From monuments to mammals and ruins to railways, we’ve selected our top ten UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India in celebration of World Heritage Week
Known for its amazing landmarks, wildlife and architecture, it’s no surprise that India is home to a whopping 38 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Some of these treasured attractions have been enticing tourists for thousands of years and are just as interesting today as they were back then.
We’ve completed the difficult task of selecting our top ten UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India to suit all interests, whether you’re an architecture addict, photography fan or simply need some inspiration.
If you’re looking for panoramic perfection, charge your camera battery and wander through the magical, misty Western Ghats. One of eight ‘hottest hotspots’ of biological diversity in the world, the Ghats help moderate the tropical climate of the region and act as a barrier to moisture-heavy clouds during the monsoon season between June and September. Older than the Himalayas, this designated Natural World Heritage Site is home to tourist spots, monsoon retreats, plantations and a multitude of flora and fauna.
Heavens above! Astronomy fans will be star-struck by the Jantar Manar in Jaipur. Built in the 18th century, this fascinating place is the largest astronomical observation site of its kind. On display are a range of stargazing instruments, including the world’s largest stone sundial which impressively measures the time of day correct to half a second.
With around 3,700 monuments, ancient ruins and temples to explore, set aside plenty of time to explore the World Heritage Site at Hampi. Set on the banks of the river Tungabadra in Karnataka, this captivating complex dating back to the 14th century offers outstanding architecture, ornate carvings and elaborate sculptures amongst the remains, invoking vivid imagery of time gone by. Don’t miss the elephant stables, the 15 feet tall statue of Ganesha, and Vittala Temple with its music-making pillars.
If you’re wowed by wildlife, grab your binoculars and head to the stunning Kaziranga National Park in the heart of Assam. Undisturbed by human presence, this World Heritage Site is one of the last unmodified natural areas in the north-eastern region of India. A designated Tiger Reserve, the park is home to the world's largest population of one-horned rhinoceroses who share their lush habitat with elephants, panthers, bears, and thousands of birds.
Fans of art and architecture will adore the Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensembles of Mumbai. Resembling a walk-around gallery, this characteristic set of 94 public buildings represent the modernisation of Mumbai through the 19th and 20th centuries. The Neo-Gothic constructions include climate-friendly elements such as balconies and verandas, whilst the cinemas and residential buildings of the 20th-century ensembles combine Indian design and Art Deco imagery, to create a unique style known as Indo-Deco.
Image by Santosh Kumar from Flickr
Known as the "Great Awakening Temple", the Mahabodhi Temple Complex honours the spot where Buddha gained Enlightenment after sitting under a sacred fig tree for three days and three nights. One of the first Buddhist temples to be built entirely in brick, this holy site dates back to the 3rd century BC and attracts numerous pilgrims each year.
Image by Dat7from Pixabay
Carving out a niche as one of the best World Heritage Sites in India are the ornate Elephanta Caves on Elephanta Island in Mumbai Harbour. Within the caves are a collection of stone sculptures hewn from solid basalt rock that portray Hindu and Buddhist ideas and iconography. The ornate carvings include likenesses of Nataraja (Lord of dance), the 20-feet high Trimurti Sadashiva (three-faced Shiva), and Yogishvara (Lord of Yoga).
The Mountain Railways of India is made up of the hill passenger Darjeeling Himalayan Railway dating back to 1881, the 46-km long metre-gauge single-track Nilgiri Mountain Railway in Tamil Nadu, and the 96-km long Kalka Shimla Railway. All three railways are fully operational and provide one of the loveliest ways to explore India, winding through the gorgeous greenery of mountain landscapes punctuated by flashes of bright colour along the way.
Jaipur City was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2019, but the glorious fortified city of Jaipur has been drawing tourists for centuries. Within its streets are rows of collonaded businesses and markets, stalls, residences and temples with matching facades. The layout follows a grid structure in the style of Vedic architecture, and the style of the buildings is borrowed from Hindu, modern Mughal and Western cultures.
This list wouldn’t be complete without the Taj Mahal, one of the world’s most famous World Heritage Sites. This jewel of Muslim art in India was built between 1631 and 1653 and was used as a location in the film Slumdog Millionaire and ITV’s Beecham House. Commissioned by the Mughal king Shah Jahan as the final resting place for his beloved wife, the ‘Crown of the Palaces’ would be his view during the last eight years of his life in Agra Fort after being imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb.
If you’ve been inspired to see any of these World Heritage Sites in India, contact us today to start planning a bespoke tour of India.