All over Asia you’ll find unique temples – Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim Mosques and others. Some are brightly colored in reds, greens, blues and yellows. Some are silver or gold. Some are made from bamboo, others from brick, marble or ancient stones. Often the pungent smell of incense will fill the air as you explore these masterpieces. Colorful bowls of fruit will lie before the altars as offerings. Here are a few you should try to see in your travels.
1 – Akshardham in New Delhi, India
This incredible new Hindu temple complex only took five years to build and was just opened in 2005. It was built to honor the wishes of Brahmaswarup Yogiji Maharaj and to highlight India’s architecture, spirituality and traditions.
The exterior of the temple is made of pink stone signifying eternal devotion and pure white marble symbolizing purity and peace. It’s an amazing sight with 234 carved pillars, 9 domes, 20 shikhars, 20,000 murtis and statues, and huge stone elephants.
There are lush, manicured gardens lined with bronze statues of some of India’s greatest role models surrounding the temple. At night, the world’s largest colorful, musical water fountain comes alive with a show that represents the circle of life.
Inside the temple you’ll find dioramas that use robotics, fiber optics, music and dialogue to showcase the themes of endeavor, prayer and family harmony. There is an enormous IMAX screen that shows a film about the pilgrimage of an 18th century child-yogi through some of India’s most holy places. And, you can travel back in time by taking a 12-minute ride in a peacock shaped boat through ancient villages and important discoveries of the last 10,000 years in India.
>>Tours to Delhi that visit the Akshardham
2 – Bulguksa Temple in Korea
This Buddhist temple in the North Gyeongsang province of South Korea was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1995. It was constructed from 751-774, but has been renovated quite a few times, particularly after the Japanese invasion of 1592 when the wooden buildings were burned down and many of the treasures disappeared.
The stone structures at the temple are preserved from the original construction. Seven of these have been declared official Korean National Treasures: two stone pagodas, the Dabotap and Seokgatap; two bridges, the Cheongunyo and Baegunyo; two seated gilt-bronze Buddhas; and another pagoda which resembles a lantern.
3 – Sri Mariamman Temple in Singapore
This Hindu temple is located in Chinatown and is the oldest in Singapore, constructed in 1827. It was designed as a place of worship for the Goddess Mariamman, who is known for her power to cure illness and disease.
Originally a simple wooden structure, it has evolved through time into the national monument you see today. Visitors enter the temple underneath an incredible tower that is totally covered with colorful, almost whimsical statues, including 72 different Hindu Gods and sacred cows.
4 – Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island in Hong Kong
This Buddhist monastery was started in 1906 by three visiting monks. Originally called Da Maopeng, which translates to “The Big Hut,” it was renamed in 1924. The main temple has three bronze Buddha’s that represent past, present and future.
The most impressive structure at the monastery is Tian Tan Buddha, which at 112 feet high is the world’s tallest, outdoor, bronze seated Buddha. This Sakyamuni Buddha sits dramatically at the top of 268 steps at the peak of Ngong Ping Plateau.
5 – Angkor Wat in Cambodia
Angkor Wat is a symbol of national pride for Cambodia and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was constructed during the early 12th century, first as a Hindu temple dedicated to Vishnu, and later it was converted to a Buddhist temple. It is thought to be the world’s largest religious monument.
Built in the style of Khmer architecture, it is designed to represent Mount Meru (a sacred mountain in Hindu mythology) situated inside of a moat and a 2-mile long outer wall. Standing at the center are five separate towers with the temple sitting on a raised terrace.
Throughout the temple you’ll find many devatas (Hindu guardian angels) on the walls along with bas-relief friezes depicted Hindu stories, battles and scenes of the 32 hells and 37 heavens of Hindu mythology.
6 – Prambanan in Java, Indonesia
Built around 850 AD and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this temple was constructed in the typical style of Hindu temple architecture – tall and pointed. The temple was abandoned early on but rebuilt in 1918, only to be damaged again in an earthquake in 2006.
There are three main parts to the temple. An outer wall that has been destroyed; a middle area where you’ll see 4 rows of 224 smaller, identical shrines called Candi Perwara; and the central area where you’ll find the main temples and shrines sitting on an elevated platform.
There is an ancient tale surrounding the temple: A man was in love with the princess Roro Jonggrang, but she was not in love with him. In order to refuse his love she asked him to build a temple in one night of 1,000 statues. The temple was almost complete when the princess asked the villagers to light fires to make it look like morning had arrived. The man was angry, so with 999 statues completed he turned Roro Jonggrang into the final statue.
7 – Paro Taktsang in Bhutan
This monastery, also known as Tiger’s Nest, hangs unbelievably from the side of a cliff 2,300 feet above Paro Valley. Often covered in mist, it’s hard to fathom that it was built in such a dangerous place. It was built in 1692, but fire destroyed it in 1998 and it has been restored as close to the original structure as possible.
There is a legend surrounding the name of the temple: it is believed that in the 8th century Guru Rinpoche rode there on the back of a flying tigress, where he meditated in the cave behind the current temple for three months.
Paro Taktsang is usually used only for Buddhist retreats, so special permission is required to visit the temple. To get up to the monastery you must either hike for about 2 hours or you can ride up on the back of a mule.
8 – Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, Tibet
This temple was the first Buddhist temple built in Tibet. It was constructed in the 7th century by King Songsten Gampo to celebrate his marriage to the Buddhist Chinese princess Wencheng.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000, it was destroyed several times by the Mongols, but in the last several centuries it has expanded into the six-acre sight you’ll find today. The building itself is a four-story tall structure made of timber, with a gilded bronze tile roof. Above the main entrance you’ll find two statues of golden deer.
9 – Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, Pakistan
This magnificent mosque was built in 1673 by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. It can hold over 55,000 worshippers, making it the second largest mosque in Pakistan. At various points in history it was badly damaged, at one point used as a stable and later the British used it for gun practice. It was eventually returned to Pakistan and restored.
The exterior of the mosque is decorated with stone carvings and motifs. Three large double domes grace the roofline and ornamental merlons inlaid with marble run along the perimeter.
The interior has beautifully embellished stucco tracery, frescoed paneling and marble inlay. You’ll also find a small museum, which contains relics of Muhammad and other items.
10 – Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto, Japan
Kinkaku-ji, also called the Golden Pavilion, was originally constructed in 1397 as a home for a retired shogun. After his death, his son converted it to a Zen temple. The temple was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1994.
The top two stories of this three-story building are covered in pure gold leaf and the building serves as a place to house sacred relics of the Buddha. The pavilion is set in a magnificent strolling garden, with a pond that represents the Buddhist creation story through the islands and stones in the water.
In 1955 the pavilion was burnt down by a fanatic monk, who then tried to commit suicide. It was rebuilt in 1955.
11 – Xuan Kong Si in China
This 1,400-year-old wooden temple is built into the side of the sheer cliffs of Mount Hengshan in the Shanxi province. It is considered by many to be an architectural wonder.
The temple is unusual because it is a place where Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian elements are all combined together. In fact, the Taoist principle that all noises should drop away, may be one of the reasons it was built in such an unusual location.
The buildings are comprised of 40 wooden halls and structures that are linked together by an elaborate system of pillars, posts and walkways.
12 – Wat Arun in Bangkok, Thailand
This Buddhist temple is located on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River. A temple has stood on the site for many years, but the tall central tower (or prang) and four smaller towers were constructed in the 1800’s by Kings Rama II and III.
The temple is sometimes called “Temple of the Dawn” because of the way the morning light reflects off the surface of the tower. The central prang symbolizes Mount Meru and the satellite towers are devoted to the wind god Phra Phai.
There is a steep, narrow staircase that leads to the top of the 250-foot center tower. The temple is built of brick covered with stucco and decorated with thousands of pieces of colorful Chinese porcelain and seashells.
Additional photo credits:
Bulguksa Temple in Korea by jae_yong on Flickr, Sri Mariamman Temple in Singapore by zhaffsky on Flickr , Po Lin Monastery in Hong Kong by Kiwihausen of Flickr , Angkor Wat in Cambodia by tylerdurden on Flickr, Prambanan in Java, Indonesia by sebr on Flickr, Tiger’s Nest in Bhutan by Alankar on Flickr , Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, Tibet by bezoire on Flickr, Badshahi Mosque in Pakistan by mbuckhari on Flickr, Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto Japan by rsandchezcrespo on Flickr , Xuan Kong Si in China by gadgetdan on Flickr, Wat Arun in Thailand by stuckincustoms on Flickr