UNESCO World Heritage Sites of India – South and East India
UNESCO recognises sites worldwide that are significant, preserved, discovered and celebrated by the world at large. These could be an area of architectural importance, a bio-diversity hotspot or a National Park. These are put by UNESCO under a list known as “World Heritage Sites”. India is home to 36 World Heritage Sites and of these, 12 are in South and East India.
Group of Monuments at Hampi
Hampi, the Angkor Wat equivalent of India, represents ruins from the 14th Century Vijayanagara Empire, the second most affluent civilisation of those times. Amidst the ruins, there are many structures that have survived the test of time and are still intact. There are courtyards, temples (some still in worship) and remains of the kingdom, offering heritage travellers an insight into the history and architecture while marvelling at the sheer scale of the effort.
Hampi takes two days to fully explore and is best visited as part of an itinerary combining it with Badami and Bijapur (as part of what now known as Karnataka Heritage Triangle Circuit).
Group of Monuments at Pattadakal
Pattadakal is considered the cradle of temple architecture where you find temple structures of the 7th and 8th century representing a fusion of architecture forms of North (NagaraStyle) and South India (Dravida Vimana Style).
Pattadakal is best visited as a day excursion from Badami combining it with nearby Aihole (12th century temples). Badami is an integral part of the Karnataka Heritage Triangle Circuit and is visited alongwith Bijapur and Hampi.
Great Living Chola Temples
Darasuram (Kumbakonam), Brihadeeswara (Thanjavur) and Gangaikonda Cholapuram (35 kms from Kumbakonam) are part of a group of 11th and 12th century temple complexes that are recognised by UNESCO as world heritage sites in the name of “Great Living Chola Temples”. These are living examples of outstanding Dravidian architecture and creativity during the Chola Empire and these have been fully restored to their original glory that would leave every traveller in awe.
Great Living Chola Temples are best visited as part of a Tamil Nadu Heritage itinerary combining it with other temple heritage areas of Mahabalipuram and Madurai.
Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram
Mahabalipuram is a group of 7th and 8th century temples by the coast of Bay of Bengal, 60 kms from Chennai. Mahabalipuram is where you find chariot-shaped temples, Cave Temples, Rock Cut Temples, Monilithic Temples and Excavations.
Mahabalipuram is popularly visited enroute Pondicherry or as a relaxing beach getaway at the end of a long South India trip.
Nilgiri Mountain Railway Ooty
Nilgiri Mountain Railway began in 1908 under the British Raj and is one of the 4 renowned heritage railway journeys in India. Nilgiri Mountain Railway was built to visit Ooty (7500 ft asl), a hill station from the base town of Mettupalayam. The ride today takes travellers back in time alongwith some awesome views of the valley and tea plantations enroute.
Nilgiri Mountain Railway is best experienced as part of an Ooty stay in a South India itinerary.
Sun Temple Konark
Konark Sun Temple is a 13th century temple, 35 kms from the coastal town of Puri (Odisha), featuring a 200 ft high structure with stunning carving and architectural elements. Konark features erotic scenes like the ones in the Khajuraho temples of Central India that represent the liberal Indian cultural past. The entire complex has some structures in ruins and the ones that remain depict intricate work that would leave every heritage traveller in awe.
Konark is best visited as part of Odisha itinerary combining Buddhist Caves (Ratnagiri, Khandgiri, Udayagiri), Heritage Temples of Bhubaneshwar, Coastal areas (Puri, Gopalpur) and Tribal heritage areas.
Sundarbans National Park
Sundarbans National Park is the largest river delta and mangrove forest in the world, partly in India and Bangladesh. Sundarbans area comprises 100+ islands of which about 50 are inhabited and others are under reserve forest areas. The forests are renowned for its man eater tigers and the co-existence of the villages with tigers has been the feature of many documentaries and the topic of many studies. Sundarbans is also a superb bird watching destination and where you can experience Indian villages and countryside in its most authentic form.
Sundarbans is best visited ex-Kolkata as part of a 2 night getaway and can be combined as part of any East India and North East India itineraries.
Nalanda represents the archaeological remains of the oldest and most developed university and scholastic institution in the world. Nalanda lasted for over 1000 years (dating from the 3rd century BCE to the 13th century) and was the home to an amazing array of knowledgebase from scholars of the times.
Nalanda is best visited as a day excursion from Patna (94 kms), as part of Buddhist circuit itinerary combining other Buddhist heritage areas such as Rajgir, Bodhgaya, Sarnath, etc.
Mahabodhi Temple Complex at Bodh Gaya, Bihar
Mahabodhi Temple at Bodh Gaya is built around the Mahabodhi Tree under which Gautam Buddha is believed to have attained Nirvana. Mahabodhi Temple complex now comprises the tree, the main temple and many other Buddhist temples from different Buddhist countries around it.
Bodh Gaya is best visited as part of Buddhist circuit itinerary combining other Buddhist heritage areas such as Rajgir, Sarnath, Nalanda, etc.
Kanchendzonga National Park (Sikkim)
The entire region of North Bengal and Sikkim is characterised by views of the Kanchendzonga range of Himalayas, the third highest peak in the world. The Kanchendzonga National Park is one that represents a high bio-diversity area and unique habitat.
The Kanchendzonga National Park is accessible via a trekking trip (takes a few days) from West Sikkim, popularly known as the Dzongu Trek.
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was commissioned under the British Raj in 1881 connecting the base town of Siliguri with the hill station of Darjeeling (7500 ft asl) alongwith tea plantation areas such as Kurseong enroute. Darjeeling Himalayan Railway today is an experience unlike any other taking travellers through a journey back in time offering spectacular views of the tea plantations and Himalayas enroute.
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is best experienced as part of an Eastern Himalayas itinerary.
Western Ghats is a highland area adjoining the western coast of India starting from South Gujarat to Southern Kerala tip (about 1600 kms in length). Western Ghats are one of the 10 hottest biodiversity hotspots in the world and therefore recognised by UNESCO as a world heritage site. 39 areas were designated as part of the world heritage site (20 in Kerala, 10 in Karnataka, 5 in Tamil Nadu and 4 in Maharashtra).
Western Ghats are best explored by visiting plantation highlands areas and hill stations. Here, you may find some exotic birds, walking trails, waterfalls and superb colonial era heritage stays.