 12:02 PM on April 21, 2009


You mean the hideous Plateau of Leng? Whereupon danced nameless shapes to the shrill piping of a thousand flutes in the æons before man ever trod upon the earth? Where foul rites described in the eerie and maddening text of the Pnakotic manuscripts were carried out by the King in Yellow and its soul-stealing minions? Or the other one?
posted by Mister_A at 12:35 PM on April 21, 2009


Searching for Shangri-La: Two visions of the future compete for the soul of China’s western frontier. "A decade ago this was an obscure, one-horse village on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau. Today, after an extreme makeover, it's one of the hottest tourist towns in China, gateway city to the Three Parallel Rivers World Heritage site in northwestern Yunnan Province."
posted by homunculus at 1:36 PM on April 21, 2009


Seems like Greenland is more remote according to the map they provide.
posted by Rashomon at 1:54 PM on April 21, 2009


The key thing here, as they say, is land or water travel only. Helicopters make this definition very different (I'd imagine you could land a helicopter on the Tibetan Plateau, for example).
posted by wildcrdj at 5:44 PM on April 21, 2009


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