The cultural heritage of a place is portrayed through its architecture and most specifically the memorials which also reflect the history of that place. India is widely famous for its rich culture which can be experienced throughout the country with its historical monuments.
Take a tour of the World Heritage sites in East and West India listed under UNESCO.
SUNDERBANS NATIONAL PARK
Home to one of the largest concentrations of Royal Bengal tigers on the planet, this 2585 sq km reserve is a network of semi-submerged mangroves that form the world’s largest river delta. Tigers (officially estimated to number close to 300) lurk in the impenetrable depths of the mangrove forest sanctuary (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site).
KONARK TEMPLE (SUN TEMPLE)
The massive Sun Temple (35km from Puri; 64km from Bhubaneshwar), constructed to celebrate a military victory in the 13th century, had to weather the ravages of time and the onslaughts of marauding Mughal armies in Odisha. The entire temple was conceived as the cosmic chariot of the sun god Surya.
Read More: World Heritage Sites Of North & South India
Read More: Unesco World Heritage sites in India: Part 1
KAZIRANGA NATIONAL PARK
The famed one-horned rhinoceros call the expansive grasslands of this national park their native place. The park’s population of 1800-odd represents more than two-thirds of the world’s total. An elephant safari takes you around the park.
MANAS WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
Known for its natural beauty and scenic location, Manas Wildlife Sanctuary is a biodiversity home of over 39,100 hectares. With hills, tropical forests, grasslands, birds and animals, and River Manas, this sanctuary in the foothills of the Himalayas and Bhutan is located in Assam and remains unpolluted by touristy footprints.
KANCHENDZONGA NATIONAL PARK
Better known as the highest altitude national park in the country, the park is located in the Himalayan state of Sikkim, 20km from Chungthan. The park is named after the mighty Kanchendzonga, the third highest peak in the world, that towers over its western region of the biosphere. This ecological hotspot plays home to rare species of plant and animal life.
MAHABODHI, BODH GAYA
The magnificent, UNESCO World Heritage–listed Mahabodhi Temple, forms the spiritual heart of Bodh Gaya. Topped by a 50m pyramidal spire, the inner sanctum of the ornate structure houses a 10th-century, 2m-high gilded image of a seated Buddha. There’s a well-manicured Meditation Park for those seeking extra solitude within the temple grounds.
DARJEELING HIMALAYAN RAILWAYS
Popularly known as the toy train, it is one of the few hill railways still operating in India. The panting train made its first journey along its precipice-topping, 2ft-wide tracks, in September 1881 and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999.
RANI KI VAV
About 130km northwest of Ahmedabad, the ancient capital of Gujarat, Patan’s former glory can be seen at the Rani ki Vav, a beautiful step-well, incongruously grand in this unassuming town. Built in 1063 by Rani Udayamati to commemorate her husband, Bhimdev I, the step-well is the oldest and finest in Gujarat with lines of carved pillars and over 800 sculptures, mostly on Vishnu-avatar themes.
This spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Site combines a sacred, 762m volcanic hill (Pavagadh), and a ruined Gujarati capital with beautiful mosque architecture (Champaner). Hindu and Jain pilgrims continue to climb to the temples atop Pavagadh till this day. In the heart of Champaner is the grand citadel with a beautiful blending of Islamic and Hindu decoration styles.
They may have been ascetics, but the 2nd-century-BC monks who created the Ajanta Caves, 105km northeast of Aurangabad had an eye for the dramatic. The 30 rock-cut forest grottoes boast of inspiring architecture and towering stupas and exquisite carvings and paintings.
ELLORA CAVE TEMPLES
The Ellora Cave Temples, built after the Ajanta caves are 30km north-northwest of Aurangabad, are stylishly embellished with a profusion of remarkably detailed sculptures.
This is Mumbai’s most extravagant Gothic building. Historian Christopher London put it like- ‘the Victoria Terminus is to the British Raj what the Taj Mahal is to the Mughal empire’. It’s a meringue of Victorian, Hindu and Islamic styles whipped into an imposing structure. It’s Asia’s busiest train station. Officially renamed to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) in 1998, it’s still better known locally as VT. It was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2004.
Nine kilometres northeast of the Gateway of India, stand the rock-cut temples on Gharapuri, better known as Elephanta Island. The labyrinth of cave-temples, carved into the island’s basalt rock, contain some of India’s most impressive temple carving. The Portuguese called it Elephanta because of a large stone elephant near the shore.
CHURCHES OF GOA
From the 16th to the 18th centuries, Goa was considered the ‘Rome of the East’. You can still sense that grandeur in its towering churches and cathedrals, many of which are declared as UNESCO heritage sites.
Basilica of Bom Jesus, famous throughout the Roman Catholic world, is the last resting place of Goa’s patron saint, St Francis Xavier. (h7.30am-6.30pm)
Sé de Santa Catarina is the largest church in Old Goa, and is also the largest in Asia. The cathedral has three notable features including the Golden Bell, the largest bell in Asia; the screened chapel inside to the right, known as the Chapel of the Cross of Miracles and the third is the massive gilded reredos (ornamental screen behind the altar), which depicts the life of St Catherine. (h7.30am-6.30pm)
Church of St Francis of Assisi, built in 17th century, is filled with gilded and carved woodwork, murals depicting the life of St Francis, frescoes of decorative flowers and various angels. (h8.30am-5.30pm)
Church of St Cajetan (1655) was built by Italian friars settled at Old Goa in 1640. (h 9am-5.30pm)
The quiet town of Khajuraho is world famous for its cluster of thousand-year-old temples that are exquisite, and the magical feeling of being in 11th-century India is pleasantly absorbing. Besides the sculptures that depict the Kama Sutra, these 25 temples that have withstood the ravages of time, are marvels of fantastic carvings and intricate architecture.
Rising from the plains, 46km northeast of Bhopal, is a rounded hill, topped with some of India’s oldest Buddhist structures. In 262 BC, repentant of the horrors he had inflicted on Kalinga in present-day Odisha, the Mauryan emperor Ashoka embraced Buddhism. As a penance he built the Great Stupa at Sanchi, near the birthplace of his wife. A domed edifice- it was the first Buddhist monument in the region.
ROCK SHELTERS OF BHIMBETKA
Secreted in a forest of teak, 46km south of Bhopal, are more than 700 rock shelters. Around 500 of them contain some of the world’s oldest prehistoric paintings. Thanks to their natural red and white pigments, the colours are remarkably well preserved and, in certain caves, paintings of different eras adorn the same rock surface. The oldest paintings (Upper Palaeolithic) in red, often of huge animals, are thought to be 12,000 years old.
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