Central and South Asia: Best things to see and do

MONGOLIA: STAY WITH NOMADS

Constructing your own ger (a Mongolian yurt), making vodka from yak's milk, riding wild horses: you can expect to pick up these and an array of other wild skills while staying with a nomadic family in the Orkhon Valley in Mongolia's southern Gobi Desert. You can also expect striking scenery, and to be completely uplifted by the sense of happiness and tranquillity that permeates everything in your nomadic hosts' lives. See frui.co.uk.

UZBEKISTAN: STAY IN A RURAL VILLAGE

There's not much to Ukhum, a rural village in northern Uzbekistan – just a rough collection of houses in a narrow valley, where donkeys bray and eagles soar. An overnight stay here does, however, provide a remarkable travel experience, the chance to spend time with an ethnic Tajik family, to rove the hills with local farmers, to help stir pots of food as dinner is cooked, to sit and eat and try to make sense of foreign customs in a foreign land. See wendywutours.com.au

INDIA: FIND YOUR ZEN IN AUROVILLE 

Reload of Matrimandir -Golden Temple in Auroville, Tamil Nadu, India shutterstock 502428451 tra10-Asia-coverstory

Golden Temple in Auroville, Tamil Nadu, India. Photo: Shutterstock

Auroville is an international community founded in 1968, just outside the sleepy beach town of Pondicherry in South India. Its 2500-odd residents, harking from more than 100 countries, supposedly live free of money, government, religion and conflict. Visitors can eat in Auroville's vegan cafes, shop for handmade clothing and beauty products, take yoga classes and sustainability workshops and visit the Matrimandir, the 29-metre golden sphere that took the Aurovillians 40 years to build by hand. Inside there's an exquisite meditation chamber where you're given 15 minutes to "find your consciousness". See auroville.org.

UZBEKISTAN: POP IN SOME PLOV

Central Asia isn't exactly famous for its cuisine – think boiled horse meat in Kazakhstan, and fatty mutton dumplings in Mongolia – but Uzbekistan's national dish, plov, is surprisingly tasty. This is a pilaf made using beef or mutton as a base, with plenty of rice flavoured with garlic and mixed with shredded vegetables and raisins. In cities such as Samarkand and Bukhara you quickly realise plov is not just a national dish, but a national obsession. See wendywutours.com.au

BANGLADESH: EMBRACE THE CHAOS

Chittagong, Bangladesh Shutterstock_1052827577 tra10-Asia-coverstory

Chittagong, Bangladesh. Photo: Shutterstock

You've never seen anywhere like Chittagong. This is a dusty and chaotic hub, a city choked with traffic, plagued by fumes and flooding. And yet it's also fascinating. It's here you'll find the Zia Memorial Museum, the former home of General Ziaur Rahman, father of Bangladeshi independence, which still bears the bloodstains of his assassination. It's also here you'll find Mini Bangladesh, a somewhat baffling theme park featuring miniature versions of Bangladeshi buildings. Quite the contrast. See visitbangladesh.gov.bd

UZBEKISTAN: BE CHARMED BY TASHKENT 

Tashkent doesn't have the history of Silk Road cities such as Samarkand and Bukhara, nor does it have the exotic appeal of some of its neighbouring capitals. What it does have, however, is a surprising cosmopolitan charm. This is the hub of Uzbekistan's modern culture, with museums, concert halls and galleries, as well as interesting remnants of USSR rule in its lavishly decorated subway system and brutalist Soviet architecture. See wendywutours.com.au

KAZAKHSTAN: APPRECIATE ARCHITECTURE

Khan Shatyr, Astana, Kazakhstan Shutterstock_782238967 tra10-Asia-coverstory

Khan Shatyr, Astana, Kazakhstan. Photo: Shutterstock

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Astana has been Kazakhstan's capital for only 20 years, but in that time some phenomenal modern architecture has been added to the skyline. British architect Norman Foster has designed several of the most notable buildings, including the Khan Shatyr shopping complex, built to resemble a giant tepee, the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, a huge pyramid, and the National Library, which looks like a giant eyeball. Astana also has the world's largest sphere, plus an enormous golden cone and a 105-metre-high observation tower that looks like a lollipop. See wendywutours.com.au

MONGOLIA: CELEBRATE THREE MANLY SKILLS ​

Naadam, Mongolia's traditional festival of the "three manly skills" – archery, wrestling and horse racing – is a riotous celebration like nothing you've  seen before. It's not just pomp and ceremony, though there is plenty of that, as costumed men and women parade before the crowds. It's also about athletic ability, about being able to ride a horse long distances, or throw a man to the ground, or hit a target from impossibly far away. Naadam is held annually in Ulan Baator, and everyone should experience it. See naadamfestival.com

SRI LANKA: EXPLORE CAVE TEMPLES

Dambulla Cave Temple, Dambulla Sri Lanka shutterstock_1051849922 tra10-Asia-coverstory

Dambulla Cave Temple, Dambulla, Sri Lanka. Photo: Shutterstock

The five cave temples concealed on a hilltop in Dambulla  are painted with an entertaining ancient slideshow of frescoes that outline the life of Buddha. Some frescoes are 2000 years old, commissioned by the great king Watta Gamini Abhaya, others added or gilded over subsequent centuries. The caves also sprout dozens of Buddha statues, including a giant yellow reclining Buddha. Hilltop views over the emerald countryside are superb. See srilanka.travel

SRI LANKA: NIP IN FOR CRAB CURRY

Though the southern and central parts of Sri Lanka have become popular mainstream tourist destinations, the country's formerly war-torn north is only just beginning to open up, and it's well worth being one of the first to explore it. You won't find many traditional attractions in cities such as Jaffna, but what you will find is an extremely warm welcome, as well as some of the best food you've ever tasted. A Jaffna-style crab curry, for example, is a thing of true beauty. See getaboutasia.com

KAZAKHSTAN: HEAD EAST TO THE WILD WEST

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Charyn Canyon, Kazakhstan. Photo: Shutterstock

It's hard not to be transported to the Wild West as you wander through Charyn Canyon, a 90-kilometre-long rock formation in south-eastern Kazakhstan known locally as the Kazakh Grand Canyon. That name may seem fanciful, but you only need to explore the pathway that snakes between spectacular columns of red rock, the snow-capped peaks of China's Tian Shan Mountains lurking on the far horizon, to feel the Wild West vibe. All that's missing is a few rattlesnakes. See Wendywutours.com.au

NEPAL: RIDE RAPIDS IN THE HIMALAYAS

Everest Base Camp, Sagarmatha, Lhotze, Nepal Shutterstock 375946249 tra10-Asia-coverstory

Everest Base Camp, Nepal. Photo: Shutterstock

Nepal's Trisuli River funnels us through a gauntlet of rhino-sized rocks, bucking our raft like a paper cup in a drain. Slamming over standing waves and eddies, we are awash with adrenaline. After three days of both calm stretches and whitewater - where vulture-like lammergeiers drool on the banks - plus camping on jungle shores, we paddle out of the middle hills of the Himalayas. And then come the Mugling rapids, the longest and most turbulent of them all … See nepalraft.com

 

 

 

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