Must visit natural heritage places this World Heritage Day
My heritage has been my grounding, and it has brought me peace.
-Maureen O Hara
Such is the importance of one’s heritage, as aptly stated by this famous Irish actress. Did you know that there is even a World Heritage Day, also celebrated as the “International Day for Monuments and Sites“? Yes, 18th April every year is a reminder of our heritage wealth. It was first introduced in 1982 by the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) on the approval of the General Assembly of UNESCO in 1983. The intent is to encourage local communities and individuals throughout the world to consider the importance of heritage to our lives and to preserve heritage.
Heritage is a heady mix, it is. From rustic ruins reliving past tales to some amazing natural wonders of this world, a look into one’s heritage can reveal some very profound answers. It is not just about the man-made, but also the god-made, which in today’s tumultuous times needs to acknowledged, appreciated and actively preserved. India, in that sense, is lucky to be blessed with a pot-pourri of cultural, architectural, people and natural sites, now declared as 28 cultural and 7 natural world heritage sites, and one site as a mixed one. These 7 natural sites are havens of biodiversity activity, thanks to the little remaining remote natural vistas in our country. Here is a look at how we can make an ode to our rich natural heritage, by visiting and revelling in these rich locales.
- Great Himalayan National Park Conservation Area: The mighty mountains of Himachal beckon you this summer, to explore the vast alpine meadows and abundant flora and fauna. This is a Himalayan biodiversity hotspot, with as many as twenty-five forest types and life-giving rivers such as Sainj, Tirthan and Parvati. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014 and has lured many a mountain lover since times immemorable.
What to do:
- Aim to spot Himalayan wildlife at the Sainj Wildlife or the Tirthan Wildlife Sanctuary, common species being the Himalayan Tahr, Snow Leopard (best sighted in winters), blue sheep, Himalayan brown bear, musk deer and variety of birds such as the Western Trogapon, Lammergeiers, Himalayan Griffon Vultures and Golden Eagles.
- For a natural immersion, look out for long treks such as the Raktisar Sainj Valley trek, Tirthan Valley trek, Gushaini, and the Jiwa Nala to Parvati River Valley. One of the most spectacular escapes here is crossing the Pin Parvati pass.
How to reach: Buses ply from Delhi (14 hours-500 km).
- Kaziranga National Park: This wildlife area is one of the last undisturbed areas of the Brahmaputra Valley floodplain and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. It earns huge reputation in the conservation community, for its astounding recovery of the Indian one-horned rhinoceros from the brink of extinction at the turn of the 20th century. As a result, today it stands as a refuge for their single largest population. It is also proud to host of India’s national animal and was declared a Tiger Reserve in 2007, owing to its high tiger density.
What to do: A safari ride into the forest can be an exhilarating experience, with a chance to spot species like the Asian elephant, wild water buffalo, gaur, eastern swamp deer, Sambar deer, hog deer, capped langur, hoolock gibbon and sloth bear. Plan for a few jeep safaris.
How to reach: The nearest airport is Guwahati (200 km), and nearest railheads are Helem (30 km), Jorhat (90 km), and Furketing (75 km).
- Keoladeo National Park: Birding enthusiasts paradise. A former duck-hunting ground for palatial rulers, today it rules the roost as wintering home for many bird species. Declared as a national park in 1982, and a UNESCO site in 1985, today it is popular winter birding destination for wildlife lovers. It is especially known for a high density of migratory water species such as ducks, geese, coots, pelicans and waders. In fact, it was the only known wintering site of the central population of the critically endangered Siberian Crane, due to its strategic location in the Central Asian flyway.
What to do: Hire a bicycle or auto rickshaw and roam the park with your long birding lenses, or simply have a walk and enjoy the cheerful cackling and chirping all around you.
How to reach: Agra is the nearest airport (56 km) and Bharatpur is the nearest railhead.
- Manas Wildlife Sanctuary: If you wish to combine a Himalayan escape with amazing wildlife viewings, what better place to go than this elephant-refuge? Its location in Assam makes it yet another biodiversity hotspot and houses the Manas Tiger Reserve (established in 1973). In 1989, Manas acquired the status of a Biosphere reserve. Breath-taking views of the Manas river are interspersed with tropical evergreen forested hills and alluvial grasslands, making it a treat for the eyes! What makes it a critically important wildlife area is that the last populations of the Pygmy Hog survive in the wilds here.
What to do: Embark on jungle safaris and look for wildlife all around- elephants, tigers, greater one-horned rhinos, clouded leopards, sloth bears call this place their home.
How to reach: Guwahati (91 km) is the nearest airport, while Barpeta Road (44 km) is the nearest railhead.
- Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Parks: If colourful flora is your thing, and you are left enchanted by pristine alpine landscapes, you cannot miss visiting this World Heritage Site duo. Nanda Devi National Park (1988) is known for its raw, rugged mountain terrains, while Valley of Flowers National Park (2005) boasts of gentle alpine slopes that nurture exquisite alpine flora. Resplendent views of the second highest mountain in India and a natural monument- Nanda Devi are enough to transport you to a divine state of mind. And be ready for a burst of colours as you trudge the grassy knolls in the Valley of Flowers.
What to do:
- Go trekking along the numerous trails in both these natural reserves and breath in the crisp mountain air while challenging the action junkie in you!
- Get out the macro lens for some intense photography lessons as you observe the wild flowers and their wild visitors like insects and butterflies!
How to reach: Nearest airport is Dehradun and nearest rail head is Rishikesh from both places. From Joshimath one has to trek onwards.
- Sundarbans National Park: The rich Ganges-Brahmaputra delta opens up some myriad opportunities for wildlife viewing- both flora and fauna. This is the world’s largest network of mangrove habitat (some 78 species have been recorded*), much of them inaccessible and remote even today. This makes it amongst the most biologically productive of all natural ecosystems, making it a unique UNESCO site since 1987. This habitat takes on important ecosystem services- the wetlands serve as a nursery for marine organisms and as a climatic buffer against cyclones and other natural calamities.
What to do: Safaris by waterways are common in the Sundarbans, to be able to truly experience the vastness of this unique habitat. Join a safari boat or cruise and who knows, you may catch a glimpse of the fishing cat, or a tiger on one of the banks.
How to reach: The nearest airport is Kolkata while Canning is the nearest railway station (45 km).
- Western Ghats: Known for amongst the highest density of endemic and rare endangered species, the Western Ghats are a must-visit biodiversity hotspot on every wildlife lover’s travel list. From the shola grasslands of the Southern leg, to the dense rainforests of Agumbe that house the King of kings, the king cobra- opportunities abound for wildlife lovers.
What to do:
- The best thing is that you can pick and choose from a variety of destinations along the Western Ghats. Enjoy a hill station retreat in Amboli or embark on a hardcore snake-spotting session in Agumbe. Or plan a meetup with the Nilgiri Tahr and Nilgiri Langurs further south towards Kerala.
- Herpetofauna: This is haven for reptile and amphibian lovers, especially for macro photographer. So, if you have it in you to wade through murky waters and reach that snake abode for the perfect shot or a quick glance, there is adventure galore in the Western Ghats.
How to reach: The Konkan railway passes along the hills and you can reach your destination of choice. Else a number of cities along the coastal belt like Mangalore, Kochi etc. are accessible via air, then take short drive to the mountains.
India’s natural hotspots are an integral part of our heritage. Our people and cultures have evolved in the lap of nature, and it is natural that many of us like to go back to our roots- the natural havens that still exist. It is interesting to note that many of our people’s cultural practices too are intertwined with natural elements and natural phenomenon. How else can we explain the practices- keeping sacred groves, or even tiger temples. Such is the nature-connect that our ancestors had, and it is only apt that we as wildlife lovers protect and preserve this nature-love. Why not start this World Heritage Day, as we realize that nature is a treasure trove of heritage too!
Read also: Revisiting the moments in the wild
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