Landmarks of India

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Sanchi, India
Sanchi / , Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Most interesting landmarks of India

Below are listed the most amazing natural and man made landmarks of India.

Natural landmarks of India

India is an enormous country with numerous interesting monuments of nature including part of the highest mountains of the world – Himalaya. The long presence of developed civilization and recent overpopulation though has decreased the level of biodiversity, except for remote parts at Himalaya, in North-Eastern India and the unique Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Here are included selected natural monuments – Wondermondo though admits that Indian natural monuments are overshadowed by the unique cultural heritage of the country.

Great Banyan in Kolkata. Main trunk has died but thousands of aerial roots remain
Great Banyan. Main trunk has died but thousands of aerial roots remain / murky / CC BY-SA 2.0
  • The Great Banyan – Howrah, West Bengal. Belongs to trees with the largest canopy. This Ficus benghalensis L. is considered to be some 200 – 250 years old, the area of the canopy – 1.5 hectares, circumference of the canopy – 1 kilometer. Height up to 25 meters, contains some 2,880 aerial roots rooted in soil.
  • Jog Falls (Gersoppa Falls) – Karnataka. The most impressive waterfall in India – Sharavati River here falls 253 meters. Width of waterfall reaches 580 during the monsoons – then it is one of the world’s most impressive waterfalls.
  • Lonar crater – Maharashtra. Impact crater with 1.8 km diameter, up to 150 m deep, created approximately 570,000 years ago. Partly filled with saline – alkaline lake – Lonar Lake. Besides rich wildlife, the lake contains rare and unusual microorganisms.
  • Nohkalikai Falls – Meghalaya. This is a beautiful 335 meters high plunge over a giant, overhanging cliff, falls almost directly into a green lake.
  • Valley of Flowers – Uttarakhand. High-altitude Himalayan valley with beautiful meadows of alpine flowers complemented by beautiful views on surrounding mountains. Mass flowering starts in early spring and lasts up to September. Known in Hindu mythology since ancient times, according to local legends inhabited by fairies.

Man made landmarks of India

India is extremely rich with impressive, ornate and unusual architectural attractions. Long history of diverse smaller states which comprise contemporary India has created numerous unique architecture styles and such unique structures as stepwells, hemispheric stupas or bridges from living roots of trees.

Archaeological heritage in India also is very rich – in the area of India there was located part of the ancient Harappan civilisation, here are located interesting prehistoric megalithic monuments, well represented ancient rock art. There are also several once beautiful, abandoned cities.

Religious architecture

Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple), Amritsar, India
Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple), Amritsar, India / K.Wieland, CC-BY-SA-2.0.

The temple architecture in India is unsurpassed in many respects and it is hard to select a smaller group of the "best" religious architecture to be listed here. For sure something beautiful and unique is omitted in the list below.

Cave temples

One of the unique specialities of India are extremely ornate temples hewn into monolithic stone. Few cultures of the world have managed to create similar monuments and none else has created cave temples in such number and of such complexity. Below are listed some of the best known ones, but there are a lot more.

  • Ajanta Caves – Maharashtra. Exceptional monument of archaeology and art – group of caves hewn in rock, for most part in the 2nd century BC. Caves contain elaborate carvings and frescoes, often are reinforced by massive stone columns left from original rock.
  • Badami Cave Temples – Karnataka. Cave temples have been created in the 6th – 8th centuries AD at the former capital of Chalukyas. Located in impressive ravine these four caves contain exquisite sculptures and carvings.
  • Barabar Caves – Bihar. Oldest rock-cut cave temples in India, hewn mostly in the 3rd century BC. Caves are made in granite, with polished walls.
  • Elephanta Caves – located on island in Mumbai Harbour, Maharashtra. Group of five Hindu and two Buddhist rock cut caves. Caves have been made mainly in the 5th – 8th centuries AD. Caves contain ornate sculptural groups.
  • Ellora Caves – Maharashtra. One of the most impressive rock-cut architectural monuments in the world, built between 550 – 1000 AD. 34 caves contain Buddhist, Hindu and Jain sanctuaries. Includes Kailasanatha (Kailash Temple) – possibly the most splendid rock-cut cave in world.
  • Karla Caves and Bhaja Caves – Maharashtra. Group of impressive, ornate rock-hewn caves, built in the 2nd century BC – 3rd century AD.
  • Mahabalipuram – Tamil Nadu. Group of impressive, rock-cut and structural temples built in the 7th – 9th centuries in historical port city by Pallava dynasty. Beautiful, ornate temples. Part of monuments now are located under the sea level.

South Indian Hindu temples

South Indian Hindu temples are some of the most ornate and grandiose buildings in world.

Sri Meenakshi Temple - gopuram
Sri Meenakshi Temple – gopuram / , Flickr / CC BY 2.0
  • Airavatesvara Temple – Tamil Nadu. Beautiful temple from the 12th century – although comparatively small but contains extremely sophisticated sculptures.
  • Annamalaiyar temple (Arunachaleswara temple) – Tamil Nadu. One of the largest temple complexes in India, devoted to Shiva and associated with fire. Temple here exists at least 2000 years, current one built around the 4th century. Four very impressive gopurams – gate towers.
  • Nataraja Temple in Chidambaram – Tamil Nadu. One of the holiest Shiva temples, representing akasha – aether. Ancient temple, it is known that it has been renovated in the 5th century and also around 1213.
  • Gangaikonda Brihadeeswarar temple – Tamil Nadu. The only remaining and usable structure in past capital of powerful Cholas. Ornate temple was built in 1035 and contains some of the most beautiful sculptures in South India.
  • Sri Meenakshi Amman temple – Tamil Nadu. Important temple, dedicated to god Shiva, built in 1600 AD, temple here first mentioned in the 7th century. One of most ornate Hindu temple complexes, includes 14 beautiful and colorful gopurams – ornate towers up to 51.9 meters high.
  • Sri Ranganathaswamy temple – Tamil Nadu. One of largest and most grandiose religious complexes in world, largest in India, covers 63 hectares. Includes 72 meters high gopuram – ornate tower.
  • Rameswaram Temple complex – Tamil Nadu. One of important pilgrimage sites, oldest buildings from the 12th century. Contains a group of temples in rich Southern Indian style, including 1,219 meters long pillared corridor.
  • Thanjavur Brihadeeswarar temple (Brihadishwara Temple, Brihadisvara Temple) – Tamil Nadu. One of highest achievements of Indian art and architecture – a gorgeous Hindu temple which was built from a granite in the 11th century. 70 metres high tower.
  • Tirumala Venkateswara temple – Andhra Pradesh. One of most important Hindu temple complexes, founded in the 4th century (?). Most visited religious site in India, with some 6000 people as temple staff. Incredibly rich decorated temple complex behind wall.
  • Virupaksha temple in Hampi – Karnataka. First mentioned in the 7th century and in intense use since then, current buildings mainly from the 12th century. One of most sacred Shiva temples, beautiful details.

Other Hindu temples and Jain temples

Hindu and Jain religions have evolved from the same roots and share many similarities. Also the architecture of both religions bears many similarities and is recognized by extremely rich decorations, especially stone carving.

Jainist Ranakpur Temple, India
Jainist Ranakpur Temple, India / , Flickr / CC BY 2.0
  • Badrinath temple – Uttarakhand. One of holiest Hindu shrines, devoted to god Vishnu. Built in the 9th century AD. Ornate, brightly painted shrine with hot sulfur springs below it.
  • Bawangaja – Madhya Pradesh. Famous Jain pilgrimage site, renowned due to 26 meters high statue, which, most likely has been carved out in cliff in the early 12th century.
  • Chennakesava temple in Belur – Mysore. One of the most impressive and ornate examples of Hoysala style in architecture, built in 1268. Building is covered with seemingly countless sculptures.
  • Dilwara temples – Rajasthan. Five beautiful Jain temples built in the 11th – 13th centuries, renowned due to skillful use of marble in design and intricate stone carvings.
  • Doddabasappa temple – Dambal, Karnataka. Extremely ornate Hindu temple, shaped in plan as 24-pointed star. Built in the 12th century.
  • Dwarkadhish temple (Dwarakadheesh temple) – Gujarat. One of main Krishna’s temples, according to legend existing here since around 400 BC. Current temple built in the 16th century, 51,8 meters high and very ornate.
  • Hastinapur Jainist temples – Uttar Pradesh. One of most exquisite groups of Jainist temples.
  • Jagannath temple in Puri – Odisha. One of most important Hindu temple complexes, built in the 11th century. Fortified, contains 120 temples and shrines, most of them – magnificent and very diverse buildings.
  • Kasivisvesvara temple – Karnataka. Hindu temple built in the 11th – 12th centuries, one of the most ornate historical temples in region.
  • Khajuraho Temple City – Madhya Pradesh. Group of very ornate Hindu and Jain temples built in 950 – 1150 AD. Originally 80 temples, now remain 25 spread over an area of 20 km2. Temples are world famous due to large amount of erotic sculptures.
  • Konark Sun temple – Odisha. Abandoned temple, one of the most renowned buildings in India. Built in the 13th century. Design in plan is similar to chariot, whole sandstone structure is richly decorated.
  • Palitana temples – Gujarat. Religious Jain city, major center of pilgrimage, more than 1300 temples.
  • Pattadakal Temple City – Karnataka. Group of beautiful buildings from the 7th – 8th century, mainly Hindu and Jain temples.
  • Ranakpur temple – Rajasthan. Beautiful white marble Jain temple from the late 14th – middle 15th centuries. Contains over 1444 beautifully carved pillars, each with its own design.
  • Shikharji on Parasnath Hill – Jharkhand. One of main pilgrimage destinations for Jains, hilly location once surrounded by primeval forests. Temple buildings at least since 1765 AD, but most likely considerably older.
  • Trikuteshwara temple – Karnataka. Complex of extremely ornate temples from the 11th – 12th centuries, mostly devoted to Shiva.
  • Vaishno Devi – Jammu and Kashmir. One of most revered sites in Hinduism devoted to goddess Shakti. Visited by million pilgrims each year.

Buddhist sites

Buddhism originated in India and thus here are many of the most important Buddhist sites.

Key Gompa, India
Key Gompa / , Flickr / CC BY 2.0
  • Dhankar Gompa – Himachal Pradesh. Located in dramatic setting, it is on top of 300 meter high cliff. It was founded between the 7th and the 9th centuries.
  • Kesariya Stupa – Bihar. Once the largest and tallest Buddhist Stupa in the world. Currently 32 meters high, but once was 46 meters high.
  • Key Gompa (Ki Gompa) – Himachal Pradesh. Most likely founded in the middle of the 11th century. Buildings of monastery cover a steep hill, thus creating a very picturesque monument of urban design. It contains important works of art.
  • Kushinagar – Uttar Pradesh. This is one of the most important Buddhist sites, it is here that Gautama Buddha died. It consists of numerous monuments, including Makutabandhana hill, the site of Buddha’s cremation.
  • Mahabodhi Temple – Bihar. One of holiest sites for Buddhism, it is the location where Buddha attained enlightenment. Its main element is a 55 metres high, richly decorated tower built in the 5th – 6th centuries and largely restored in the 1880s.
  • Phugtal Monastery – Himachal Pradesh. Founded in the early 12th century. It is located in unique, dramatic location, on a steep cliffside below the entrance to an enormous cave.
  • Sanchi – Madhya Pradesh. An important Buddhist pilgrimage site with some 50 buildings from the 3rd – 12th centuries. It is an enormous hemispheric stupa from the 3rd century.
  • Sarnath – Uttar Pradesh. One of holiest sites for Buddhism, it is here that Buddha gave his first sermon. It contains numerous ancient and contemporary monasteries and temples, including Dhamek Stupa (500 AD), Chaukandi Stupa (the 4th – 6th centuries) and others.
  • Tabo Monastery – Himachal Pradesh. An important Tibetan monastery, it was established in 996 AD. It is fortified with a large wall that encloses a large group of buildings and is an important center of knowledge with a significant collection of writings and artworks.
  • Thiksey Monastery – Jammu and Kashmir. This is an impressive 12-floor monastery on a sacred hill. Its development started in the middle of the 15th century.

Other sites with religious architecture

Lotus Temple, Delhi
Lotus Temple, Delhi / , Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Charminar – Hyderabad, Telangana. Impressive, ornate mosque and monument, built in 1591.
  • Harmandir Sahib (Golden temple) – Amritsar, Punjab. Main temple of Sikhs, built in the 16th century. Ornate, gold coated structure.
  • Jama Masjid in Delhi – Delhi. Largest and best known mosque in India, built in 1656.
  • Lotus Temple – Delhi. Flowerlike Bahá’í temple building, built in 1986.
  • Udvada Atash Behram – Gujarat. Oldest functioning Zoroastrian place of worship, consecrated in 1742. Sacred fire was brought from Persia.

Fortifications

Divided into smaller states and surrounded by other powerful cultures people of India often were involved in warfare. One result of this is the construction of diverse fortification structures. Nowadays there can be admired both barely visible ancient fortifications, contemporary cities with grand walls and fortifications on hilltops and islands.

  • Agra Fort (Red Fort of Agra) – Agra, Uttar Pradesh. The most important walled royal city in the area of India. Here have resided many Mughals. Fort contained state treasury. Last major reconstruction took part in 1573, then the external surfaces were covered with red sandstone.
  • Chittorgarh Fort – Rajasthan. Ancient fortifications with 13 km long walls which enclose an area 280 ha in size. Structures have been built in a dramatic natural setting with tall cliffs. Constructed in the 7th century AD.
  • Golkonda – Telangana. Ancient fortified capital of Golkonda in 1364 – 1512, a world-renowned center of the diamond trade. Four forts with 10 km long outer wall.
  • Mehrangarh Fort – Jodhpur, Rajasthan. One of the most impressive forts in India, towering above the city on 122 meters high hill. Includes several palaces. Construction started in 1459.
  • Qila Mubarak – Bathinda, Punjab. Most ancient fortification in India, at least 1900 years old, but contains elements even from Harappa period.
  • Red Fort, Delhi – Delhi. Enormous fort, built in the 17th century. Contains important monuments of architecture.
  • Rohtasgarh Fort – Bihar. An ancient, enormous fort built on a plateau with steep sides.

Rock art

Rock art in India is diverse and is represented by very ancient carved symbols, ancient undeciphered signs, cliff paintings of diverse ages.

Cave art in Bhimbetka caves, India
Cave art in Bhimbetka caves, India / , Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Bhimbetka rock shelters – Madhya Pradesh. Group of caves containing rich collection of cave art, up to 9,000 years old. Some of caves have been inhabited for more than 100,000 years.
  • Edakkal Caves – Kerala. Caves with unusual archaeological monuments: 6 – 8 thousand years old petroglyphs which resemble ancient writing.
  • Kupgal petroglyphs – Karnataka. Huge amount of Neolithic petroglyphs in unusual locations – peculiar rock formations with deep depressions. Many petroglyphs depict cattle, also people herding animals. Some of the depressions make loud sound similar to gong, when struck with boulders – this effect could be used in rituals.
  • Thovarimala Ezhuthupara – Kerala. Cave with prehistoric (around 8,000 BC) pictorial writings.

Megaliths

  • Brahmagiri megaliths – Karnataka. 180 metres high granite outcrop with numerous megalithic structures. Settled at least since the 2nd millenium BC. Ancient cemetery with 300 stone cists, painted pottery. Stones with later inscriptions – Ashokan edicts.
  • Cherumangadu Kudakkalparambu – Kerala. Good example of the unusual “kodakkal” megaliths or umbrella stones – mushroom-like dolmens.
  • Hire Benakal – Karnataka. The largest megalithic site in South India. Contains some 400 megalithic tombs – dolmens, which were built in the time period between 800 and 200 BC.

Ancient and abandoned cities

Fatehpur Sikri, Diwan-i-Khas
Fatehpur Sikri, Diwan-i-Khas / , Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Dholavira – Gujarat. One of important sites of Harappan civilization, occupied from 2650 BC to 2100 BC.
  • Lothal – Gujarat. One of most important cities of the ancient Indus valley civilization. Built around 2400 BC as trading city with its dock – the oldest known in the world. Numerous discoveries of world importance have been made here including the oldest known realistic sculptures in world. Nowadays remain lower parts of buildings.
  • Varanasi – Uttar Pradesh. Ancient holy city of Buddhists, Hindu and Jains, with approximate 3000 years age one of the oldest inhabited cities of the world. Contains huge amount of valuable monuments of architecture and history, location of living unique traditions.
  • Vaishali – Bihar. Former capital city of Licchavi, flourished starting from the 6th century BC. Once prosperous capital of one of the first known democracies in the history of the world. Several important monuments exist up to this day including Ananda Stupa and Asokan pillar.
  • Nalanda monastery – Bihar. Remnants of ancient university city. Buddhist learning center in 427 – 1197 AD. Most prominent remnant is the pyramid shaped Sariputta Stupa.
  • Vijayanagara – northern Karnataka. Former enormous capital city of Vijayanagara Empire, flourished in the 14th – 16th centuries. Now ruins extend over an area of 40 km2. Contains unique and highly original architecture.
  • Fatehpur Sikri – Uttar Pradesh. Short-lasting capital city, built in 1570, abandoned in 1585 due to the lack of water. Complex of buildings preserved up to this day in unchanged condition, contains numerous valuable monuments of architecture.

Mausoleums

Mighty governors of Indian states have left some of the most magnificent and exquisite mausoleums in world including one of the best known buildings in the world – Taj Mahal.

  • Tomb of Salim Chishti – Uttar Pradesh. Tomb of Sufi saint, beautiful mausoleum constructed in 1580 – 1581.
  • Taj Mahal – Agra, Uttar Pradesh. Mausoleum, built in 1648 by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. One of the most iconic monuments of architecture in world, unites elements of Islamic, Persian and Indian architecture.
  • Gol Gumbaz – Bijapur, Karnataka. Mausoleum of Mohammed Adil Shah, built in 1659. One of the largest domed structures in the world, visually very impressive building.
  • Humayun’s Tomb – Delhi. Beautiful mausoleum of Mughal Emperor Humayun, built in 1562.

Industrial architecture

Chand Baori - stepwell, Rajasthan
Chand Baori – stepwell / Wikimedia Commons, user Doron / CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Kallanai (Grand Anicut) – Tamil Nadu. Ancient, 329 meters long dam on Kaveri River, built around the 2nd century BC and still in use.
  • Chand Baori – near Jaipur, Rajasthan. One of the most impressive stepwells in India. Built in the 9th century, 13 stories and some 30 m deep.
  • Double decker root bridge near Cherrapunji – Meghalaya. Root bridges are not built but grown of the roots of Ficus elastica trees. Especially interesting is so called Umshiang Double-Decker Root Bridge – here in deep valley there are grown two bridges one above the other.
  • Nilgiri Mountain Railway – Tamil Nadu. Unique rack railway, 41.8 km long line, rising approximately 2,200 m, built in 1908. Preserved in its historical state.
  • Darjeeling Himalayan Railway – West Bengal. Monument of technology, this 86 km long railway line ascends approximately 2,100 m, built in 1881. Preserved in its historical state, powered by steam engines.
  • Howrah Bridge – West Bengal. Impressive cantilever across Hooghly River, built in 1943. Longest span – 457,5 m.

Other cultural monuments

  • Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus – Mumbai, Maharashtra. One of most iconic railway terminal buildings in Asia, built in 1897.
  • Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds) – Jaipur, Rajasthan. Palace with unusual architecture, built in 1799. Resembles enormous beehive with 953 small windows.
  • Gommateshwara Statue – Karnataka. Possibly the largest monolithic stone statue in the world, erected at the end of the 10th century. Height – 17.4 meters.
  • Qutb Minar Complex – Delhi. Group of valuable historical buildings in Delhi, mainly from the 11th – 14th centuries. Includes Qutb Minar – the highest brick minaret in world, ornate, massive 72.5 meters high building. Unique monument is Iron pillar of Delhi – 7 meters high and more than 6 tons heavy pillar of 98% pure iron, not corroding since production in the 4th century AD (or as early as in the 9th century BC).
  • Taj Mahal Palace Hotel – Mumbai, Maharashtra. Enormous building of historic prestigious hotel, built in 1903.
  • Umaid Bhawan Palace – Jodhpur, Rajasthan. Beautiful palace in Art Deco style, built in 1923 – 1943.

Described landmarks of India

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India is the seventh-largest country of the world by area, and, naturally, such a large area contains a huge amount of exciting attractions.
India is characterized by somewhat less surprising nature heritage if compared with similarly sized areas elsewhere in the world, but the country is incomparable regarding the amount of historical architecture monuments. Wondermondo considers that India is the second richest center of architectural heritage in the world after Europe and maybe no single country of the world can match it in this respect.
Country has very rich archaeological heritage as well. The border between archaeology and contemporary architecture is thin in India – often abandoned structures are brought in order and used again for primary purposes, especially ancient temples.

States and territories of India

India is divided into 29 states and 7 Union territories. Here below they are listed in alphabetical order:

States

  • Andhra Pradesh
  • Arunachal Pradesh
  • Assam
  • Bihar
  • Chhattisgarh
  • Goa
  • Gujarat
  • Haryana
  • Himachal Pradesh
  • Jammu and Kashmir
  • Jharkhand
  • Karnataka
  • Kerala
  • Madhya Pradesh
  • Maharashtra
  • Manipur
  • Meghalaya
  • Mizoram
  • Nagaland
  • Odisha
  • Punjab
  • Rajasthan
  • Sikkim
  • Tamil Nadu
  • Telangana
  • Tripura
  • Uttar Pradesh
  • Uttarakhand
  • West Bengal

Union territories

  • Andaman and Nicobar Islands
  • Chandigarh
  • Dadra and Nagar Haveli
  • Daman and Diu
  • Lakshadweep
  • National Capital Territory of Delhi
  • Puducherry

India, promotional video


Complex Realities, January 2017

Featured: Karla Caves

Karla Caves, wooden details of chhatri
Karla Caves, wooden details of chhatri / en.wikipedia.org, Dileep Mouleesha, CC BY SA 2.0

India hosts nearly immense wealth of ancient rock-cut architecture for diverse tastes. But many eyewitnesses agree that the most impressive chaitya – Buddhist prayer hall – is located in Karla Caves.

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India: In Word and Image


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DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: India


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