The Islamic world covers some of the greatest treasures of the natural world as well as some of the finest gems of civilisation. Here’s a list of must-sees (in no particular order as each is completely inspiring in its own way):
Hunza Valley, Pakistan
Dressing the Karakorum Hwy with cherry blossom and apricots, tidy terraces, and suspension bridges that are suspended only in willing disbelief, this heartland of the north is the secret soul of Pakistan.
Central Asia’s holiest city, Bukhara boasts architecture spanning a thousand years of history, and a thoroughly lived-in old centre that has barely changed in two centuries. It is one of the best places in Central Asia for a glimpse of pre-Russian Turkestan.
Lake Dal, Kashmir
With the snow-capped Himalayas standing as distant sentinels, the lotus lakes near Srinagar are skimmed by flower-sellers punting gladioli, dahlias and lilies through the mirrored waters.
Dynamic and youthful, cultured and historic, the city of flamenco clambers up the hillside to the 14th-century Alhambra, the crowning glory not only of the town but of Islamic imperial architecture.
Old quarter souqs in Aleppo (Syria), Mutrah (Oman) & San'a (Yemen)
Coffee pots and copper plates, tanning hides and bales of wool, plastic trays and mosque clocks pile the alleyways of these garrulous, gossiping, grumbling organs of trade throughout the Islamic world.
Belly dancing, Turkey
Seductive and sensual, this ancient dance form refines the art of teasing and captures all the myths of the Orient in one muscle-clenching, hip-gyrating, bead-flashing curl of the torso.
Minaret of Jam, Afghanistan
The holy grail for travellers in Afghanistan, the 65m-high minaret was built in 12th century but was unknown to the Western world until the 19th century. It remains one of the world’s most intriguing examples of Islamic architecture. In 2003 the minaret became Afghanistan’s first World Heritage site.
Taj Mahal, India
Although some Islamic sects prohibit the veneration of tombs, who could object to the peerless 17th-century Taj at Agra, built in loving memory of an adored wife, and coupled for eternity with its own reflection?
Couched in the Atlas mountains, it has at its core Djemaa el-Fna, ‘the greatest show on earth’: a square ringed by orange-juice sellers, snake charmers, story tellers, spice shops and carpet vendors.
Empty Quarter, Saudi Arabia
The Empty Quarter, attractive and repellent by the same measure, is crossed by the legendary Bedu; Thesiger claimed that this 'cruel land can cast a spell which no temperate climate can hope to match'.
See also our article on Religious architecture of Islam