India is a land of rich culture and a very long history, so it is no wonder that there are almost two dozen UNESCO World Heritage Sites here. They are every history buff’s paradise whether you head into Maharashtra to see the Ajanta and Ellora caves or make your way down south to Hampi. While each is as terrific as the next, we have picked six that every traveler worth his salt must visit!
Ajanta Caves, Maharashtra
Maharashtra’s Ajanta Caves are stunning rock-cut Buddhist cave monuments with sculptures and paintings that date all the way back to the 2nd and 1st century BC. More caves were added much later in 5th and 6th centuries during the Gupta period.
Even though you know the caves are old, it does not prepare you for how ancient the site feels when you visit. The bend of rocks out of which they have been cut is set in a quiet valley that the monks undoubtedly would have found to be very meditative. You certainly will too, especially if you go during the weekdays when the site is less crowded.
Ellora Caves, Maharashtra
Another Maharashtra World Heritage Site that BECKONS is the rock-cut Ellora Caves, which are as stunning as the Ajanta Caves. However, they are younger and set themselves apart for featuring three distinct styles of architecture including Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu.
While all the caves are amazing, your first stop has to be the Kailasha temple that is carved from solid rock. The massive chariot-shaped structure, which is dedicated to Lord Shiva, is twice the area of Athens’ Parthenon! You can hike up the hill to see the temple from a bird’s eye view.
Kaziranga National Park, Assam
Head to the North East of India and into Assam to see the largest population of the majestic one-horned rhinoceros in Kaziranga National Park. The rhinos are not the only stars of the show, however; the park is also home to various migratory bird species and tigers.
There are many national parks in India but Kaziranga is known for its conservation activities. You can go on a jeep safari to explore what it has to offer or hire forest guards from Baghori and Agaratoli gates to show you around.
Hampi or the Group of Monuments at Hampi was the ancient center and capital of the Vijayanagara Empire. They boast lovely Dravidian architecture with Indo-Islamic elements. At one time considered by foreign travelers to be among the most beautiful cities, Hampi today is largely in ruins but some monuments still stand proudly such as the Garuda shrine shaped like a chariot.
The ruins are spread over 4,000 hectares and you cannot possibly hope to cover it in a day. You should plan to stay for a few days to see as much of it as possible. There are upscale and budget hotels in and around Hampi, which offer a comfortable stay to travelers while they explore this world heritage site.
Qutab Minar, Delhi
One of the most famous landmarks in Delhi is the towering Qutab Minar that was built in the 13th century. Epitomizing the beauty of Indo-Islamic architecture, the red sandstone minar is part of the Qutab complex that comprises other famous structures like the Iron Pillar, Alai Darwaza and the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque.
While the minar is the most famous, you should not give the other structures in the complex a miss. You should also try to catch the Qutab Festival that runs for three days every year from October to November. The lively cultural extravaganza showcases different Indian art forms and cuisines.
Taj Mahal, Agra
No World Heritage Site list is complete without the Taj Mahal, a mausoleum so beautiful that it is widely regarded as the best example of Mughal art in India. Shah Jahan’s Crown of the Palace is massive and the garden huge. While the mausoleum is undoubtedly the star, you must spend time in the Timurid style garden. The charbagh concept is perfectly exemplified with two marble canals and 16 flowerbeds.
The Taj Mahal is one of the most visited attractions in India. Try to visit during the middle of the week and avoid the weekends and public holidays. You should consider taking a guided tour as well if you want to listen to interesting stories about it.
Image courtesy: Pixabay and Kaziranga National Park website