India has had a long history. Right from the legends of the Aryans and Dravidians to the Mughal and British rules, India has been witness to plenty of historical events and an evolution of its socio-cultural environment over the centuries. No wonder, India is home to more heritage destinations than most other countries in the world.
However, when the discussion is about the heritage destinations in India, one of the first things that pops up in the mind of any traveller are the forts and palaces of Rajasthan. But then, India is home to a lot more than just that—the heritage value of all the historical places lie deep in its very existence, its age-old houses, its culture, art and a lot more. I am sure there are travellers who like to go beyond the ordinary and explore heritage destinations beyond just the forts and palaces. Keeping these travellers in mind, I have used my experiences as a traveller to compile the list of the top heritage destinations in India where forts are not the hero.
Although it is a Rajasthani town, but I am sure you might not have even heard about Mandawa, and it’s mainly because it hardly appears in the tourist maps of the state. Situated in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan, this place is often known as an open art gallery—thanks to the presence of houses that adorn fine pieces of Shekhawati art. What was once the hub of Marwari traders, the town of Mandawa is known for its beautiful 18th-century havelis that boast of the architectural finesse and walls adorning rich and colourful Shekhawati paintings. Although this town is also home to a fort which belonged to the Shekhawati Rajputs, but this place is known for its folk paintings, havelis and chhatris. For unique experiences at the destination, like folk dance and music on the sand dunes, high tea on a chhatri and local city tour, book your stay with V Resorts Paawana Haveli Mandawa. To know more, click here.
An UNESCO World Heritage Site, Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh is not just among the best, but it is also among the most popular heritage destinations in India for both domestic travellers and inbound foreign travellers. This heritage destination is famous for its group of Hindu and Jain temples that feature Nagara style symbolism and erotic figures and sculptures. These temples are famous for their stone carvings that display both human animal forms portrayed in an aesthetic manner. Built between the 950 and 1050 CE under the rule of the Chandella dynasty, there are a total of 85 temples that are spread across an area of 20 square kilometres.
We bet most of you have never even heard about this place. Even though it might ring a bell or two in your mind, you might not be able to understand why. Located just 70 km from Agra, this place is home to as many as 42 ancient Shiva temples that are situated at the bank of River Yamuna. Belonging to the ancient times, these temples are only a few among a total of 101 Shiva temples that used to be there at one point of time. Well, that’s not the heritage value that this town has. Bateshwar’s reference has been found in the old Indian scriptures, including Ramayan, Mahabharat, and Matsya Puran among others. The town has also been under the reign of Gurjar, Chandela and Bhadawar Kings between the 8th and 17th centuries, thus being home to elements that showcase an influence from them.
Yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the enchanting ruins of Nalanda in Bihar belong to what was once Nalanda University, one of the oldest learning centres of the world. Along with being a learning centre, it was also a Buddhist monastery from 3rd Century BCE to the 13th Century CE. Although what remains now are the age-old stupas, shrines and viharas for travellers to explore, in its years of glory, the Nalanda University was the place which formalised Vedic learning, and it also remained that abode knowledge for as long as 800 years. Being the first residential university of the world, this place was highly regarded and visited by scholars from far off places like China, Tibet, Korea and Central Asia.
Residents of Mumbai and Pune must have been to this place time and again during their weekends, but the charm of Ajanta Caves in Maharashtra can never fade away for a keen traveller. Built in the 2nd Century BCE, the Ajanta Caves is a delight for heritage travellers and art enthusiasts alike, thanks to the presence of 31 rock cut Buddhist cave monuments, paintings and sculpture. The carvings, sculptures and paintings of the Ajanta Caves have played a major role in shaping up the artistic and architectural progress of India. One of the oldest heritage sites in India, the Ajanta Caves came into being in two phases—the first phase was during the reign of the Satavahana Dynasty (230 BCE-220 CE), and then under the rule of the Emperor Harishena of Vakataka Dynasty.