Beyond the Taj Mahal: India needs to highlight lesser known World Heritage Sites

Steena Joy
·Contributor
·5 min read

Culture has the power to connect the past with the present; and world over UNESCO listed World Heritage Sites embody the significance of heritage in today’s modern world.

Every year, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) marks April 18 as the International Day for Monuments and Sites, also celebrated as World Heritage Day.

A World Heritage Site (WHS) is a place that is listed by UNESCO for its special cultural or physical significance. The list of World Heritage Sites is maintained by the international 'World Heritage Programme', administered by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in an international treaty adopted by UNESCO in 1972.

Unesco world heritage site Rani ki vav (stepwell), Patan, on the banks of the Saraswati River, was initially built as a memorial to a king in the 11th century AD. Stepwells are a distinctive form of subterranean water resource and storage systems on the Indian subcontinent, and have been constructed since the 3rd millennium BC
Unesco world heritage site Rani ki vav (stepwell), Patan, on the banks of the Saraswati River, was initially built as a memorial to a king in the 11th century AD. Stepwells are a distinctive form of subterranean water resource and storage systems on the Indian subcontinent, and have been constructed since the 3rd millennium BC

Today, there are 38 World Heritage Sites located in India - the 6th largest number of sites in the world. They include 30 Cultural properties, 7 Natural properties, and one mixed site, each diverse and abundant with historical and architectural beauty. Maharashtra has five UNESCO World Heritage Sites, highest among all states and UTs in India.

Sadly, heritage sites need institutional support to protect the tales from the past. India’s Ministry of Culture receives just under 1 per cent of the country’s annual budget, and this lack of funds and initiative has resulted in most monuments and historical sites being neglected for years. To correct this anomaly, in 2019 the Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in her budget speech named 17 iconic tourist sites and spoke about developing these sites into world-class tourist destinations for boosting tourism into India.

Shift focus to lesser known treasures

Ironically, most of the monuments are the well known ones like the Taj Mahal in UP or Sanchi in MP. India needs to focus on her lesser known heritage treasures especially the natural and mixed sites like the Khangchendzonga National Park which became a WHS in 2016.

Located in the heart of the Himalayan range in northern India (State of Sikkim), the Khangchendzonga National Park includes a unique diversity of plains, valleys, lakes, glaciers and spectacular, snow-capped mountains covered with ancient forests, including the world’s third highest peak, Mount Khangchendzonga. Mythological stories are associated with this mountain and with a great number of natural elements (caves, rivers, lakes, etc) that are the object of worship by the indigenous people of Sikkim.

Western Ghats is a mountain range that traverse the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and others in India. Did you know that this mountain chain is older than the Himalayas? The Western Ghats represents geomorphic features of immense importance with unique biophysical and ecological processes. The site’s high montane forest ecosystems influence the Indian monsoon weather pattern
Western Ghats is a mountain range that traverse the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and others in India. Did you know that this mountain chain is older than the Himalayas? The Western Ghats represents geomorphic features of immense importance with unique biophysical and ecological processes. The site’s high montane forest ecosystems influence the Indian monsoon weather pattern

Then there are the Western Ghats of Maharashtra which became UNESCO listed in 2012. Did you know that this mountain chain is older than the Himalayas? The Western Ghats represents geomorphic features of immense importance with unique biophysical and ecological processes. The site’s high montane forest ecosystems influence the Indian monsoon weather pattern. Moderating the tropical climate of the region, the site presents one of the best examples of the monsoon system on the planet.

Another site is Nalanda Mahavihara in Bihar inscribed as WHS in 2016. It comprises the archaeological remains of a monastic and scholastic institution dating from the 3rd century BCE to the 13th century CE. As the most ancient university of the Indian Subcontinent, Nalanda engaged in the organised transmission of knowledge over an uninterrupted period of 800 years.

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), the government agency whose main purpose is the protection and conservation of cultural heritage places of national importance looks after more than 5,000 monuments which also include the World Heritage listed sites.

In 2017, the Ministry of Tourism, in partnership with the Ministry of Culture and ASI, introduced the Adopt a Heritage: Apni Dharohar, Apni Pehchaan Scheme. Under the Scheme, the government invites Monument Mitras - entities, including public sector companies, private sector firms as well as individuals, to develop selected monuments and heritage and tourist sites across India. The Monument Mitras had to provide basic amenities such as cleanliness, drinking water, sound and lightning among others at the sites. The operational and maintenance responsibilities of the heritage monuments also rested with the companies who adopted the heritage sites. The monuments are separated into Green, Blue and Orange categories depending on tourist footfall and visibility.

The major monuments which have been handed over to the “Monument Mitras” include the Red Fort (Dalmia Bharat Ltd), Qutub Minar (Yatra.Com), Safdarjung Tomb (allotted to Travel Corporation of India), Jantar Mantar (allotted to SBI Foundation) among others
The major monuments which have been handed over to the “Monument Mitras” include the Red Fort (Dalmia Bharat Ltd), Qutub Minar (Yatra.Com), Safdarjung Tomb (allotted to Travel Corporation of India), Jantar Mantar (allotted to SBI Foundation) among others

The major monuments which have been handed over to the “Monument Mitras” include the Red Fort (Dalmia Bharat Ltd), Qutub Minar (Yatra.Com), Safdarjung Tomb (allotted to Travel Corporation of India), Jantar Mantar (allotted to SBI Foundation) among others.

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Here’s a list of World Heritage Sites in India:

Cultural Sites in India (30)

  • Agra Fort (1983)

  • Ajanta Caves (1983)

  • Archaeological Site of Nalanda Mahavihara at Nalanda, Bihar (2016)

  • Buddhist Monuments at Sanchi (1989)

  • Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park (2004)

  • Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus) (2004)

  • Churches and Convents of Goa (1986)

  • Elephanta Caves (1987)

  • Ellora Caves

  • Fatehpur Sikri (1986)

  • Great Living Chola Temples (1987, 2004)

  • Group of Monuments at Hampi (1986)

  • Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram (1984)

  • Group of Monuments at Pattadakal (1987)

  • Hill Forts of Rajasthan (2013)

  • Historic City of Ahmedabad (2017)

  • Humayun’s Tomb, Delhi (1993)

  • Jaipur City, Rajasthan (2019)

  • Khajuraho Group of Monuments (1986)

  • Mahabodhi Temple Complex at Bodh Gaya (2002)

  • Mountain Railways of India (1999, 2005, 2008)

  • Qutub Minar and its Monuments, Delhi (1993)

  • Rani-ki-Vav (the Queen’s Stepwell) at Patan, Gujarat (2014)

  • Red Fort Complex (2007)

  • Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka (2003)

  • Sun Temple, Konarak (1984)

  • Taj Mahal (1983)

  • The Architectural Work of Le Corbusier (2016)

  • The Jantar Mantar, Jaipur (2010)

  • Victorian Gothic and Art Deco Ensembles of Mumbai (2018)

Natural Sites in India (7)

  • Great Himalayan National Park Conservation Area (2014)

  • Kaziranga National Park (1985)

  • Keoladeo National Park (1985)

  • Manas Wildlife Sanctuary (1985)

  • Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Parks (1988, 2005)

  • Sundarban National Park (1987)

  • Western Ghats (2012)

Mixed Site in India (1)

  • Khangchendzonga National Park (2016)