UNESCO carefully lists the World Heritage Sites based on their history and unique features along with their cultural importance. India is indeed among the top rankers when it comes to the number of world heritage sites here. As per the latest edition of UNESCO, there are now 36 sites in India. Listed below are some of the most popular and well-known UNESCO Sites in India, which you must visit.
Taj Mahal is probably the most famous UNESCO world heritage site in India. Shah Jahan built this monument in the memory of his loving wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It is built on the banks of river Jamuna in Agra and was completed in 1653. Millions of tourists and locals visit the monument every year to admire the finest example of Mughal architecture worldwide. It is considered as the “Jewel of Muslim Art in India.”
Bodh Gaya is located in Patna and is a main religious centre for the Buddhists. It is here under the holy Bodhi Tree that Siddhartha achieved enlightenment and became Gautam Buddha. The famous Mahabodhi Temple was built in 250 BCE during the reign of Ashoka the Great. As one of the earliest Buddhist temples, the Bodh Gaya complex comprises of the Mahabodhi Temple, the sacred Bodhi Tree, the Vajrasana and several other holy sites of Buddha’s enlightenment.
Another important UNESCO site, Khajuraho is located in Madhya Pradesh and comprises of a group of Hindu and Jain Temples. The exceptional heritage site is located near Jhansi and is well-known for its erotic figures and sculptures built in the Nagara style. The sensuous sculpted carvings of human and animal figures are proof of the rich cultural legacy of India and are depicted in a very aesthetic manner.
Kaziranga Wildlife Sanctuary is a protected and untouched natural area, which is famous for its one-horned rhinoceros. Lord Curzon initiated the project to protect the endangered Rhinoceros in the region. Located in the Brahmaputra floodplains, the Wildlife Sanctuary consists of dense grasslands, thick forests and many streams and lakes. There are 15 endangered species, which the Kaziranga Wildlife Sanctuary aims to protect. However, it is the rhino which is the most threatened species. Other species include the capped langur, leopard, sloth bear, hoolock gibbon, tiger, Gangetic dolphin, water buffalo, otter, wild boar, swamp deer, and hog deer.
Ajanta and Ellora Caves in Maharashtra are important World Heritage sites in India. Here one can see stunning masterpieces of rock-cut temples and caves filled with Buddhist paintings and sculpture. The art and architectural style of Ajanta and Ellora Caves has left a radical impact on Indian classical art throughout history. The sculptures and paintings play an important role when trying to understand the different faiths in the Ancient Indian History.
Hampi lies within the remains of the ancient Vijayanagar kingdom. Its ruins are a symbol of the Dravidian style of art and architecture. The Virupaksha Temple is the most significant heritage monument here, and it is also a religious centre of the Hindus. Several other monuments, such as Pattabhirama temple, Vitthala temple, Achyutaraya temple, Lotus Mahal and more, comprise the ‘Group of Monuments at Hampi’.
The 13th-century Sun Temple at Konark is located in Odisha and was built around AD 1250 by the Eastern Ganga Dynasty. Shaped like a gigantic chariot, one can see the enormous wheel, pillars and walls with massive horses in the front, carved in stone. The temple is looked upon as one of the major Brahmin sanctuaries in India. Its architectural style reflects the magnificence of Kalinga Architecture.
The Chola temples were built during the Chola empire rule and comprise of different temples like Airavatesvara Temple, Brihadisvara Temple and the Gangaikonda Cholapuram Temple. The Brihadisvara temple is a landmark for Chola architecture and it is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Airavatesvara Temple is the most famous Chola temple and is unlike the others, aesthetically. The Chola temples are a testimony of the magnificent Chola art and architecture that existed thousands of years ago.
Another UNESCO site in India is old stone structures in Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh. Commissioned under emperor Ashoka, these Buddhist monuments were built during the 3rd century BCE and are located in Bhopal. The semi-circular brick structure depicts the relics of Buddha. There are several other structures at the site apart from the Sanchi stupa such as temples, palaces, monolithic pillars and monasteries.
Fatehpur Sikri reflects the victory of Akhbar over Ranthambore and Chittor and comprises of four key monuments. The Buland Darwaza is made of a particular wood is a gigantic doorway. Panch Mahal is looked upon as the foundation of the Navaratnas and has the Diwan-e-Khas. All these monuments and buildings are part of the UNESCO world heritage sites.
Sunderbans National Park is situated on the Sunderbans Delta made by the river Ganges. The National Park is famous for the royal Bengal tigers and the thick mangrove forests that cover the park. The royal Bengal tiger is critically threatened and finds support and protection within the park. Besides the Bengal tiger, one can spot other species like spotted deer, wild boar, Gangetic dolphin and the rare saltwater crocodile.
The Elephanta caves are located close to the city of Mumbai. Located on the Elephanta Island, the Elephanta caves are also known as Gharapuri. These are a chain of sculpted caves and numerous archaeological remains that allow one to go back into the rich cultural past of the Indian civilization. These caves are famous for its rock-cut sculptures and carvings of Lord Shiva. Cave 1 is the most significant of all the caves here.
Apart from the above-listed UNESCO sites in India, there are many more that could be added to the list such as Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park, churches and convents of Goa, Humayun's tomb, monuments of Khajuraho, Qutub Minar and its monuments, Red Fort complex, rock shelters of Bhimbetka, Jantar Mantar and many more. Do visit them whenever you get a chance.