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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Asia's Top 10 Must Visit places....!

asia's best place

The Forbidden City - China

The magnificent Forbidden City, so named because it was off-limits to commoners for 500 years, was the imperial court for twenty-four emperors from the early days of the Ming dynasty in the 15th century until the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911. It is the largest, most complete, and best-preserved cluster of ancient buildings in China, representing the work of battalions of laborers. Fires and lootings over the years have left a largely post-18th-century shell that mimics its original layout, and much of its storied wealth and opulent furnishings are long gone. Nonetheless, this vast complex of halls, pavilions, courtyards, and walls is a masterwork of architectural balance, monumental but never oppressive. A self-guiding tape narrated by Roger Moore helps bring it alive, with tales of eunuchs, concubines, ministers, priests, court intrigues, and terrific excesses. Occupying more than 183 acres, the expansive complex earns the title of "city." It was not unusual for emperors and servants alike never to venture beyond the moat-surrounded 35-foot walls and formidable gates - ever. That they believed themselves to be at the cosmic center of the universe is a fantasy visitors can readily appreciate today.

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Lhasa - Tibet

Lhasa, which in Tibetan means “the Holy City” or “Place of the Gods,” is the vortex of Tibetan spirituality, a city that mystifies and intoxicates, despite the present-day Chinese presence. The vast hilltop Potala, the empty thirteen-story fortress that was once the winter palace and seat of the god-king, the Dalai Lama, is the most recognizable of the city's landmarks. Its white-and-red walls and golden roofs rise above the holy city, seeming to grow out of the hill on which it has stood since the 17th century. It is now a museum, an empty shell of its former self, its central figure and his government having taken its life with them when they fled to India in 1959 following the Chinese occupation. And yet, as 20th-century Chinese-born novelist Han Suyin wrote, “No one can remain unmoved by the sheer power and beauty of the structure, with its thousand windows like a thousand eyes.” The Dalai Lamas, each of whom is believed to be the reincarnation of Avalokiteshvara, the Buddhist embodiment of compassion, ruled Tibet as spiritual and temporal overlords from 1644; the current Dalai Lama, the fourteenth reincarnation, was just sixteen when Tibet was occupied by China. His private apartments have been left untouched, and surprisingly the building, said to have as many as 1,000 rooms, has been left undamaged by the Chinese; in fact, they are restoring it—reportedly for the purpose of luring tourism.

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The Li River - China

Reputed to possess the most beautiful mountains and rivers under heaven, Guangxi Province has been eulogized for thirteen centuries by painters and writers who tried to capture its unearthly karst formations on paper. A cruise down the Li River is like entering a classic Chinese scroll painting of mist, mountains, and rivers. From Guilin, the jade-green Li wends its way through spectacular, almost surreal scenery of humpbacked and eroded shapes with whimsical names like Bat Hill, Five Tigers Catch a Goat, and Painting Brush Peak. The timeless riverside landscape seems oblivious to the constant stream of tour boats that ply single-file past picturesque villages where young boys bathe the family water buffalo, women wash their clothes, and farmers plow the rice fields. Some fishermen on skinny bamboo rafts still employ cormorants that are trained to dive and trap fish in their beaks. A ring placed around their necks stops them from swallowing the catch.

The small town of Yangshuo is the southern terminus of the cruises, and though it may not be the “real China”—cybercafés, B&Bs, and cafés offering “American Brunch” have sprung up to cater to foreign tourists—prices are cheap, the locals are friendly, and everyone speaks English. A bike ride through the surrounding green plains and the forest-covered limestone peaks allows you to see some of China's most remarkable scenery.

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Cherry Blossom Viewing - Japan

Every year after the bleak winter skies disappear, tens of millions of Japanese flock to the parks and temple gardens in pursuit of hanami, or cherry blossom viewing. When a gentle breeze carries snowflake-size pink-and-white petals fluttering to the ground on a spring day, it is easy to understand how the Japanese passion for these ephemeral blossoms is an almost spiritual thing. In Tokyo, city-dwelling office workers make do with nighttime hanami, sake-drinking parties in the large Ueno Park or along the moat encircling the Imperial Palace. But purists and hanami connoisseurs who aim to get as much as possible out of the one- to two-week-long season head for Yoshino Mountain in the Yoshino-Kumano National Park, not far from Nara and Kyoto, Japan's first capital cities. The mountain is virtually covered with tens of thousands of centuries- old white mountain cherry trees divided into groves (called Hitome-Sembon, or One Thousand Trees at a Glance) that, according to their altitude, bloom at different times, usually beginning in early April. Marked pathways, scattered temples, a predominantly Japanese blossom-viewing crowd, and the shops and teahouses in the pleasant town of Yoshino promise an unforgettable experience.

WHEN: usually in Apr, with lowest grove blossoming in early Apr.

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Chomolhari Trek and the Tiger`s Nest - Bhutan

The last independent Buddhist mountain kingdom in the Himalayas, Bhutan (Druk Yul, the Land of the Thunder Dragon) is one of the most remote and tantalizing corners of Asia. Seventy percent of its 18,000 square miles is forested, and the nation treats nature with admirable respect—its king is young and environmentally sensitive, and many of the country's higher regions remain nearly free of the footprints of man, untouched examples of the fast-disappearing Himalayan environment.

The nine-day trek to Chomolhari, Bhutan's sacred and highest mountain, at the border with Tibet, offers outsiders a rare opportunity to experience its unspoiled mountain wilderness and varied terrain, not to mention its almost complete lack of other trekkers (Bhutan heavily restricts tourism). Climbing beside terraced farms and verdant rice paddies, through meadows and low forests, travelers venture beyond the tree line into a world of glaciers and rock, where the legendary snow leopard prowls. Campsites are set up in high alpine pastures where yak herders bring their shaggy animals to graze by pristine mountain lakes.

Clinging to a sheer mountain ledge about 3,000 feet above the terraced Paro Valley, Taktsang, the Tiger's Nest, is a destination of treks long and short, and of reverent Buddhist pilgrims.


The Taj Mahal - India

Nothing can adequately prepare the visitor for his or her first glimpse of the Taj Mahal. It may be a visual cliché, the Niagara Falls of architecture, but it's also the embodiment of grace and romance, of balance and symmetry, an architectural icon revered for three and a half centuries as the most beautiful building in the world. The great Moghul emperor Shah Jahan built the white marble Taj as a tomb to honor his beloved queen, Mumtaz Mahal, who died while giving birth to their fourteenth child in nineteen years. One of their progeny would eventually dispose of the emperor, imprisoning him in the nearby Agra Fort. From his chambers he could gaze across at the Taj Mahal, mourning the loss of his wife and his empire. Perhaps the best time to visit is at night during the full moon when the Taj Mahal is now open or on Fridays, when admission is free and local families illuminate the grounds with the flowerlike colors of their saris and turbans.

Thanks to the opening of the Amarvilas (Sanskrit for “eternal haven”), there's finally another reason to linger overnight in this otherwise unlovely city. The classic terraced gardens, bubbling fountains, marble pool, elegant tea lounge, excellent Mughlai and Indian restaurant, and Ayurvedic spa-with-a-Taj-view would make a fitting 21st-century home for any Moghul emperor.

Hagia Sophia - Turkey

The massive dome and four elegant minarets of the Hagia Sophia (Church of Holy Wisdom) rise above the chaos and hubbub of downtown Istanbul, for more than a millennium forming the most impressive silhouette on Asia’s skyline. But step out of the relentless sun and find its essence in the haunting beauty of its dimly lit interior, one of the largest enclosed spaces in the world. The Byzantine capital of Constantinople was fast approaching its zenith as religious, commercial, and artistic center of the Roman Empire when, in the 6th century A.D., Justinian began work on this site on the Bosporus, which over time rose to become the greatest church in all of ancient Byzantium, symbolizing the power and wealth of its emperors. Sadly, much of the church’s original gold and marble, and its 4 acres of intricate mosaics, were plundered during the Crusades in 1204 and carried off as booty. In 1453 Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks, and the church was converted to a mosque. In 1934 it was stripped of all religious significance and function, but it will always be a spiritual oasis, remaining as the single finest structure to have survived late antiquity.

Cappadocia - Turkey

A trip to the steppes of Central Anatolia is the next best thing to intergalactic travel, at a fraction of the cost and inconvenience. Centuries of wind and water have sculpted a surrealistic landscape from the soft volcanic terrain: minarets, cones, spires, “fairy chimneys,” and rocky pinnacles in shades of pinks and russet-brown soar as high as five-story buildings and cover an area of about 50 square miles. Ancient inhabitants of Cappadocia hollowed out the tufa cones and cliffs to create troglodyte-style cave dwellings that are still lived in today. A major trade route between East and West, Cappadocia was home to a dozen different civilizations. The early Christians arrived in the 4th century, sculpting from the rock domed churches, complete with vaulted ceilings, columns, and pews. The open-air museum is the site of an ancient monastic colony, once said to have had more than 400 churches, hermitages, and small monasteries. Today fifteen are open to the public. Some of the simple frescoes date back to the 8th century, but it’s the rich Byzantine frescoes of the 10th and 13th centuries that are the most astonishing.

Modern-day troglodytes must head for the utterly unique and charming Yunak Evleri hotel, a romantic web of tastefully restored connecting caves dating back as far as the 5th century.


Angkor Wat - Cambodia

Angkor, spread out over an area of about 40 miles in northwestern Cambodia, was the capital of the Khmer Empire from A.D. 800 to approximately 1200, and was abandoned in 1431, following the conquest of the Khmer kingdom. After decades of war and strife, its temples and monuments are once more open to travelers, and are among the world’s premier architectural sites. The city’s highlight, Angkor Wat, is a temple complex built at the beginning of the 12th century by King Suryavarman II. It took 25,000 workers over thirty-seven years to complete the construction, but after the fall of the empire, the complex remained unknown to the outside world until 1860, when French botanist Henri Mahout stumbled upon it deep in the jungle. Constructed in the form of a central tower surrounded by four smaller towers, it was dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, and is embellished throughout with exquisite statues, carvings, and bas-reliefs depicting scenes from Hindu mythology.

Though considered a less-stellar attraction, the nearby fortified city of Angkor Thom boasts at its heart the Bayon, the last great temple built at Angkor. The Bayon is surrounded by fifty-four small towers that are now, like all of this magnificent religious complex, entangled in the dense growth of the implacable Cambodian jungle.

The Road to Mandalay River Cruise - Myanmar

Mandalay—one of the most evocative names on the globe. Kipling immortalized it (though he never visited) and Sinatra sang the tune. The capital of Burma (now Myanmar) prior to British rule (which lasted from the mid-19th century until 1948), and known as the Golden City, Mandalay was built in the 19th century by the last of the royal leaders and is still redolent of its royal past as the heartland of Burmese culture and religion. Its huge market is a thriving phantasmagoria of earthy smells and a polyglot mixture of cultures.

Mandalay is the starting point for a cruise down the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River, the country’s great natural highway and the focal point of Burmese life. The urban centers of its 2,500-year-old civilization line the banks, including the city of Bagan (formerly Pagan), where, along 8 miles of riverbank, some 2,200 Buddhist pagodas nestle so close together that they resemble a forest of spires and pinnacles. Founded by a Burmese king in A.D. 849, Bagan reached its apogee about 1000 and was abandoned in 1283 when Kublai Khan, in control of northern India, swept south with his soldiers. It was believed that building religious structures gained merit for a king and his people, so an army of skilled artisans embellished this spiritual center with what may originally have been more than 10,000 religious monuments.  


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