South Asia Travel Guide
From the dizzying heights of the Himalayas to the pristine beaches of the Maldives, South Asia is a symphony of cultures, histories, and landscapes. It is where ancient traditions come alive amidst bustling bazaars and where nature and spirituality entwine.
Discover a world where every corner has a story, and every moment is steeped in timeless traditions.
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Quick Facts About South Asia
- 7 countries form the colorful mosaic of South Asia, such as India, Bhutan and Nepal.
- India, with its diverse states, languages, and landscapes, is the largest country in South Asia both in terms of land area and population.
- The Maldives, an archipelago of 26 atolls, is the smallest, both in area and population.
- Key geographic facts:
- Majestic Mountain Range: The Himalayas stretch across five of the South Asian countries, housing the world’s tallest peak, Mount Everest, in Nepal.
- Teardrop of the Indian Ocean: Sri Lanka, often referred to as the “pearl” or “teardrop of the Indian Ocean,” is a lush island with a rich history.
- Lowest Country on Earth: The Maldives has an average ground level of 1.5 meters above sea level, making it the world’s lowest country.
- Sundarbans Mangroves: Shared by Bangladesh and India, the Sundarbans is the largest mangrove forest in the world.
- The Indus Valley: Pakistan is home to the ancient Indus Valley Civilization, with ruins and cities that date back over 5,000 years.
- South Asia is a linguistic melting pot with hundreds of languages.
- Hindi and Bengali are predominant in India and Bangladesh, while Urdu is widely spoken in Pakistan.
- Sri Lanka primarily speaks Sinhalese and Tamil, while Dhivehi is the language of the Maldives.
- Bhutanese cherish their Dzongkha, and Nepali is the lingua franca of Nepal.
- South Asia is the birthplace of major religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism.
- While Hinduism dominates in India and Nepal, Islam is the major religion in Bangladesh, Pakistan, and the Maldives.
- Bhutan is known for its Vajrayana Buddhism, and Sri Lanka predominantly follows Theravada Buddhism.
South Asia, A Region of Many Records
World’s Highest Mountain: Mount Everest in Nepal stands tall at 8,848 meters, making it the pinnacle of Earth’s peaks.
World’s First University: Established in the 5th century BCE, the ancient university at Taxila, Pakistan, is considered among the earliest centers of higher education.
World’s Largest Delta: The Sundarbans, spread between Bangladesh and India, forms the largest river delta on the planet.
World’s Largest Gathering of People: The Kumbh Mela in India, a major Hindu pilgrimage, sees the largest gathering of human beings for a single event.
Birthplace of Four Major Religions: South Asia is the cradle of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism.
One of the Oldest Living Cities: Varanasi in India is considered among the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities with a history spanning over 3,000 years.
World’s Eighth Wonder: The ancient city of Sigiriya in Sri Lanka is often referred to as the Eighth Wonder of the World due to its palatial ruins and rock fortress.
Highest Cricket Ground: Chail in India holds the record for the world’s highest cricket ground, nestled at an altitude of 2,444 meters.
10 Handpicked South Asia Highlights
10 fantastic places and experiences in South Asia, in no particular order.
- Taj Mahal, India: This iconic white-marble mausoleum in Agra stands as a symbol of eternal love. Commissioned by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan for his cherished wife, its ethereal beauty and intricate designs captivate visitors from all corners of the globe.
- Annapurna Circuit, Nepal: Experience the Himalayan grandeur as you trek the Annapurna Circuit. This celebrated trail provides a glimpse of diverse landscapes, from lush subtropical forests to alpine heights, culminating in the Thorong La Pass.
- The Ruins of Mohenjo-daro, Pakistan: Delve into the mysteries of the past at the archaeological site of Mohenjo-daro, a primary settlement of the Indus Valley Civilization. It boasts advanced urban planning and architectural marvels that echo the brilliance of an ancient society.
- Sri Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic), Sri Lanka: Nestled in Kandy, this illustrious temple is home to Buddha’s revered tooth relic. The temple’s annual Esala Perahera festival celebrates the relic with exuberant performances, music, and adorned elephants.
- Sundarbans Mangrove Forest, Bangladesh: Navigate the intricate waterways of the world’s largest mangrove forest. As the dwelling of the Royal Bengal Tiger, this UNESCO World Heritage Site exhibits nature’s wondrous interplay of river and sea.
- Tiger’s Nest Monastery Hike, Bhutan: A hike to the cliff-hanging Paro Taktsang, or Tiger’s Nest Monastery, offers spiritual solace coupled with sweeping views of the valley below. The legend of Guru Rinpoche’s journey here on a tigress’ back adds mystique to the trek.
- Rann of Kutch, India: Marvel at the vast white salt desert of the Rann of Kutch, especially under a moonlit sky. The annual Rann Utsav festively highlights the region’s culture, handicrafts, and traditions in this otherworldly setting.
- Tiger Reserves of India: Embark on a thrilling safari across renowned tiger reserves such as Bandhavgarh, Ranthambore, and Sundarbans. Witness the majestic Bengal tiger in its natural habitat, and discover the rich biodiversity these reserves protect.
- Maldivian Coral Islands: Dive deep into the cerulean waters of the Maldives, exploring its lively coral reefs brimming with marine wonders. The secluded resorts on each island offer paradisiacal retreats for relaxation and adventure.
- Lumbini, Nepal: Journey to Lumbini, the sacred birthplace of Siddhartha Gautama, later known as Buddha. The tranquil gardens, monasteries, and the revered Bodhi tree provide an oasis of peace and meditation.
When to Go to South Asia
- South Asia’s vast landscape encompasses a plethora of climates, from the icy peaks of the Himalayas to the tropical beaches of Sri Lanka.
- Generally, the best time to visit the majority of South Asia is during the cooler months, from October to March, when temperatures are pleasant, and skies are clearer.
- The monsoon season, spanning from June to September, blesses the region with abundant rainfall, making landscapes lush but also posing challenges with flooding and transportation disruptions in some areas.
- Mountainous regions, particularly the higher reaches of the Himalayas, are best visited during the summer months to avoid harsh winter conditions.
Traveling to South Asia
While South Asia offers an enriching experience, travelers should be aware of safety concerns. Countries like Pakistan have regions that are advised against traveling due to an unsatisfying safety situation. Make sure to read the official advisory from your government before going.
- Always check the latest travel advisories for your destination.
- Avoid traveling after dark, especially in unfamiliar areas.
- Respect local customs and dress modestly.
- Ensure you have travel insurance.
- Stay vigilant in crowded places to avoid pickpocketing.
- Avoid discussing sensitive topics like religion and politics.
- Keep your belongings secure and always have copies of your important documents.
- Consume bottled water and avoid street food if unsure of its hygiene.
- Always inform someone of your whereabouts when traveling.
- Use reputable travel agencies for tours and excursions.
Getting There and Around
- Major international airports like Indira Gandhi International Airport (Delhi), Bandaranaike International Airport (Colombo), and Tribhuvan International Airport (Kathmandu) serve as primary gateways to the region.
- Prominent airlines include Air India, Pakistan International Airlines, Biman Bangladesh Airlines, and SriLankan Airlines.
- Extensive train networks, especially in India with the Indian Railways, offer an authentic way to explore vast landscapes.
- Local buses and auto-rickshaws are common modes of transportation, while in places like the Maldives, ferries and speedboats are essential.
- Remember that road conditions can vary, and traffic in urban areas might be chaotic. Always factor in additional time for journeys.
South Asia’s accommodation range is vast, from luxurious palace hotels and beachfront resorts to budget hostels and traditional homestays.
India’s Rajasthan boasts heritage properties turned into opulent stays, while the Maldives offers overwater bungalows with breathtaking ocean views.
Budget travelers will find a plethora of hostels, especially in backpacker hubs like Goa or Kathmandu. Guesthouses and Bed & Breakfasts provide a more intimate experience.
Prices vary, with luxury accommodations costing several hundred dollars per night, while budget options might be as low as $10. Always check reviews and ratings before booking, and consider local customs when choosing your stay.