If you want to understand the world, you need to understand Asia. That, in turn, means setting foot in China and India.Together, those two countries account for one-third of humanity and much of the world’s recent economic growth. They reflect two of our richest civilizations, two broad religious traditions and a vast share of the world’s artistic heritage — and its future.
So fly to Beijing and Shanghai, Xian and Guangzhou. But don’t just visit the giant metropolises. Go also to the countryside that is China’s soul. Visit a town like Datong, west of Beijing, home to stunning carved Buddhas several stories high. They are 1,500 years old and one of the most amazing sights in China, yet few foreign tourists know of Datong. Not far away is the stunning Hanging Monastery, perched precariously on the side of a cliff. And Datong can be used as a base to see parts of the Great Wall that haven’t been restored. Nobody charges admission: they just sit there, waiting to be explored. Alternatively, especially in winter, go south to the warmer landscape of the Guangxi region. From Guilin, take a boat trip down the Li River, with views of those jutting spires that are featured in Chinese art, and spend a couple of days in the lovely town of Yangshuo. From there, you can easily rent bikes and explore the nearby countryside. Wherever you go, drop in on a village. Residents will be surprised but hospitable, and if you have a Chinese speaker to translate, then you can have great conversations. Or drop by the local school, and you may find an English teacher delighted to practice conversational skills.
Then visit India, and likewise go beyond Delhi and Mumbai, Kolkata and Bangalore. From Delhi, you can hire a car and visit the poor state of Rajasthan next door. Or explore the religious side of India, perhaps with a flight to Varanasi, on the holy Ganges River, where corpses are cremated on bonfires beside the waters. Or take a train to Amritsar and visit the Sikh Golden Temple.