by Bob Brooke
When you think of Asia, you think of the exotic — elephants elaborately decorated for a festival in India, Chinese junks plying the harbor in Hong Kong, the sound of temple bells in Japan, the glittering gold of Buddhas in Thailand. It's all that and more.
Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, covering 30 percent of the Earth's surface with over 60 percent of its population. Bordered by the Suez Canal and the Ural Mountains to the east, the Caucasus Mountains and the Caspian and Black Seas to the south and bounded on the east by the Pacific Ocean, on the south by the Indian Ocean, and on the north by the Arctic Ocean, it's a bit hard to grasp its immensity.
Within its gigantic area, Asia offers the most diverse cultures of any place on the planet. Unlike Europe, it's more about cultures incorporating diverse regions and peoples than a homogeneous group. Even China, the continent's largest country, is made up of many different groups, each with its own ethnic traditions and language.
The Greek historian Herodotus was the first to use the name Asia in a written document in 440 B.C.E. But the history of the continent is more about the distinct histories of its coastal areas — East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East — joined together by the interior mass of the Central Asian steppes. These coastal areas were the home of the world's earliest known civilizations, each developing around fertile river valleys. Eventually, cities, states, and empires grew in these lowlands.
On the other hand, Asia's Central Steppes have long been inhabited by horse-riding Mongol nomads who could reach all areas from the steppes. In addition, the Silk Road, one of the world's major trading routes, connected many civilizations across Asia.
Luckily for the coastal regions, rugged mountains and vast deserts separated the steppes from them. The Caucasus and Himalaya mountains and the Karakum and Gobi deserts formed barriers that the steppe horsemen had difficulty crossing. While Asia's city dwellers were more advanced technologically and socially, in many cases they could do little to defend themselves against the mounted hordes of the Mongols. Those who did conquer territories in India, China, and the Middle East, had to adapt to the environment since the lowlands didn't have enough open grasslands to support a large horse-bound force. And while the Mongols managed to edge their way into parts of China and India, it was the Islamic Caliphate that took over the Middle East and Central Asia during the 7th century.
Asia has 37 countries and some of the world's most exciting cities — Tokyo, Beijing, Hong Kong, Taipei, Singapore, Bangkok, Mumbai, and Istanbul come to mind. Each has an exotic air. All are wild, often chaotic, bustling metropolises unlike any in the West. To say you'll have culture shock is an understatement. Centuries of culture and tradition underlie all. And adding to the confusion are hundreds of languages with as many dialects.
The continent of Asia is home to many of the world's wonders, both natural and manmade. Mountains like Everest and Fuji reach to the sky. Dripping rainforests, vast deserts, and mighty rivers add to the natural diversity. And on the human side, there's India's Taj Mahal, China's Great Wall and Forbidden City, Thailand's Emerald Buddha, Cambodia's Angkor Wat, Indonesia's Borobudur, and Singapore's Tiger Balm Gardens.
But if you decide to explore Asia, make the effort to stay longer and visit several countries. Seeing the cultural differences between them makes for an experience you'll remember for a lifetime.
Other than laying out on the sand and taking in the sun, the main thing to do on Maldives holidays is scuba diving. Its 26 coral atolls are far away from any major landmass, making the sea water clear and brilliant. Underneath the surface, an abundance of marine life, including several varieties of sharks, manta rays, colorful fish, and turtles make the reefs their home. Throw in a few shipwrecks and you have the makings of a diver's paradise.Read More