Taj, Chola temples on travellers’ list
A survey reveals the best UNESCO heritage sites across the globe
India’s Taj Mahal and the grand Chola temples have made it to the top ten of UNESCO world heritage sites, according to a survey conducted by a leading travel website.
In fact, Shah Jahan’s memorial to his wife Mumtaz ranks only second to Angkor Wat, Cambodia, which was crowned as the most sought after heritage site. Both Angkor and Taj retained their top two positions on the world list as well. Other popular heritage sites on the survey include the Great Wall of China built by Xu Da of Northern Qi Dynasty in 1368 AD and South America’s Incan citadel Machu Picchu in Peru.
The survey, conducted by online travel portal TripAdvisor, lists the heritage sites which are best rated by travellers around the globe. “You can find hundreds of tours and experiences to visit this mesmerising site, from a private tour with guide and visit at sunset or sunrise, to a visit including a home-cooked meal at a local home in Agra,” was how the travel portal described the Taj.
The Taj Mahal was designated as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1983. It is described as “the jewel of Islamic art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage.” The monument receives eight million visitors per year.
Government statistics, however, show that every fourth foreign visitor to the country visits the Taj but there has been a decline in the number of foreign tourists to the white marble mausoleum, widely considered as one of the world’s seven wonders.
The Great Living Chola temples ranked 10th on the Asia list. They were built by kings of the Chola Empire, which stretched over all of south India. These include three great 11th and 12th century temples of Brihadisvara at Thanjavur, the Brihadisvara at Gangaikondacholisvaram and the Airavatesvara at Darasuram. All of them, with their soaring sanctum towers or vimanas, intricate recessed reliefs and colonnaded complexes testify to the brilliant achievements of the Cholas in architecture, sculpture, painting and bronze casting. The tradition of temple worship and rituals established and practised over a thousand years ago, based on still older Agamic texts, continues daily, weekly and annually, as an inseparable part of the life of people. The survey takes particular note of this continuity.
Similarly, the survey recommends that the best views of Angkor Wat, a temple complex and the largest religious monument in the world, are at dawn or dusk. “When the crowds have gone and the lighting reveals its true majesty. One can even take a helicopter tour over this famed site, discovering the ancient constructions from above, and which includes a dinner and traditional dance performance,” detailed the survey.
Machu Picchu in Peru in South America has bagged the fourth spot with a five-day hike of the Inca trail, the 15th century Inca citadel and much more on offer.
Iguazu National Park in Brazil, Italy’s Sassi of Matera, Auschwitz Birkenau and historic Krakow in Poland, the old city of Jerusalem in Israel and the historic areas of Istanbul in Turkey have also made it to the list. And while the focus is on Jerusalem now, the survey recommends an underground tour of the ancient part of the city, which is filled with shrines and attractions holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims, including the Western Wall, Temple Mount and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
As travellers, we can contribute our share by visiting these locales which are a true legacy from the past and help to preserve and protect them.
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