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Unesco World Heritage sites in India: Part 1

Taj Mahal, the world’s most extravagant monument to love.
Image courtesy: Ziaur Rahman

Taj Mahal, Agra
Rabindranath Tagore described it as ‘a teardrop on the cheek of eternity’, Rudyard Kipling as ‘the embodiment of all things pure’, while its creator, Emperor Shah Jahan, said it made ‘the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes’. Every year, tourists numbering more than twice the population of Agra pass through its gates to catch a once-in-a-lifetime glimpse of what is widely considered the most beautiful building in the world.

Boulders form a dramatic backdrop to Hampi's ruins.
Image courtesy: Gitika Saksena

Monuments at Hampi, Hampi
The magnificent capital of the Vijayanagar Empire is an architecture buff’s dream. Declared a Unesco World Heritage Site, the ruins of over 20 elaborate temples, and many other smaller structures bear testimony of a flourishing empire in the medieval era. In addition, the boulder-strewn topography, dissected by the Tungabhadra River, provides a stunning backdrop to your experience.

One of the twelve stunning chariot wheels at the Sun Temple.
Image courtesy: flickr-creativecommons/Dinudey Baidya

Sun Temple, Konark
Exquisitely carved, this imposing series of structures lies 20km from Puri. The 13th-century temple is made entirely of oxidised sandstone and is a remarkable example of Odisha’s architecture. It represents the chariot of the sun god, drawn by seven horses. It is the 12 wheels of the chariot that are truly magnificent, with intricate sculptures within them showing various aspects of life.

Qutb Minar defines the Delhi skyline.
Image courtesy: K Saini

Qutb Minar Complex, Delhi
In a city awash with ancient ruins, the Qutb Minar complex is something special. The first monuments here were erected by the sultans of Mehrauli, and subsequent rulers expanded on their work, hiring the finest craftsmen and artisans to create an exclamation mark in stone to record the triumph of Muslim rule. Sultan Qutub-ud-din Aibak began its construction in 1193. It’s nearly 73m high and tapers from a 15m-diameter base to a mere 2.5m at the top.


Carvings at Caves at Elephanta Island.
Image courtesy: Lonely Planet Images

Elephanta Caves, Mumbai
In the middle of Mumbai Harbour, 9km northeast of the Gateway of India, the rock-cut temples on Elephanta Island are worth crossing the waters for. The main Shiva-dedicated temple is an intriguing latticework of courtyards, halls, pillars and shrines, with the magnum opus a 6m-tall statue of Sadhashiva – depicting a three-faced Shiva as the destroyer, creator and preserver of the universe.