In focus How many UNESCO World Heritage Sites have you visited in India? If you’re a travel and history buff, here’s something that will excite you
We begin each year with the hope of punctuating our hectic schedules with a little bit of travel. A short vacation every four months seems like a dream to many of us, imagine wanting to travel to all the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India within a calendar year. That’s what travel enthusiast and marathon runner Ajay Reddy hoped to do early 2012 and launched Go-UNESCO.
To make it more fun, he shared his idea with friends and soon there were nearly 50 participants for the challenge. In the first year, more than 65 per cent of the participants managed to travel to a few destinations and one contestant, architect Jai Bharati, travelled to all the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country.
Enthused by the response, Ajay plans to make Go-UNESCO an annual challenge.
“A tweet by Pallavi Savant started it all,” says Ajay Reddy. “She had posted a Rs. 10 ticket bearing images of these sites and asked ‘How many have you been to?’ I thought it would be fun to travel to all 28 UNESCO certified World Heritage Sites within a calendar year.”
The rules of Go-UNESCO are simple. A participant has to visit as many sites as possible within a calendar year. “The heritage ticket issued at these sites and a photograph of the participant along with that day’s newspaper and ticket would act as proof of visits,” explains Ajay. To add to the excitement, he built a game around the travel. “I allotted points for each site, based on the popularity of the site and accessibility,” says Ajay. So, sites like Red Fort Complex, Taj Mahal, Konark Sun Temple earn a participant 25 points each whereas Kaziranga National Park and Valley of Flowers would fetch 60 points each. The Mountain Railways of India, which includes Darjeeling, Shimla and Nilgiri railways, fetches 75 points. “A candidate who wins the maximum points out of 1000 is the winner,” adds Ajay.
The winner of the 2012 challenge, Jai Bharathi, is ecstatic. “I learnt about Go-UNESCO in April 2012. So I had to race against time and work out a travel plan,” she says. Between May and July, she managed only three trips. Then came an unexpected break in work and she was off to Delhi from where she visited many sites. “Through Go-UNESCO I found travel partners for different trips,” she says.
The more number of sites she visited, she grew more determined to complete the list. She traded all her festival holidays — Dasara, Deepavali and Christmas — for these trips. Travelling on a budget, she commuted by trains and buses. “During certain trips, because we didn’t want to miss the bus we even skipped meals. The trips were hectic, not leisure travel,” she says.
Jai Bharati managed to complete the list before December 31 and ended with a party in Goa. “It was hectic but a great experience,” she says.
Meanwhile, Ajay travelled to nine sites. On his plan to make Go-UNESCO an annual challenge, he says, “Most of us put off travel plans when we have a full-time job. Go-UNESCO intends to motivate people to travel a little more than they usually do and in the process discover the rich heritage of the country.”
Travelling to all the World Heritage Sites in India would entail covering a distance of around 2,50,000 km. The learning comes from visiting lesser known sites. Ajay recalls being fascinated by the Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh. “The rocks with paintings are more than 10,000 years old. There’s so much to discover in the country,” he says.
(To participate, visit gounesco.in)
SANGEETHA DEVI DUNDOO