Today, India has thirty-eight magnificent World Heritage Sites—a number that we are certain will grow in the years ahead. The city of Jaipur in Rajasthan, inscribed in July 2019, was the most recent addition. Each of India’s World Heritage Sites is a priceless marker of India’s history and identity. Not only do they contribute to national pride, but their global recognition has also resulted in numerous other benefits. Every year, they receive millions of visitors, resulting in substantial economic gains for the communities where they are located. Typically, the presence of cultural and natural World Heritage Sites and related ancillary services tends to catalyse tourism, attract investment and sustain livelihoods.
The importance of World Heritage Sites to India’s social and economic landscape and their impact on the public consciousness, therefore, cannot be underestimated.
Mahatma Gandhi has written eloquently of the “synthesis of the different cultures that have come to stay in India, that have influenced Indian life, and that in their turn have themselves been influenced by the spirit of the soil”. These thirty-eight World Heritage Sites are physical manifestations of the cultural diversity and synthesis that is India. Indeed, along with the traditional practices and art forms that constitute the country’s rich intangible cultural heritage, we believe that its tangible World Heritage Sites reflect the very soul of India. Published by UNESCO and Mapin Publishing, Incredible Treasures: UNESCO World Heritage Sites of India is the first attempt ever to present the country’s thirty cultural heritage sites, including the cultural landscape of the Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka, seven natural sites and one mixed site, the Khangchendzonga National Park, between the covers of an illustrated book. We have no doubt that this meticulously researched publication, enhanced with lavish photographs, will become a collector’s item almost instantly.
The cultural World Heritage Sites presented here span both the history and geography of India—from the earliest periods of rock art, Buddhist caves and Hindu temples; Sultanate and Mughal forts, palaces, tombs and memorials; medieval Islamic and Hindu cities, stepwells and observatories; and heritage sites from the twentieth century. The natural and mixed sites are landscapes of exquisite beauty that also represent age-old instances of harmonious dialogue between people and their environment.
We believe that this book will help build greater awareness about India’s World Heritage Sites among specialists and other readers alike. We hope it encourages them to support “efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage”. as Target 11.4 of the Sustainable Development Goals urges us to do.
Incredible Treasures has benefited immensely from the research and contributions of a highpoweredgroup of experts in the fields of architecture, cultural conservation, sustainable
heritage development, wildlife and ecology. It has been superbly edited by Shikha Jain and Vinay Sheel Oberoi, both of whom shared long and close associations with UNESCO.
Vinay sadly passed away in the final stages of editing this publication. He was a remarkable and passionate Ambassador of India to UNESCO in Paris for several years and remained active in promoting internationally the cultural heritage of his country when he returned home. Vinay touched many people with his personality and his sense of humour. I feel privileged to have known him and to dedicate Incredible Treasures to him.
The remarkable photography and photographic research of Rohit Chawla, one of India’s leading photographers today, brings the country’s World Heritage Sites to life. These curated images combine a keen sensitivity for his subject with an artist’s quest for meaning, and transform this publication into a thoroughly immersive experience.
We owe a debt of gratitude to Manasi Kirloskar-Tata, France Marquet and the Madanjeet Singh Foundation-South Asia Foundation for their unstinting support.
Finally, a very warm word of thanks to Bipin Shah of Mapin Publishing, our co-publisher for this work. His passion for bringing marvels of Indian history and culture before a wider reading public is infectious. The present book marks UNESCO’s second collaboration with Mapin, the first being our Roshni Series on Indian World Heritage Sites for younger readers. We remain grateful to Bipin for his immediate enthusiasm for this project.
Incredible Treasures is the definitive book on the subject. We hope you enjoy reading it andporing over its lush photographs as much as we enjoyed putting it together.
Much like you (I am sure), I have yet to discover all thirty-eight sites in India myself. During my visits so far, I was particularly struck by the Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu, where I stood in awe of the “Descent of the Ganges”, a giant rock relief carved on two boulders of pink granite; and was fascinated by Krishna’s Butterball, which reposes at a gravity-defying angle a stone’s throw away.
As you continue exploring the UNESCO World Heritage Sites beyond this publication, we invite you to: (a) Use the dedicated hashtags #ShareOurHeritage and #unescowhsitesinindia and tag us at @unesconewdelhi when posting your photographs of Indian World Heritage Sites on Instagram; or (b) Use our Instagram handle @unesconewdelhi to tag us in your public posts about Indian World Heritage Sites, thus allowing us to repost your photographs on our Instagram page.
Now, let us give free rein to our wanderlust and begin our journey of discovery together.
Director and Representative
UNESCO New Delhi (covering India and also Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka)