1. Tiger’s Nest Monastery
Tiger’s Nest Monastery, perched precariously on the edge of a 3,000-feet-high cliff in Paro Valley, is one of the holiest places in Bhutan. Legend has it that Guru Rinpoche [wiki], the second Buddha, flew onto the cliff on the back of a tigress, and then meditated in a cave which now exists within the monastery walls.
The monastery, formally called Taktshang Goemba, was built in 1692 and reconstructed in 1998 after a fire. Now, the monastery is restricted to practicing Buddhists on religious retreats and is off-limits to ordinary tourists.
2. Wat Rong Khun
Wat Rong Khun in Chiang Rai, Thailand is unlike any Buddhist temples in the world. The all-white, highly ornate structure gilded in mosaic mirrors that seem to shine magically, is done in a distinctly contemporary style. It is the brainchild of renowned Thai artist Chalermchai Kositpipat.
Actually, the temple is still under construction. Chalermchai expects it will take another 90 years to complete, making it the Buddhist temple equivalent of the Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona, Spain!
In the 19th century, Dutch occupiers of Indonesia found a massive ancient ruin deep in the jungles of Java. What they discovered was the complex of Borobudur, a gigantic structure built with nearly 2 million cubic feet (55,000 m³) of stones. The temple has nearly 2,700 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues.
Until today, no one knows for sure when and why it was built, nor the reason for its complete abandonment hundreds of years ago. Some scholars believe that Borobudur is actually a giant textbook of Buddhism, as its bas reliefs tell the story of the life of Buddha and the principles of his teachings. To "read," a pilgrim must make his way through nine platforms and walk a distance of over 2 miles.
4. Shwedagon Pagoda
No one knows exactly when the Shwedagon Paya [wiki] (or Pagoda) in Myanmar was built - legend has it that it is 2,500 years old though archaeologists estimate that it was built between the 6th and 10th century.
Now, when people say "golden temple" they usually mean that the structure is golden in color. But when it comes to the Shwedagon Pagoda, golden literally means covered in gold! In the 15th century, a queen of the Mon people donated her weight in gold to the temple. This tradition continues until today, where pilgrims often save for years to buy small packets of gold leafs to stick to the temple walls.
As if all that gold wasn’t enough, the spire of the stupa or dome is covered with over 5,000 diamonds and 2,000 rubies (there’s even a 76 carat diamond at the very tip!). And oh, the temple housed one of the holiest relics in Buddhism: eight strands of Buddha’s hair.
5. The Temple of Srirangam
The Temple of Srirangam (Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple [wiki]), in the Indian city of Tiruchirapalli (or Trichy), is the largest functioning Hindu temple in the world (Ankor Wat is the largest of all temple, but it is currently non-functioning as a temple - see below).
The temple is dedicated to Vishnu, one of three Gods in Hinduism. Legend has it that a long time ago, a sage rested and put down a statue of Vishnu reclining on a great serpent. When he was ready to resume his journey, he discovered that the statue couldn’t be moved, so a small temple was built over it. Over centuries, the temple "grew" as larger ones were built over the existing buildings.
The temple complex is massive: it encompasses an area of over 150 acres (63 hectares) with seven concentric walls, the outermost being about 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) long! The walls demarcate enclosures within enclosures, each more sacred than the next, with the inner-most enclosure is forbidden to non-Hindus.
The Temple of Srirangam is famous for its gopurams or entrances beneath colorful pyramids. The temple has 21 gopurams total, with the largest one having 15 stories and is nearly 200 feet (60 m) tall.
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