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  • Mashiat Mutmainnah

7 Best South Asian Wonders You Need to Visit Post-Pandemic

2020 has dampened our travel plans. But we can still dream. We all know about the extravagant Taj Mahal and the monumental Red Fort, but today, we want to feast your eyes on the hidden architectural treasures of South Asia.

Warning: This may cause some serious wanderlust!

Topdara Stupa, Afghanistan

Contrary to the turmoil that we so frequently hear about in the media, Afghanistan holds one of the most gorgeous landscapes in South Asia. With vibrant, green valleys nestled in between the scenic, snow-capped Hindu Kush mountains, Afghanistan beholds jaw-dropping serenity.

One of the lesser known landmarks of Afghanistan is the Topdara Stupa. Stupas are dome- shaped monuments that are built to commemorate Buddha or other saintly persons. This historic monument pays homage to the legacy of Buddhism in the subcontinent. Built around the 4th century CE, the site of Topdara, near Charikar in Parwan province, was built around the 4th century CE. Since 2016 the Afghan Cultural Heritage Consulting Organization (ACHCO) has been restoring the site's massive stupa (a holy structure from the Buddhist era). It is believed the stupa was probably built by the Kushan empire , as a ceremonial stair facing Kapisa, the capital of the Kushan dynasty.

Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Nepal

Bhaktapur is the resplendent city of temples. The Bhaktapur Durbar Square of Nepal is one of the best-preserved palace courtyards in Nepal and in the world. It is known for its opulent temples carved out of wood, metal and stone. As you walk across the square, you are transported to land before time, an ancient plaza preserved with perennial beauty. Bhaktapur was originally a checkpoint in the caravan route between Tibet and India, and the influences from both regions have contributed to a unique, timeless landscape.

The Bhaktapur Durbar Square is populated with a conglomeration of Pagoda and Chikara-style temples dedicated to Hindu gods and goddesses. One of the most jaw dropping attractions is the Palace of 55 windows, a royal compound adorned with ornate, timber framed windows, built during the reign of the Malla King Bhupendra Malla who ruled from 1696 to 1722 AD.

The looming Nyatapola Temple towers over the square. It's 30 m high with 5 stories in the pagoda-style structure. Each roof is exemplified with over 100 wooden struts. The ornate craftsmanship and regal statues of lions and elephants and goddesses protecting the entrance, is dedicated to the Goddess Siddi Lakshmi, a representation of the goddess Durga.

The bejeweled Lun Dhukawa gate protects the palace of 55 windows. A magnificent Golden Gate , embellished with precious stones, intricate carvings, mythical creatures and the goddess Kali, riding the legendary Garuda ( a griffin) . It tells a story of resilience and honor as it stands in its own palatial grandiose.

Punakha Dzong, Bhutan

Nestled in the ancient capital of Bhutan, Punakha Dzong is one of the grandest fortresses built in Western Bhutan. The majestic citadel was built in simply a year without any nails. Its purpose as a national stronghold is exemplified through the many strategic architectural choices.

Located at the confluence of 2 rivers, steep whitewashed walls surround the Dzong, a gorgeous juxtaposition to the vivid greenery surrounding it. It can only be accessed by the Bazam Bridge and through one entrance. Every design choice in building the Dzong was intentional. The singular entrance has extremely steep wooden stairs that can be pulled up in case of invasions or unexpected attacks.

There are three internal courtyards shaded by Big Bodhi trees. These courtyards can only be accessed by singular entrances. The ornate roofs and windows are adorned with sacred scriptures and glistened under the fleeting golden rays of the setting sun.

Shettihalli Rosary Church, India

The Shettihalli Rosary Church is one of the most spectacular Gothic architectures of Karnataka. Built by French missionaries in the 1860s, the construction of the 1960 Hemavati Dam led to its abandonment.

As the roaring monsoons of Karnataka eroded its walls, the eerie ruins of the church continue to evoke intrigue and wonder. Every monsoon season the church is submerged in water and appears floating. In the afternoon sun, the chapel looks as it catches the simmering rays between its majestic arches.

Somapura Mahavihara, Bangladesh

Somapura Mahavihara is one of the most important archaeological sites of the Bengal region. It was built in the 8th century AD by the Pala Dynasty. The Vihara is considered one of the earliest centers of learning.

Viharas served as part of an interlinked group of institutions of Bhuddist learning throughout the subcontinent. The Somapura Mahavihara was one of the 5 greatest Viharas during the Pala regime.

Buddhist scholars from all over the world would travel to study there and then take their knowledge to the end of the Earth. It is even said the earliest form of the Bangla language emerged at this Mahavihara.

The Mahavihara is an enormous quadrangle structure built around a central dome-shaped stupa. In its heyday, the grand 21-acre complex houses multiple stupas, temples, 177 cells and learning centers. Ornate terracotta plaques , sculptures and inscriptions adorn every part of the walls from top to bottom.

Although the South Asian region has been subject to many conquests and erasure of history, the quadrangle structure is still preserved today and has survived harsh climate conditions, erosion and decay. The Somapura Mahavihara is an important monument that tells us about the legacy of Buddhism in South Asia and its unique architecture, which has greatly influenced the modern day architectural culture and philosophy of Burma, Java and Cambodia.

Galle Fort, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is one of the most multicultural nations of the world. Galle Fort is an archaeological and architectural monument that exemplifies the multi-ethnic and multiracial history of Sri Lanka.

The Portuguese first built 1588 in it in the Bay of Galley and was fortified by the Dutch in the 17th century.

After 400 years, constant maintenance and careful reconstruction has preserved the original charm of the quiet, colonial settlement.

The Dutch Invasion captured the port and built many of the administrative buildings, warehouses and residential quarters in the Dutch architectural style. Using native coral and granite stones, they built strategic walls to encapsulate 130 acres of the peninsula. The city within the fort was divided into a grid layout, with cobbled streets lined with red-roofed villas, quaint churches and a white-washed lighthouse standing strong as a shining beacon. It is an amalgamation of Dutch, Sinhalese, British and Portugeuese cultures, sleepy and serenely kissed by the setting sun.

Male Friday Mosque, Maldives

The Malé Friday Mosque is one of the oldest and most ornate mosques in the city of Malé, Maldives. Its sea-culture architecture is incomparable, consisting of a steadfast structure built with coral boulders. Coral architecture is unique to island nations where dried corals are chained together into interlocking blocks.

The walls are intricately carved, resplendent in Quranic calligraphy showcasing the confluence of East African stone carving techniques with ancient coral construction. The golden domes and minarets glimmer under the striking Maldivian sun, glistening and shimmering in all its glory.

Inside, the antechambers, walls and ceilings are ornately decorated by the hands of master carpenters, who capture the divinity of Islam through striking red Maldivian lacquerwork against an abyss of black wood.

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