The culturally rich state of Tamilnadu is one such state in India that has been home to an incredible amount of historical places as it was ruled by Chera, Cholas, Pallavas, and Pandyas. There are several ancient temple ruins and erotic monuments that are still alive with the stories and legends of the royals and attract tourists from across the globe as part of Tamilnadu tour packages. Among, 4 places are recognized as world heritage sites by UNESCO and are categorized as two groups. The first three are collectively known as Great Living Chola Temples and the remaining one is “Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram. Besides these four sites, the Western Ghats & the Nilgiri Mountain Railway are also recognized by UNESCO as World Heritage sites.
Here is the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Tamil Nadu.
1. Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram
Situated just 60 km away from Chennai, Mahabalipuram or Mamallapuram is one of the major heritage sites in Tamil Nadu and among the best places to visit as part of the Chennai tour packages. Mahabalipuram was the second capital and the bustling port city of the Pallava kings of Kanchipuram. This coastal town is known for 7th- and 8th-century Hindu religious monuments that were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984. Built during the reigns of Narasimha Varman and his successor Rajasimha Varman, the Group of Monuments at Mamallapuram includes Panch Rathas, Mandapas, Arjuna’s Penance, Bhagiratha’s Penance, and more that are must-see tourist places in Mahabalipuram. One can also see six man-made caves in different stages of completion at Mahabalipuram.
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2. Great Living Chola Temples
Built during the rule of the Chola Empire, the Great Living Chola Temples are a group of three temples situated in the Southern Part of India. The three temples are the Brihadeeswarar Temple at Thanjavur, the Temple of Gangaikonda Cholapuram, and the Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram. Built during the 11th and 12th centuries by the kings of the Chola dynasty, these temples stand testimony to the architectural splendor and beauty of Chola art, architecture, and sculpture. These are the most popular places to visit in Tamilnadu.
a. Brihadeeswarar Temple, Tanjavur
Also known as the Tanjore Big Temple or Peruvudaiyar Kovil, Brihadeeswarar Temple in Thanjavur is the most ambitious Chola temple that was built for King Raja Raja Chola I in 1010 AD. With its grand design and magnificence, it remains one of the greatest glories of Indian architecture and among the best places to visit in Thanjavur. Declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1987, the Brihadeeswarar Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is famous for its grandeur and beautiful sculptures. The temple consists of an entrance tower followed by the main temple complex. Built purely with granite stones, the main shrine of Brihadeeswarar boasts an amazing structure with a large mandapa followed by an antarala and the sanctum. The 13-tier tower over the sanctum is the prime attraction of the temple which is built in Dravidian style. Yet another totally outlandish fact is that the shadow of Sikhara never falls on the ground. One can also see several small shrines in the temple complex as part of Thanjavur tour packages.
b. Gangaikonda Cholapuram Brihadeeshwarar Temple
Gangaikonda Cholapuram became the capital of Cholas during the reign of Rajendra Chola I in 1025 CE and served as the Chola capital for around 250 years. This historical town is home to the renowned Brihadeeswarar Temple. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, it was built by Rajendra Chola I, the son and successor of Rajaraja Chola, and is renowned for having the biggest Shivalingam in the Southern part of India. The temple of Gangaikonda Cholapuram and the Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram were added as extensions to the Brihadeeshwarar Temple, Thanjavur in 2004. Spreads around 6 acres of land, it is one of the top places to visit as part of Chidambaram tour packages. The 182 feet tall tower over the sanctum is the second biggest after the Tanjavur Temple.
c. Airavatesvara Temple, Darasuram
Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the Airavatesvara Temple at Darasuram was built during the time of Raja Raja II in the 12th century CE, and is aesthetically different from the other two. It is one of the four temples built by the Cholas entirely on stone Vimanas, and among the top places to visit as part of Kumbakonam tour packages. Though much smaller in size when compared to the Brihadisvara temple at Thanjavur, this temple is different as it is highly ornate in execution. The temple consists of a sanctum and axial mandapas. The front mandapa known in the inscriptions as Rajagambhiran Tirumandapam is unique as it was conceptualized as a chariot with wheels. The pillars of this mandapa are highly ornate.
3. The Nilgiri Mountain Railway
The Nilgiri Mountain Railway is a 1,000 mm-meter-gauge railway in Tamil Nadu built by the British in 1908. Operated by the Southern Railway, it is the only rack railway in India, and among the top things to experience as part of Ooty tour packages. In 2005, UNESCO added the Nilgiri Mountain Railway as an extension to the World Heritage Site of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. One of Tamil Nadu’s favorite experiences, the train runs between Mettupalayam and Ooty that passes through tunnels and curves offering its passengers a ride they would relish for a lifetime as the enticing 46 km long journey promises the opportunity to witness panoramic views in abundance.
4. The Western Ghats
The Western Ghats is a mountain range that covers an area of 160,000 sq. km in a stretch of 1,600 km parallel to the western coast of the Indian peninsula, traversing the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra, and Gujarat. UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee inscribed the Western Ghats of India as a world heritage site on 1st July 2012. It comprises a total of 39 properties including national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and reserve forests– 20 in the state of Kerala, 10 in Karnataka, 5 in Tamil Nadu, and 4 in Maharashtra. The decision will ensure the mountain range gets international support for the conservation of biological diversity, besides containing areas of high geological, cultural, and aesthetic values.
Older than the Himalayas, the mountain chain of the Western Ghats influences Indian monsoon weather patterns by intercepting the rain-laden monsoon winds that sweep in from the southwest during late summer. Besides, it is one of the ten hottest biodiversity hotspots in the world as it has over 7,402 species of flowering plants, 1,814 species of non-flowering plants, 139 mammal species, 508 bird species, 179 amphibian species, 6,000 insects species, and 290 freshwater fish species. The Western Ghats are home to at least 325 globally threatened species. The five sites in Tamil Nadu are Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve, Srivilliputtur Wildlife Sanctuary, Sathyamangalam Wildlife Sanctuary, Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary, and Mukurthi National Park.