UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Asia
13 kilometers from Jaipur in Rajasthan you find Amber Fort, built in 1592. The palace is situated on a hill with sweeping views over the area and it is a classic example of Rajput architecture. If you do not have the energy to walk up to the fort, from the foot of the hill, you can ride up there on elephant back for a fee. There are lots of tourists who do this, so you should expect to queue for a while. The palace covers a fairly large area, and there are fine columns / arches, painted ceilings, mirror mosaics, courtyards and women in bright blue saris who walk around sweeping.
In the town of Khajuraho, in the state of Madhya Pradesh, a number of ancient Hindu temples are located. They are regarded as some of India's "Seven Wonders" and are also on the list of UNESCOâ€™s World Heritage Sites. The temples were built around 1000 years ago and from the original approx. 80 temples, 25 are left. They are located in 3 different parts of an area of 20 square kilometers, and they can easily be seen in a single day. Besides being impressively well preserved, the temples are also known for their extremely erotic carved figures. Back then, there were obviously no sexual positions, persons or animals, you could not throw yourself at... No wonder that this is the land of the "Kama Sutra"!
When you visit the Taj Mahal, it is obvious why the monument is on the list of The Seven Wonders of the World, and you'll be amazed at how large the old mausoleum actually is. It took approx. 22 years to build it, and it was completed in the year of 1653. The Taj Mahal was built by the Moghul Emperor Shah Jahan in honor of his third wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to the couple's 14th child. Her coffin was placed in the middle of the monument, and when the Emperor died approx. 20 years later, his coffin was placed next to hers. So besides that it is a beautiful and impressive building, it also has a romantic history. There are always lots of tourists, but the area is so big that it does not spoil the experience.
The enormous Buddhist temple of Borobudur is one of the world's most impressive temples, on par with Angkor Wat and Bagan - and is, of course, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built in the 9th century, and then later abandoned at some point during the 14th century, during the decline of Buddhism in Indonesia. The walls are covered with over 1,400 narrative panels that have been methodically carved into the stones, there are 72 stupas on each level, each containing a Buddha figure, just visible through the latticework - but many of the heads have been taken by robbers throughout the years. The location is equal impressive with a mountain range one side and volcano Mt. Merapi's perfect cone in the distant. Of course Borobudur is crowded at times, but by coming early or even forking out the sunrise fee, it actually possible to enjoy this magnificent temple in relative serenity.
The world's biggest lizard is the Komodo Dragon that can grow to over three meters long. It is aggressive, fast, and its bite can be deadly due to the impressive range of bacterias in its mouth. The Komodo dragon lives not only on Komodo Island, but also on Rinca Island which is closer to Flores. On Rinca you actually have a better chance to see the dragons, since the island is smaller and there is less food available - meaning they hang out around the ranger station. To catch sight of a fully grown monster in its natural environment, go to Komodo, but you might risk not seeing any at all. The best option is, of course, to visit both islands.
Yogyakarta is blessed wth two amazing temples, the famous Borobudur and the lesser known Prambanan – both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Not much is known for sure, but both are believed to have been built in 9th century, Borobudur as a Buddhist temple and Prambanan as a Hindu temple. For back in the days, Java was ruled by two dynasties, one Buddhist and one Hindu. The Prambanan temple complex consists also of minor outlying temples, many just as rubble, but the main one stand grand with towers as tall as 147 metes. Prambanan has been hit by earthquake and volcano eruption several times throughout history, latest in 2006, but as been restored again today. You can visit Prambanan on a tour in combination with Borobudur.
Rising up off the dessert floor, as a man-made pyramid, the ziggurat of Choqa Zanbil have been standing since c. 1250 BC. The ziggurat is a UNESCO World Heritage site was sacked in the sixth century BC and was not discovered until 1935 - being lost in the dessert sand for more than 2500 years. The mountain around which the ziggurat have been build was considered sacred to the Elamite civilization and the reason behind the pyramid. Used as a temple-like structure you can find both sacrificing stones, religious inscriptions and a sundial around the structure. Once you get to the sundial, look out for the footprint of a Elamite child next to it - a footprint that incredibly enough have survived for more than three millennium. Around the ziggurat is also the archaeological site of the city surrounding the Choqa Zanbil called Dur Untash, which includes some royal tombs. Bring water and a hat - temperatures can reach the mid-forties (Celsius) and there is no shade!
This elegant and well preserved hilltop castle is Japan's finest example of a real shogun castle. It dates from 1333 and was one of Japan's first UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has never been damaged by earthquake, fire or even war (though Himeji city was heavily bombed during WWII). However, recently it underwent extensive restoration for many years, and now stands (almost) immaculate. All six floors of the main keep can be visited, but its beauty is best enjoyed from the distance on the expansive castle grounds. Himeji Castle is a major cherry blossom spot, which attracts even bigger crowds during the short blooming season.
Don't forget to visit Kokoen Garden next door (buy the combined ticket).
Katsuren Castle Ruins sit dramatically on a hill with amazing views over the (today upbuilt) eastern coast and islands of Okinawa. The ruins are part of
Okinawa's UNESCO enlisted Ryukyu sites, which mostly include other castles from the Gusuku period (12th-15th century). The small Katsuren Castle Ruins are like most of the other Ryukyu ruins with just the stonewalls restored. The castle was constructed in 13th-14th century with beautiful views of the sea from two sides, which can still be enjoyed today.
Kyoto was home for the imperial family for more than a millennium and was spared bombing during WWII. So today, the city has 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, besides over a thousand of other temples, shrines, and gardens. So it's understandable that Kyoto is on every tourist's itinerary. The historical quarter, Gion, where geishas used to rush through the lanes, has become very touristic, but is still very charming with kimono-clad tourists strolling around. The famous food market, Nishiki, is equally popular with stalls offering local delicacies like stuffed octopus. So there is so much to see and do in Kyoto, that it will take weeks to cover it all. However, most visitors get templed-out after a couple of packed sightseeing days. Move on (or use Kyoto as a base) to explore other parts of Japan.