Among the various beautiful and mesmerizing places in India, there are a few which have been given a special status of being the heritage sites by UNESCO. These wonderful sites are not just a treat for the visitors but also hold great cultural significance. Here is a complete list of these sites.
India is a country resplendent with a beautiful heritage. The sites listed below are widely known around the world, but there are still facts about them that you may not know. Are you ready to be utterly stunned by some of the most famous heritage sites of the world?
1. Qutb Minar in Delhi
- It took 75 years to complete the construction of the Qutb Minar.
- There are 379 stairs inside it and it stands tall at 237 ft.
- Seeing this, it should come as no surprise that it is the world’s tallest brick minaret.
- The inscriptions on the walls of this Minar, which are in Urdu and Nagari characters, actually narrate the story of how it was built.
2. Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Parks in the Himalayas
- The Nanda Devi National Park travels through an otherwise barely accessible gorge of Rishi Ganga.
- Both parks remained unexplored till the 1930s.
- In 1931, F. Smith wrote a book called Valley of Flowers, which brought the region into notice.
- However, curiosity meant invasion of the parks by hunters, adventure seekers, et al. As a result, since 1983, very little human intervention is allowed, with eco-tourism in pockets being an exception.
3. Great Himalayan National Park
- This park is home to 25 of the Internal Union Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red-listed plant species.
- It is also home to a massive 180 species of rare birds and mammals, including the stunning snow leopard.
- The National Park supports the livelihood of many villages situated at the peripheries.
- It is one of India’s most famous trekking and exploration sites.
4. Humayun’s Tomb in New Delhi
- It has over 100 graves and is called the ‘Dormitory of Mughals’, because most of the graves have not been inscribed with any identification.
- The architecture for Humayun’s Tomb was the inspiration for the Taj Mahal, which was built a century later.
- Unlike the Taj Mahal, Humayun’s Tomb was built by the wife of Humayun, Hamida Banu Begum, in his memory.
- It cost 1.5 million rupees to build the Tomb.
5. Red Fort in Delhi
- It was originally named the ‘Quila-e-Mubarak.’
- Bahadur Shah Zafar was declared an emperor by the revolutionaries of 1857. When they failed, Zafar was tried for treason and killed in his very home, the Red Fort. He was the last Mughal emperor.
- The Red Fort has breathtaking architecture and several rooms and buildings within it, one of which contains the Peacock Throne – the emperor’s throne. The Kohinoor Diamond used to be one of the lavish jewels decorating it.
- The Rang-e-Mahal (or the Palace of Colours) in the Red Fort was the home of the wives and mistresses of the emperors.
6. Mountain Railway Kalka-Shimla in the Himalayas
- Kalka-Shimla is one of the three World Heritage mountain railways in India.
- It comprises a massive number of tunnels and bridges, with 102 of the former and 864 of the latter.
- The longest tunnel, called the ‘Barog Tunnel,’ is named after Col. Barog, the engineer who began its construction. Only after he was long into the construction from both ends of the mountain did he realise that the tunnel was not aligned. After paying a mocking fine of Rs. 1, he committed suicide in the incomplete tunnel which he had built.
- The estimated cost when the construction began was Rs. 90 lakhs, which doubled during the course of it.
7. Fatehpur Sikri near Agra
- Fatehpur Sikri was planned by the Mughal emperor Akbar himself.
- Originally named Fatehabad, it was to be a symbol of Akbar’s victory (fateh means victorious).
- Fatehpur Sikri was the capital of the Mughal Empire for some time.
- The capital was changed in 1586 due to lack of proper water supply in Fatehpur Sikri.
8. Taj Mahal in Agra
- Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jahan to provide a home in paradise for his wife, Mumtaz, who died giving birth to their 14th child.
- The myth that Shah Jahan cut off the hands of all the workers after they built the Taj Mahal is, in fact, a myth.
- The four sides of the Taj Mahal are completely symmetrical, which is highly commendable given the period it was built in.
- The Taj Mahal is under threat of falling due to cracks caused by the groundwater under it.
9. Agra Fort in Agra
Credit: HD Wallpapers
- The brick fort was apparently in a broken condition originally and was known as ‘Badalgarh.’
- The Agra Fort is an important part of the plot of ‘The Sign of the Four,’ the Sherlock Holmes story, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
- Unlike most other architectural constructions of its time, the walls of the Agra Fort portray pictures of various birds, dragons, and elephants.
- It used to be the largest state treasury and mint of its time.
10. Sanchi Stupa
- It was created in the 3rd century BC in the honour of Lord Buddha, by Emperor Ashoka who dedicated his life to Buddhism, after he witnessed the atrocities of war, sans all its ‘conquest’ glories.
- The Stupa is surrounded by four gateways which garner carvings depicting the life of Lord Buddha and also the Jataka tales.
- Our national emblem is inspired from the Ashoka pillar at the Sanchi Stupa.
- The Stupa symbolises the life of Lord Buddha and his final moksha.
11. Bhimbetka Rock Shelters
- These were accidentally discovered by renowned archaeologist Dr. V.S. Wakankar, who happened to stumble upon them while on his way to Bhopal. However, the first mention in Indian archaeological records was in 1888, based on the Adivasis claiming that the caves were a Buddhist site.
- It is estimated to be about 100,000 years old, whereas, the rock paintings made by the prehistoric human inhabitants are estimated to be about 30,000 years old.
- These paintings exhibit seven historic periods – from Upper Paleolithic to Medieval.
- The paintings at Bhimbetka are a repository of the way of living across the seven periods through their depictions.
12. Ajanta Caves
- They were built in order to serve as a retreat for the Buddhist monks.
- The earliest cave, which is Cave 10, dates back to the 2nd century BC.
- The caves were initially connected to the stream through a flight of stairs, most of which has been obliterated.
- The fabulous carvings on the stones have been done by simple hammers and chisels.
13. Ellora Caves
- They represent three religions – Hinduism, Jainism, Bhuddhism. The caves numbered 1 to 12 belong to Buddhism, 13-29 are dedicated to Hinduism, and 30-34 depict Jainism.
- It took 5 centuries to build the 15-foot statue of Lord Buddha situated in the Carpenter’s Cave (cave 10).
- It is believed, due to the style of inscriptions and executions, that the caves were built by the Rashtrakuta rulers.
- Most of the caves dedicated to Hinduism are adorned with carvings, depicting the wedding rituals of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati.
14. Elephanta Caves
- Originally called ‘Gharapuri’, the island was renamed as ‘Elephanta’ by the Portuguese – who got off the sail to find a giant stone elephant.
- Most of the sculptures have been defiled by the Portuguese, who turned the caves into their target practice grounds.
- Once the British captured the island from the Portuguese, they tried to send the elephant structure back to England, but failed to lift it at all.
- The temple has an enormous hall its centre, which inhabits nine sculptured panels representing Lord Shiva in his nine separate temperaments.
15. Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus
- When originally built in the 19th century, it was named the ‘Victoria Terminus’.
- It took ten years to complete the structure and was inaugurated on the date of Queen Victoria’s silver jubilee.
- F.W.Stevens, who was the architecture of the terminus, has been described as the ‘High priest of the Indian gothic style of architecture’, owing to the gothic element in the architecture.
- Originally the land was called ‘Bori Bandar’ and the first train to Thane departed from here.
- The temple is renowned for its erotic sculptures and carvings.
- Although created between 950-1050 AD, it was only in the 20th century that they were rediscovered.
- Of the 85 temples built, only 22 remain today.
- The temples of Khajuraho, through its carvings and sculptures, represent an elevated level of philosophical development of the civilization.
17. Sundarbans National Park
- It has the world’s largest mangrove forest and the world’s largest river delta.
- The delta consists of a cluster of a staggering number of 54 small islands.
- Even though it is home to the Royal Bengal Tiger, they are rarely sighted.
- It is inhabited by 260 species of birds and other threatened endangered animals, such as the Indian python.
18. Bodh Gaya
- It is believed that this is the land where Lord Buddha gained enlightenment and was known as ‘Urvela’ during his time.
- The main attraction is the Mahabodhi Temple, wherein resides a diamond throne and a holy Bodhi tree.
- Mahabodhi Temple was built by Emperor Ashoka, who embraced Buddhism and visited Bodh Gaya, after having idolised Lord Buddha.
- In 2013, there were a series of low intensity bomb blasts which hit the Mahabodhi Temple complex. However, the architecture and the trees were not damaged in any way.
19. Konark Sun Temple
- The entire temple depicts the chariot of the Sun God being pulled by seven horses and was built by King Narasimhadeva I.
- The twelve pairs of wheels, located at the base of the temple, have a sun dial for its spokes and, therefore, all of them tell time.
- The temple is built and aligned in such a manner that the rising sun shines its first rays on the temple.
- The Konark Temple had a lodestone located at the top of the temple, which, according to a myth, helped the king’s throne to sustain itself midair. The collapse of the temple has been attributed to the stealing of this lodestone by Portuguese whose directions of ships would get disrupted, owing to the magnetic effect on their compasses.
20. Mountain Railways, Darjeeling
- It is the first hill railway in India and one of the first, in the world.
- There were no tunnels created through the mountains, albeit, the 1934 earthquake required the construction of a small one.
- The sharpest curve which the train faces is 12 degrees.
- The last line was till the Darjeeling Bazaar, which is now lost under small buildings and the road surface of the place.
21. Manas Wildlife Sanctuary
- It is situated on the border India shares with Bhutan and lies on the foothills of the Himalayas.
- In 1992 it was declared as one of the World Heritage Sites in Danger by UNESCO, owing to the rampant poaching and terrorist activities. However, in 2002, due to commendable efforts of preservation, UNESCO withdrew this title.
- The Manas Sanctuary is most known for its tiger and elephant reserves.
- Home to a wide range of flora and fauna, Manas Sanctuary is inhabited by endangered animals, birds and plants, such as the Bengal Florican, which has its largest population here.
22. Kaziranga National Park
- Its name is derived from ‘Karbi’, which was the name of the woman who ruled the land.
- It harbours the world’s largest population of the endangered Indian one-horned rhinoceroses.
- Amongst a brilliant population of flora and fauna, Kaziranga has 11 stunning species of turtles.
- There has been a long standing debate about the existence of submerged temples of Mahabalipuram, regarding its truth as opposed to it being just a myth. However, in 2002, on claim of a few fisherman witnessing ruins at the bottom of the sea, a joint project was launched by the National Institute of Oceanography (India) and the Scientific Exploration Society, U.K., to explore the area. They came to the conclusion that there were potential remnants and future exploration was imperative.
- It has the oldest of the existing Dravidian architectural structures.
- Of the nine temples, the most renowned are the Five Rathas which are dedicated in the name of the five Pandavas.
- It has the largest stone-bas relief in the world.
24. Churches of Goa
- The Basilica of Bom Jesus holds the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier.
“The body of St Francis Xavier, which miraculously defied the laws of nature, of turning into dust, lies till this day in a silver casket in the Church of Bom Jesus Basilica in Goa, India.”
– Official Site of Bom Jesus
- The Churches of Old Goa were built to enthrall people into converting to Christianity.
- When the city was constructed in the 15th century, it beamed with a bustling population. However, by the 18th century, repeated conquests of the European states forced people to abandon it, with half its population being eradicated by the colonisers.
- Of the 60 Churches recorded in the 18th century, only 7 major ones survive today.
25. Great Living Chola Temples
- The Brihadeeswarar Temple is one of a kind. There exists no other 216-foot tall architectural structure in the world till date, which incorporates a similar magnitude of intricacies.
- The shadow of the Brihadeeswarar Temple never falls on the ground at noon during any part of the year. This isn’t a coincidence; it was built to be so.
- Amidst the numerous carvings of Indian gods, saints and angels, there is a distinct carving of, what some people claim to be, a European man. The other part of the conjecture identifies it as a Chinese figure.
- It was ordered to be broken down in the 19th century by a British Officer, who deemed it was the best source for stones required for the construction of a weir across the Kollidam River. However, there was a huge uproar, which stopped this demolition.
- The earliest record of a settlement dates back to 1 CE.
- The beautiful Vittala Temple, is more than just an architectural genius. When tapped gently, their walls make musical sounds. Owing to this, its pillars have the name ‘SAREGAMA pillars’.
- The two elephants placed in front of the ‘Stone Chariot’ are, in fact, not part of the original architecture. The chariot was initially built to be pulled by horses. The hind legs and the tail of one of the horses can still be seen.
- The main coin mint of Vijayanagra was situated here.
27. Nilgiri Mountain Railways
- It is the slowest train in India.
- It has engines pushing it from behind when ascending the hills and in front , when coming downhill.
- It still depends on steam locomotives, and is one of the few left in the world to do so.
- Indian Railways faces a deficit of about 4 crores annually, for the management and operation of the NMR.
28. Western Ghats
- The largest population of Asian Tigers roams freely across the Ghats. It harbours about 10% of the world’s tiger population and is home to a few of the most spectacular waterfalls in India.
- It may cover less than 6% of India’s land area, but is inhabited by more than 30% of its fauna population, with many rare species still being discovered.
- Only 9% of the Ghats is protected.
- It also harbours Salim Ali’s fruit bat, which is the only species of its kind.
- The earliest temple to be built was in the 4th century and the latest one, in the 9th century. They have been, to this day, remarkably preserved.
- It was the second capital of the Chalukyan empire.
- It is the place where the Chalukyan kings used to be crowned and was mainly a place for their festivities and other social gatherings.
- The two major temples of Pattadakal, the Virupaksha temple and the Mallikarjuna temple, were built not by a king, but his queens. They were built by the wives of Vikramaditya II in commemoration of his conquests.
30. Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park, Gujarat
- This heritage site is huge and is spread over 1,329 hectares, with an extended 2,812 hectares.
- The site is home to large number of unexcavated archaeological, historic, and living cultural heritage properties.
- Another interesting thing is that the site is the only complete and unchanged Islamic pre-Mughal city.
31. Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur, Rajasthan
- Located in Bharatpur city, this park is famous for 364 species of wintering birds, which arrive from distant countries like Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, China, etc. In fact, the rare Siberian crane has also been spotted here.
- The national park was earlier a duck-hunting reserve of the Maharajas and was declared as a protected sanctuary in 1971.
- The founder of the World Wildlife Fund Peter Scott, has also said that the Keoladeo Sanctuary is one of the world’s best bird areas.
32. Jantar Mantar, Jaipur
- Built by Maharaja Jai Singh II in Jaipur between 1727 and 1734, Jantar Mantar has the world’s largest stone sundial.
- Did you know that the monument was damaged in the 19th century? It was later restored under the supervision of Major Arthur Garrett, a keen amateur astronomer.
- Jai Singh had constructed a total of five such facilities at different locations. And Jaipur’s observatory is the largest and best preserved of these.
33. Hill Forts of Rajasthan
- This is a series of forts located on the rocky Aravali mountains of Rajasthan and portray the power of the Rajput princely states from 8th to 18th centuries.
- The forts include Chittorgarh, Kumbhalgarh, Amber, Ranthambore, Jaisalmer, Gagron. And you have to visit them to get the idea about how majestic these forts are.
- The interesting part of the forts is the use the natural defences offered by the landscape. They also showcase extensive water harvesting structures, largely still in use today.
34. Rani ki Vav, Gujarat
- It is a beautiful stepwell situated in Patan, Gujarat. Such water storage systems have been in existence in India since 3rd millennium BC. And what once were a pit of sandy soil, gradually became a multi-storey work of art and architecture.
- Rani ki Vav has an inverted temple and seven levels of stairs. It holds more than 500 principle sculptures. The stepwell is filled with water from Saraswati river.
- It is believed that the stepwell was made in the memory of Bhimdev I , the son of Mularaja, the founder of the Solanki dynasty, by his widowed queen Udayamati.