World heritage describes places on Earth that hold great cultural, historical, traditional, and scientific significance for everyone, despite their location, culture, or traditions.
World heritage sites are natural sites on Earth that hold a great cultural significance for everyone across the globe and are labeled as spots of “Outstanding Universal Value.”
An international convention supervised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation provides lawful protection to the world heritage sites across all countries.
World heritage sites have a worldwide connotation that surpasses the relevance they possess for one particular nation. They portray and glorify the historical and cultural facets of a nation.
A majority of people are of the thought that heritage sites are the historical building that the kings and emperors established in their remembrance, but heritage site is a broader term and is not just limited to the ranges of architecture; instead, the term refers to three categories:
Cultural Heritage- Includes buildings, Monuments, and relics
Natural Heritage- Covers natural sites such as national parks and wildlife sanctuaries
Mixed Heritage- Combines both cultural and natural features
Difference between world heritage sites and historical sites
Confusion often comes up when referring to world heritage sites and historical sites, and they are considered synonyms, whereas both the terms have different meanings.
Although the two words generally go together, History is referred to as the study of ancient times.
At the same time, heritage invokes treasured objects and qualities such as historical buildings, and relics and traditions passed down from preceding generations.
Heritage is an inherited property passed down to us by our ancestors and preserved and protected by the law.
To put it into easier words, “Every heritage site is a historical site, but not every historic site is considered a heritage site.”
World Heritage Sites in India
Ours is a land of well-healed and diverse cultures. India’s prosperous cultural heritage is world-renowned.
India has been a homeland for people of every religion and faith; rulers from almost every denomination have ruled over the Indian subcontinent ever since the birth of the Indus Valley Civilisation and the coming of Aryans.
The nation has managed to absorb almost every culture, from the Mauryan empire and Gupta dynasty in ancient India to the Delhi Sultanates and Mughal Empire in medieval India, followed by the Marathas and the East India Company in Modern India, religious diversity.
Apart from the cultural heritage, there are numerous natural heritage sites in India which illustrate the natural beauty.
The new natural allure, geographical and physiographical formations encompassing an array of flora and fauna in their absolute legitimate and incredible forms are a sight to behold.
As per UNESCO world heritage sites, there were 38 world heritage sites in India, but after adding two world heritage sites, the count of world heritage sites in India has reached 40.
Among which 32 are of cultural importance, 7 are natural, and 1 is mixed (fits in cultural as well as natural criteria), as driven by the organization’s selection criteria.
Italy has the maximum number of UNESCO world heritage sites, whereas India holds the sixth rank.
UNESCO world heritage sites in India
1. Sundarbans National Park (1987)
A national park, tiger reserve, and biosphere reserve, Sundarbans National Park is a significant heritage site in West Bengal, India.
It is the largest estuarine mangrove forest inhabited by Bengal tigers, rare salt-water crocodiles, Gangetic dolphins, wild boar, and certain birds and invertebrates.
Bordering the Sundarban Reserve Forest in Bangladesh and forming the part of the Gangetic Delta by the assemblage of the Padma, Brahmaputra, and Meghna rivers in the Bay of Bengal, Sundarbans national park is home to more than 400 tigers. It is popular for its uncommon mangrove forests.
The delta region measures about 40,000 sq km., which is among the largest active delta regions in the world. Initially, Sundarbans was known as a tiger reserve, but later, in 1984 was declared a national park.
2. Red Fort Complex
One of the most prominent Mughal architectural styles, the Red Fort, was built during Shahan Jahan’s reign, the fifth Mughal emperor in the 17th century.
Also known as the Lal Qila, this Mughal fort in Old Delhi is a prominent tourist attraction. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2007.
During the tenure of Shah Jahan, the Mughal art and architecture reached their zenith, and the Red Fort, with its extraordinary blend of Indian, Persian, and Timuri architectural designs, is an ideal example of that.
It was built as the palace fort of Shah Jahanabad when Shah Jahan made Delhi the new capital of the Mughal empire.
The complex is primarily constructed in red sandstone and subsists of smaller buildings like the Diwan-i-aam, Diwan-i-Khas, and private pavilions.
3. Hill forts of Rajasthan (2013)
Stationed in Northern India within the Aravali range, this world heritage site consists of six majestic forts:
Chittorgarh Fort- An apt symbol of Rajput spirit, set upon a high hill, this majestic fort is predominant in tales of courage, love, and romance.
Kumbhalgarh Fort- Located 1100 meters above sea level, the fort has seven gates and a total of 360 temples, among which 300 are ancient Jain while the rest are Hindu temples. A pretty view of the dunes in the Thar Desert can also be captured from the fort.
Amber Fort- Situated at a distance of about 11 km from Jaipur, the palace lies in rugged hills and is a beautiful assortment of Hindu and Mughal styles.
Jaisalmer Fort- Build amid the golden sands of the Thar Desert, carved in yellow sandstone, Jaisalmer Fort is one of the prominent forts in the world, depicting brilliant craftsmanship and artistic beauty soaked in splendid past and heritage.
Ranthambore Fort- Encompassed in the Ranthambore National park, near the city of Sawai Madhopur, it used to be the hunting arena for the Maharajas of the Jaipur Dynasty.
Gagron Fort- This hill and water fort is one of its kind and is situated in the Jhalawar district of Rajasthan; it has been named the Jaladurga (Water fort) Fort of India.
The citadels of these hillforts are robust, and it seems that there existed almost a mini-city on the inside of the fort’s walls. These hillforts depict the glorifying history and culture of the nation.
4. Sun Temple (1984)
Another cultural site on the list of unesco world heritage sites, the Sun Temple, is located near the famous beach town of Puri in Konark, Odisha.
This temple dated back to the 13th century CE and was built during the rule of King Narasimhadeva of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty.
The Konark Sun temple is dedicated to the Hindu sun god Surya and is famous for its architecture. The geometrical patterns and carved sun wheels serve as sun dials.
An interesting fact about the sun temple is that three sun god images can be witnessed in three directions to capture the sun’s rays at dawn, noon, and sunset.
Moreover, no shadow of the temple can be seen on any day.
5. Ajanta Caves (1983)
One of the first heritage sites in India, Ajanta caves are rock-cut Buddhist cave temples and monasteries housed near Ajanta village in Maharashtra. The Buddhist cave system was constructed in two phases.
The first phase dates back to the 2nd century BC, while the second phase of constructing the Ajanta caves took place in the 5th century AD.
They are celebrated majorly for their carvings and sculptures, which are related to the life of Buddha.
6. Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus- Formerly Victoria terminus (2004)
Formerly Victoria terminus, now Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the momentous railway station in Mumbai, Maharashtra, is one of the country’s most active, restless, and hectic railway stations.
Designed during the late 19th century by architect Frederick William Stevens, influenced by Victorian gothic revival architecture and traditional Mughal architecture. Named after Queen and Empress Victoria, the construction of this world heritage site took 10 years.
The Victoria terminus gave Bombay the status of being the International Mercantile Port of India. Inspired by the Victorian Italianate Gothic style architecture and Indian architectural styles, this is a distinguished example of the amalgamation of an indigenous and western genre of art.
7. Manas Wildlife Sanctuary (1985)
Another natural world heritage site in Assam, situated in the plains of Manas River and foothills of the Himalayas, is home to several endangered species. The Manas wildlife sanctuary is a Project Tiger Reserve, Elephant Reserve, and a biosphere reserve.
The dense green forested hills and opulent flora encircling areas are comfortable shelters for the most endangered species like Assam Roofed Turtle, Hispid Hare, Golden Langur, and Pygmy Hog.
Initially, the Manas wildlife sanctuary was declared one of the world heritage sites in 1985, and after that was labeled as a world heritage site in danger but was refurbished with far-reaching conservation efforts in 2011.
8. Buddhist Monuments
The cultural site holds a number of Buddhist monuments that exist from 200 to 100 BC. The monuments are located in Sanchi, which is at a distance of about 40 km from Bhopal.
The monolithic pillars, temples, palaces, monasteries, Mauryan architecture, and Ye dharma Hetu Inscriptions are integral to the Buddhist monuments.
King Ashoka played a dominant role in expanding Buddhism, detailing the Buddhist proclamations on the monolithic pillars that covered the whole empire.
The Buddhist monuments were declared world heritage sites in 1989.
9. Agra fort
Another example of the great Mughal architectural style is the 16th-century Mughal masterpiece called the Red Fort of Agra. Situated on the banks of river Yamuna, the Agra fort was established during the reign of Mughal emperor Akbar.
Before the capital of the Mughal empire shifted to Delhi, Agra fort was the prime residence of the Mughal dynasty.
The crescent-shaped fortress is made of red sandstone and serves to remember the extravagant power that the Mughal Dynasty held throughout its regime.
The Agra fort comprises several monuments like Khas Mahal, Sheesh Mahal, Muhamman Burie (an octagonal tower), Diwan-e-Khas, Diwan-e-Aam, Moti, and Nagina Masjid.
Agra Fort was recognized as a world heritage site in 1983.
10. Mahabodhi Temple Complex
This is the place where Gautam Buddha attained enlightenment. Mahabodhi temple complex is not only a world heritage but is also one of the four holy sites related to the life of the Buddhist Saint, Gautam Buddha.
Constructed during the regime of Ashoka the Great in about 250 BC, the Mahabodhi temple complex is one of the most primitive Buddhist Temples.
At present, the Temple complex at Bodh Gaya (Bihar) exists of the 50m tall Mahabodhi Temple, the Vajrasana, the sacred Bodhi Tree (a site where Gautam Buddha (formerly known as Siddharta) attained enlightenment), and six other divine spots of Buddha’s enlightenment, besieged by numerous ancient Votive Stupas.
Incurring to all these aspects, Bodh Gaya is regarded as the holiest pilgrimage site for Buddhists. UNESCO regarded the temple complex as part of the world heritage in 2002.
11. Ellora Caves
Declared as a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1983, this site is an integration of religious arts from Jainism, Buddhism, and Hinduism practices.
Comprising 34 rock-cut temples and monasteries engraved into the rocks of the basalt cliff, this site is remarkable for its impression of India’s ancient civilization.
The tolerance projected towards different faiths and beliefs in ancient history is evident in the presence of Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu temples in the region of Ellora Caves.
Also, the architecture of the Ellora Caves is crucial in comprehending the lives of people who resided in the region in ancient times.
The hollowed-out site comprises Charanandri Hills, Buddhist Hindu and Jain rock-cut temples, Viharas, and Maths of the 5th and 10th centuries.
Ellora Caves contributes to the rich cultural heritage of the nation and promotes its religious diversity.
12. Elephanta Caves
Located on an island in the Arabian Sea, this series of engraved caves on Elephanta islands is known as Gharapuri. The Elephanta caves are categorized into two groups: Group one consists of five Hindu caves, and the other is a group of two Buddhist caves.
Both the Hindu and the Buddhist caves are carved out in rock-cut architecture that dates back to the 5th century; however, who constructed the Elephanta caves is still a mystery. The caves were renovated in 1970 and were designated as a World Heritage site in 1987.
13. Group of monuments at Hampi
The group of monuments overshadows the grim but flamboyant town of Hampi. Hampi lies in the relics of the ancient and flourishing kingdom of Vijaynagar. The Virupaksha Temple is of great significance for the Hindus.
Besides this, there are several other monuments, namely the Krishna temple complex, Narasimha, Ganesa, Hemakuta group of temples, Achyutaraya temple complex, Vitthala temple complex, Pattabhirama temple complex, Lotus Mahal complex, several puras or bazaars surrounding the temple complex, and also living quarters and residential areas. They are collectively acknowledged as a Group of monuments at Hampi.
This monument in India was categorized as a world heritage site in 1986.
14. Great Himalayan National Park
This national park is located in the Kullu region of Northern Himachal Pradesh and is spread over 754.4 sq km.
The great Himalayan national park was uncovered in 1984 and was recently added to India’s Unesco world heritage sites in 2014.
About 375 species of fauna and various species of flora reside in the national park. The natural reserve subsists of alpine meadows, alpine peaks, and marshy forests.
The glacier and snow melt water are the prime sources of water supply.
The great Himalayan national park is home to rare species of plants and animals such as blue sheep, snow leopard, Himalayan brown bear, Himalayan Tahr, musk deer spruces, horse chestnuts, and vast alpine meadows too.
15. Great living Chola Temples (1987)
Established during the Chola Empire in the southern part of India, the Great living Chola temples are popular for their Chola Architecture, sculpture, painting, and bronze casting.
The most substantial among the great living Chola temples are The Brihadisvara Temple, the Temple at Gangaikonda Cholapuram, and the Airavatesvara Temple.
These Chola temples epitomize the architectural accomplishment of the Chola Dynasty.
16. Keoladeo National Park (1985)
Keoladeo national park or Bharatpur Wildlife Sanctuary is situated in Bharatpur, Rajasthan. It is a home for thousands of non-primitive, migratory birds that flock to the national park during the winter season.
Moreover, Keoladeo national park is a dwelling for 379 floral species, 50 species of fish, 13 species of snake, seven species of lizard, seven species of amphibians, seven turtle species, and several other invertebrates.
17. Kaziranga National Park
Situated in the province of Assam, Kaziranga national park is a prominent tourist attraction. This intact vegetation cover resides on the flood plains of the river Brahmaputra, and for the mast, part inheres thick grasslands, forests, and a number of streams and lakes also run through it.
Kaziranga national park contains about 15 endangered Indian faunal species, of which the Rhino is the most endangered. Other mammals include capped langur, hoolock gibbon, tiger, leopard, sloth bear, Ganges dolphin, otter, wild boar, water buffalo, gaur, sambar, swamp deer, hog deer, and Indian muntjac.
19. Khangchendzonga National Park (2016)
Residing on the world’s third-highest peak- Mount Khangchendzonga is one of those national parks composed of snow-cladded mountains.
Elevated 829 m to 8,500 m above sea level and encompassing a vast area expanded over 850 sq. km, the Khangchendzonga national park is famous for its wildlife and vegetation, with infrequent visibility of Snow Leopard. The park also offers a few trekking routes for trek-admirers.
19. Champaner Pavagadh Archaeological Park
This cultural site was discovered in 2004 by Unesco world heritage sites. The champaner pavagadh archaeological park is one of India’s most prominent archeological sites. This archeological park is one of the ancient Chalcolithic Indian sites from the stone age era.
The park is an important historical and cultural spot, wrapped around the city of Champaner or Muhammadabad, built by Sultan Mahmud Begada of Gujarat.
The ancient site encompasses 11 different types of heritage monuments- Mosques, Temples, Tombs, Gateways, Fortresses and walls, Palaces and Pavilion, Helical Wells, and Custom houses, all belonging to the 16th century.
20. Khajuraho group of monuments
These groups of monuments are ascribed to the Chandela Dynasty because of its splendid combo of architecture and sculpture in its art form; UNESCO classified it as one of the heritage sites in India in 1986.
The Khajuraho Group of monuments dates back to the 10th century. They are well-renowned for their Nagara-style symbolism and erotic figures and sculptures. Overall, 85 temples were built within its complex, but only 22 survived.
21. Taj mahal
One of the world’s seven wonders, the Taj mahal is a Mughal architectural style made in White Marble. It took 22 years to complete the construction of the Taj mahal.
It is regarded as one of the most delicate jewels of Muslim art in India Hence, and it is a predominant attraction for tourists not just from India but all over the world.
Taj Mahal was built during the reign of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his late wife Mumtaj Mahal and is therefore regarded as an ‘epitome of love.’ The architectural design is a fusion of India, Persia, and Islam elements.
22. Mountain railways of India
The mountain railways of India include the Darjeeling Mountain Railway, the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, and the Kalka-Shimla Railway and are a part of the world heritage sites in India.
UNESCO recognized these three mountain railways as world heritage sites due to their resolute, skillful, and inventive solutions to the complications of connectivity in the curvy and craggy mountain terrains; hence, they are a masterpiece in India’s heritage.
Although there are five mountain railways in India, UNESCO designated only three as th heritage sites in India: the Darjeeling Mountain Railway, the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, and the Kalka-Shimla Railway.
23. Western ghats
This lush-green mountain range is located in along the western coast of the Indian Peninsula. The western ghats are listed as one of the top biodiversity hotspots, thus surface on UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites under natural spots.
The Sahyadri Range runs north to south along the west edge of the Deccan Plateau. The Western Ghats constitutes several national parks, reserve forests, and wildlife sanctuaries in Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Maharashtra.
The hills cover 160000 square kilometers with a length of 1600 kilometers, a width of 100 kilometers, and an elevation of 1200 meters.
The forests along the Western Ghats are home to about 325 species of flora and fauna, which include endangered, rare, and critically endangered species of plants and animals
24. Rock shelters of Bhimbetka
The earliest traces of human life in the Indian subcontinent were found. The rock shelters of Bhimbetka are acclaimed for their rock paintings inside the natural rock shelters, stone-age inscriptions, and sitting place of Bhima (Mahabharata).
The paintings carved on the rocks give insight into the life of hunter-gatherers and the amalgamation of art form and landscape during the Mesolithic era.
The rock shelters of Bhimbetka were categorized as UNESCO world heritage sites in 2003.
By now, we can say that India has a prosperous world cultural heritage, and has some of the most beautiful and extravagant heritage sites.