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The heritage sites of Indian tourist circuit are the monuments selected by UNESCO to encourage protection and preservation of cultural sites considered to be of outstanding value to humanity.
The first Buddhist cave monuments at Ajanta date back to the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C. During the Gupta period in the 5th and 6th centuries A.D., many more richly decorated caves were added to the original group. The paintings and sculptures of Ajanta, considered masterpieces of Buddhist religious art, have had a considerable artistic influence.
An immense mausoleum of white marble, built in Agra between 1631 and 1648 by order of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, the Taj Mahal is the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world's heritage.
These 34 monasteries and temples, extending over more than 2-km, were dug side by side in the wall of a high basalt cliff, not far from Aurangabad, in the state of Maharashtra. Ellora, with its uninterrupted sequence of monuments dating from A.D. 600 to 1000, brings the civilization of ancient India to life. Not only is the Ellora Cave complex a unique artistic creation and a technological exploit but, with its sanctuaries devoted to Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism, it illustrates the spirit of tolerance that was characteristic of ancient India.
Sun Temples, Konark
On the shores of the Bay of Bengal, bathed in the rays of the rising sun, the temple at Konark is a monumental representation of the Sun God Surya's chariot; its 24 wheels are decorated with symbolic designs and it is led by a team of six horses. Built in the 13th century, Konark is one of India's most famous Brahman sanctuaries.
The austere, grandiose site of Hampi was the last capital of the last great Hindu Kingdom of Vijayanagar. Its fabulously rich princes built Dravidian temples and palaces which won the admiration of travellers between the 14th and 16th centuries. Conquered by the Deccan Muslim confederacy in 1565, the city was pillaged over a period of six months before being abandoned.
The 'City of Caves', on an island in the Sea of Oman close to Mumbai, contains a collection of rock art linked to the cult of Lord Shiva. Here, Indian art has found one of its most perfect expressions, particularly the huge high reliefs in the main cave.
Near the gardens of the Taj Mahal stands the important 16th- century Mughal monument known as the Red Fort of Agra. This powerful fortress of red sandstone encompasses, within its 2.5-km-long enclosure walls, the imperial city of the Mughal rulers. It comprises many fairy-tale palaces, such as the Jahangir Palace and the Khas Mahal, built by Shah Jahan; audience halls, such as the Diwan-i-Khas; and two very beautiful mosques.
Buddhist Monuments At Sanchi
On a hill overlooking the plain, about 40-kms from Bhopal, the site of Sanchi comprises a group of Buddhist monuments, which include monolithic pillars, palaces, temples and monasteries, all in different states of conservation and mainly dating back to the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C. It is the oldest Buddhist heritage site in existence and was a major centre of Buddhism in India until the 12th century A.D.
Humanyun's tomb, built in 1570, is of particular cultural significance as it was the first garden-tomb on the Indian subcontinent. It inspired several major architectural innovations, culminating in the construction of the Taj Mahal.
Built during the second half of the 16th century by the Emperor Akbar, Fatehpur Sikri or “the City of Victory” was the capital of the Mughal Empire for only some 10 years. The complex of monuments and temples, all in a uniform architectural style, includes one of the largest mosques in India, the Jama Masjid.
Qutub Minar Complex
Built in the early 13th century a few kilometres south of Delhi, the red sandstone tower of Qutub Minar is 72.5m high, tapering from 2.75m in diameter at its peak to 14.32m at its base, and alternating angular and rounded flutings. The surrounding archaeological area contains funerary buildings, notably the magnificent Alai-Darwaza Gate, the masterpiece of Indo-Muslim art that was built in 1311, and two mosques, including the Quwwatu'l-Islam, the oldest in northern India, built of materials reused from some 20 Brahman temples.
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway
The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is the first, and still the most outstanding, example of a hill passenger railway. Opened in 1881, it applied bold, ingenious engineering solutions to the problem of establishing an effective rail link across a mountainous terrain of great beauty. It is still fully operational and retains most of its original features.
The temples at Khajuraho were built during the Chandella dynasty, which reached its apex between 950 and 1050. Only about 25 temples remain; they fall into three distinct groups and belong to two different religions - Hinduism and Jainism. They strike a perfect balance between architecture and sculpture. The Temple of Kandariya is decorated with a profusion of sculptures that are among the greatest masterpieces of Indian art.
Churches & Convents Of Goa
The churches and convents of Goa, the former capital of the Portuguese Indies - particularly the Church of Bom Jesus, which contains the tomb of St Francis-Xavier - illustrate the evangelization of Asia. These monuments were influential in spreading forms of Manueline, Mannerist and Baroque art in all the countries of Asia where missions were established.
Mahaballipuram / Mamallapuram
This group of temples, founded by the Pallava kings, was carved out of rock along the Coromandel coast in the 7th and 8th centuries. It is known especially for its Rathas or temples in the form of chariots, Mandapas or cave sanctuaries, giant open-air reliefs such as the famous 'Descent of the Ganges', and the temple of Rivage, with thousands of sculptures to the glory of Shiva.
Pattadakal, in Karnataka, illustrates the apogee of an eclectic art which, in the 7th and 8th centuries A.D., under the Chalukya Dynasty, achieved a harmonious blend of architectural forms from the north and south of India. An impressive series of nine Hindu temples, as well as a Jain site can be seen there. In this group one masterpiece stands out - the Temple of Virupaksha, built around 740 by Queen Lokamahadevi to commemorate her husband's victory over the kings from the south.
The great Temple of Tanjore (Thanjavur) was built between 1003 and 1010 in the reign of the great King Rajaraja, founder of the Chola Empire which stretched over all of South India and the neighbouring islands. Surrounded by two rectangular enclosures, the Brihadisvar that was built from blocks of granite and, in part, from bricks, is crowned with a pyramidal 13-storey tower, the Vimana, standing 61m high and topped with a bulb-shaped monolith. The walls of the temple are covered with rich sculptural decoration.
Mahabodhi Temple Complex At Bodh Gaya
The Mahabodhi Temple Complex is one of the four holy sites related to the life of the Lord Buddha, and particularly to the attainment of Enlightenment. The first temple was built by Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century B.C., and the present temple dates from the 5th or 6th centuries. It is one of the earliest Buddhist temples built entirely in brick, still standing in India, from the late Gupta period.
Sundarbans National Park
The Sundarbans covers 10,000-sq-km of land and water, from which more than half of park area is in India and the rest in Bangladesh, is a region of the Ganges delta. It contains the world's largest area of mangrove forests. A number of rare or endangered species live in the park, including Bengal Tigers, aquatic mammals, birds and reptiles.
Kaziranga National Park
In the heart of Assam, Kaziranga park is one of the last wild abodes in eastern India undisturbed by a human presence. It is inhabited by the world's largest population of one-horned Rhinoceroses, as well as many mammals, including Tigers, Elephants, Panthers and Bears, and thousands of birds.
Manas Wildlife Sanctuary
On a gentle slope in the foothills of the Himalayas, where wooded hills give way to alluvial grasslands and tropical forests, the Manas sanctuary is home to a great variety of wildlife, including many endangered species, such as the Tiger, Pygmy Hog, Indian Rhinoceros and Indian Elephant.
Keoladeo National Park
This former duck-hunting reserve of the Maharajas is one of the major wintering areas for large numbers of aquatic birds from Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, China and Siberia. Some 364 species of birds, including the rare Siberian Crane, have been recorded in the park.
Nanda Devi National Park
The Nanda Devi National Park is one of the most spectacular wilderness areas in the Himalayas. It is dominated by the peak of Nanda Devi, which rises to over 7,800m. No humans live in the park, which has remained more or less intact because of its inaccessibility. It is the habitat of several endangered mammals, especially the Snow Leopard, Himalayan Musk Deer and Bharal