South Asia is a confluence of a myriad of communities, religions, and architectural flavors. The eight nations that comprise South Asia present several creations on the platter of architecture, each dipped in a cultural sauce. Every structure also narrates a unique tale. The culturally cohesive and vibrant styles make South Asia a backpacker’s paradise. From ancient wonders to the modern stars, these are fifteen famous buildings that are unmissable architectural hotspots of the region:
1. National Parliament House, Bangladesh | Famous building
A monumental creation that manifested the ideals of a newly found democratic nation, the National Assembly Building of Bangladesh, is a dialogue between the Modern and the Vernacular. Louis I Kahn‘s design, dressed in concrete with white marble inlays, sits amicably surrounded by an artificial lake in Dhaka. The concentric spatial configurations inside the building and the dramatization of the geometric shapes hollowed out through the façade entwine to create cool and well-lit interiors in a hot climate. It is a testament against the belief that modern architecture is out of context, and that is the reason it is one of the most famous buildings in South Asia.
Resting high on a cliffside, Paro Taktsang or the Tiger’s Nest is a vital temple collection that overlooks the Paro Valley. Legend has it that Guru Padmasambhava, the spreader of Buddhism in Bhutan, flew here on a tiger’s back to meditate in a cave. The traditional sacred structure from 1692 perished in a fire but was later rebuilt in 2004 exactly as it was before. The red shingles and white walls dotted with goldens amidst the foggy Himalayan mountains are a genuinely exuberant sight that makes the steep climb up the precarious cliff worth it!
3. Brihadisvara Temple, India
In Southeast India, a mighty temple in the city of Thanjavur, which thrives in its details, is easily spotted from a mile away. The Brihadisvara Temple, built under the Chola dynasty rule, is so grand that it is believed to be constructed by 1000 elephants. Intricately carved entirely out of granite, the detailing on the hard-cut rock mystifies archaeologists everywhere. The magnificent inscriptions and elegant sculptures on the temple narrate a story of the past, unlike any other. The main vimana reaches a massive height of sixty-six meters and surprisingly is made of interlocking bricks that have survived all calamities. The temple is truly a hub of architectural mysteries.
4. Mazar-i-Sharif Mosque, Afghanistan
Away from the noisy city streets of Mazar-i-Sharif, a tranquil sight of blue can be seen. The Mazar-i-Sharif mosque or the Blue Mosque is considered a paradise of serenity and peace- something that the thousands of white doves that flock to the structure seem to agree. The entire mosque complex is adorned with polychromatic tile mosaics I shade of blue. A favored Islamic architecture trick to make the mosque look afloat is done using seamlessly painted clay tiles. These tiles have to be replaced continuously because some of the pilgrims often take them away as religious mementos!
5. Temple Complex of Lumbini, Nepal | Famous building
Unlike the rest of Nepal’s high mountains, Lumbini is a serene sight nestled in lush green surroundings. The sacred site features several Buddhist temples, monasteries, and stupas funded by Buddhist organizations from various countries such as the Royal Thai monastery or the Myanmar Golden Temple, reflecting their countries’ cultures. The Maya Devi Temple here is known to be the birthplace of Buddha and thus is one of the most spiritual places on earth that was even traversed by Emperor Ashoka. A pillar marks the spot of his visit now.
6. Victoria Memorial, India
Victoria Memorial is the epitome of Indo-Saracenic revivalist architecture situated in Eastern India. Built from the same Makrana marble as used in the Taj Mahal, the sight of the immaculate white structure strongly reminisces the British Raj in India.
William Emmerson, president of RIBA then, was given the commission to design the monumental memorial.
He presented an infusion of several styles of architecture which attracts tourists today who wish to witness the grandeur and the unique blend of architectural hues.
7. Lotus Temple, India
Twenty-seven gigantic marble-clad concrete slabs make up this Bahá’í House of Worship facility in India’s capital city. The sacred interiors indeed contrast the immaculate Grecian white marble leaves on the exteriors. These leaves are modeled such that their tips do not meet at the top. The apex features a steel-framed skylight that lights up the rest of the exposed interior framework. The Lotus Temple is a structural engineering marvel and one of the most frequented biomimicry examples all over the world.
8. Badshahi mosque, Pakistan | Famous building
The striking combination of red sandstone and white marble representing Mughal architecture in the Indian subcontinent is seen across the border in Lahore’s crown jewel. The Badshahi Mosque has high minarets and high iwans (arched entrance), making it an epitome of elegance and scale. The traditional Lahori style tilework of the structure pioneers in Mughal cultural significance across South Asia. Despite being a grand religious complex, the mosque’s history is submerged in Military upsurges surrounding the partition. Tremendous restoration and repair work over the years has now rendered it back to its original stature.
9. Galle Fort, Sri Lanka
Galle Fort is a thriving architectural icon that rose from the ashes of colonial administrative conflicts. Its modifications and continuous developments make it a monument of historical and archeological importance that reiterates the European influences on South Asian architecture from the sixteenth century to the nineteenth centuries. The beautiful pastel streets of the walled city are surrounded by 14 bastions and granite ramparts that protected them from seafarers. The lighthouse at Galle Fort is an iconic landmark famous for the pristine views it offers.
10. Sanchi Stupa, India
South Asia is an abode of Buddhist architecture, but to appreciate its earliest forms, one should travel to Sanchi in Central India. The Sanchi Stupa, constructed by Emperor Ashoka, is one of the prototypes of Buddhist burial mounds in Asia and to date is the best-preserved one. The construction was initially done in brick, but the Great Stupa was later rebuilt double its size in stone. Scholars interpret the aniconic forms of Buddha, as seen here, are a result of Greaco-Buddhist interactions. This spiritual archetype is the most significant contribution to Buddhist art and culture and draws thousands of visitors every year.
11. Sixty Dome Mosque, Bangladesh | Famous building
Right beside the coastlines of the beautiful mangrove forests is one of the largest surviving multi-domed mosques from the Sultanate period in Bangladesh– the Shait Gumbaj mosque, also known as the 60 Dome Mosque. Contrary to what the name suggests, the Sixty Dome Mosque has as many as eighty-one domes. Inspired by the Tughlaq style of architecture, the enclosed wall has tapering, six-foot thick walls. The four hollow towers at the corners are each topped by a cupola. The exterior is not plastered so that the monument revels in the archeological beauty of the fifteenth-century era.
12. Colombo Lotus Tower, Sri Lanka
Located in the heart of the city of Colombo, the 350 meters tall telecommunications tower is the highest structure in South Asia. It is constructed out of fiber optic cables. The tower’s stringent funding by China has sparked several public debates. Yet it is a significant landmark to put Sri Lanka back on the world map as a flourishing nation. Despite being under construction, some parts of the tower were opened to the public in 2019.
13. Shah-Do Shamshira Mosque, Afghanistan
Shah-Do Shamshira mosque, translated as Mosque of the King of Two Swords, is an unusually designed mosque built along the Kabul river in Afghanistan. It is the family’s black sheep with sophisticated design in a symphony of Italian-baroque style that represented the odd tastes of Amanullah Khan, who wanted to bring about modernization in the 1920s in the region. The strange mosque is multi-leveled and is dotted with stucco detailing. The mosque’s peculiarity has driven it to be a famous landmark in Islamic history.
14. Habib Bank Plaza, Pakistan
Once the tallest building of Karachi, the corporate complex of Habib Bank Plaza, is still a famous landmark in Pakistan. It was beaten in height by the construction of its neighbor- MCB Tower in 2005. The Habib Bank Plaza was headquarters of HBL Bank until they moved out of the facility recently. The crafty façade styled just like a chocolate bar, makes it a famed tourist attraction. There is also an observatory deck on the 22nd floor of the circular tower used for moon sightings.
15. Taj Mahal, India | Famous building
A famous buildings list without this epitome of Mughal architecture is incomplete. Today, this marvel stands to honor a lamented love story and brings the symmetry Nazis to awe. Just as you enter the complex, you can feel the Mughal architect’s larger-than-life ambitions being realized by thousands of workers toiling day-in-day-out. The craftsmanship in the details makes this iconic structure a real wonder of the world!