UNESCO was founded in 1945 by 37 countries. Today, it has more than 195 member countries. UNESCO has been conscientiously working towards safeguarding the world’s cultural heritage. Till date, there are 1,007 natural and cultural places on the list. To be included in this list, a site or place must have an indispensable value to mankind and should fulfill 10 criteria. Once on the list, UNESCO will boost efforts in creating awareness of the importance of these sites. Even financial assistance may be given in order to preserve and conserve the various sites. India is one of the founding members of UNESCO. One of their aims in India is to strengthen the conservation of the biodiversity in the protected areas by funding them. Below is the list of these protected areas which have been included in the World Heritage biodiversity areas list.
The Indian One-Horned Rhino is arguably the most famous resident at Kaziranga in Assam. With a population of around 2,500, the rhino is a vulnerable species. It’s the third-largest land mammal in the world weighing between 1,800 -2,700 kilos; that’s the weight of a Mahindra XUV 500! Kaziranga is home to 35 species of mammals including the Royal Bengal Tiger, the Gangetic Dolphin and the Pangolin. Hundreds of migratory birds from across the world come here during different seasons. During the rainy season, the Brahmaputra’s waters flood into this region which is beneficial for the ecosystem. However, if it’s prolonged then it has a negative effect on the entire ecosystem. There are a variety of activities such as going on a jeep or an elephant safari, trekking, angling, rafting, dolphin spotting and bird watching. One can even visit various temples or monasteries and even attend some fairs and see local dances. There are many resorts and lodges here that suit all budgets. Some options include Aranya Tourist Lodge, Jupuri Ghar and Bonani Lodge.
2. Keoladeo National Park
The Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary in Rajasthan has been renamed the Keoladeo National Park (taken from the Shivji temple in the park). The Maharaja of Bharatpur created the sanctuary for his personal pleasure. In 1981, it became a national park. For over 300 plus species of birds, this national park is a place they call ‘home’ and for the migratory birds, it’s a home away from home! As birds of a feather flock together, this is where our feathered friends congregate during various times of the year. Some of the regulars are herons, cranes, and eagles. Some of the mammals here are the blackbuck, otters, civets, and there are also many reptiles and fishes as well. Tourists can choose to walk or bicycle or take a rickshaw, and cars are only permitted within a certain limit. One can visit the Lohagarh Fort, the Bharatpur Palace and the Deeg Palace. One can stay at The Birders Inn, the Falcon Guest House, the Evergreen Guest House, and the various havelis that are closeby.
This sanctuary is also located in Assam and is named after the snake Goddess Manasa (who is said to cure snake bites). It was declared a sanctuary in 1928. The Manas River and other rivers flow through it. It also serves as a tiger reserve. Poaching became rampant and a crumbling infrastructure led to the park nearly losing out on its heritage tag, but the locals and NGOs who have been granted permission by the Bodoland Council and the government of Assam, have put in serious efforts which have helped in retaining the heritage tag. Today, there are tigers which are slowly bouncing back due to these efforts. There are jeep safaris and elephant safaris. One gets to see a variety of birds, elephants, and buffalos. Night safaris are available as well. Places to stay are Bansbari Lodge, the Musa Jungle Retreat, to name a few.
Many of us have seen various documentaries on the man-eating tigers of Sundarbans which have surely sent shivers down most of our spines! The sheer bravery and sometimes nonchalance with which the locals carry on with their daily duties is laudable. For some, terror is replaced with the thrill of curiosity at glimpsing these sinister striped killers. However, there is more to the Sundarbans than meets the eye. One needs to take a boat cruise to reach the area where one can hopefully spot tigers. Tour operators arrange a variety of activities such as meeting the local tribe living in the forest, some of whom collect honey and some who are fishermen. Walks are arranged; one can have a therapeutic mud bath. There’s the traditional Bonobibi Katha- Jatra drama about the region, Jhumur dance, folks songs, various historical bungalows such as Beacon and Hamilton Sahib Bungalows. There are various camps and reserves in which the tigers frequent; Sajnekhali Tiger Reserve and Bonnie Camp and Kailash Camp to name a few. Some of the places to stay are the Sunderban Tiger Camp, Sajnekhali Tourist Lodge, and the Sundarban Tiger Safari. Some of the tour operators who organize package tours are; http://travelchhutichhuti.com, http://sundarbanchalo.com, and http://www.tourdesundarbans.com, the West Bengal tourism offers packages too.
The Valley of Flowers is the Switzerland of India. Surrounded by snow-clad mountains, the valley abounds with approximately 600 species of flora. Around 45 medicinal plants are used by locals. There are endangered species such as the elusive snow leopard, and musk deer. The best time to visit is in the summers when the valley proudly displays her burgeoning flowers and other flora for the entire world to see. Treks to the Nanda Devi base camp test ones physical resilience. Trekking through the valley is utter bliss. Once in 12 years pilgrims make their way to Nandi Devi. The Hemkund Sahib is another pilgrimage that Hindus and Sikhs undertake. The Pushpawati River too is a must-see. Accommodation is available in Joshimath and Ghangria. A trek would be the best bet.
These thickly forested hills known as the Nilgiris or the Blue Mountains stretch from Maharashtra to the south of India. The Ghats span an area of 60,000 square kilometres, that’s larger than the country Bosnia and Herzegovina! The highest peak is Mt. Anamudi in Kerala. The climate is just right for the growth of tea, coffee and various spices to name a few. Supposedly, 84 amphibian species, 16 bird species, 7 mammals, and 1,600 flowering plants are endemic to this region. Apart from tigers and elephants, it’s home to the King Cobra and a vast variety of mammals, birds, insects, mollusks, fish, reptiles and amphibians. Many interesting places exist in this region such as Bandipur, Mudumalai, Kemmangundi, Agumbe, Ooty, Kodaikanal, Coonoor, Munnar and a myriad of other beautiful jewels that dot the Western Ghats. A veritable treasure to be discovered, this is one region where one cannot afford to miss visiting.
7. Great Himalayan National Park-Conservation Area
The GHNPCA encompasses many national parks and sanctuaries and together they contain a plethora of flora and fauna some of which are part of the rare and threatened species such as the Snow Leopard, the Asiatic Black Bear and Blue Sheep. Those who wish to trek in this region need to contact the director. Bird watching, spotting wildlife, river rafting, visiting places in and around Kullu are some of the activities one can opt for. The visitor centre is located at Sai Ropa and for information, one can go to Larjee. For accommodation tourists can stay in Kullu itself or after receiving permission from the park can occupy the inspection huts within the national park.