Today, April 18th, is UNESCO World Heritage Day. A day intended to raise the public’s awareness about the diversity of cultural heritage and the efforts that are required to protect and conserve it, as well as draw attention to its vulnerability. India is home to 32 UNESCO heritage sites (7 natural sites and 25 cultural sites) and ranks 7th on the list of countries with the most number of such sites following Italy, China, Spain, France, Germany and Mexico. Here are the 10 best UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India.
1. Taj Mahal, Agra
The Taj Mahal is assured a place on this list simply by the virtue of being one of the seven wonders of the world. This stunning monument is the epitome of Mughal architecture and one of, if not the most precious buildings in India.
2. The Churches and Convents of Old Goa
Old Goa is that part of Goa which was colonised by the Portuguese in the 14th and 15th centuries and is now home to a number of churches of convents out of which 7 have been recognised as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These buildings, which feature beautiful architecture, paintings and sculptures, are a testament to the beginning of Christianity in India.
3. Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka, Madhya Pradesh
These rock shelters in Madhya Pradesh are where the earliest traces of human life on the Indian subcontinent were discovered. Dating back to the Mesolithic Era (more than 1,00,000 years ago), the Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka are situated at the foothills of the Vindhaya Mountains and the carvings and paintings found here indicate the beginning of the South Asian Stone Age.
4. Mahabodhi Temple at Bodh Gaya, Bihar
Bodh Gaya in Bihar is said to be the place where Siddhartha gained enlightenment and became Gautama Buddha. Established in 250 CE, the Complex at Bodh Gaya encloses the Mahabodhi Temple, the Vajrasana, sacred Bodhi Tree and other six sacred sites of Buddha’s enlightenment, surrounded by numerous ancient Votive stupas. It is seen as the birthplace of Buddhism and is hence one of the most important pilgrimage sites for Buddhists.
5. Sun Temple, Konark, Orrisa
One of the most beautiful and overlooked pieces of Architecture in India, the Sun Temple of Konark is a monument carved out of stone to resemble a giant chariot. It features 12 pairs of elaborately carved stone wheels, which double as sun dials as well, adorning the sides of the main structure. The Sun Temple was constructed by King Narasimhadeva of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty in the 13th century as a tribute to the sun god ‘Surya’ and is designed in such a way that the first rays of the sun fall directly on its entrance chamber.
6. Group of Monuments at Hampi, Karnataka
Hampi is one of the most popular tourist sites in the whole of South India. It lies within the ruins of the ancient, prosperous kingdom of Vijayanagar. The ruins at Hampi are a collection of temples, bazaars and residential quarters depicting the fine Dravidian style of art and Architecture. The most important heritage monument in this site is the Virupaksha Temple, which continues to be a very important religious centre for the Hindus.
7. Qutub Minar Complex, Delhi
Standing at a height of 72.5 metres, the Qutub Minar is the tallest brick minaret in the world. This tall structure made of red sandstone and marble was constructed in 1200 AD. The complex it stands in encloses a number of other important structures and monuments, one of which is the famed Iron Pillar – a 7m tall pillar made in 402 CE that has mesmerised archaeologists and material scientists due to its unique ability to withstand corrosion. The Qutb Minar, Alai Darwaza, Alai Minar, Qubbat-ul-Islam Mosque, Tomb of Iltumish, and Iron Pillar all have been recognised as UNESCO world heritage sites and they are some of the earliest symbols of Islamic architecture in India.
8. Rani ki Vav, Patan, Gujurat
Built in 3000 CE during the Solanki Dynasty, this structure is actually an inverted temple which is divided into seven levels of wells each having it own importance as per the religious and mythological works mentioned in canonical literature. Believed to be a tribute for a king by his widowed queen, Rani ki Vav is known for its stepped corridors, stone carvings and sculptures, most of which are dedicated to Lord Vishnu. This well/temple was granted the status of a World Heritage site in 2014 by UNESCO.
9. Great Himalayan National Park, Himachal Pradesh
Many people don’t know that UNESCO also lists natural parks and bioshperes as Heritage Sites. The Great Himalayan National Park in the Kullu District of Himachal Pradesh is one of 7 natural heritage sites in India. Spread over an area of 754.4 square kilometres, this park includes Coniferous forests, snowy peaks and pristine glaciers, several of which are the origins of the tributaries of river Indus. This National Park is also home to a large number of diverse species of flaura and fauna which cannot be found elsewhere.
10. Western Ghats
The Western Ghats (or Sahyadri Mountain Range) that line the western coast of the Indian peninsula cover an area of 1,60,000 sq kilometres and are home to a number of National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries and Forest reserves. What you may not know that this region ranks among the World’s top ten “Hottest Biodiversity Hotspots”. The fact that it is home to a diverse collection of rare and endangered species of flora and fauna is the reason why it is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India.
Can you guess some of the other heritage sites that didn’t make this list? Let us know in the comments below.
This article is brought to you by Wheelstreet – India’s first bike rental platform.