UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India
A UNESCO world heritage site refers to a site or a place that is listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a site of special cultural or physical significance. The UNESCO aims to encourage the identification, protection, and preservation of cultural and natural heritage across the world.
A site or place that holds cultural or physical significance and should be protected for future generations to appreciate, enjoy and learn is declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site by UNESCO. At present, there are 38 UNESCO world heritage sites in India.
These sites are divided into three categories:
30 cultural sites, 7 natural sites and 1 mixed site.Cultural World Heritage Sites in India:
1. Agra Fort, Uttar Pradesh: Agra Fort, which is also known as the Red Fort, is located in the Agra city of the Uttar Pradesh, India, close to the Taj Mahal and next to the bank of the river Yamuna. It was built by Mughal Emperor Akbar in 1573 during his reign.
Originally, it was a brick monument named Badalgarh as it was owned by Raja Badal Singh, a Hindu Rajput King.
So, it is a combination of Persian art of the Timurid and the Indian forms of architecture.
It got the status of the world heritage site in 1983.
It is made of red sandstone and is surrounded by towers, moats, mosques, and palaces. There are many impressive structures in the Agra fort such as Jahangir Mahal, Khas Mahal, Diwan-i-Khass, Diwan-i-Am, Moti Masjid and Machchhi Bhawan.
2. Ajanta Caves:
The Ajanta caves are located in the Maharashtra state of India. These caves date back to 2nd century BC to 7th century CE. This site has 31 rock-cut Buddhist caves monuments that showcase highly decorated paintings and sculptures. These caves were built in two phases in two different times; the first phase is built during the Satavahana Period under the patronage of Satvahana Dynasty (230 BCE-220 CE). The second phase (the caves of Vakataka) is built during the reign of King Harishena of the Vakataka Dynasty.
This site got the status of a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1983.
3. Ellora Caves:
Ellora caves are located to the northwest of the Aurangabad city in the state of Maharashtra, India. These caves are famous for their Indian-rock cut architecture. This site has around 34 rock-cut temples and caves that date back to around 600 to 1000 AD and give us an idea about the life of people of that time.
It was inscribed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1983.
4. Taj Mahal:
Taj Mahal is located at Agra city in the Uttar Pradesh state of India. It is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It is a famous tourist destination not only in India but throughout the world. This monument is declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 1983. Taj Mahal was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in the memory of his wife Mumtaj after she died in 1631. It is made up of pure white marble and it took around 16 years to complete its construction.
It is considered as the most renowned example of Mughal Architecture across the world.
5. Sun Temple, Konark: Konark sun temple is an architectural marvel of Eastern India. It is located at Konark in the Odisha state of India. This temple is dedicated to the Sun God and has three images of the Sun God at three different parts of the temple in such a way that the images receive the sun rays in the morning, noon and evening respectively. It is an excellent example of temple architecture and art.
It reflects the magnificence of the Kalinga Architecture of that time.
It was built in the middle of the 13th century by the ruler of the Ganga dynasty. More than 1000 artisans were involved in the construction of this temple and it took around 12 years (1243 to 1255 A.D.) to complete the construction. It is designed in the form of a chariot, which is mounted on 24 wheels and led by a group of 7 horses.
It was inscribed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1984.
6. Groups of Monuments at Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu:
The Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram is located on the Coromandel Coast of the Bay of Bengal, at Kancheepuram district in the Tamil Nadu state of India. It was accorded the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the year 1984. It has around 40 sanctuaries which were founded by the Pallava kings in the 7th and 8th centuries.
These monuments are divided into four categories: Rathas (chariot-shaped temples), Mandapas (cave sanctuaries or temples), Structural Temples and Rock Reliefs that also include the world’s largest open-air rock relief.
7. Churches and Convents of Goa:
This heritage site is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986. It comprises churches and convents at old Goa which were built during the 16th and 18th centuries by the Portuguese colonial rulers. The design and architectural features of these monuments are very impressive. The Church of Bom Jesus, which houses the tomb of St. Francis Xavier, is the main attraction of this site. The famous churches of Old Goa include Se’ Cathedral, Chapel of St. Catherine, Church and Convent of St. Francis of Assisi, Church of Lady of Rosary, the Church of St. Augustine and more.
8. Khajuraho Group of Monuments, Madhya Pradesh:
Khajuraho group of monuments is located in the Madhya Pradesh state of India. It was recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986.
This site comprises Hindu and Jain temples, which are known for their Nagara style symbolism and erotic sculptures. Most of these monuments are built between 950 and 1050 CE during Chandela dynasty. The Khajuraho complex has a total of 85 temples spread over an area of around 20 square kilometers. The Kandariya Mahadeva temple is the most famous temple of Khajuraho group of monuments.
9. Group of Monuments at Hampi:
There are many monuments at this site, collectively they are known as the “Group of Monuments at Hampi. It is added to the list of World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1986 and is located in the northern part of the Karnataka state of India, within the ruins of the ancient kingdom of Vijayanagar. The ruins at Hampi represent the fine Dravidian style of art and architecture. Virupaksha temple is the most important heritage monument in this site and it continues to be a renowned religious place for the Hindus. Some other famous monuments at this site include the Krishna temple complex, Narasimha, Ganesa, Hemakuta group of temples, Achyutaraya temple complex, Pattabhirama temple complex, Lotus Mahal complex, and Vitthala temple complex.
10. Fatehpur Sikri, Uttar Pradesh:
It is located at 26 miles to the west of Agra, Uttar Pradesh. Fatehpur Sikri (the city of victory) was built by the Mughal Emperor Akbar at the end of the 16th century. It was the capital of the Mughal Empire for a few years. The city has four main Monuments: The Jama Masjid, The Buland Darwaza, which is the greatest door of Asia made of a special wood imported from Australia and Panch Mahal or Jodha Baai ka Mahal.
11. Group of Monuments at Pattadakal, Karnataka:
Pattadakal,which is known as the ‘City of the Crown Rubies’, was the capital of the Chalukya dynasty of medieval India. It is a village located in the Bagalkot district on the banks of river Malaprabha, in Karnataka, India. It is built in the 7th and 8th centuries and accorded with the status of UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
This site comprises ten temples (Nine are Hindu temples and one is a Jain sanctuary) that represent a combination of Dravidian and Indo-Aryan style of architecture. The most famous out of these temples is the Virupaksha Temple.
12. Elephants Caves, Maharashtra:
The Elephants Caves are a group of caves located at Gharapuri on the Elephanta Island in the Mumbai Harbour, 10 kilometers away from the Gateway of India. These rock-cut Elephanta Caves were built around during the 5th and 6th centuries. This island, which is located on a ridge of the Arabian Sea, has two cave groups: the first cave group has five Hindu caves and the second one has two Buddhist caves. These caves are collectively known as the Elephanta Caves. The Hindu caves comprise rock-cut sculptures devoted to Lord Shiva. The Cave 1 which is the main cave or the Great Cave was the haven for the Hindus residents of this island to worship Hindu deities. The caves were damaged during the Portuguese reign. However, the 6 meters high Trimurthi sculpture of Lord Shiva which has three faces survived and is the main attraction of the caves.
Now, this site is maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
13. Great Living Chola Temples, Tamil Nadu:
The living Chola Temples were built during the reign of Chola Empire by the kings of the Chola Empire in the Southern Part of India. This site has three great temples of the 11th and 12th centuries: the Brihadisvara Temple at Thanjavur, the Brihadisvara Temple at Gangaikondacholisvaram and the Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram.
The Great Living Chola Temples were inscribed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987.
14. Buddhist Monuments at Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh:
Sanchi Stupa is located at Sanchi in Raisen district, 46 kilometers from Bhopal city of Madhya Pradesh state of India. This Stupa at Sanchi is the oldest stone structure in India. It is commissioned by the emperor Ashoka of the Maurya Dynasty in the 3rd century BCE. Sanchi Stupa is located on a hill at a height of 91 meters from the ground.
This site is declared as the world heritage site by UNESCO in 1989.
15. Humayun’s Tomb, New Delhi:
Humayun’s Tomb is located at Nizamuddin East in New Delhi and is the burial site of the second Mughal Emperor, Humayun. It is a huge tomb that represents the Mughal architecture. It was built by Begum Bega. She was the first wife of Humayun. The constructions started in 1565 and completed in 1572.
It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the year of 1993. It has cultural significance as it was the first garden-tomb in India. It inspired many major architectural innovations such as the Taj Mahal in Agra. It is also famous as “Necropolis of the Mughal dynasty”.
Currently, it is under the care and management of Archaeological Survey of India.
16. Qutab Minar and its Monuments, Delhi
Qutab Minar is one of the tallest and oldest structures on Earth. Its construction began in 1192 and completed in 1220. It construction was commissioned by Qutb ud-Din Aibak, later IItutmish added 3 storeys, and Firoz Shah Tughlaq carried out the restoration work.
It is a tapering minaret; diameter at its peak is 2.75 m and 14.32 m at its base. It is 72.5 tall with six storeys and represents Indo-Islamic architecture. The tower including the surrounding structures placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1993.
The structures inside the complex include the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, the Iron Pillar of Delhi, the Tomb of Imam Zamin, Tomb of lltutmish and the Major Smith’s Cupola.
17. Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka, Madhya Pradesh
This site is located at the foothills of the Vindhya Mountains in the Deccan Plateau and is declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2003. It contains rock paintings within sandstone formations spread over an area of around 2000 hectares of land. These paintings are believed to date back to the Mesolithic period and tell us about the life of the hunter-gatherers who preceded us. Furthermore, the villages that surround this site strongly correlate to the subject of these paintings.
18. Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park, Gujarat
The Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park is located in the Panchmahal district of Gujarat state of India. This site is built by Sultan Mahmud Begada of Gujarat in the early 16th century. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.
It comprises ancient monuments and temples from the prehistoric (chalcolithic) era and a hill fortress of an ancient Hindu capital, and remains of the capital of Gujarat in the 16th century. The Kalikamata temple on the top of Pavagadh Hill is considered a sacred shrine, which attracts a large number of pilgrims throughout the year.
19. Red Fort, New Delhi:
Red Fort is located in New Delhi, India. It was built by the Mughal ruler Shah Jahan in the 17th century when he shifted his capital from Agra to New Delhi. It is an excellent example of Mughal art and architecture. The enclosure walls of this fort are made up of red sandstone and it houses many small buildings such as the Diwan-i-aam, and the Diwan-i-khas.
It was included in the list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 2007.
20. Mountain Railways of India:
The Mountain Railways of India are three operational railway tracks in the mountainous terrain in three different states of India. These three mountain railways are grouped as a single World Heritage Site.
i) The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway:
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, which is also known as a toy train due to its small size, started in 1881 and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.
The track length is around 88 km, and it links New Jalpaiguri with Darjeeling.
ii) The Nilgiri Mountain Railway:
The Nilgiri Mountain Railway is a steam-driven train with a 46-km-long railway track in the mountainous terrain in the state of Tamil Nadu. It was started in 1908 and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005. It seems traveling towards the sky as it starts from 1,070 feet towards its destination, Udhagamandalam at 7,228 feet.
iii) The Kalka Shimla Railway:
The Kalka Shimla Railway is a train with a 96.54-km-long railway track in the mountainous terrain in the state of Himachal Pradesh. It starts from Kalka and completes its journey at Shimla after passing through 103 tunnels and around 864 bridges most of which are viaducts. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008.
21. Mahabodhi Temple Complex at Bodh Gaya, Bihar:
Mahabodhi Temple Complex is located at a distance of 96 kilometers away from Patna, Bihar. It is a very sacred place for Buddhists as it is the place where Mahatma Buddha attained enlightenment. It was built in the reign of King Ashoka during 250 BCE. This temple was constructed using bricks and is one of the four holy sites related to the life of Buddha. Mahabodhi Temple Complex was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002.
22. Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus), Maharashtra:
The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), formerly known as Victoria Terminus Station is a historic railway station located in Mumbai, India. It is an excellent demonstration of Victorian Gothic Revival architecture and themes derived from traditional Indian architecture in India. It was built in 1888 during the British Raj and was designed by the British architect F.W. Stevens. Its gate has two columns, on one column you can see a lion that represents Great Britain and the second column is crowned with a tiger that represents India. It is made up of sandstone and limestone; however, the interiors are lined with Italian marble.
CST was named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.
23. Jantar Mantar, Jaipur, Rajasthan:
Jantar Mantar is an astronomical observatory located in the Jaipur city of Rajasthan, India. It was built in the 18th century and its construction was commissioned by Maharaja Jai Singh II. This site is a collection of astronomical instruments including the world’s largest stone Sundial. These instruments were designed to calculate celestial coordinate systems, the horizon-zenith local system, the ecliptic system and the equatorial system.
This site represents the scientific and cultural heritage of India and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010.
24. Hill Forts of Rajasthan:
Hill Forts of Rajasthan is located within the Aravalli Mountain Range in Rajasthan. It dates back to the 5th century AD and is composed of six splendid forts: Chittorgarh Fort, Kumbhalgarh Fort, Ranthambore Fort, Gagron Fort, Amber Fort and Jaisalmer Fort. Some of the forts are up to 20 km in circumference. These forts are the testimony to the power of the Rajput princely states from the 8th to the 18th centuries.
This site is famous for the Rajput Military Defense Architecture of that time. Hill Forts of Rajasthan became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013.
25. Rani Ki Vav (the Queen’s Step well), Patan, Gujarat:
Rani-ki-Vav (the Queen’s Step well), which was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014, is located on the banks of the Saraswati River at the town of Patan in Gujarat, India. It was commissioned or built by Rani (Queen) Udayamati in 1063 in the memory of her husband King Bhimdev, son of Mularaja, the founder of the Solanki dynasty. It is one of the finest step wells in India. It is below the ground; designed as an inverted temple that descends suddenly as you approach from the plain. The central theme is the Dasavataras, or ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu. It has thousands of sculptures that represent religious, mythological images.
You can also see a sculpture of Lord Vishnu reclining on a 1,000 headed snake at the water level.
26. Nalanda Mahavihara (Nalanda University), Bihar:
Nalanda Mahavihara site is located at Nalanda district in the state of Bihar in north-eastern India. It comprises archaeological remains of a monastic and scholastic institution that existed from the 3rd century to the 13th century. Originally it was built by Emperor Kumargupta 1 of the Gupta Dynasty and the expansion continued even after the Gupta period. It is a collection of stupas, shrines, viharas and art work in stone and metal. It was inscribed to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2016.
27. Capitol Complex, Chandigarh (The Architectural Works of Le Corbusier):
The Architectural Works of Le Corbusier comprises 17 sites in 7 different countries. The capitol complex of Chandigarh is one of the 17 sites located at sector 1 in Chandigarh city of Punjab, India. The other six countries where this site is spread include France, Japan, Argentina, Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland. This site was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2016 owing to its outstanding contribution to the Modern Movement.
It was built in 1950 and it hosts the legislative assembly for both the states of Haryana and Punjab.
28. The Historic City of Ahmedabad:
Ahmedabad, which is a walled city, was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2017. The city was founded in the early 15th century by Ahmad Shah I of Gujarat Sultanate.
It was recognized by UNESCO for its cultural value that includes densely-packed traditional houses in gated traditional streets with unique features such as public wells, bird feeders, religious institutions and more.
29. Victorian and Art Deco Ensemble of Mumbai:
Victorian and Art Deco Ensemble of Mumbai was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Site in June 2018.
It is a collection of 94 buildings of cultural significance, located in the Fort Area of Mumbai around the Oval Maidan.
30. The Pink City, Jaipur:
Jaipur, which is known as a pink city, is added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Site in June 2019. The city is surrounded by walls and gates decorated with traditional drawings on the backdrop of pink shade.
The city houses few other UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as Jantar Mantar and Amer Fort and many magnificent palaces, museums, and temples.
List of Natural World Heritage Sites in India:
1. Kaziranga Wildlife Sanctuary:
Kaziranga Wildlife Sanctuary is located in the Assam state of India. It is an untouched natural area in India. It is believed that this site was a project started by Lord Curzon when his wife could not see even a single Rhinoceros in this region and asked her husband to take some strict measures to protect the rhinoceros that eventually resulted in Kaziranga Wildlife Sanctuary. It is spread over the flood plains of the Brahmaputra River and comprises dense forests, grasslands, streams and lakes. The endangered species found at this site include Rhinoceros, tiger, leopard, sloth bear, capped langur, hoolock gibbon, hog deer, water buffalo, Ganges dolphin, wild bear, gaur, sambar, swamp deer, and more.
The untouched natural environment of this site has contributed to it being inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985 in India.
2. Manas Wild Life Sanctuary, Assam:
Manas Wild Life Sanctuary is located in the Assam state of India. It is a protected wildlife reserve within the plains in Manas River and its name is derived from River Manas. It is home to various threatened species such as the tiger, rhinoceros, pygmy hog, swamp deer, and elephant. It was included in the network of tiger reserve under Project tiger in 1973.
It was inscribed as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1985. In 1989, it became a Biosphere Reserve.
3. Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur, Rajasthan:
Keoladeo National Park, which is also known as Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, is located in the Rajasthan state of India. It is home to over 300 species of birds and is also a famous wintering and nesting ground for several non-indigenous, migratory birds. Formerly, it was a duck shooting site, later it was developed as a wetland and hunting was banned.
Apart from birds, it also has around 400 floral species, and species of fish, snakes, lizards, turtles and other invertebrates. 1985
4. Sundarbans National Park, West Bengal:
This site is located in the Indian state of West Bengal on the Sunderban Deltas, which are formed by the river Ganges, in the Bay of Bengal. It is famous for Royal Bengal Tigers. It is a famous Tiger reserve and a Biosphere Reserve which is covered mostly by dense Mangrove forests which makes it the world’s largest mangrove forest reserve.
It was declared a national park in 1984 and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
5. Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Parks, Uttarakhand:
It is a park comprises two main parts: Nanda Devi National Park and Valley of Flowers National Park. The Nanda Devi national park was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988, later in 2005; it was expanded to include the Valley of Flowers National Park. Nanda Devi is the highest mountain peak in India.
The valley of flowers spread over an area of 16 sq km and is famous for a large variety of flowers that cover the entire valley as a bed sheet.
6. Western Ghats:
The Western Ghats are located along the western coast of the Indian Peninsula. It comprises several national parks, reserve forests and wildlife sanctuaries in the states of Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra.
The biodiversity is very high at this site and is one of the best Biological Hot Spot Locations in the world. 2012
7. The Great Himalayan National Park:
The Great Himalayan National Park is one of the National Parks in India in the Kullu region of the Himachal Pradesh state of India. It was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014.
This site was founded in 1984 and comprises alpine meadows, alpine peaks and riverine forests. The glacial and snow melt water is the main source of water for many rivers mainly for the tributaries of the river Indus. Many species of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and insects are found in this park.
List of Mixed World Heritage Sites in India:
1. Khangchendzonga National Park, Sikkim:
Khangchendzonga National Park is located in the Himalayan mountain range in the Sikkim state of India. It was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2016, and is also known as a Kanchenjunga National Park and Kanchenjunga Biosphere Reserve.
It also houses the world’s third highest peak – Kanchenjunga. Its landscape is rich in flora and fauna and ranges from plains to valleys and glaciers.
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