The South Asia region has so much to offer - so much that it’s hard to narrow the list of top highlights. You could spend a lifetime exploring the natural and man-made wonders of India, Nepal, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka. My advice is to pick some essential highlights for your first visit and save the rest for trips two, three and four…So, here is my top 10 highlights to hit in South Asia.
1. Taj Mahal, India
Rabindranath Tagore described the Taj Mahal as: "A teardrop on the cheek of time."
Located in Agra, India, the iconic Taj Mahal is one of the most beautiful architectures ever created in the world (at least in my eyes). It was built for love - the Mogul Emperor Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal as a tribute to his favorite wife Mumtaz, who died of childbirth in 1631.
From afar, the white marble structure looks elegant and exquisite while the intricate carvings and glittering inlaid stones create an enchanting interior. The main mausoleum is franked by two red sandstone buildings on either side.
The white marble structure changes its color and tone to match the mood of the world, so it’s worth lingering there to gaze at the building at different time of the day. However, the best time to visit Taj Mahal is at sunrise when it is like a blooming flower when the twilight gilds it with pink color.
2. Amber Fort, India
Situated on a hilltop around 20 minutes from the Pink City of Jaipur, the Amber Fort was constructed at the beginning in the 15th century. The buildings show a magnificent blend of Hindu and Mughal architecture and are made out of red sandstones and white marbles. The compound consists of courtyards, palaces, halls, and gardens. The most beautiful building is the Sheesh Mahal, which has intricate carvings and glittering mirrors on walls.
Tourists can take a Jeep to get to the fort, and the scenery on the way will bring you a great experience.
3. Chitawan National Park, Nepal
A World Heritage Site, the Chitwan National Park is one of the best wildlife spotting parks in Asia. The whole park consisting of forests, marshland and grassland is home to a huge population of wildlife. You will have a chance to spot wildlife such as the rare one-horned rhinoceros, sloth bears, monkeys, crocodiles, the elusive Royal Bengal tiger, and some of the 450 species of birds inhabit the park.
Tourists can explore the stunning landscapes and do a wildlife safari in a Jeep. Don’t miss the sunset view over the Narayani-Rapti River -just gorgeous.
4. Pashupatinath Temple, Nepal
The Pashupatinath Temple, situated on the banks of the Bagmati River, is Nepal's most important Hindu temple. This UNESCO World Heritage site draws Hindu pilgrims from all around the world every year. A walk around the complex gives you a great feel for Hinduism in Nepal.
Most westerns come here for a chance to witness the open air cremation ceremonies. It might seem a bit macabre to watch people cremate their family members, but watching such a cremation ceremony is a spiritual and cultural experience that may change your way of thinking. A ritual cremation ceremony is a long process, beginning with the cleansing, dressing and adorning of the body. The dead body is then placed on a bamboo litter and burnt with fire. Finally, the ashes are collected and swept into the river which will join the Holy Ganges eventually. Death, a terrible thing for us, is viewed as a natural aspect by the Hindus.
5. Tiger’s Nest (Taktsang Monastery), Bhutan
Perched on cliffs around 3,000 meters above sea level, Bhutan's Taktsang monastery, also known as the Tiger's Nest, is one of the most breathtaking temples in the world. Colorful prayer flags can be seen fluttering in the winds.
The main temple complex was built in 1692 around a cave where Guru Padmasambhava is said to have meditated for 3 years, 3 months, 3 weeks, 3 days, and 3 hours. It is one of the holiest places for the Bhutanese people.
Visitors need to trek for some 2-2.5 hours) to reach the temple and another 2 hours or so to come back down.
6. Punakha Dzong, Bhutan
Constructed by Zhabdrung (Shabdrung) Ngawang Namgyal in 1637–1638, the Punakha Dzong is the second oldest and second largest dzong in Bhutan and one of its most majestic structures. It was once the seat of Bhutan's government until Thimphu was established as the new capital in 1955.
The Punakha Dzong is set against maintains and located at the confluence of the Pho Chhu (father) and Mo Chhu (mother) rivers in the Punakha-Wangdue valley. The picturesque setting makes it the prettiest dzong in Bhutan. It is especially beautiful when the Jacaranda purple flowers are in full bloom in April.
7. Sigiriya (Lion’s Rock), Sri Lanka
The Sigiriya is an archaeological site which contains the ruins of an ancient palace complex and exquisite murals. It was built on the summit of the 200-meter-high Lon’s Rock, in the 5th century A.D. by King Kasyapa. For over centuries, the Lion’s Rock has been untouched by footprint until in the mid 19th century it was discovered by a British explorer and brought to the world’s attention.
8. Sri Lanka by Coastal Rail Line
The train trip from Galle to Colombo along Sri Lanka’s southwestern coastline is considered one of the most scenic train journeys in the world.
The doors are open; people can stretch out head to enjoy the breeze from the endless Indian Ocean. The rail is very close to the coastline, in some places the distance is only one or two meters. Looking out of the window makes you feel like you're on the ocean.
9. Kerala Backwater, India
The palm-fringed backwater of Kerala in South India is a labyrinth of interconnected canals, rivers, lakes and inlets. Villages, temples and churches are built along the banks and the area is also a haven for wildlife with wading birds, kingfishers and fish eagles. A houseboat cruise is the best way to experience the tranquility and beauty of Kerala and get a glimpse of rural life along the backwaters.
10. Goa beaches, India
Goa boasts some of the finest beaches in the world. Palm-tree groves, white sand beachesand gently lapping waves create a tropical paradise you would dream of. Goa’s beaches vary in character dramatically from north and south. The beaches in North Goa are more developed and are home to backpackers, parties and package tourists, while those in the South Goa are more picturesque and great for paddling and picnicking.
Start planning your trip with our elaborately designed South Asia tours. And we can tailor-make to mix all your favorite highlights with some hidden gems.
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