India boasts of some amazing ancient temples, palaces, forts and cities. The artwork, sculpture, engineering, architecture and history behind these monuments is truly amazing. A visit to India is incomplete without visiting these world heritage sites which are a testament to the artistic skill and engineering genius of the country. We have covered 4 UNESCO World Heritage sites in this article, their highlights and how to get there.
The Cave Temples of Ajanta and Ellora
The cave temple complexes of Ajanta and Ellora are masterpieces of Buddhist, Jain and Hindu art and architecture. The sites of Ajanta and Ellora are in the district of Aurangabad in the Western Indian state of Maharashtra. Both these sites are essentially a complex network of cave temples and prayer halls. The really amazing feature of these temples is that they were not built from the ground up. Instead, they were carved out of existing rocks. Kailasanatha temple in Ellora was carved out of a massive rock - from top to bottom! Additionally, these temples are between 1,000 to 2,000 years old. While Ajanta is famous for the beautiful paintings on the walls of these caves, Ellora is more known for its sculptures.
How to Get There?
The closest town to Ellora and Ajanta are Aurangabad and Jalgao, respectively. However, it is possible to explore both these sites from Aurangabad. You can hire a car and drive down to these sites and even take a guided tour organised by the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation. The city of Aurangabad also has its own airport and is well connected to major metros.
The City of Hampi
Hampi was the former capital of the Vijayanagara Empire, which reached its highpoint during the 16th century AD. This huge city was built in a hilly region surrounded by granite boulders. The same granite stone was used extensively to construct the city. Today Hampi lies in ruins but the majesty and beauty of the place is a sight to behold.
The site is a collection of temples, palaces, forts, riverside pavilions, waterworks, huge gateways, pillared dancehalls and markets. One of the most famous buildings here is a stable built for the king’s ceremonial elephants. The sheer scale of the whole place is mind-boggling. The entire site represents the zenith of Hindu art and architecture in South India.
How to Get There?
The closest railhead to Hampi is Hospet, which is approximately 13 km away. The nearest airport is at the town of Bellary which is 38 km away. From Hospet, you can hire cars and buses to reach and explore Hampi. For instance, a city bus ride costs ₹25, bicycle rentals cost ₹100 per day, mopeds cost ₹350 and motorbikes and scooters cost ₹400. It is highly recommended to hire a guide.
Great Living Chola Temples
The Great Living Chola Temples consist of three temples built by the Chola Dynasty which ruled over a vast stretch of Southern India between the 9th and 13th centuries. These temples are the Brihadeeswara Temple at Thanjavur, Temple of Gangaikonda Cholapuram and the Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram.
The sculpture and the engineering that has gone into these temples is mindblowing. For instance, at the Brihadeeswara temple, the main temple tower is topped by a capstone which weighs about 80 tons. Archeologists are not sure till date as to how the builders of this temple managed to get a stone weighing 80 tons to a height of 66 meters!
All these temples have beautiful carvings on the temple towers and walls. During major Indian festivals, the Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation organises classical Indian dance and music performances within the temple quadrangles, which are worth attending.
How to Get There?
To visit these temples, it is easiest to stay in the city of Thanjavur visit the three temples by road. The best way to cover these three temples is to start from Thanjavur and visit the Brihadeeswara temple first. From here, you can then drive to Gangaikondacholapura which is about 70 km away. After covering the temple there, you can proceed to the Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram which is about 40 km from Gangaikondacholapuram.
The nearest airport is Tiruchirapalli International Airport, located at a distance of 56 km and Thanjavur is well connected by rail to the major metro cities nearby.
Fatehpur Sikri is the old capital of the great Mughal emperor Akbar. Located in the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, Fatehpur Sikri consists of grand gateways, palaces, mosques, audience chambers, ornamental pools and courtyards. The architecture has a mix of Persian and Hindu influences. The entire city is built primarily with red sandstone with marble being used for decorative elements.
Today, it is a ghost town. The Archeological Survey of India has maintained the city well and its proximity to Agra means that you can easily cover both the Taj Mahal at Agra and then travel down to visit Fatehpur Sikri.
How to Get There?
Agra, about 40 km from Fatehpur Sikri, is the best place to set up your base if you plan to visit Fatehpur Sikri. Alternatively, Bharatpur, which is about 25 km away, gives you the option of also covering the Bharatpur bird sanctuary.
Other Travel Considerations
Once you've decided on a site or 2 that you'd like to visit, it is important to coduct proper planning to get the most out of your trip. For example, all of these locations get very hot during the summer months. Some of the places require you to walk barefoot. So, the best time to visit would be during the months of October-February. If you do travel in the summer, please take care to stay well hydrated as you will be doing a lot of walking while exploring these places. Please carry sufficient water with you at all places.
Also, by using a top travel credit card, you can make recoup major significant savings on train and air travel. For instance, the IRCTC SBI Platinum Card gives you 4-10 % of your money back as reward points.
Some travel sites may suggest that you just explore these places with a guidebook, but hiring a tour guide will really help you to understand the finer points of the architecture and history of these places. Hiring local guides also helps you when bargaining with local vendors. However, please make sure to hire tour guides certified by the State Tourism Boards or the Archeological Survey of India. Certified tour guides always carry their identification cards with them. Please ask for it and verify before hiring a guide. Certified tour guides will also carry a detailed chart of their service fees. This will contain the latest updated guide charges.