As the much admired Indian independence hero Nehru once said, “We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open”. At Ampersand we couldn’t agree more and share India’s first Prime Minister’s voracious attitude towards travel. There are countless wonders to be discovered in the world, all one needs to do is to seek them out for yourself. And what better way to do so than in the height of luxury. Therefore we have compiled our own personal list of what we believe to be some of the most unmissable sights and experiences throughout the Asian continent. So, in no particular order – including a combination of man-made and natural marvels – these are Ampersand’s Seven Wonders of the Asian World.
1. Great Wall of China, China
The building of The Great Wall of China began in some sections as early as 7th century BC. It was largely maintained by the Ming Dynasty in order to prevent attacks from the surrounding nomadic tribes and was most famously penetrated by Genghis Khan and his formidable army. Still today, its remains represent as much of a psychological reminder of China’s strength, as a physical one. Easily accessible from Beijing, you can either visit the popular Jinshanling section of the wall or embark upon an unforgettable trek following the ancient Silk Road and tea trails. On his most recent trip to China, Ampersand MD, James Jayasundera, was astounded at the incredible standard of hotels, even in rural areas. We have several China itineraries that include a visit to the Great Wall for you to find some inspiration for your next trip.
2. Raja Ampat Islands, Indonesia
Located just off the island of New Guinea’s West Papua province, the Raja Ampat islands, otherwise known as the “Four Kings”, enjoy some of the most spectacular marine-biodiversity in the world. Whilst the coral reefs surrounding them may not be the largest in the world, scientists agree that these waters contain the most species-rich and bio-diverse in the ocean. Whether you are a first time snorkeller or seasoned diver you will be astounded by the incredible array of corals, fishes and other sea life there is to discover. Indonesia is also home to some of the most luxurious hotels in Asia, as well as several magnificent private charter boats, for the height of tailor-made luxury travel. We have several Indonesia itineraries that do or can include the Raja Ampat islands – many of our favourite resorts and boats are located or pass through there so we are sure you will find plenty of inspiration for your next trip to Indonesia!
3. The Potala Palace, Tibet
Maybe not as well known as some of the other inclusions on our list and certainly not as frequently visited, the Potala Palace is a stark contrast to otherwise infinitely expansive landscape of Tibet. Situated at an altitude of 12,000 feet high it is the highest monastery on the planet. Built almost five centuries ago as the chief residence of the Dalai Lama, the Potala Palace is a living relic to the Buddhist religion. Still in use today, visitors will hear the same sounds of the monks chanting and smells of incense burning that have been filling its corridors for centuries. Whilst the accommodation in Tibet is basic, its endless, unspoiled, rugged vistas are a spectacle worth visiting. Tibet combines very well with Nepal.
4. The Taj Mahal, Agra, India
We could not forgive ourselves, nor would any of our clients, if we did not include the Taj Mahal in our list of The Seven Wonders of the Asian World. Another member of the official modern wonders of the world, the Taj epitomises ‘seeing is believing’. All of our travel consultants have been there, most countless times, such is the draw of this incredible example of Mughal architecture. The story behind the building is almost as dramatic as the structure itself. The English poet, Sir Edwin Arnold describes it as “Not a piece of architecture, as other buildings are, but the proud passion of an emperor’s love wrought in living stones”. Commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, the Taj Mahal is a physical portrayal of everlasting love. We recommend sunrise as the best time to visit the Taj, to avoid the crowds and see the pink and golden hues of dawn reflected of its glowing, alabaster surface. Almost all of our North Indian itineraries visit the Taj Mahal so we are sure you will find something to wet your appetite. With Diwali and the Pushkar Camel Fair right round the corner (both in November), there has seldom been a better time to visit India.
5. Inle Lake, Burma
Inle Lake may not be the largest in Burma, but we think it is the most beautiful. As James Jayasundera, Ampersand’s MD, vividly describes upon his most recent visit:
Slicing through the water on Burma’s Inle Lake on a long-tail boat: The water, mountain and sky seemed to merge with one another and the colours were washed out into shades of blue and grey. It was cool – almost cold – and it felt surreal. Here, whole villages live on the water and crops are grown on small strips of floating islands. Rarely has reality felt more dreamlike.
There are a huge range of memorable activities on Inle Lake, from boat rides in a traditional long boat with their unique method of rowing with one foot, to a trip to the local markets to pick up some souvenirs from your trip; or one can simply sit back and watch the local villagers continue their daily life. Burma has opened up hugely in the last few years, becoming a much more accessible place for tourists. We cannot recommend it highly enough as a travel destination. The fact that a visit to Inle Lake could also mean a stay Ampersand favourite Inle Princess Resort makes this trip even more appealing! Several of our Burmese itineraries include Inle Lake.
6. The Himalayas
Europe has the Alps; Asia has the Himalayas. Whilst the latter is not quite as popular a ski destination it is undisputedly more epic. Home to the planet’s highest peaks, including the formidable Mount Everest, the Himalayas has witnessed many a man try and fail to cross its mountain ranges. Nowadays, travel throughout the Himalayas is much more accessible, however, the higher you go, the less accommodating it becomes. Spanning Bhutan, India, Nepal, China and Pakistan the Himalayan mountain range crosses several destinations that we specialise in. There are some excellent spas and retreats located here for those looking for the ultimate escapist break. A perusal through some of the itineraries may well lead to the beginning of your Himalayan trip of a lifetime.
7. Shwedagon Pagoda, Burma
The second wonder of the Asian world to be located in Burma, The Shwedagon Pagoda, truly is testament to how culturally rich Burma is as a destination. Located in Yangon, to the west of the Kandawgyi Lake, it reaches almost 100 meters in height and is covered in glimmering gold leaf – an imposing and impressive sight and one that dominates the city’s skyline. It houses several relics sacred to Buddhist religion including eight strands of Gautama Buddha’s hair and a piece of Kassapa’s robe. We recommend that you visit the Shwedagon Pagoda in the afternoon to witness the setting sun being reflected of the pagoda’s golden domes. Unlike the Taj Mahal, we feel that on this occasion the presence of crowds heightens the experience, making the atmosphere electric and the event more tangible. A trip to Burma could mean ticking off two of Ampersand’s 7 Wonders of the Asian World!
For more information on these destinations or for more inspiration please get in touch with one of our travel specialists on +44 (0)20 7819 9770, email firstname.lastname@example.org or browse our website http://www.ampersandtravel.com.