12 Must-Visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India for Their Cultural Importance
Along with its culture, India is well-known for its history and there are many sites in the country that flaunt the perfect mesh of these two elements. UNESCO only considers the best sites as a World Heritage Site, and we bring to you the best of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India. These sights hold great cultural significance; most of these are a canvas filled with peerless artistry. There are engravings, sculptures, motifs, pillars, domes etc added to the structures to ascend its splendor. Let us now have a look at 12 must-visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India known for their cultural importance:
Taj Mahal, Agra
Taj Mahal in Agra looks as if a pearl got chiseled with minutest precision by mankind. This ancient monument epitomizes dedication, beauty and true love. In 1632 the great Mughal Ruler Shah Jahan commissioned Taj Mahal and it took good 22 years for the completion. The mausoleum was built for Shah Jahan’s beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. A blend of Ottoman Turkish, Persian, Indian and Islamic style of architecture is beautifully incorporated here. This monument is popular world-wide; it gets thousands of tourists every day. It has its name inscribed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Group of Monuments at Hampi
Sometimes ruins don’t feel ruining, but rejuvenating instead; Group of Monuments at Hampi in Karnataka is one such example. These remnants of the Vijaynagara Empire are located beside the Tungabhadra River and originally encompassed seven fortification lines. Forget about life for a little while as you sit upon Matunga Hill and let Hampi, which looks much like a historical movie’ set, caress your weary soul. These monuments are datable as far as 1343. Hampi’s Golden Chariot inspired the creation of one of world’s best Luxury Trains, The Golden Chariot. Achyutaraya Temple, Vittala Temple, Zananas and Anegondi are some amongst the top most tourist attractions in Hampi.
Brihadeeswarar Temple, Thanjavur
Brihadeeswarar, or Peruvudaiyar Kovil in Tamil Nadu is at least a thousand-year-old temple which Raja Raja Chola I built. The temple is considered one amongst the several UNESCO World Heritage Site in India as a part of The Great Living Chola Temples. Lord Shiva is the main deity here and the statue of Nandi Bull at the entrance is an eye-catcher. This statue is about thirteen feet height, carved on a single piece of rock. The walls encircling the temple were added in the 16th century or so. Vimanam (the temple tower) is amongst the tallest of its kind, with a height of 216 feet.
[ Read More about Top Temples in South India ]
Sun Temple, Konark
Amid rosewood, eel and mahogany groves lies the legendary Sun Temple of Konark, which is indeed a popular tourist attraction in India. Narasimhadeva I of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty commissioned this wonder somewhere around 1250 AD. The temple looks like a massive chariot and has elaborately carved wheels, walls and pillars. As the name suggests, Sun Temple is dedicated to Lord Sun who is often known as Surya Devta. Some of its parts are in ruins however, but Audience Hall and Dancing Hall are notable. It is facing eastward so that the first ray of the sun strikes the principle entrance. Images of snakes, giraffe, elephants, mythological creatures etc are found drawn on the walls.
Khajuraho Temples, Madhya Pradesh
A popular group of temples in India and beyond, Khajuraho Temples are often known for its erotic sculptures. But what is least known about Khajuraho Group of Monuments is that it has its history datable between 950 and 1050 CE, which means it indeed is an ancient treasure. The temples were built together but were dedicated to different religions (Jainism and Hinduism) and aimed at creating harmony between these two. The small town of Khajuraho is nestled amid wilderness where prevails massive biodiversity. Many a temples and monuments could not withstand the test of time and hence tumbled down. But out of the surviving ones, 6 are dedicated to Lord Shiva and his consorts, 8 to Vishnu and his affinities, 3 to Jain Tirthankaras and the other two are dedicated to Lord Ganesh and Sun God each.
[ Also check out the Top Tourist Places to Visit in Madhya Pradesh ]
Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram
Settled by the Bay of Bengal, on the Coromandel Coast is the legendary Group of Monuments of Mahabalipuram. These were founded by Pallava Dynasty during 7th or 8th century. A thousand sculptures here reflecting the glory of Lord Shiva adorn the monuments, along with rathas, which are acclaimed by its visitors. Shore Temple of the group is quite a popular structure prettified with the deep blue waters of the ocean on the backdrop. Rathas are its most eminent attribute; the biggest of all is the three-tiered ratha (Dharmaraja Ratha) which was left incomplete. There are eight rathas here, of which the smallest is one-tiered Draupadi ratha.
Churches and Convents of Goa
The former capital of Portuguese is not only home to beautiful beaches, churches and convents also happen to be its highlights. So, UNESCO listed the best of its Churches and convents as World Heritage Site (with the name of Churches and Convents of Goa). The group of monuments includes Basilica of Bom Jesus, Chapel of St Catherine, Church and Convent of St Francis of Assisi, Church of Lady of Rosary, St. Cajetan, Se Cathedral and Church of St. Augustine. Most of these are located in Old Goa and datable to 16th and 17th century. Se’ Cathedral stands out with its Tuscan exterior; St. Cajetan Church was inspired by St. Peter’s Church in Rome; St. Xaviers Chapel has painted wooden borders with floral panels; Church of St. Francis of Assisi is notable for its arches on either sides of the altar; days would end if we talk about the artistry of each of these monuments and churches.
Mahabodhi Temple, Bodhgaya
One amongst the most revered temples of Buddhism is located in Bodh Gaya, Bihar. It is said that Siddhartha Gautama (Lord Buddha) attained enlightenment here. The temple is built to the east of the Bodhi Temple where the lord meditated and is indeed considered as the direct descendant of the tree. Emperor Ashoka visited the spot after approximately 200 years of Buddha’s enlightenment and decided to establish a monastery and shrine here.
[Plan your trip with these tastefully crafted Bodhgaya Tour Packages]
Rani ka Vav Patan, Gujarat
This delightful site was commissioned by Rani Udayamati in 1063 in the memory of her husband, King Bhimdev I. Vav means stepwell, and such vavs like Rani ka Vav Patan of Gujarat are not merely used for collecting water and socializing but these also have great spiritual significance. Like others, this vav starts from the ground level and as you descend you’d pass past several pillared pavilions. More than 800 elaborate sculptures are found chiseled here adding on to the beauty. Central theme of the same is ‘Ten Avatars of Lord Vishnu’, including Buddha and these avatars are accompanied by sadhus, Brahmins and apsaraas. At the water-level a carving of Sheshashayu Vishnu is found.
Ajanta Caves, Aurangabad
Who doesn’t know of Ajanta Caves! This group of caves is very popular in different parts of the globe. The caves date back from 2nd century BCE to 480/650 CE approximately. Main highlights of the monument are its paintings which display artistry of the people in ancient era. The paintings are inspired by Jataka Tales. These caves were built in two phases, one phase was built around 2nd century BCE and the second around 400-650 CE. Not just paintings, every corner of Ajanta Caves are embellished with detailed carvings and sculptures too. Miles of greenery carpet the hillocks around the caves, and this magnificent view can be savored from the top of the caves.
Group of Monuments at Qutub Minar, Delhi
To celebrate the victory of Mohammed Ghori his then viceroy, Qutub-ud-din Aibak commissioned Qutb Minar in 1202. In fact, the whole complex is flecked with such ruins with old-world charm. The oldest mosques of Northern India, like the Quwwatu’l-Islam is located a few steps away. Quwwatu’l-Islam consists of a prayer hall, cloisters and a courtyard. Different monuments in this complex were built in different times by different rulers like Firoz Shah Tughlaq, Aldau-din-Khilji and British rulers. Other notable monuments inside Qutub Minar Complex are the Jain Ruins, the Alai Minar, Alai Gate, the Iron Pillar, and the tombs of Iltutmish, Alauddin Khilji and Imam Zamin.
[ Here’s complete list of things to do in our Delhi Travel Guide ]
Champaner Pavagarh Archeological Park
Champaner Pavagarh Archeological Park is located in the city of Champaner, which was built by Sultan Mahmud Begada of Gujarat. The park has mosques, entrance gates and arches, temples, tombs, residential complexes, water installations and agricultural structures. Kalika Mata Temple inside the parks is an important Hindu pilgrimage spot, and is perched upon an 800 meter high Pavagadh Hill. Some other notable monuments in this park are Lakulisa Temple, Jami Masjid, Patai Rawal’s Palace, Kabutarkhana Pavilion, Helical Stepwell and Jain Temple. This heritage site is spread over 1329 hectares, so it’s got quite much for the explorer in you!