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UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India

N.K. Chauhan in Geography of India
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Mar 11, 2021 , Updated: Mar 13, 2022 · 14 min read

A World Heritage Site is a location with an "outstanding universal value". This signifies cultural and/or natural significance which is so exceptional as to transcend national boundaries and to be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity.

These sites got legal protection by an international convention administered by the UNESCO.

Until the end of 2004, World Heritage sites were selected on the basis of six cultural and four natural criteria. But with the adoption of the revised Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention, only one set of ten criteria exists.

The World Heritage Sites list is maintained by the international World Heritage Program of UNESCO, these sites are demarcated as protected zones.

With 193 ratified states parties, the "Convention Concerning the Protection of the World's Cultural and Natural Heritage" is one of the most widely recognised international agreements and the world's most popular cultural programme.

There are 40 World Heritage Sites located in India. These include 32 cultural sites, 7 natural sites and 1 mixed criteria site. Here is a detailed description of most popular world heritage sites in India:

Ajanta Caves

The Ajanta Caves are Buddhists caves built in two phases - In the reign of Emperor Ashoka (2nd Century BC) and additions were made during the 5th and 6th centuries AD of the Gupta period.

The caves depict richly decorated fresco paintings, reminiscent of the Sigiriya paintings and sculptures in Sri Lanka. There are 31 rock-cut cave monuments which are unique representations of the religious art of Buddhism.

The caves, situated in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra served as a monsoon retreat for monks, as well as a resting site for merchants and pilgrims in ancient times.

They were covered by jungle until accidentally "discovered" and brought to attention in 1819 by a British officer Captain John Smith on a tiger-hunting party.

Ellora Caves

Ellora Caves, located in the Aurangabad district of Maharashtra, India are is one of the largest rock-cut monastery-temple cave complexes in the world, featuring Hindu, Buddhist and Jain monuments, and artwork, dating from the 600-1000 AD period.

Cave 16, features the largest single monolithic rock excavation in the world, the Kailash temple, a chariot shaped monument dedicated to Lord Shiva.

There are over 100 caves at the site, all excavated from the basalt cliffs in the Charanandri Hills, 34 of which are open to public. These consist of 12 Buddhist (caves 1-12), 17 Hindu (caves 13-29) and 5 Jain (caves 30-34) caves.

All of the Ellora monuments were built during the Rashtrakuta dynasty, which constructed part of the Hindu and Buddhist caves, and the Yadava dynasty, which constructed a number of the Jain caves.

Agra Fort

Agra Fort, located in Agra, India, was the main residence of the emperors of the Mughal Dynasty until 1638, when the capital was shifted from Agra to Delhi.

It was captured by Ghaznavi for some time but in the 15th century AD the Chauhan Rajputs occupied it.

Sikandar Lodi (AD 1487-1517) shifted his capital from Delhi and constructed a few buildings in the pre-existing Fort at Agra. After the first battle of Panipat (AD 1526) Mughals captured the fort and ruled from it.

In AD 1530, Humayun was crowned in it, but the Fort got its present appearance during the reign of Akbar (AD 1556-1605).

The construction of the Agra fort was started around 1565, when the initial structures were built by the Mughal Emperor Akbar, and subsequently taken over by his grandson Shah Jahan, who added most of the marble creations to the fort.

Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal is an ivory-white marble mausoleum on the southern bank of the river Yamuna in Agra. It was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahanto house the tomb of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal; it also houses the tomb of Shah Jahan.

The construction project employed some 20,000 artisans under the guidance of a board of architects led by the court architect to the emperor, Ustad Ahmad Lahauri.

Sun Temple, Konarak

Konark Sun Temple is a 13th century temple at Konark about 35 kilometres northeast from Puri on the coastline of Odisha, India. The temple is attributed to king Narasimhadeva I of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty about 1250 AD.

The temple is dedicated to the Hindu Sun God Surya, what remains of the temple complex has the appearance of a 100-foot (30 m) high chariot with immense 24 wheels and horses, all carved from stone.

Also called the Surya Devalaya, it is a classic illustration of the Odisha style of Architecture or Kalinga Architecture.

This temple was called the "Black Pagoda" in European sailor accounts as early as 1676 because it looked a great tower which appeared black. Jagannath Temple in Puri was called the White Pagoda.

It is protected under the National Framework of India by the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (AMASR) Act (1958) and its Rules (1959).

The Konark is the third link of Odisha's Golden Triangle. The first link is Jagannath Puri and the second link is Bhubaneswar (Capital city of Odisha).

It remains a major pilgrimage site for Hindus, who gather here every year for the Chandrabhaga Mela around the month of February.


The Khajuraho is a city of Group of Monuments is a group of Hindu temples and Jain temples in Chhatarpur district, Madhya Pradesh, India. The temples are famous for their nagara-style architectural symbolism and their erotic sculptures.

Most Khajuraho temples were built between 885 AD and 1050 AD by the Chandela dynasty.

The Kandariya Mahadeva Temple is decorated with a profusion of sculptures with intricate details, symbolism and expressiveness of ancient Indian art.

Fatehpur Sikri

Fatehpur Sikri is a town in the Agra District of Uttar Pradesh, India. The city itself was founded as the capital of Mughal Empire in 1571 by Emperor Akbar, serving this role from 1571 to 1585, when Akbar abandoned it due to a campaign in Punjab.

Elephanta Caves

Elephanta Caves are a collection of cave temples predominantly dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva. They are on Elephanta Island, or Gharapuri, in Mumbai Harbour, 10 kilometres east of Mumbai in Maharashtra.

It consists of two groups of caves - the first is a large group of five Hindu caves, the second, a smaller group of two Buddhist caves.

The rock-cut architecture of the caves is dated to between the 5th and 8th centuries, although the identity of the original builders is still a subject of debate.


The Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka, a magnificent repository of rock paintings within natural rock shelters, is located in the foothills of the Vindhya range of hills in the state of Madhya Pradesh.

The rock shelters, discovered only in 1957, comprise a group of five clusters of rock shelters with paintings that are inferred to date from the "Mesolithic period right through to the Historical period", with the 21 villages surrounding them reflecting the traditions displayed in the rock paintings.

The unique rock art has been discovered in 400 painted shelters spread over an area of 1,892 ha amidst dense forest with high diversity of flora and fauna, with some of the shelters dated from 100,000 BC (Late Acheulian) to 1000 AD.

Rani ki vav

Rani ki vav is a stepwell situated in the town of Patan in Gujarat state of India.

Its construction is attributed to Udayamati, daughter of Khengara of Saurashtra, queen of the 11th-century Solanki dynasty and spouse of Bhima I.

Kakatiya Rudreswara Temple

The Rudreswara temple was constructed in 1213 AD during the reign of the Kakatiya Empire by Recharla Rudra, a general of Kakatiya king Ganapati Deva.

The presiding deity here is RamalingeswaraSwamy. It is also knownas the Ramappa temple, after the sculptor who executed the work in the temple for 40 years.

The temple stands on a 6 feet high star-shaped platform with walls, pillars and ceilings adorned with intricate carvings that attest to the unique skill of the Kakatiyan sculptors.

European merchants and travelers were mesmerized by the beauty of the temple and one such traveler had remarked that the temple was the "brightest star in the galaxy of medieval temples of the Deccan".


Discovered in 1968 by former Archaeological Survey of India Director General Jagat Pati Joshi, the site dates back to 3,000 BCE to 1,500 BCE, covering nearly 1,500 years of continued habitation.

The city is believed to have had trade ties with Mesopotamia and Oman peninsula.

Spread over 70 hectares, the remains are encompassed within an outer fortification and make for the fifth largest Harappan site after Mohenjo-daro, Harappa, Rakhigarhi and Ganweriwala, or sixth if Lakhanjo-daro is taken into account.

Along with becoming the 40th Indian site on the list, Dholavira is also the first Indus Valley Civilisation site in India to receive the tag.

The site has a walled city, a castle, a ceremonial ground, two seasonal streams and houses of different categories, indicating a social hierarchy.

Excavations have unearthed objects of shell, copper, stone, semi-precious stones, terracotta and gold.

The site also has several gates, including the North Gate that had a signboard above it, a first of its kind found at Harappan sites.

There was a castle for an important person, while the middle town housed rich merchants and generals and the lower town was for the common people.

An annexe used as a warehouse, two grounds (stadium), bead-making workshop and graves were also found.

In houses in the lower and middle town, septic tanks were found.

The castle had a network of drains connected to an arterial drain that was underground.

Memorials are also found in Dholavira, seem to be constructed a year after the death of the person. The memorials also had design that was found in Buddhist stupas.

World Heritage Sites in India

# Name Region Period
1 Ajanta Caves Maharashtra 2nd century BC to the 6th century
2 Ellora Caves Maharashtra 600 to 1000 AD
3 Agra Fort Uttar Pradesh, India 16th century
4 Taj Mahal Uttar Pradesh 17th century
5 Sun Temple, Konârak Puri District, Odisha 13th-century
6 Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram Mahabalipuram, Tamil Nadu 7th and 8th centuries
7 Kaziranga National Park Assam 20th century
8 Manas Wildlife Sanctuary Assam 20th century
9 Keoladeo National Park Rajasthan 1981
10 Churches and Convents of Goa Velha Goa (Old Goa), Goa 16th and 18th centuries
11 Khajuraho Group of Monuments Madhya Pradesh 950 AD to 1050 AD
12 Group of Monuments at Hampi Ballari district, Karnataka, India 14th and 16th centuries
13 Fatehpur Sikri Uttar Pradesh 16th century
14 Group of Monuments at Pattadakal Bagalkot District, Karnataka, India 8th century
15 Elephanta Caves Maharashtra 5th to 8th centuries
16 Great Living Chola Temples Brihadeeswarar temple, Gangaikonda Cholapuram, Tamil Nadu, India 11th and 12th century
Airavateshwarar Temple, Darasuram, Tamil Nadu, India
Brihadeeswarar Temple, Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, India
17 Sundarbans National Park West Bengal 1939 and 1982
18 Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Parks Uttarakhand 1939 and 1982
19 Buddhist Monuments at Sanchi Madhya Pradesh, India 2nd and 1st centuries BC to the 12th century AD
20 Humayun's Tomb, Delhi Delhi 1572
21 Qutb Minar and its Monuments, Delhi Delhi Late 12th century
22 Mountain Railways of India Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (1999), Darjeeling, West Bengal, India 19th and early 20th centuries
Nilgiri Mountain Railway (2005) Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India
Kalka-Shimla Railway, Himachal Pradesh (2008)
23 Mahabodhi Temple Complex at Bodh Gaya Bihar 3rd century BC, 5th and 6th century AD and 19th century
24 Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka Madhya Pradesh, India 30,000 years
25 Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus) Maharashtra 1887–1888
26 Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park Gujarat, India Prehistoric and 8th to 14th centuries
27 Red Fort Complex Delhi 1648
28 The Jantar Mantar, Jaipur Jaipur, Rajasthan, India 1727 and 1734
29 Western Ghats Agasthyamalai Sub-Cluster (Kerala)
Periyar Sub-Cluster (Kerala)
Anamalai Sub-Cluster (Kerala)
Nilgiri Sub-Cluster (Tamil Nadu)
Talakaveri Sub-Cluster (Karnataka)
Kudremukh Sub-Cluster (Karnataka)
Sahyadri Sub-Cluster (Maharashtra)
30 Hill Forts of Rajasthan Chittorgarh 7th to 16th centuries[71]
Amber Sub-Cluster
31 Rani ki vav (The Queen's Stepwell) Patan, Gujarat, India 11th century AD
32 Great Himalayan National Park Himachal Pradesh, India
33 Archaeological Site of Nalanda Mahavihara at Nalanda, Bihar Bihar 5th to 12th centuries
34 Khangchendzonga(Kangchenjunga) National Park Sikkim
35 The Architectural Work of Le Corbusier Chandigarh, India 20th century
36 Historic City of Ahmedabad Ahmedabad, Gujarat 15th century
37 The Victorian and Art Deco Ensemble of Mumbai Maharashtra 1862
38 Jaipur Jaipur, Rajasthan November 18, 1727
39 Ramappa Temple Telangana 13th century
40 Dholavira Gujarat 3rd-2nd BCE

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