To be deemed the title of a ‘world heritage site’ is nothing less than a matter of pride. For it indicates a great many things about the place that has been so entitled, a UNESCO world heritage site is no ordinary label. To put it in simple terms, it is kind of a big deal to come under the category of a ‘world heritage site’ for it means that the place in question is not just utterly significant locally but to the entire mankind.
If we were to go by the definition, it means an area, place or object that holds outstanding universal value. In other words, it represents a unique, a significant or the best example of the “world’s” cultural heritage. The site could be a cultural one; like historical buildings, towns, archaeological sites, notable sculptures or paintings, etc. that are a man-made masterpiece, or are representative of an exceptional tradition or civilization or strongly indicate a significant stage in human history. The natural heritage site may consist of unapparelled and pre-eminent areas of phenomenal natural beauty, is a major example of the different stages of the earth’s ecological or biological evolution or is home to threatened or endangered species plants or animals or are sites of exceptional biodiversity. It is also important to point out that a world heritage site can be a mix of both a cultural and a natural site.
Any country is eligible to send a list of nominations for preservation and protection to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee which meets once a year to choose the world heritage sites based upon the criteria laid down to qualify for the same. Once chosen, it enables developing nations to procure extra funds for conservation of places of universal value. Thus, saving such places from destruction by natural or human forces. There is an upsurge of attention to such places of historical interest or natural beauty as places of international importance, thereby causing a growth in tourism.
It is needless to say that a country as vast as ours, with a rich cultural and historical heritage and an extensive bio-diversity, is privy to many UNESCO World Heritage Sites of its own. There are in total 36 World Heritage Sites in India, ranking it 6th on the list of the countries to have the most world heritage sites.
Impressed much? Let us then give you a list of these sites that we all need to be proud of.
1. THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE OF NALANDA UNIVERSITY (BIHAR) added in 2016
A Buddhist monastery and an educational institution that attracted scholars from China, Tibet, Korea and Central Asia, the Nalanda Mahavihara was the first residential university in the world. It thrived from the 5th century CE to the 13th century CE as a centre of formalized Vedic learning and Buddhist evolution for 800years. What remains now are the ruins of the stupas, viharas and the shrines that are reminiscent of the ancient scholastic and monastic institution.
2. MAHABODHI TEMPLE COMPLEX, BODH GAYA, (BIHAR) added in 2002
The place where Siddhartha attained enlightenment and became Gautama Buddha, Bodh Gaya is the holiest place of pilgrimage for the Buddhists. The temple complex houses the Bodhi Tree; under which Buddha gained enlightenment, the Mahabodhi Temple built by Ashoka the Great in about 250 BCE, the Vajrasana and six other sacred sites that are related to the Buddha’s enlightenment.
3. BUDDHIST MONUMENTS AT SANCHI, MADHYA PRADESH added in 1989
The oldest existing Buddhist sanctuary, Sanchi was an important Buddhist centre in India until the 12th century AD. The famous Sanchi Stupa was commissioned by emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BCE is probably one of the oldest stone structures in India. The stupa’s core was a brick structure built over the relics of Buddha and was crowned by a Chatra that symbolises a high rank. The site of Sanchi also consists of a group of Buddhist monuments like monasteries, temples, palaces and monolithic pillars which are in different stages of conservation.
4. HISTORIC CITY OF AHMEDABAD, GUJARAT, added in 2017
The first ever city in India to make it to the list of a UNESCO World Heritage Site was founded by Sultan Ahmad Shah in the 15th century on the banks of the Sabarmati river. The city is marked by the presence of architectural heritage from the Sultanate period with its numerous mosques, tombs, the fort city with its walls and gates and the Bhadra Citadel. The city has for the past 6 centuries been the capital of the state of Gujarat up to the present.
5. CHAMPANER-PAVAGADH ARCHAEOLOGICAL PARK, GUJARAT, added in 2004.
Though a large chunk of Champaner-Pavagadh remains unexcavated, the place has immense historical and cultural significance. Built by Sultan Mahmud Begada of Gujarat, this place is the only unchanged Islamic Pre-Mughal city. The site is replete with Chalcolithic sites from the stone age, a hill fortress of an early Hindu Capital and the remains of the 16th century capital of Gujarat, Mosques, Temples, wells pavilions and more. The shift from Hindu architectural style to the Muslim architecture is as evident in this site as it is gradual and smooth.
6. RANI KI VAV, PATAN, GUJARAT, added in 2014
Located on the banks of river Saraswati, the well was constructed during the rule of the Chalukya dynasty as a memorial to King Bhimdev by his widowed queen in the 11th century AD. An elaborate and intricate stepwell complex it is divided into 7 levels and is designed as an inverted temple. The carvings along the walls and the sculptures are mostly themed around lord Vishnu and his 10 avatars apart from other mythological and secular imagery from the texts. Needless to say, Rani Ki Vav was not just a water storage facility but had spiritual connotations attached to it as well.
7. TAJ MAHAL, AGRA, UTTAR PRADESH, added in 1983
It goes without saying, that this monument which is known and admired worldwide, be granted the status of a world heritage site. One of the seven wonders of the world, this white marble mausoleum built by the Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favourite wife Mumtaz Mahal, the Taj Mahal is considered to be “the jewel of Muslim art in India” and is recognized as an architectural masterpiece all over the world.
8. AGRA FORT, UTTAR PRADESH, added in 1983
In a close proximity to the Taj Mahal stands a 16th-century fortress made of red sandstone known as the Agra Fort. Within the premises of the fortress once thrived the imperial city of the Mughal rulers. The Agra fort houses a number of monuments like the Moti Masjid, the Nagina Masjid, Khas Mahal, Sheesh Mahal, Diwan-e – Khas, Diwan- e- Am and an octagonal tower called Muhamman Burrie. The Agra fort represents the perfect combination of the Persian and Indian forms of architecture.
9. FATEHPUR SIKRI, UTTAR PRADESH, added in 1986
Built in the second half of the 16th century, the city of Fatehpur Sikri was built by Akbar to commemorate his victory over Chittor and Ranthambore. The main monuments at Fatehpur Sikri are the Jama Masjid, the Buland Darwaza (entrance to the Jama Masjid), near the mosque is the tomb of Salim Chishti, the Panch Mahal, Jodha Bai’s palace, Diwan-e-khas, Diwa-e-am, etc. All these monuments are part of the world heritage site of India.
10. CHHATRAPATI SHIVAJI TERMINUS, MUMBAI, MAHARASHTRA added in 2004
Built over a period of 10 years between 1878 to 1888 by a British Architect named William Stevens, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus was formerly known as the Victoria Terminus. This headquarter of the Central Railway in Mumbai is the perfect example of the Victorian Gothic Revival architecture with imprints of traditional Indian architecture. The combination of the two styles of architecture resulted in the creation of a new style unique to Bombay, thereby winning it the title of “Gothic City” and gave the city recognition of an International mercantile port in India.
11. NANDA DEVI AND THE VALLEY OF FLOWERS NATIONAL PARKS, UTTARAKHAND, added in 1988
Nanda Devi, the second highest mountain peak in India is not only an important place in Indian mythology, but also is one of the most breath-taking wilderness areas in the western Himalayas. Both the National Parks are rich in biodiversity with a significant population of endangered species like the snow leopard, Himalayan musk deer and many endangered plants. The valley of flowers, in contrast to the mountainous landscape of Nanda Devi has a gentler landscaping with an extraordinarily beautiful meadow of alpine flowers. It has an unbelievable variety of flowers that cover the entire valley like a sheet.
12. SUNDARBANS NATIONAL PARK, WEST BENGAL, added in 1987
The world’s largest mangrove forest reserve and home to the maximum Royal Bengal Tiger population in the world, the Sundarbans National Park is one of the most biologically productive of all ecosystems. Located at the mouth of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers, the Sundarbans delta lies between India and Bangladesh. There are also other species like the rare saltwater crocodile, Gangetic dolphin. Spotted deer and other mammals and amphibious species that have made the area their home.
13. KAZIRANGA NATIONAL PARK, ASSAM, added in 1985
Situated on the floodplains of the river Brahmaputra, the Kaziranga National Park is regarded as one of the finest wildlife sanctuaries in the world. It is known to inhabit the largest population of the ‘one-horned Rhinoceroses in the world. The park also marks a high density of tiger population in the country. The other threatened inhabitants of the National Park include elephants, wild water buffalo, bears and Gangetic Dolphins. The area also attracts flocks of migratory birds as well.
14. MANAS WILDLIFE SANCTUARY, ASSAM, added in 1985
Located in the foothills of the eastern Himalayas, flanked by the river Manas on one side and imposing hills of neighbouring Bhutan on the other side, the Manas wildlife sanctuary is not only known for its rich density of flora and fauna, but also, for its breath-taking scenery and natural landscape. It is a well-known Tiger Reserve, Elephant Reserve and a Biosphere reserve. It is also home to a number of endangered species like the Assamese Roofed Turtle, Hispid Hare, Golden Langur and Pygmy Hog.
15. KEOLADEO NATIONAL PARK, BHARATPUR, RAJASTHAN, 1985
Once a duck-hunting ground for the maharajas, is now a well-known wintering and nesting ground for several migratory birds from Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, China and Siberia. About 364 species of birds including the rare Siberian crane have been known to nest in the area. Besides birds, there are 379 species of flowers, 50 species of fish, 13 species of snake, 7 species of Lizard, 7 species of Amphibians, 7 Turtle species and other variety of invertebrates; making the place the perfect example of the rich biological heritage of India.
16. MOUNTAIN RAILWAYS OF INDIA added in 1999.
The fully operational (till date), the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway opened in 1881, the Nilgiri Mountain railway opened in 1908, and the Kalka – Shimla Railway opened in the mid-19th century constitute the Mountain Railways world heritage sites of India. These railway lines are the most outstanding examples of the engineering progress of their times and provides the most picturesque views of the mountainous terrain they pass through.
17. THE ARCHITECTURAL WORK OF LE CORBUSIER, CHANDIGARH, added in 2016
The modern movement of the 20th century which aimed to invent new architectural techniques to respond to the changing needs of the society saw the architectural work of Le Corbusier in 17 sites across 11 different countries. The Capital Complex of Chandigarh is one such handiwork of Le Corbusier. Definitely a masterpiece of human creative genius and representing an unprecedented exchange of human values, the pioneering architecture totally fulfils the criteria of world heritage site. Built in 1950, when Chandigarh was being developed as the capital of Punjab, the complex now hosts the legislative assembly for the states of Punjab and Haryana, High Court and the Secretariat.
18. ROCK SHELTERS OF BHIMBETKA, MADHYA PRADESH added in 2003
At the foothills of the Vindhya Mountains in the Deccan Plateau lies an archaeological site belonging to the Mesolithic Age. The rock shelters of Bhimbetka comprise of a group of 5 rocks depicting the carvings and paintings of the Mesolithic era, giving us a glimpse into the life and activities of the hunter-gatherers of the age. Interestingly, the culture and practices of the 21 villages adjacent to the rock shelter of Bhimbetka bear a strong resemblance to those represented in the rock paintings.
Wonderment and pride are what comes to our mind, as we realize the impact these places have worldwide. Have we not been always aware of these places? But never with such a bigger perspective! Needless to say, that every Indian is proud of their national heritage, but being a UNESCO world site is like adding a cherry on the cake!