India is one of the countries in the World that has a rich, unsurpassed heritage and culture. Eras over eras have influenced, moulded and face lifted the rich heritage. Distinctive edifices, perennial culture and the determination to keep this incredibility have preserved for us an era no short of marvels. With a startling number of places and monuments enlisted in the list of UNESCO World heritage sites, India has made an incredible mark in world history.
India humbly possesses the most diverse heritage in the world. The lush flora and the tailored landscape around it has been the prime attraction in the country. India not only boasts of World famous heritage sites but also magnificent wildlife heritage as well as an overwhelming cultural heritage. From the float of crocodiles at Sunderban National Park to the home of snow leopards at Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, from the majestic Manas Wildlife Sanctuary to the Keoladeo National Park and Kaziranga National Park, right from the red rhododendrons to the Neelakurinji, which bloom once every 12 years and from the moonscape Ladakh to the river island Majuli, the kaleidoscope of wildlife and natural heritage never ceases to amaze us in India.
India has amplified and grown manifold over time with creative aspects like art, music, dance and literature. Besides this, crafts, religion, customs, traditions, beliefs, philosophy, history, health, medicine, travel, cuisine, monuments, literature, painting and languages are also vital features that make the culture heritage of India rich and exceptional.
There are 36 (28 cultural, 7 natural and 1 mixed) World Heritage Sites in India that are recognised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as of August 2017. India’s first four sites inscribed on the list held in 1983 were the Agra Fort, Taj Mahal, Ellora Caves and the Ajanta Caves. In July, 2017 the Historic City of Ahmadabad was added to the list, making it India’s first UNESCO World heritage city.
Below are some of the UNESCO World heritage sites in India:
Kaziranga National Park, Assam – Kaziranga, located in the North eastern state of Assam in the flood plains of the Brahmaputra River’s south bank, was declared a World heritage site by UNESCO in 1985 for its unique natural environment. The park, which covers an area of 106,250 acres, has the distinction of being home to the largest population of the great Indian one-horned rhinoceros. There are many other mammals and birds species in the sanctuary.
Manas Wildlife Sanctuary, Assam – Manas Wildlife Sanctuary, located in the north eastern state of Assam covers an area of 120,000 acres in the plains of the Manas River in the foot hills of the Himalayas, on the border with Bhutan. It was inscribed as a World heritage site by UNESCO in 1985 for its unique natural environment. The sanctuary is the habitat of several species of plants, mammals , reptile species, amphibians and birds. Some wildlife you will find at Manas are tigers, pygmy hogs, clouded leopard, sloth bear, Indian rhinoceros, wild buffaloes, Indian elephants, golden langur and Bengal florican.
Mahabodhi Temple Complex at Bodh Gaya, Bihar – Mahabodhi Temple Complex at Bodh Gaya , spread over an area of 12 acres is a property of cultural and archaeological importance. The first temple was built by Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BC around the Bodhi Tree. However, the temples seen now are dated between 5th and 6th centuries AD. Revered and sanctified as the place where Siddhartha Gautama Buddha was enlightened in 531 BC at age 35, and then propagated his divine knowledge of Buddhism to the world, it has been the ultimate temple for reverential worship, over the last several centuries, by Buddhists of all denominations, from all over the world who visit on pilgrimage.
Humayun’s Tomb, Delhi – Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi was the first tomb built with several innovations, set at the centre of luxurious gardens with water channels. It was built in 1570 and was inscribed as a UNESCO World heritage monument in 1993 for its cultural importance. It was built by the second Mughal Emperor Humayun’s widow Biga Begum.
Qutb Minar and its Monuments, Delhi – Qutb Minar and its Monuments located to the south of Delhi, is a complex with the Qutb Minar as the centre piece. It is a red sandstone tower of 72.5 metres (238 ft) height with a base of 14.32 metres (47.0 ft) reducing to 2.75 metres (9.0 ft) diameter at the top. Built in the beginning of the 13th century, the complex comprises the Alai Darwaza Gate (1311), the Alai Minar (an incomplete mound of the intended Minar or tower), the Qubbat-ul-Islam Mosque (the earliest existing mosque in India), the tomb of Iltumish, and an Iron Pillar with inscriptions in Sanskrit of the Chandra Gupta II period. Initially built by Qutubuddin Aibak , its completion by Iltumish and again by Alauddin Khalji , it was inscribed under the UNESCO World heritage list for its unique representation of Islamic architectural and artistic excellence.
Red Fort Complex, Delhi – Red Fort Complex, also known as Lal Qila is a palace fort built in the 17th century by Shahjahan , the fifth Mughal emperor as part of his new capital city of Shahjahanabad, located to the north of Delhi. The palace complex has been fortified by an enclosure wall built with red sand stone . Built between 1639 and 1648, enclosing an area of size 656 metres x 328 metres and raising to a height of 23 metres on the right bank of the Yamuna River, it is linked to the Salimgarh Fort through a bridge over an old river channel, now a city road.
Churches and Convents of Goa, Goa – The churches and convents of Goa are monuments inscribed by UNESCO under the World heritage list in 1986 as cultural property which were built by the Portuguese colonial rulers of Goa between 16th and 18th centuries. These monuments are mainly in the former capital of Old Goa. The most significant of these monuments is the Basilica of Bom Jesus, which enshrines the tomb containing the relics of St. Francis Xavier. These monuments of Goa, known as the “Rome of the Orient,” were established by different Catholic religious orders from 25 November 1510 onwards. There were originally 60 churches of which some of the surviving monuments in the city of Velha Goa or Old Goa are the Saint Catherine’s Chapel , the Church and Convent of Saint Francis of Assisi, the Sé Catedral de Santa Catarina dedicated to Saint Catherine of Alexandria, the Basílica do Bom Jesus, Igreja de São Francisco de Assis , the church of Saint Cajetan and its seminary, Church of Our Lady of the Rosary and church of Saint Augustine. These monuments were forerunners in establishing an ensemble of the Manueline, Mannerist and Baroque art forms in the Asian region.
Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park, Gujarat – Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park is situated in Panchmahal district in Gujarat, India. It was inscribed as a UNESCO World heritage site in 2004 as a cultural site. There is a concentration of largely unexcavated archaeological, historic and living cultural heritage properties cradled in an impressive landscape which includes prehistoric (chalcolithic) sites, a hill fortress of an early Hindu capital, and remains of the 16th-century capital of the state of Gujarat. The site also includes, among other vestiges, fortifications, palaces, religious buildings, residential precincts, agricultural structures and water installations, from the 8th to the 14th centuries. The Kalikamata Temple & Jain Temple on top of the Pavagadh Hill is considered to be an important shrine, attracting large numbers of pilgrims throughout the year.
Monuments at Hampi, Karnataka – The monuments at Hampi comprise of a somber but ostentatious Hampi town, on the banks of the river Tungabhadra in Karnataka. Hampi subsumes the ruins of Vijayanagar, which was the former capital of the powerful Vijayanagar Empire. Dravidian temples and palaces abound in Hampi, which is an important Hindu & Jain religious centre. It also has the Virupaksha Temple (different from the one at Pattadakal) and several other monuments, which are part of the cultural heritage as inscribed in UNESCO World heritage list.
Group of Monuments at Pattadakal, Karnataka – The group of monuments in Pattadakal designated under UNESCO World heritage list, in 1987, cover a remarkable series of nine Hindu temples as well as a Jain sanctuary in northern Karnataka. In this group of temples, the Virupaksha Temple is considered the most outstanding architectural edifice (This is different from the Virupaksha Temple at Hampi.). These are a remarkable combination of temples built by the Chalukya Dynasty in the 6th to 8th century at Aihole, Badami and Pattadakal which was known as the “Crown Rubies”. Pattadakal is considered a Hindu holy city and within the heritage complex are eight temples dedicated to Shiva, a ninth shaivite sanctuary called the Papanatha Temple, and a Jain temple.
Buddhist Monuments at Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh – Buddhist Monuments at Sanchi, located 45 kilometres from Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh are a group of Buddhist monuments dated between 200 BC and 100 BC. The site, however, has been conjectured to have been developed in the 3rd century BC, when Emperor Ashoka of the Mauryan Empire ruled. The principal monument is Stupa 1 dated to the 2nd century and 1st century BC. These Buddhist sanctuaries were active Buddhist religious monuments, which flourished till the 12th century. The sanctuary has a plethora of monolithic pillars, palaces, temples and monasteries . It was inscribed as a World heritage site by UNESCO in 1989 for its unique cultural importance. It was discovered only in 1818 in a deserted state of preservation. Archaeological excavations undertaken thereafter revealed 50 unique monuments.
Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka, Madhya Pradesh – Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh is a magnificent repository of rock paintings within natural rock shelters. It is located in the foothills of the Vindhya range of hills. It is spread in sandstone formations extending over an area of 25,400 acres. The rock shelters, discovered only in 1957, comprise a group of five clusters of rock shelters with paintings that are inferred to date from the Mesolithic period right through to the Historical period, with the 21 villages surrounding them reflecting the traditions displayed in the rock paintings. It was inscribed as a World heritage site by UNESCO in 2003.
Khajuraho Group of Monuments, Madhya Pradesh – Khajuraho Group of Monuments attributed to the Chandela dynasty which, under sovereignty of Gurjar Pratihars reached its glory. The ensemble of monuments that have survived belong to the Hindu and Jain Religious practices with striking fusion of sculpture and architecture. The best example of this outstanding feature is seen in the Kandariya Temple. Of the 85 temples built, only 22 temples have survived, which represent the Chandela period of the 10th century. Located in Madhya Pradesh, it was inscribed by UNESCO as a World heritage site in 1982.
Ajanta and Ellora Caves, Aurangabad, Maharashtra – Ajanta Caves listed under UNESCO World heritage are Buddhist caves that were built in two phases, the first phase was from the 2nd century BC and the second phase where further additions were made was during the 5th and 6th century AD of the Gupta period. The 31 rock cut cave monuments depict richly decorated paintings and frescoes and are a unique representation of the religious art of Buddhism.
Ellora Caves are a cultural mix of religious arts of Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. There are 34 monasteries and temples sculpted contiguously into rock walls of a high basalt cliff, which are seen along a length of 2 kilometres. Dated to 600 to 1000 AD, they are a reflection of artistic creation of the ancient civilization of India. The Ellora caves are also listed under the UNESCO World heritage list.
Elephanta Caves, Maharashtra – The Elephanta Caves are a network of sculpted caves located on Elephanta Island, or Gharapuri which literally means the city of caves. The island consists of two groups of caves — the first is a large group of five Hindu caves, the second, a smaller group of two Buddhist caves. The Hindu caves contain rock cut stone sculptures, representing the Shaiva Hindu sect, dedicated to Lord Shiva. The rock-cut architecture of the caves is dated to between the 5th and 8th centuries. The caves are hewn from solid basalt rock. Renovated in the 1970s, the caves were designated an UNESCO World heritage site in 1987 to preserve the artwork.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly known as Victoria Terminus), Mumbai, Maharashtra – Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus is a historic railway station in Mumbai, which serves as the headquarters of the Central Railways. It is one of the busiest railway stations in India. The station was designed by Frederick William Stevens, a consulting architect in 1887. It took ten years to complete and was named “Victoria Terminus” in honor of the Queen and Empress Victoria. This famous architectural landmark is built in Gothic style. In 1996, it was renamed after Chatrapati Shivaji, the famed 17th-century Maratha king. It was nominated as a World heritage site in 2004 by UNESCO.
Sun Temple, Konark, Puri, Odisha – Konark Sun Temple is a 13th-century Sun Temple at Konark, in Odisha. Located on the east coast of the Bay of Bengal in the Mahanadi Delta, it is built in the form of the chariot of Surya., the sun god with 24 wheels, and is heavily decorated with symbolic stone carvings and led by a team of six horses. It was constructed from oxidizing weathered ferruginous sandstone by King Narasimhadeva I of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty. The temple is one of the most renowned temples in India and was inscribed in 1984 as a World heritage site.
Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur, Rajasthan – Keoladeo National Park in Bharatpur is a bird sanctuary located within the Indus-Ganges Monsoon Forest Biogeographical Province. It extends over an area of 6,880 acres. It was inscribed in the UNESCO World heritage list in 1985. The area of the wetland of the park shrinks to 2,500 acres during most part of the year. It has a human-built environment created partly by embankments dividing the area into 10 units. It is famous for 364 species of wintering birds that flock in large numbers, arriving from distant countries of Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, China and Siberia. It is surrounded by 17 villages and the Bharatpur city.
Jantar Mantar, Jaipur, Rajasthan – The Jantar Mantar in Jaipur is a collection of architectural astronomical instruments, built by Maharaja Jai Singh II at his then new capital of Jaipur between 1727 and 1734. It is modelled after the one that he had built at the Mughal capital of Delhi. The Jaipur observatory is the largest and best preserved and has a set of about 20 main fixed instruments built in masonry. It is listed on UNESCO World heritage list as an expression of the astronomical skills and cosmological concepts of the court of a scholarly prince at the end of the Mughal period.
Great Living Chola Temples – The Great Living Chola Temples, built by kings of the Chola Empire stretched over all of Tamil Nadu. This cultural heritage site includes three great temples of 11th and 12th centuries namely, the Brihadisvara Temple at Thanjavur, the Brihadisvara Temple at Gangaikonda Cholapuram and the Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram. The temples testify to the brilliant achievements of the Chola Dynasty in terms of architecture, sculpture, painting and bronze casting. The site was inscribed under UNESCO World heritage list in 1987.
Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu – The Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram, in Tamil Nadu, about 58 km from Chennai, were built by the Pallava kings in the 7th and 8th centuries. The town is said to have gained prominence under the rule of Mamalla. These monuments have been carved out of rock along the Coromandel coast. The temple town has approximately forty monuments, including the largest open-air bas-relief in the world. It was inscribed under the UNESCO World heritage list in 1984.
Agra Fort, Uttar Pradesh – Agra Fort, also known as the Red Fort of Agra, which represented Mughal opulence and power as the center piece of their empire was inscribed in the UNESCO World heritage list in 1982. The fortress located on the right bank of the Yamuna River, built in red sandstone, covering a length of 2.5 kilometers and surrounded by a moat, encloses several palaces, towers and mosques. These were built from the 16th century onwards till the early 18th century, starting with Emperor Akbar’s reign in the 16th century to that of Aurangzeb in the early part of the 18th century, including the contributions made during the reign of Jehangir and Shahjahan. These monuments are remarkable for the fusion of Persian art and the Indian art form.
Fatehpur Sikri, Uttar Pradesh – Fatehpur Sikri, “the City of Victory,” was built during the second half of the 16th century by the Mughal emperor Akbar . It was the capital of the empire and seat of the grand Mughal court, but only for 14 years. Despite bearing exceptional testimony to the Mughal civilization at the end of the 16th century, it had to be abandoned due to lack of water and unrest in north-west India, leading the emperor to shift the capital to Lahore. Akbar decided to construct it in 1571, on the same site where the birth of his son, Jehangir was predicted by the wise saint Shaikh Salim Chisti . The work, supervised by the great Mughal himself, was completed in 1573. The complex of monuments and temples, all uniformly in Mughal architectural style, includes one of the largest mosques in India, the Jama Masjid, the Buland Darwaza, the Panch Mahal, and the Tomb of Salim Chishti. The city has numerous other palaces, public buildings and mosques, as well as living areas for the court, the army, servants of the king and for an entire population whose history has not been recorded.
Taj Mahal, Agra, Uttar Pradesh – Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world is a mausoleum – a funerary mosque. It was built by Emperor Shahjahan in memory of his third wife Begum Mumtaz Mahal who had died in 1631. It is a large edifice made in white marble in typical Mughal architecture, a style that combines elements from Persian, Islamic and Indian architectural styles. This much acclaimed masterpiece was built over a 16-year period between 1631 and 1648 under the Chief Architect Ustad Ahmad Lahauri supported by several thousand artisans.It was inscribed in the UNESCO World heritage list in 1983. It is set amidst vast Mughal gardens, which cover 42 acres of land on the right bank of the Yamuna River. It has an octagonal layout marked by four exclusive minarets at four corners with a pristine elevation of a central bulbous dome.
Mountain Railways of India – The Mountain Railways of India represents a collective listing of the Darjeeling Himalayan railway, the Nilgiri mountain railway and the Kalka-Shimla railway under the UNESCO World heritage site. Two railways, the Darjeeling Himalayan railway and the Kalka-Shimla Railway are located in the rugged hill regions of the Himalayas of Northern India and the other one, the Nilgiri mountain railway are located in the rugged hill regions of the western ghats of southern India. These railways have been recognized by UNESCO for their outstanding, bold and ingenious engineering solutions for the problem of establishing an effective rail link through a rugged, mountainous terrain. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was recognized first in 1999, the Nilgiri Mountain Railway followed suite as an extension to the site in 2005, and in 2008 the Kalka–Shimla Railway was further added as an extension; and the three together have been titled as Mountain Railways of India.
Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Parks, Chamoli, Uttarakhand – Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Parks are nestled high in West Himalaya. Valley of Flowers National Park is renowned for its meadows of endemic alpine flowers and outstanding natural beauty. It is located in the Garhwal Himalaya of Chamoli District of Uttarakhand. This richly diverse area is also home to rare and endangered animals, including the Asiatic black bear, snow leopard, brown bear and blue sheep. The gentle landscape of the Valley of Flowers National Park complements the rugged mountain wilderness of Nanda Devi National Park. Together, they encompass a unique transition zone between the mountain ranges of the Zanskar and Great Himalaya. The park stretches over an expanse of 87.5 km2. It was inscribed under the UNESCO World heritage list in 1988 with extension in 2005. Together, they comprise the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve.
Sundarbans National Park, West Bengal – The Sundarbans National Park is the largest estuarine mangrove forest in the world. It is a tiger as well as biosphere reserve located in the Sundarbans Ganges river delta bordering the Bay of Bengal in West Bengal. The Sundarbans as a whole encompasses 10,000 km2 of land and water, about 5,980 km2 in India and the balance is in Bangladesh. It was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1987. This region is densely covered by mangrove forests, and is one of the largest reserves for the Bengal tiger. It is also home to a variety of bird, reptile and invertebrate species, including the salt-water crocodile.
Western Ghats – Western Ghats, also known as the Sahyadri Mountains, a mountain range along the western side of India and one of the world’s ten hottest biodiversity hotspots
Hill Forts of Rajasthan – Hill Forts of Rajasthan, are a series of sites located on rocky outcrops of the Aravalli mountain range in Rajasthan. They represent a typology of Rajput military hill architecture, a style characterized by its mountain peak settings, utilizing the defensive properties of the terrain. They enclose large territories and even complete villages in walled compounds. The Hill Forts consist of Chittor Fort, Kumbhalgarh Fort, Ranthambore Fort, Gagron Fort, Amer Fort and Jaisalmer Fort. These fort complexes includes palaces, Hindu and Jain temples, urban centers and trading centers. They are part of the World heritage list.
Rani ki Vav – The Queen’s Stepwell , Patan, Gujarat – Rani ki vav also known as The Queen’s Stepwell at Patan in Gujarat, is a famous stepwell known for its size and sculpture. The length of Rani ki Vav is more than 64m long, 20m wide & 27m deep and there are more than 500 sculptures of God. Most of the sculptures are in devotion to Vishnu, in the forms of Dusavatars, the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu. Also, apsaras show casing 16 different styles of make-up to look more attractive called solah-shringar, are also sculpted there. Rani ki Vay is part of the World heritage sites.
Great Himalayan National Park, Kullu, Himachal Pradesh – Great Himalayan National Park at Kullu, Himachal Pradesh, is characterized by high alpine peaks, alpine meadows and riverine forests. The 90,540hectare property includes the upper mountain glacial and snow melt water source origins of several rivers, and the catchments of water supplies that are vital to millions of downstream users. It is part of the Himalaya biodiversity hotspot and includes 25 forest types along with a rich assemblage of fauna species, several of which are threatened. This gives the site outstanding significance for biodiversity conservation.
Nalanda, Bihar – The Nalanda Mahavihara site is in the state of Bihar, in north-eastern India. It comprises the archaeological remains of a monastic and scholastic institution dating from the 3rd century to the 13th century. It includes stupas, shrines, viharas which are residential and educational buildings and important art works in stucco, stone and metal. Nalanda stands out as the most ancient university of the Indian subcontinent. It engaged in the organized transmission of knowledge over an uninterrupted period of 800 years. The historical development of the site testifies to the development of Buddhism into a religion and the flourishing of monastic and educational traditions.
Khangchendzonga National Park, Sikkim – Located at the heart of the Himalayan range in northern India in Sikkim, the Khangchendzonga National Park includes a unique diversity of plains, valleys, lakes, glaciers and spectacular, snow-capped mountains covered with ancient forests, including the world’s third highest peak, Mount Khangchendzonga.
The Architectural Work Of Le Corbusier, Chandigarh – Chosen from the work of Le Corbusier, the 17 sites comprising this transnational serial property are spread over seven countries. Urban and Architectural Work of Le Corbusier in Chandigarh, is home to numerous architectural projects of Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret, Matthew Nowicki and Albert Mayer.
Historic City of Ahmadabad, Gujarat – The walled city of Ahmadabad, founded by Sultan Ahmad Shah in the 15th century, on the eastern bank of the Sabarmati river, presents a rich architectural heritage from the sultanate period, notably the Bhadra citadel, the walls and gates of the Fort city and numerous mosques and tombs as well as important Hindu and Jain temples of later periods. The urban fabric is made up of densely-packed traditional houses in gated traditional streets with characteristic features such as bird feeders, public wells and religious institutions.