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There are 37 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India. The sites are broken down into the following categories: 29 cultural sites, 7 natural sites, and 1 mixed site.
The most recent site was added in 2018, and given the country’s long and fascinating history, there will likely be more added in the coming years (there are an additional 44+ sites on the UNESCO tentative list for India). Let’s dive into what you should know about each of these important World Heritage sites on the Indian subcontinent.
Kaziranga Wildlife Sanctuary, Assam (1985)
The Kaziranga Wildlife Sanctuary is located in the province of Assam in India and one of the province’s most important tourist attractions. Its unique natural environment contributed to it being named as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India. In 1908, it was named as a reserved forest in order to preserve the dwindling population of the rhinoceros species that inhabit the area. In 1950, it was renamed to its current name and was named a national park in 1974. This area is most notable for being the habitat of the largest population of the Indian one-horned rhinoceros, as well as several other species of mammals and birds.
Manas Wildlife Sanctuary, Assam (1985)
This is another site in the Assam province that was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. This one is located within the plains in Manas River and the foot of the Himalayas. This sanctuary serves as home to various plant species and threatened species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. After it was declared as a reserved forest, it was elevated into a sanctuary until it was included in the “Project Tiger” wherein the sanctuary was developed into a tiger reserve. It was also named as one of the World Heritage Sites in Danger but was restored with extensive conservation efforts in 2011.
Mahabodhi Temple Complex at Bodh Gaya, Bihar (2002)
This temple complex is not only a World Heritage Site in India but is also considered as one of the four holy sites relating to the life of Buddha. Much of the property left today is part of the ruins of a temple complex built in the 5th and 6th century AD. It is one of the first Buddhist temples that were constructed solely out of brick. In fact, it started the development of brick architecture in the centuries to follow. UNESCO recognized both the temple area and the Lotus Pond around it in the listing.
Humayun’s Tomb, Delhi (1993)
This tomb was commonly referred to as the precursor to the Taj Mahal, which introduced several innovations by the time it was built. Built in the 16th century, this site was listed by UNESCO due to its cultural value. It was built for by the widow of Mughal Emperor Humayun and is a work of Mirza Ghiyath using the Mughal architectural style. It has also earned the name as “Necropolis of the Mughal dynasty”. The property holds the tomb of Humayun and 150 tombs from the royal family.
This complex of monuments was inscribed into the list of World Heritage Sites in India by UNESCO in 1993. The main feature of the complex is the red sandstone tower, Qutb Minar, that rises to a height of over 72 meters. These complex structures were built in the 13th century that testify to the Islamic depredations during that time (the materials used for constructing these structures were from the ruins of Jain and Hindu temples). It is most notable for showcasing the artistic and architectural excellence of Islam.
Red Fort Complex (2007)
This palace fort was built for the 5th Mughal Emperor in the 17th century. In 2007, it was inscribed as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India due to the unique architectural design that features a blend of Indian, Persian and Timuri styles. In fact, it is believed that the Persian capital was the source of inspiration for the construction of this fort complex. The enclosure wall surrounding this palace complex is made out of red sandstone, which is why it was named as the Red Fort Complex.
Churches and Convents of Goa (1986)
This is another cultural property listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. These monuments were built by the Portuguese colonial rulers during the 16th and 18th centuries in Goa. The Basilica of Born Jesus is the primary structure among these monuments, which also houses the tomb with the relics of St. Francis Xavier. This site has been dubbed as the “Rome of the Orient”.
Champaner-Pavagahdh Archaeological Park, Gujarat (2004)
This cultural site was inscribed in 2004 as it holds a large collection of unexcavated archaeological properties within a prehistoric landscape. Within this archaeological park is a prehistoric Chalcolithic site, hill fortress and what is left of the 16th century Gujarat capital. From palaces to religious buildings, to fortifications and agricultural structures, all of these combine to making this site important to the region.
Group of Monuments at Hampi (1986)
This group of monuments dominates a somber but ostentatious town of Hampi. It was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986 as the temples showcase how the town became an important religious center for the Hindu worshippers. The Virupaksha temple and several other monuments comprise this cultural heritage site.
Group of Monuments at Pattadakal (1987)
This site is composed of nine Hindu temples and a Jain sanctuary. The most important architectural edifice belonging to this group of monuments is the Virupaksha Temple, which should not be confused with the temple of the same name in Hampi. Most of these temples were built during the reign of the Chalukya Dynasty from the 6th to the 8th centuries. The temples also showcase a combination of architectural styles inspired by northern and southern India.
Buddhist Monuments at Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh (1989)
This site holds a collection of Buddhist monuments that date back from 200 to 100 BC. However, many believed that the site developed under the rule of Mauryan Empire in the 3rd century BC. Until the 12th century, these sanctuaries serve as active Buddhist religious monuments. You will find a variety of structures in the area including palaces, monasteries, temples and monolithic pillars.
Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka, Madhya Pradesh (2003)
The Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka was inscribed as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India in 2003. It was recognized by UNESCO as a repository of rock paintings within sandstone formations expanding up to nearly 2000 hectares of land area. The paintings within these rock shelters are believed to date back to the Mesolithic period. The most interesting part about these paintings is that the 21 villages that surround the area strongly correlate to the subject of these paintings.
Khajuraho Group of Monuments, Madhya Pradesh (1986)
These monuments were attributed to the Chandela dynasty in India. It was recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site as it masterfully combines architecture and sculpture in its art form. There are a total of 85 temples built within this complex but only 22 survived. All of these temples have been around since the 10th century. It was inscribed by UNESCO in 1986 as artistic proof of the Chandela Culture in India.
Ajanta Caves (1983)
This is another cultural site listed as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India. This is a Buddhist cave system that was initially built in the 2nd century BC. The second phase of the cave was built in the 5th century AD. These caves showcase richly decorated paintings and frescoes. There are 31 rock-cut cave monuments found within the site, which are believed to be representative of Buddhist religious art.
Ellora Caves (1983)
Located in Maharashtra, this site is a blend of religious arts from the Jainism, Buddhism and Hinduism practices. The cave is home to 34 monasteries and temples that were sculpted into the rocks of the basalt cliffs. This site is notable for its reflection of the ancient civilization in India. It was inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1983.
Elephanta Caves (1987)
This series of sculpted caves are located in Elephanta Island in India. There are two groups of caves on this site: one group consists of five Hindu caves and the other consists of two Buddhist caves. The rock-cut architecture used in both caves date back to the 5th century; however, it remains unknown as to exactly who built them. The group of caves underwent renovation in 1970 and was listed as a World Heritage Site to further aid in its preservation efforts.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus – Formerly Victoria Terminus (2004)
This historic railway station is located in Mumbai, India. It is also the headquarters for the Central Railways in India. This station is one of the busiest in the country. The station was designed during the late 19th century by architect Frederick William Stevens. The completion of this project took 10 years and was originally named after Queen and Empress Victoria. It features a Gothic architectural style and was named as a World Heritage Site in 2004.
Sun Temple, Konarak (1984)
This is another temple complex listed as a cultural site by UNESCO. The temple itself is shaped like a gigantic chariot with details including walls, pillars, and carved stone wheels. Majority of the temple is now in ruins. It was also included in the list of the Seven Wonders of India.
Keoladeo National Park (1985)
This bird sanctuary is a famous attraction in India. It is one of few natural sites listed under UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India that was inscribed in 1985. Every year, there are thousands of birds that flock to the area, especially during winter. Meanwhile, it also serves as home to over 230 species of birds. Even before it was declared a World Heritage Site, it is already a protected sanctuary since 1971.
Jantar Mantar, Jaipur (2010)
This site is home to a collection of architectural astronomical instruments, in which the construction was commissioned for by Maharaja Jai Singh II. There are 5 facilities within in total that were built in different locations. The one in Jaipur is the largest and best preserved out of the five facilities. UNESCO described it as an “expression of the astronomical skills and cosmological concepts” during that time.
Great Living Chola Temples (1987)
There are three temples included in this site, all of which were built during the 11th to the 12th centuries. The temples are as follows: Brihadeeswarar Temple in Thanjavur, Airavateshwarar Temple and Brihadeeswarar Temple in Gangakondacholisvaram. All of these temples exemplify the architectural achievements of the Chola culture in India. It also showcases the other art forms they excelled in: bronze casting, painting and sculpture.
Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram (1984)
Carved from rock, this collection of monuments was founded by the Pallava kings during the 7th to 8th centuries. The most distinctive features of the complex are the temples shaped like chariots, together with the cave sanctuaries and open-air reliefs. Another notable monument in the site is the Temple of Rivage that features thousands of sculptures made to glorify Shiva.
Agra Fort (1983)
The Agra Fort, also referred to as the Red Fort, is the best example of how the Mughal dynasty flourished in India. It serves as the reminder of that opulent power that the empire held throughout its reign. Thus, it is considered an important cultural monument; in 1983, it was listed as one of the World Heritage Sites in India. The fort is built from red sandstone and surrounded by towers, moats, palaces, and mosques. It is located next to the bank of the Yamuna River.
This is a city in Agra district, which was founded in the mid-16th century and served as the capital for the Mughal Empire. However, the city was abandoned due to political unrest. After the victories are won, the construction of a new walled city was planned and it took 15 years to undergo planning and construction. It resulted in the construction of royal palaces, mosques, courts, private quarters and many other buildings. For this reason, the site is dubbed as the “City of Victory”.
Taj Mahal (1983)
Recognized as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Taj Mahal is a notable tourist attraction not just in India but all over the world. It is a mausoleum and funerary mosque. The building of the Taj Mahal was commissioned for by Emperor Shahjahan in memory of his third wife after she died in 1631. The Taj Mahal exemplifies the principles of a Mughal architectural style while the edifice is made purely out of white marble. The overall architectural design combines elements from India, Persia, and Islam. It took 16 years to build the Taj Mahal and is, therefore, one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India.
Mountain Railways of India (1999, 2005, and 2008)
This property is a combination of three railways in India that are located in the mountains. These railways were built in the 19th and 20th centuries. There are five mountain railways in India but only three were recognized by UNESCO. Of the five, three railways are part of the Himalaya Mountains in Northern India. Meanwhile, the other two are located in Southern India. These railways were noted for their bold engineering solutions by establishing a rail link in rugged terrain.
Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Parks (1988)
This is another natural site listed as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India. It is a park consisting of two core areas: Nanda Devi National Park and Valley of Flowers National Park. There is also a buffer zone defined for each property in this listing. The first site was inscribed in 1988, which is Nanda Devi National Park. It was expanded in 2005 to include the Valley of Flowers National Park.
Sundarbans National Park (1987)
This property is considered an important natural monument in India because it is a national park, tiger reserve and biosphere reserve. It is located in West Bengal, India. It is located adjacent to the Sundarban Reserve Forest in Bangladesh and close to the Ganges Delta. It is filled with mangrove forest and a giant reserve for Bengal tigers. Aside from the tigers, several species of birds, reptiles, and invertebrates also inhabit the area. It was initially a tiger reserve but was declared a national park in 1984.
Western Ghats (2012)
This mountain range is located on the western part of India. It is listed as one of the world’s “biodiversity hotspots” and is therefore listed under the Natural category for UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India. There are 39 properties in total that are included within this property, which includes wildlife sanctuaries, forest reserves and national parks.
Hill Forts of Rajasthan (2013)
Located in Northern India, this World Heritage Site is composed of six forts: Chittorgarh Fort, Kumbhalgarh Fort, Ranthambore Fort, Gagron Fort, Amber Fort, and Jaisalmer Fort. These forts are located within the Aravalli Range and date back to the 5th century AD. This property is listed under the Cultural category.
Rani ki vav – The Queen’s Stepwell (2014)
Located in the town of Patan, this stepwell is listed as a cultural monument of India by UNESCO. It is intricately constructed near the banks of Saraswati River. It is a subterranean water resource and storage system that was ahead of its time upon its construction in the third millennium BC. It was constructed featuring the Maru-Gurjara architectural style that consists of seven levels of stairs and an inverted temple. There are also about 500 sculptures found within this property.
Great Himalayan National Park (2014)
This national park is another natural site listed as one of India’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It was among the recently inscribed sites to the list in 2014. The park itself was founded in 1984 and consists of alpine meadows, alpine peaks, and riverine forests. The glacial and snow meltwater is an important source for the water supply catchments below it. In addition, it is home to many species of mammals, birds, reptiles, mollusks, amphibians, and insects.
In 2016, three new sites were inscribed to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India. Nalanda is one of those sites. It is an archaeological site consisting of scholastic and monastic institutional remains that date back to the 3rd century BCE. Within the site, you will find artworks, stuccoes, stupas, shrines and viharas. The site is believed to be an important example of the development of Buddhism as a religion and how it was used for educational and monastic purposes.
Khangchendzonga National Park (2016)
This is another natural site to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India that is located in the Himalayan Mountain range. This national park houses the third highest peak in the world – Mount Khangchendzonga. It also offers unique diversity in terms of landscape ranging from plains to valleys and glaciers. Meanwhile, a huge part of the park is composed of snow-capped mountains.
The Architectural Works of Le Corbusier (2016)
The architectural works of Le Corbusier is one of those transnational properties. This particular listing is spread out to over 17 sites in 7 different countries. The other countries where these sites are located are Japan, France, Argentina, Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland.
Historic City of Ahmadabad (2017)
The Historic City of Ahmadabad is a walled city in India, which was founded in the early 15th century by Ahmad Shah I of Gujarat Sultanate. It’s the capital and an important political and commercial center of Gujarat. This urban settlement was recognized by UNESCO for its cultural value as continues to symbolize the heart of metropolitan Ahmedabad despite the threat of over-crowding from its surrounding areas.
Victorian and Art Deco Ensemble of Mumbai (2018)
As a global trading center in the 19th century, Mumbai began modernizing and constructing a number of public buildings in the Victorian Neo-Gothic style and later in the Art Deco style in the early 20th century. Over time, this fascinating blend of styles has come to been known as Indo-Deco. You can find this ensemble of buildings around the Oval Maidan, and the blended architectural styles show Mumbai’s growth as a fortified trading outpost to the first city of India.