A dinner-time conversation, a strenuous mental exercise, or an amusing activity while travelling with the family would be to count what you think should be the top of the charts — the super-star ten, then the super 50, and then the 100 all-time favourite monuments of the Indian subcontinent. Which are the 50 best-known buildings in India that you would like the world to know about, that you would like to see well-preserved, properly presented, clean and welcoming to visitors like yourself' We are looking for buildings in India that give character and class to our country, provide a glimpse of the history of different periods and are the super-glamorous stars of our heritage.
In 1972, UNESCO adopted a resolution that created a “Convention for the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage”. The aim was to define world heritage in cultural and natural terms; then, to enlist each year, through a process of selection, the natural and heritage sites that were of exceptional interest to the world, and were of universal value. It would choose those sites that were of universal importance and the protection of which would be the concern of all humankind. By the nomination of a heritage site in one country, UNESCO would promote cooperation of all nations of the world and member countries, and we would contribute toward the protection of these universal treasures for future generations to enjoy.
The process of selection is vigorous, with each country competing with others to get recognition. Each country has to prepare a detailed documentation of the site that is being put up for nomination and a large report with photographs, plans and drawings. A management plan for each site has to be prepared, which is then reviewed by the World Heritage site committee before the winners are announced each year. If the homework of the home country is not good enough even though the building may be of exceptional merit, the committee rejects the nomination.
At present, the world has over 700 sites nominated by this process, designated as World Heritage sites of universal value to humankind as a whole. These are examples of human creativity through the ages and are therefore of universal value to all of us.
Top of the charts
India has at present 24 UNESCO World Heritage sites — see if they match your list. The natural heritage sites are Keoladeo National Park, popularly known as Bharatpur bird sanctuary, where each year we get winged visitors from Siberia and Europe; Nanda Devi and Manas Wild Life Park and Kaziranga National Park, the home of the rare species of birds and animals and, of course, the rhinos; and Sunderbans National Park, the abode of the Bengal Tiger. Among the places of international cultural significance in India are Ajanta and Ellora. In Agra, are Agra fort and Taj Mahal, Fatehpur Sikri (an example of a Mughal fort); Humayun’s tomb and Qutub Minar in Delhi; Konark Surya Mandir in Orissa and the rock-cut shrines of Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu; the Buddhist site of Sanchi and the Mahabodhi temple in Bodhgaya, Bihar, the most sacred sites for Buddhists around the world; the churches and convents of Old Goa, and the western group of temples of Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh, Hampi with its monuments at Vijaynagara; Elephanta, the rock-cut shrine on the island near Mumbai; the monuments at Pattadakal in Karnataka, that show the development of different styles of temple-buildings all in one site; and the Thanjavore Brihadeshwara temple built by Raja Raja Chola, a thousand years ago.
A few years ago, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway of West Bengal, of 1881, one of the last of the steam hill railways systems in the world was added to this prestigious list. In 2003, the paintings of the natural rock shelters of earlystone-age man at Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh were also added. This brings our total to 19 cultural heritage sites, while a country like Italy has 36 cultural heritage sites.
We wait, in anticipation, to see which site will win next year’s nomination as a place of natural or cultural beauty for the whole world to cherish.