Did you know there are over one thousand UNESCO World Heritage sites to explore? On a mission to promote collaboration among nations, UNESCO (which stands for ‘The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’) was set up to protect cultural, natural and heritage sites all around the world. So is it any surprise that, given its sheer size, history and natural beauty, India ranks in the top 10 for having the lion’s share of these amazing places?
Rich in culture, India was home to some of the oldest civilizations on earth, seeing the surge of empires and being the birthplace of many religions that are still growing today. With a total of 36 world heritage sites to visit, and the newest (Jaipur!) being added to the list this month, it’s about time we shared some of our favourites. Check out our top 7 UNESCO sites in India, that are definitely worth a visit…
The most recent addition to India’s UNESCO list, in fact so recent, it only got announced on the 6th July, is India’s pink city – Jaipur. Being the capital and largest city in the state of Rajasthan, as well as part of the popular Golden Triangle, it’s a leading city for travellers. Jaipur is famous for its amazing architecture, history and cultural heritage. Take a visit the 16th-century hilltop fort, Amber Palace, wander round the aesthetic the city and gaze at the impressive palaces.Indian MP Narendra Modi said “Jaipur is a city associated with culture and valour. Elegant and energetic, Jaipur’s hospitality draws people from all over. Glad that this city has been inscribed as a World Heritage Site by @UNESCO”.
Fact: The city of Jaipur was painted pink for the grand welcome of Prince Edward of Wales
Once the capital of the Vijayanagar Empire and now a UNESCO site, Hampi is an ancient city brimming with riverbanks, temples, banana plantations, rice paddies and archaeological ruins. The ruins are spread over 4,100 hectares with more than 1600 surviving remains that include: forts, royal and sacred complexes, temples, shrines, pillared halls, mandapas and memorial structures. We think a visit here is definitely worth it, especially when it includes a guided tour of the tumbledown temples, sipping on a lassi and a scramble up to rocky viewpoints for sunset.
Fact: It is believed that the monkey king, Sugreeva lived here. And it’s the spot where Sita dropped her jewels as a mark when Ravana abducted her.
The Ajanta Caves were once an enclave for Buddhist monks, and one of the first World Heritage sites in India. The caves date back to 200 BC – 650 AD, and due to their hidden and isolated position, are still in excellent condition. The way the art and architecture of Ajanta were created has had a massive impact on the way Indian art has progressed throughout history. With many of the carvings and sculptures relating to the life of Buddha, some say it marked the start of classical Indian art. You’ll find the cave is a steep climb, but you’ll be rewarded with a magnificent view over the entire cave system… and you can’t beat that!
Fact: This place was unknown to the world until it was discovered by a British officer in 1819
Known for its beautiful one-horn rhinoceroses, Kaziranga is located in Assam, one of the untouched natural areas of India that’s rarely visited by tourists. It’s said that this World Heritage Site in India was a project started by Lord Curzon when his wife failed to see a single Rhinoceros in the region and demanded her husband to act regarding the protection of these endangered species. Rich in natural beauty, wildlife and more tea than you could ever imagine, the UNESCO site covers 430 square kilometers. The park can be explored on a jeep safari, where you’ll spot wild elephants, tigers, buffalos, monkeys, badgers, and even leopards.
Fact: Among the protected areas of the world, Kaziranga contains the largest density of tigers. In 2006 it was declared a tiger’s reserve
In 2013, the Hill Forts of Rajasthan were added to the UNESCO world heritage sites list. It includes six majestic forts, located on the rocky Aravalli Mountain range. Chittorgarh, Ranthambhore Fort, Amber Fort, Jaisalmer Fort, Gargon Fort and Kumbhalgarh are the six places making up this cultural site. The forts were built and enhanced between the 5th and 18th centuries by several kings. Nestled on top of a mountain you’ll find enchanting Chittorgarh Fort, it’s the largest fort in India and truly a sight to behold. Here you can visit the Kumbha Shyam temple and Rama Kumbha Palace, and for marvellous views of the top – climb the Tower of Victory.
Fact: Rajasthan is often known as the most colour-coordinated state. The popular cities of Rajasthan are devoted to a separate colour; Jaipur is Pink, Jodhpur is Blue, Udaipur is White and Jhalawar is Purple.
Once boasting a total of 85 temples, now sadly only 25 remain at Khajuraho, each over 1000 years old, yet still in amazing condition. This unique heritage site is famous for its Nagara style symbolism and erotic scenes from the Karma Sutra. The remaining temples fall into either Hinduism or Jainism and all strike the balance between sculpture and architecture. You can explore these temples with a local guide to get a real insight into the history of this cultural treasure.
Fact: Although it’s one of the main reasons as to why it’s famous – only 10% of the carvings here contain sexual themes!
It’s fair to say that no India UNESCO round-up would be complete without this famous gem. An iconic image to the world, the Taj Mahal is pretty much the face of India. Starting in the 1600s, the Mughal emperor ordered the site to be built in memory of his favourite wife after she passed. Taking nearly 30 years from start to finish, the mausoleum is now typically known as the ‘Jewel of Muslim art’. Since being rated one of the best UNESCO world heritage sites in the world, the Taj is the highlight of any North India trip.
Fact: The Taj Mahal was built by a whopping 22,000 labourers, painters, stonecutters and embroidery artists.