Whether it is the remains of the ancient world or a state of the art technology or a forest housing endangered species, modern civilization treasures what history has left behind! Today on World Heritage Day, we take you on a ride to the lesser known heritage sites in India who deserve our attention and respect.
1. Manas National Park, Assam
Resting in the foothills of the Himalayas, Manas National Park is a Project Tiger reserve, an elephant reserve and a biosphere reserve in Assam which was declared a Natural World Heritage site by UNESCO in December 1985. Home to a huge population of wild water buffaloes along with a number of rare and endangered species, UNESCO declared it as a world heritage site in danger due to heavy poaching in 1992 but later removed it from that list as the national park succeeded in its efforts of preservation.
2. Mahabodhi Vihar at Bodh Gaya, Bihar
Believed to be the place where Buddha attained enlightenment, the Mahabodhi Vihar which is a Buddhist temple in Bodh Gaya is a UNESCO recognized World Heritage Site.
History says that in 589 BC, Siddhartha Gautama, a young prince who wanted to put an end to world sufferings, reached the forested banks of the Phalgu river near the city of Gaya where he sat in meditation under a peepul tree, now known as the Bodhi tree. After three days and three nights, Siddharta attained enlightenment. Later in around 260 BC, Emperor Ashoka built Mahabodhi Temple in that location.
3. Humayun’s Tomb, Delhi
Tomb of the Mughal Emperor Humayun in Delhi, it was built under the orders Humayun’s son Akbar in 1569 -70 at a cost of 1.5 million rupees at the time, and was designed by Mirak Mirza Ghiyas, a Persian architect chosen by Humayun’s wife Bega Begum. It was the first garden-tomb in India and also the first structure to use a unique combination of red sandstone and white marble. The tomb was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.
4. Churches and Convents of Goa
The historical city of Old Goa was constructed by the Bijapur Sultanate in the 15th century, and was made the capital of Portuguese India from the 16th century until its abandonment in the 18th century due to a plague. The remains of the city are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Old Goa comprises of churches affiliated to various congregations, including the Se Cathedral (the seat of the Archbishop of Goa), the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, the Church of St. Caetano, and notably, the Basilica of Bom Jesus which contains the relics of Saint Francis Xavier.
5. Group of Monuments at Hampi
Located within the ruins of the ancient city of Vijayanagara empire, Hampi is a significant religious centre which houses the Virupaksha Temple and several other monuments. Discovered by Colonel Colin Mackenzie in 1800, the ruins of Hampi are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The remains of the palaces and the religious and secular structures which include Hindu and Jaina temples, audience hall of the king, the magnificent throne platform for festivals, the king’s balance (tulabhara) can be seen within the innermost enclosure of the ancient Vijayanagara.
6. Khajuraho Group of Monuments, Madhya Pradesh
Known for their nagara-style architectural symbolism and their erotic sculptures, Khajuraho temples have seized a place in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Most Khajuraho temples were built between 950 and 1050 by the Rajput Chandela dynasty and the temple site had 85 temples by the 12th century, out of which only about 20 temples have survived. The most famous surviving temple is Kandariya Mahadeva built in the reign of King Ganda from 1017-1029 CE.
7. Elephanta Caves, Maharashtra
A network of sculpted caves located on Elephanta Island in Mumbai Harbour, Elephanta Caves parent two groups of caves — one of five Hindu caves, and the other of two Buddhist caves. According to local belief, the caves are not man-made. Pandavas, the heroes of the Hindu epic Mahabharata, and Banasura, the demon devotee of Shiva, are both perceived to have built temples or cut caves to live within. The caves were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
8. Fatehpur Sikri, Uttar Pradesh
Fatehpur Sikri was built after Mughal emperor Akbar commenced the construction of a planned walled city which he initially named Fatehabad, with Fateh, a word of Arabic origin in Persian, meaning “victorious.” It was later renamed as Fatehpur Sikri.
With a soulful preservation of Indian Mughal architecture, the buildings at Fatehpur Sikri were built with red sandstone known as ‘Sikri sandstone’.
9. Mountain Railways of India
Constructed during the 19th and early 20th century of British rule, the Mountain Railways of India have 3 trains – the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, the Nilgiri Mountain Railway and the Kalka–Shimla Railway – which have collectively been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These railway lines connect important hill resorts with the foot hills, winding their way up through rugged yet scenic mountainous landscape.
10. Rani ki vav (the queen’s stepwell), Gujarat
Declared UNESCO’s World Heritage Site in June 2014, Rani ki vav is a stepwell situated in the town of Patan in Gujarat which was built as a memorial to an 11th century AD king Bhimdev, the son of Mularaja the founder of the Solanki dynasty. The stepwell had a small gate below the last step and was used as an escape gateway for the king during war.
Rani ki vav is a subterranean water resource and storage system, built in the complex Maru-Gurjara architectural style with an inverted temple and seven levels of stairs and displays more than 500 principle sculptures.
Must say, India is home to awe-inspiring heritage sites that everyone should visit at least once in a lifetime.