Khangchendzonga National Park (KNP), Sikkim has been inscribed as India’s first “Mixed World Heritage Site” on UNESCO World Heritage List, by fulfilling the nomination criteria under both natural and cultural heritage. The 40th Session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, at a meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, granted approval for the inscription of India’s on the coveted UNESCO World Heritage List. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the two Advisory Bodies of UNESCO had earlier given their positive recommendations to the 21 member UNESCO World Heritage Committee, to inscribe Khangchendzonga National Park (KNP), Sikkim as a ‘Mixed World Heritage Site’.
The KNP exhibits one of the widest altitudinal ranges of any protected area worldwide. The Park has an extraordinary vertical sweep of over 7 kilometres (1,220m to 8,586m) within an area of only 178,400 ha and comprises a unique diversity of lowlands, steep-sided valleys and spectacular snow-clad mountains including the world’s third highest peak, Mt. Khangchendzonga. Numerous lakes and glaciers, including the 26 km long Zemu Glacier, dot the barren high altitudes. The KNP lies within the Himalaya global biodiversity hotspot and displays an unsurpassed range of sub-tropical to alpine ecosystems. The Himalayas are narrowest here, resulting in extremely steep terrain, which magnifies the distinction between the various eco-zones. The KNP is located within a mountain range of global biodiversity conservation significance and covers 25% of the State of Sikkim, acknowledged as one of India’s most significant biodiversity concentrations. The KNP is home to a significant number of endemic, rare and threatened plant and animal species and has the highest number of plant and mammal species recorded in the Central/High Asian Mountains, except compared to the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan Protected Areas, in China; and also has a high number of bird species.
The cultural significance of KNP is portrayed by three main different facets: firstly, the notion of beyul or hidden sacred land, which extends to all of Sikkim, but has its heart in the territory of Khangchendzonga National Park, is important in Tibetan Buddhism, not only intrinsic to Sikkim, but in the neighbouring countries and beyond – that is to say, KNP is home to a sacred site of one of the world’s leading religious traditions; secondly, the multi-layered sacred landscape of Khangchendzonga and the cultural and religious relevance of the hidden land (beyul in Tibetan Buddhism and Mayel Lyang, in Lepcha tradition) is specific to Sikkim and is a unique example of co-existence and exchange between different religious traditions and people; and thirdly, the indigenous religious and cultural practices of the Lepcha with regard to the ecology and the specific properties of local plants, which stand as an outstanding example of traditional knowledge and environmental preservation.
This is also the first nomination dossier in which the newly established UNESCO Category 2 Centre on ‘World Natural Heritage Management and Training for Asia-Pacific Region’ at Wildlife Institute of India had provided professional inputs. For the first time both IUCN and ICOMOS had given a clear and positive recommendation for inscription of a Natural/ Mixed Site from India.
With the above inscription, the number of Indian sites on the World Heritage List has become 35 (7 Natural + 27 Cultural + 1 Mixed).
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