UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity. This is embodied in an international treaty called the Convent ion Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, adopted by UNESCO in 1972.

Cultural heritage refers to monuments, groups of buildings and properties with historical, aesthetic, archaeological, scientific, ethnological or anthropological value. Natural heritage refers to outstanding physical, biological and geological formations, habitats of threatened species of animals and plants and areas with scientific, conservation or aesthetic value.

UNESCO's World Heritage mission is to ensure the protection of natural and cultural heritage in a variety of ways such as establishing systems to monitor the state of conservation of World Heritage properties; safeguarding those properties by providing technical assistance and professional training; providing emergency assistance for properties in immediate danger; supporting public awareness-building activities for World Heritage con.

servation; encouraging participation of the local population in the preservation of their cultural and natural heritage; and encouraging international co-operation in the conservation of cultural and natural heritage. India has 32 World Heritage sites, 25 are cultural sites and 07 are natural sites.


Ajanta Caves (designated in 1983)
The well-preserved Ajanta murals and frescoes remain unmatched in the world of art. The 30 Buddhist caves, which contain these murals and frescoes, were excavated by Buddhist monks from the side of a horseshoe-shaped ravine between 200 BC and AD 650. The caves lay deserted and forgotten for centuries till they were "rediscovered" by British army officers in 1819. Of these caves, five were prayer halls and twenty-five were monasteries. The murals in Caves I and 2, created from mineral colours, belong to the Gupta period (AD 320 to AD 650), known as the golden age of Indian art. The murals depict episodes from the life of the Buddha and from the Jataka tales. It is believed that at its prime, some 200 Buddhist monks lived in Ajanta.


Ellora Caves (designated in 1983)
The finest examples of cave architecture are to be seen at Ellora, the ancient Elapur. There are over 100 caves, of which 34 are significant. The Buddhist caves date to between AD 600 and AD 800, the Hindu caves to between AD 600 and AD 900 and the jam caves to between AD 800 and AD 1100. The truly magnificent caves are the Vishwakarma, the Kailashnath and the Indrasabha. These temples were literally carved out of the solid rock face of a high cliff. Over 200,000 tons of stone were removed to create the Kailashnath, the supreme masterpiece, which took over a century to complete. Ellora was the capital of the Rashtrakuta kings and was probably a place of pilgrimage long before the temples were excavated. It lay at the juncture of two important trade routes.


Taj Mahal (designated in 1983)
Shah jahan also built the Taj Mahal, a tomb for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. Raised between 1631 and 1648, this chaste marble mausoleum has remained one of the most awe-inspiring architectural achievements of all time. It is grand and understated, opulent and elegant; its scale and proportions rest in perfect equipoise. Its architect changed the dynamics of the traditional Islamic garden tomb by setting this tomb at the far end, instead of the centre of the garden. An average of 10,000 people visit the Taj Mahal each day; during the peak season, the numbers rise fourfold. Those who return disappointed must be few and far between.


Sun Temple, Konark (designated in 1984)
This temple, dedicated to the sun god Surya, was built in AD 1238 by King Narasimha Deva of the Ganga dynasty during the golden age of Orissan art and architecture. The profusely carved temple was conceived as a chariot. Twenty-four giant wheels symbolize the division of time; seven horses draw the chariot and the three images of Surva receive the rays of the sun at dawn, noon and sunset. Though the main temple tower has fallen, the audience hail stands proof of the magnificent scale on which the temple was originally executed. Every aspect of life has been carved on the temple and it has erotic images as exuberant as Khajuraho. The Konark temple, also known as the Black Pagoda, took twelve years to build, with 1200 masons and sculptors working on the site.


Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram (designated in 1984)
Mahabalipuram, 45 kilometres from Chennai, is renowned for its monolithic temples and structures excavated during the reign of the Pallava ruler Rajasimha (AD 700 -AD 730). At the centre of this group of monuments is the magnificent Arjuna's Penance, which is believed to represent a story from the Mahabharata. This sculpture is also known as the Descent of the Ganga. A natural cleft in the centre of the immense rock face is conceived as the celestial river descending to earth. On the two wings of the rock are carved gods and saints and sages, men and women, birds and animals and a herd of elephants, led majestically by a tusker. This stupendous sculpture pulsates with life and despite the sheer size of the monolith the effect of the whole is one of celestial lightness. There are numerous caves with exquisite sculptures, five monolithic temples and a group of three temples on the seashore collectively known as the Shore Temple. Mahabalipuram served as a port for the Pallavas.


Kaziranga National Park, Assam (desi gnated in 1985)
The wildlife of Kaziranga National Park (221 kilometres from Guwahati) is abundant and visible. The park is bordered on one side by the great Brahmaputra River and on the other by the Guwahati-Jorhat highway Kaziranga is the last stronghold of the great Indian one-horned rhinoceros. Water buffalo and small herds of swamp deer dot the grassy meadows and swamps, ospreys, fishing eagles and harriers course the skies, and red jungle fowl abound. Wild elephants are also seen often.


Keoladeo National Park (designated in 1985)
Manas sanctuary is situated in a lush green tropical monsoon jungle, up against the Bhutan border, 176 kilometres from Guwahati. The reserve is named after the Manas River, which flows through it and is the only known habitat of the unique and beautiful golden langur (Presbytis geei). Manas has a large population of tigers, wild buffalo and elephants, and its colourful bird life ranges from the end angered great Indian hornbill to the tiny scarlet minivet. Sloths, barking deer, wild pig and sambar are regularly sighted. Rhino and gaur (the world's largest wild ox) also inhabit the jungle, which harbours a spectacular insect life.


Churches and Convents of Goa (desi gnated in 1986)
Goa eluded British rule. The Portuguese were ensconced here 250 years before the British arrived, and they outstayed them by a decade. The Portuguese built numerous churches and convents in old Goa, which was known as Rome of the Orient. The Basilica of Bom Jesus, where the mortal remains of St Francis Xavier are enshrined is the best-preserved and most important place of pilgrimage.

Begun in 1562 and completed a century later, Se Cathedral is the most impress ive building in Old Goa. Nearby is the Church of St Francis of Assisi, which began as a mosque and later became a church. It has gravestones dating back to 1500. The College of St Paul, the Church of St Cajetan, a miniature repl ica of St Peter's Basilica in Rome, the Chapel of St Catherine, St Augustine's Church, the Convent of St Monica and the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary are the other important buildings.


Group of Monuments at Khajuraho (designated in 1986)
Legend has it that a thousand years ago, the lovely young daughter of a Brahmin priest was seduced by the Moon God, and of their union was born Chandravarman, the founder of the Chandela dynasty: The Chandelas built 85 temples at Khajuraho in the short span of a century, between AD 950 and 1050. Only 25 of these temples remain, but they are architectural masterpieces. While the temples have been much publicized for their erotic sculpture alone, the sculpted panels are in fact an exuberant celebration of life in all its moods and forms. The Kandariya Mahadev is the most renowned of all the temples.


Ellora Caves (designated in 1983)
The finest examples of cave architecture are to be seen at Ellora, the ancient Elapur. There are over 100 caves, of which 34 are significant. The Buddhist caves date to between AD 600 and AD 800, the Hindu caves to between AD 600 and AD 900 and the jam caves to between AD 800 and AD 1100. The truly magnificent caves are the Vishwakarma, the Kailashnath and the Indrasabha. These temples were literally carved out of the solid rock face of a high cliff. Over 200,000 tons of stone were removed to create the Kailashnath, the supreme masterpiece, which took over a century to complete. Ellora was the capital of the Rashtrakuta kings and was probably a place of pilgrimage long before the temples were excavated. It lay at the juncture of two important trade routes.


Group of Monuments at Hampi (desi gnated in 1986)
Hampi is one of the most magnificent ruined cities of the world. The impact of the wild and beautiful landscape through which the River Tungabhadra flows, is as powerful as the ruins. Hampi was the capital of the medieval Vijaynagara Kingdom, but the history of this site dates back to the time of the Ramayana. Krishnadevaraya was the greatest ruler of the Vijayanagara kingdom. Travelers from Russia, Persia and Portugal and Italy visited Hampi, and wrote of its unparalleled splendours. The city was destroyed in 1565 by the combined forces of the Deccani Sultans. The ruins are spread over 26 square kilometres, with the main ones situated on the right bank of the Tungabhadra. The important monuments include the Vitthala and Hazara Rama temples, Mahanavami Dibba, the Lotus Mahal and the Virupaksha Temple.


Fatehpur Sikri (designated in 1986)
This "City of Victory" was Akbar's capital for approximately fifteen years. Here, he experimented with architectural forms and is known to have personally supervised the construction. The red sandstone palaces are extraordinarily well preserved after more than four centuries. The finest monuments are the Diwan-i-Khas and Diwan-i-Am, the Panch Mahal, the Treasury, the queens' palaces, and a short distance away, the Jama Masjid with its towering Buland Darwaza. The Sufi saint, Salim Chishti lies buried in the courtyard of the Jama Masjid and his wish-fulfilli ng shrine draws thousands of devotees throughout the year.


Elephanta Caves (designated in 1987)
Elephanta is a cave temple shrine hewn Out of solid rock in the eighth century. It is situated on an island, about an hour's motorboat ride away from Bombay. It was probably intended as a private place of worship for the Rashtrakuta kings. Its exact date of construction will remain unknown because the Portuguese destroyed the plaque that bore details of its history when they plundered the island in the sixteenth century. They named the island Elephanat after the large stone elephant that once guarded it. Elephanta is famous for its Siva temple, with images of unsurpassed beauty-Ravan shaking Mt Kailash, the marriage of Shiva and Parvari and the Trimourti. n which Shiva embodies the roles of Creator, Preserver and Destroyer.


Brihadisvara Temple, Thanjavur (designated in 1987)
Thanjavur represents the acme of grandeur and perfection attained by the Cholas, and this is best seen in the Brihadisvara Temple. Built in AD 1000 by Rajaraja Chola , it is perhaps the greatest temple ever to be built in India. It is overwhelming in its symmetry, its majestic proportions, its stone sculptures and the sublime emotions depicted in its frescoes. The central pyramidal tower rises 70 meters. The sanctum sanctorum enshrines a large linga. Dance, as performed by Shiva and specified in the treatise of Bharata, is shown in 108 poses on the inner wall around the first floor of the sanctum. The temple is also rich in epigraphs. It remains an important centre of worship.


Sundarbans National Park (designated in 1987)
The delta of the River Ganga is the large st in the world, and the Sundarbans, the vast mangrove swamp situated in this delta, is now a national park and Project Tiger Reserve, with the largest single population of tigers in the country. It is also the closest to a major city-Kolkata is only 70 kilometres away. The area demonstrates the amazing adaptability of the tiger. Fascinating life forms-including salt-water crocodiles and turtles inhabit the swamp. Chital and wild pigs are easily sighted.


Nanda Devi National Park (design ated in 1988)
Nanda Dcvi National Park lies in Chamoli District, within the Garhwal Himalaya. The main entry point to the park is via Lata Village, some 25 kilometres from Joshimath township. Nanda Devi, consort of Shiva, is a manifestation of Parvati and has been revered as a natural monument since ancient times. The area is reputedly one of the most spectacular wildernesses in the Himalaya. The basin is dominated by Nanda Devi, and drained by the Rishi Ganga, which has cut for itself one of the finest gorges in the world. Being an inner Himalayan valley, the Nanda Devi Basin enjoys a distinctive microclimate. It supports a diverse flora, largely on account of the wide altitudinal range, and an interesting variety of large mammals, including a number of rare or threatened species. The basin is renowned for the abundance of its ungulate populations, notably bharal. Himalayan musk deer are also fairly common. The snow leopard is reported to have been "extraordinarily common". Other large carnivores are the common leopard, Himalayan black bear and brown bear. There are 114 bird species belonging to 30 families The area was established as a game sanctuary in 1939 and a national park in November 1982.


Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (desi gnated in 1999)
The hill station of Darjeeling, famous for its teas, is also synonymous with the "toy train". The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is the first, and still the most outstanding, example of a hill passenger railway. Opened in 1881, it applied bold, ingenious engineering solutions to the problem of establishing an effective rail link across a mountainous terrain of great beauty. It is still fully operational and retains most of its original features. The O.6O-meter-gauge track winds from Siliguri and New Jalpaiguri all the way up to Darjeeling through tea plantations and misty mountains, using such intelligent devices as the Batasia Loop to gain height. Siiiguri is 80 kilometres from Darjeeling and the journey takes about seven hours. The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is an outstanding example of the influence of an innovative transportation system on the social and economic development of a multi-cultural region, which was to serve as a model for similar developments in many parts of the world.


Mahabodhi Temple Complex, Bodh Gaya (designated in 2002)
For Buddhists, Bodh Gaya is the most sacred of sacred sites, for it is here the Buddha attained enlightenment under the Bo tree. The present tree is a "success or" of the original tree. Beneath the tree is the Vajrasana, the Diamond Throne, which marks the place where the Budd ha meditated. The Mahabodhi Temple, which is nearby, was originally built in the century and has since been damaged and restored several times. Huien Tsang, who visited Bodh Gaya in AD 635 writes that he saw 700 images of the Enlightened One. There is also a massive Dharrna Chakra, the Animalesh Lochan Chaitya and the Lotus Tank in the midst of which is a statue of the Buddha protected by a cobra.


Rock Shelters at Bhimbhetka (design ated in 2003)
About an hour's drive from Bhopal are the hills of Bhimbhetka, which house one of the richest groups of rock shelter paintings in the world, and the remains of 100,000 years of civilization-rangi ng from the Upper Paleolithic to the Early Historic. Quite apart from the paintings, the setting is itself dramatic with the biz arre-shaped black rocks spread amidst forests.
The Temple of Gangaikondacholapuram and the Iravatheeswaraswamy Temple of Darasuram have very recently been designated as extensions of "Great Living Chola Temples", under which the temple at Thanjavur was made a World Heritage site in 1987. According to the citation they represent the pure form of the Dravida type temples and "the grandeur and excellence of Chola architecture and sculpture". The Gangaikondacholapuram temple was built by the Chola king, Rajendra Tin 1020 to mark his great conquest up to the Gangetic plain, the northernmost victory ever achieved by any south Indian king. The temple has outstanding sculptures and Chola bronzes. The twelfth-century Shiva temple at Darasuram, on the outskirts of Kumbakonam, is also remarkable.


The Champaner-Pavagadh Axchaeological Park (2004)
Champaner was the ancient capital of Gujarat. It lies about 50 km northeast of Vadodara, and has a concentration of largely unexcavated archaeological, historic and living cultural heritage properties cradled in an impressive landscape, which includes prehistoric (chalcolithic) sites, a hill fortress of an early Hindu capital, and remains of the 5 century capital of the state of Gujarat. The site also includes, among other vestiges, fortifications, palaces, religious buildings, residential areas, and water installations, dating from the 8th to the 14th centuries. The Kalikamata Temple on top of the Pavagadh Hill is considered to be an important shrine, attracting large numbers of pilgrims throughout the year. The site is the only complete and unchanged Islamic pre-Mughal city. The Champaner Pavagadh Archaeological Park with its ancient Hindu architecture, temples and special water retaining installations tog ether with its religious, military and agricultural structures, dating back to the regional capital city built by Mehmud Begda in the 16th century, represents cultures that have disappeared.


Chhatrapati Shivaji Railway Station or Victoria Terminus (2004)
Modeled on the lines of the St Pancras Station in London, Victoria Terminus is undoubtedly the Raj's piece de resistance, complete with carved stone friezes, stained glass windows and flying buttresses. It is an outstanding example of Victorian Gothic Revival architecture in India, blended with Indian traditional architecture. The building, designed by the British architect F.W Stevens, became the symbol of Bombay as the 'Gothic City' and the major international mercantile port of India. The station was christened to commemorate Victoria Jubilee Day in 1887 when India's first steam engine puffed out to neighbouring Thane, about 45 km away. The terminal was built over ten years starting in 1878. Its remarkable stone dome, turrets, pointed arches, and eccentric ground plan are close to traditional Indian palace architecture. It is Gothic architecture at its best, an awesome edifice that most citizens view with deep pride. At the top of the central dome stands the triumphant figure of Progress. Today it has been re-christened Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus after the Maratha warrior. The old steam engines have been replaced by electric ones. But to the 2.5 million commuters who push past its massive portals everyday, this is still VT, the pulse of a throbbing city.