Southern Asia extends southwards from the Himalaya Mountains and includes Sri Lanka and the Maldives, both of which are renowned for their beautiful tropical beaches and pristine coral reefs.
Throughout the mountains and valleys ancient Buddhist, Taoist and Hindu temples share space with splendid Mosques, standing testament to this area of great religious diversity. Sadly, in some parts countries have been torn apart by religious conflicts and civil war, areas such as Pakistan and Afghanistan remain in a state of turbulence.
The countries and landscapes of Southern Asia are varied and interesting, running the gambit from the chaotic streets of Delhi and Mumbai, to the ruins of ancient temples in Iran, the spectacular natural beauty of Bangladesh, and the highest place on earth in Nepal.
Countries in Southern Asia
Landlocked Afghanistan is in South Central Asia. Over the last thirty years it has been largely inaccessible to travelers due to ongoing internal strife, and most governments advise against travel to this country. It is important that travelers to Afghanistan do their research before embarking on the journey.
Join the hustle and bustle of the street markets in Kabul or enjoy the Babur’s Gardens laid out in the sixteenth century and recently restored. It is the biggest park in Kabul.
Mazrat is safer than Kabul and here you can visit The Blue Mosque, beautiful and mysterious, its lovely bright blue domes and splendid walls intricately patterned with mosaic tiles is a sight to behold. The Citadel in Herat stands on the foundations of a fort built by Alexander the Great in 330BC. The Friday mosque in Herat is considered Afghanistan’s finest and one of the best in Central Asia.
In the Bamyan Valley thirty-eight and fifty meter crevices carved into the cliff walls in the sixth century once held the tallest standing statues of Buddha. The surrounding cliffs are full of caves carved out by Buddhist monks.
Bangladesh has a history that goes back to 1000 BC, and with one of the densest populations on earth the country is both hectic and laid back. Dakha, the capital, is home to more than ten million people, and it is a noisy and frenetic and the traffic is chaotic.
Move into the countryside and the pace of life slows down. Boasting more than seven hundred rivers, Bangladesh is draped in lush and verdant greenery. The valleys and hills surrounding the waterways are hung with lush tea plantations.
One of the world’s natural wonders, the biggest mangrove forest on earth is in Bangladesh. A unique eco-system, the forest is home to a range of wild life such as Bengal tigers, dolphins, birds and reptiles.
Possibly the longest beach on earth Cox’s Bazar lies on the Bay of Bengal. The sandy beach is dotted with wooden fishing boats and jetties, the warm water is great for surfing, fishing or swimming.
Between India and Tibet, high up in the Himalayan Mountains, the country of Bhutan. Over seventy percent of the country is forested. Lovely monasteries and ancient dzongs, with their flared roofs and pretty frescos dot the mountainsides.
Surrounded by the snowy peaks of the Himalayas the beautiful architecture seems at one with nature. In Paro, visit the oldest Dzong in Bhutan. Buddha is believed to have meditated on the rock where it is built.
Climb up to the beautiful Taktsang monastery. It is perched precariously on a granite mountainside overlooking a drop of nearly eight hundred meters.
By decree, in Bhutan, all buildings must honor the traditional design, and the result is pretty towns with buildings made of stone and carved wooden windows. The capital city of Thimphu, the only capital on earth without streetlights. It has many charming shops and bustling bazaars to tempt the visitor.
Unless you’re from India, you can only enter this peaceful and majestic land on an official Bhutan tour. The government of Bhutan is committed to making sure that the number of tourists will not impact the balanced nature and life of locals by limiting visa issuance and putting some of the income from tourism to maintenance and sustainability of the country’s infrastructure.
India is one of the world’s oldest civilizations, and one of its most diverse. This is a country home to every major religion on earth. The diversity of culture, language, dress and landscape is astonishing.
India’s landscape includes the towering Himalayan Mountains, and the beautiful beach towns and villages of the east coast where colonial architecture hales back to the now departed Portuguese, Dutch and British settlers. The oldest inhabited city in the world and seething, noisy, metropolitan cities share the land in India.
With a population of 1.3 billion, the cities teem with people, cars, rickshaws, scooters and animals.
Against this backdrop India is full of ancient wonders that include cliff top fortresses, exquisite palaces, temples and shrines. The national parks house wildlife such as tigers and elephant, and the forests and mountain slopes are a hikers’ paradise.
Iran, formerly Persia is a stark and arid land, with an ancient past. Teheran, the capital is a typical metropolis with shops and commercial centers like any other.
The lovely Alborz Mountains overlook the city, and are popular for both skiing and hiking. The city of Esfahan is endowed with a number of splendid palaces and stunningly beautiful mosques. It also includes a Cathedral and the ancient Fire Temple of Esfahan.
Visit the ancient marble ruins of Persopolis built around 550BC. It is close to the beautiful city of Shiraz, home to the Karim Khan Citadel, with its magnificently decorated walls.
Visit Kandohan where houses dating back seven hundred years have been carved into the hillside. In Abayaneh, stone houses blend in with the hills on which they are built. The brick roads are lined by simple homes with lovely old wooden balconies.
The Maldives, a world-class diving destination in the Indian Ocean, has more than one thousand one hundred coral islands. The sandy islands are each enveloped by a ring of coral. These coral reefs are some of the most diverse and colorful in the world and are full of tropical fish dressed in vibrant colors.
Further out to sea, sharks, turtles and Manta Rays abound. Enjoy diving, swimming, boating, fishing or indulging in spa treatments under the palms.
The Maldives is a beach lover’s delight. Palm trees ring the white, powder fine, sandy beaches, and the warm, tropical water is crystal clear. Beach resorts that cater to individual needs occupy each of one hundred islands. Tourists are ferried amongst the islands by water plane or by boat.
Male, the capital of the Maldives, is full of interesting mosques, museums and bazaars.
Situated between Tibet and India, Nepal is best known for hikes and climbs up the Himalayan Mountains to the world’s highest peak Mount Everest, but it is also great for paragliding and is one of the most popular rafting destinations in the world.
The landscape of Nepal is beautiful and varied. It includes sub tropical forests and mountain top glaciers. The Chitwan National Park boasts rhino and Bengal tigers amongst the resident wildlife, and is one of the best parks for viewing game in Asia.
The forested and mountainous countryside has beautiful tranquil lakes lined with colorful canoes. Waterfalls and crashing glacial white river waters make this land a rafter’s delight.
The people of Nepal come from various ethnic and religious groups, speaking a number of languages. There are colorful ancient Hindu and Buddhist shrines and monasteries all over Nepal, the birthplace of Lord Buddha. Palaces, Krishna temples and quaint medieval villages adorn the mountains.
Despite its chequered and strife torn history Pakistan remains a beautiful country full of beautiful places, from lush forested areas to snow-capped mountain peaks, impressive glaciers and deep river gorges. Pakistan has five mountain peaks that are more the eight thousand meters high.
The countryside is full of beautiful lakes surrounded by mountains and green fields. Concordia, with four peaks higher than eight thousand meters, includes K2 the second highest mountain peak on earth. This spectacular ring of mountains is known as the “throne room of the gods”. Pakistan is home to many ancient Buddhist, Sikh and Hindu shrines, ancient fortresses and mosques.
Dating back to the fifth century BC, Taxila in North West Pakistan is one of the most important archaeological sites on earth. Although only five percent of the ruins have been excavated, already amongst the excavated ruins is a Buddhist temple and Persian roads.
Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, is a tropical island paradise, with a cultural heritage that goes back almost three thousand years. It is not surprising then that Sri Lanka is home to some of the world’s oldest and most magnificent palaces, temples and shrines.
Sri Lanka formed part of the Silk Road Maritime Route and today the architecture reflects the Portuguese, Dutch and British influence of that time.
Sri Lanka, as small as it is, has the highest biodiversity ratio in Asia, and the national parks are havens for elephant, water buffalo, sloth and leopard. The countryside has over one hundred rivers as well as waterfalls, rain forests and tea plantations.
Brightly colored fishing boats bob in the warm Indian Ocean, whilst palm lined, white, sandy beaches are an invitation to partake in the many water sports available, including a dive amongst the surrounding coral reefs and estuarine sea grass.
Sri Lanka is a relatively inexpensive destination and the small size means that you can get to most of the best sights.