India, being one of the oldest civilisations of the world, has no shortage of history and heritage. It is the birth place of legends and a cradle of various religions and culture. We have discussed twelve breath-taking architectural and natural sites in past two blogs (You can find their links at the end). Now let’s continue forward with our journey.
This list starts with one of my most favourite group of monuments, Khajuraho!
Khajuraho Group of Monuments: (1986)
Known for erotic sculptures, Khajuraho is a unique UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Madhya Pradesh. Khajuraho Temples are among the most beautiful medieval monuments in the country. These temples were built by the Chandella rulers between 900 to 1130 CE. Considered as the golden period of Chandella rulers, it is presumed that every Chandella ruler has built or contributed to the building of at least one temple in his lifetime. The Chandela dynasty, under sovereignty of Gurjar Pratihars, reached its glory.
The site comprises of a group of Hindu and Jain Temples that are well known for their Nagara style of temple architecture, symbolism, erotic figures and sculptures. These sensuous stone carvings of human and animal form in erotic poses are very aesthetically portrayed and stand testimony to the rich cultural heritage of India. Considered as the epitome of temple construction and the perfect example of a Nagara temple, the Kandariya Mahadev Temple is the most prominent of all of these temples in the Khajuraho complex!
It’s very sobering to know that out of the 85 temples built only 22 temples have survived in an area of 6 km2, which represents the Chandella territory of the 10th century. Nonetheless, the sheer grandeur of the temple complex, the finesse of art and the philosophy behind those wondrous erotic sculptures is overwhelming.
Group of Monuments at Pattadakkal: (1987)
The Group of monuments in Pattadakal cover a remarkable series of nine Hindu temples, as well as a Jain sanctuary in northern Karnataka. In this group of temples, the Virupaksha Temple, built c. 740 by Queen Lokamahadevi to commemorate her husband’s (King Vikramaditya II) victory over the Pallava kings from the south, is considered the most outstanding architectural edifice.
These temples built by the Chalukya Dynasty in the 6th to the 8th century at Aihole, Badami and Pattadakal, the latter city was known as the “Crown Rubies”, are a remarkable combination.
These temples are unique in their remarkable fusion of the architectural features of northern (Nagara) and southern (Dravida) temple construction styles of India. The timeless beauty and historical relevance of these temples is something everyone should visit. The perfect confluence of the north and south in seen with four temples constructed in the traditional Dravidian style of architecture, with another 4 temples containing elements of Nagara architecture. The remaining two temples are a confluence of both architectural styles. Considered a Hindu holy city, Pattadakkal has within the heritage complex eight temples dedicated to Shiva, a ninth Shaivite sanctuary called the Papanatha Temple, and a Jain Narayana temple.
These temples reflect the glorious past and richness of architecture of the Chalukyan Kings of medieval south India.
Elephanta Caves: (1987)
Just 10 Km off the Mumbai coast lays a “city of caves” known to have existed from at least 2nd century BC. Elephanta or Gharapuri is an island of two distinct hills separated by a narrow valley and is home to a conglomeration of five Hindu and two Buddhist caves. Considered as the epitome of Hindu cave art, Elephanta proudly emerged as a trade centre in the 5th-7th centuries BCE and is sprinkled with testimonials of the past. The caves are hewn from solid basalt rock.
The colossal Trimurti Shiva, along with the other sculptures, constitutes as one of the greatest examples of Indian rock art. Such is its fame that the Trimurti Shiva has been the official logo of Maharashtra State Tourism!
It is sad to know that the beautiful colossal sculptures were used as target practice during the colonial period and a stone inscription lost in transit (allegedly) due to the lack of concern of the colonial powers. The sculptures, however, broken and half are full of life and humbling.
Great Living Chola Temples: (1987)
The Great Living Chola Temples built by kings of the Chola Empire stretch over all of south India and the neighbouring islands. The UNESCO World Heritage Site includes three great 11th and 12th century Temples: the Brihadisvara Temple at Thanjavur, the Brihadisvara Temple at Gangaikonda Cholisvaram and the Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram.
The Temple of Gangaikonda Cholisvaram, built by Rajendra I, was completed in 1035. Its 53-m vimana (sanctum tower) has recessed corners and a graceful upward curving movement, contrasting with the straight and severe tower at Thanjavur. The Airavatesvara temple complex, built by Rajaraja II, at Darasuram features a 24-m vimana and a stone image of Shiva.
The patrons of Lord Shiva dedicated magnificent architectural splendours to their beloved God. The Chola style involves use of granite to create design consisting of deities, warriors, kings and dancers.
The temples stand testimony to the brilliant achievements of the Chola in architecture, sculpture, painting and bronze casting. The site was inscribed under UNESCO World Heritage List in 1987 as Cultural heritage under criteria (II) and (III). The Dravidian structures reflect the property of the Chola Empire. The Cholas were one of the longest ruling dynasties in Southern India. They were not only proficient sovereigns, they were innovative builders. The glories till live in the wonderful temples.
After the monumental heritages of India, it’s time for the natural sanctuaries again.
Sundarbans National Park, West Bengal: (1987)
Famous for the Royal Bengal Tigers, the Sundarban National Park is a well-known Tiger reserve and a Biosphere Reserve located in the Indian state of West Bengal. It is situated on the deltas formed by the river Ganga, the Brahmaputra and the Meghna, which confluence in the Bengal Basin.
One of the largest reserves in India, it is covered mostly by dense Mangrove forests and is the world’s largest mangrove forest reserve. Having the maximum tiger population of India, it is also home to the critically endangered Royal Bengal Tiger, the National Animal of India!
There are also other animal species such as the Gangetic dolphin, spotted deer, wild boar and other mammal and amphibian species. The rare saltwater crocodile is another attraction of this reserve. The forest has a large number of Sundari trees. Sunderban is a place of incredible natural beauty and mangrove habitat.
The Sunderban National Park is many things at once!
Nanda Devi National Park: (1988)
The Nanda Devi National Park, established in 1982, is situated around the peak of Nanda Devi (7816 m) in the state of Uttarakhand in northern India. The Park was established as Sanjay Gandhi National Park by Notification in 1982 but was later renamed Nanda Devi National Park. Some 312 floral species that include 17 rare species have been found here. Fir, birch, rhododendron, and juniper are the main flora.
Nestled high in West Himalaya, Nanda Devi National Park and Valley of Flowers National Park is renowned for its meadows of endemic alpine flowers and outstanding natural beauty. This richly diverse area is also home to rare and endangered animals, including the Asiatic black bear, snow leopard, brown bear and blue sheep.
The gentle landscape of the Valley of Flowers National Park complements the rugged mountain wilderness of Nanda Devi National Park. Together, they encompass a unique transition zone between the mountain ranges of the Zanskar and Great Himalaya.
India and her uniqueness amazes at every turn! Truly a nation of great diversities, India is a whole package!
Stay tuned as tomorrow we have other beautiful places to explore…
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