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Decision 40 COM 8B.17
Examination of nominations of mixed properties to the World Heritage List

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Documents WHC/16/40.COM/8B, WHC/16/40.COM/INF.8B1 and WHC/16/40.COM/INF.8B2,
  2. Inscribes the Khangchendzonga National Park, India, on the World Heritage List on the basis of criteria (iii), (vi), (vii) and (x);
  3. Adopts the following Statement of Outstanding Universal Value:

    Brief synthesis

    Situated in the northern Indian State of Sikkim, Khangchendzonga National Park (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 property falls 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 which characterise the property. The Park 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 property is home to a significant number of endemic, rare and threatened plant and animal species. The property has one of the highest number of plant and mammal species recorded in the Central/High Asian Mountains, and also has a high number of bird species.

    Khangchendzonga National Park’s grandeur is undeniable and the Khangchendzonga Massif, other peaks and landscape features are revered across several cultures and religions. The combination of extremely high and rugged mountains covered by intact old-growth forests up to the unusually high timberline further adds to the exceptional landscape beauty.

    Mount Khangchendzonga and many natural features within the property and its wider setting are endowed with deep cultural meanings and sacred significance, giving form to the multi-layered landscape of Khangchendzonga, which is sacred as a hidden land both to Buddhists (Beyul) and to Lepchas as Mayel Lyang, representing a unique example of co-existence and exchange between different religious traditions and ethnicities, constituting the base for Sikkimese identity and unity. The ensemble of myths, stories and notable events, as well as the sacred texts themselves, convey and make manifest the cultural meanings projected onto natural resources and the indigenous and specific Buddhist cosmogony that developed in the Himalayan region. 

    The indigenous traditional knowledge of the properties of local plants and the local ecosystem, which is peculiar to local peoples, is on the verge of disappearing and represents a precious source of information on the healing properties of several endemic plants. The traditional and ritual management system of forests and the natural resources of the land pertaining to Buddhist monasteries express the active dimension of Buddhist cosmogonies and could contribute to the property's effective management.

    Criterion (iii): The property – with Mount Khangchendzonga and other sacred mountains – represents the core sacred region of the Sikkimese and syncretistic religious and cultural traditions and thus bears unique witness to the coexistence of multiple layers of both Buddhist and pre-Buddhist sacred meanings in the same region, with the abode of mountain deity on Mt Khangchendzonga. The property is central to the Buddhist understanding of Sikkim as a beyul, that is, an intact site of religious ritual and cultural practice for Tibetan Buddhists in Sikkim, in neighbouring countries and all over the world. The sacred Buddhist importance of the place begins in the 8th century with Guru Rinpoche’s initiation of the Buddhist sanctity of the region, and later appears in Buddhist scriptures such as the prophetical text known as the Lama Gongdu, revealed by Terton Sangay Lingpa (1340-1396), followed by the opening of the beyul in the 17th century, chiefly by Lhatsun Namkha Jigme.

    Criterion (vi): Khangchedzonga National Park is the heartland of a multi-ethnic culture which has evolved over time, giving rise to a multi-layered syncretic religious tradition, which centres on the natural environment and its notable features. This kinship is expressed by the region surrounding Mount Khangchendzonga being revered as Mayel Lyang by the indigenous peoples of Sikkim and as a beyul (sacred hidden land) in Tibetan Buddhism. It is a specific Sikkimese form of sacred mountain cult which is sustained by regularly-performed rituals, both by Lepcha people and Bhutias, the latter performing two rituals: the Nay-Sol and the Pang Lhabsol. The kinship between the human communities and the mountainous environment has nurtured the elaboration of a profound traditional knowledge of the natural resources and of their properties, particularly within the Lepcha community. Mount Khangchendzonga is the central element of the socio-religious order, of the unity and solidarity of the ethnically very diverse Sikkimese communities.

    Criterion (vii): The scale and grandeur of the Khangchendzonga Massif and the numerous other peaks within Khangchendzonga National Park are extraordinary and contribute to a landscape that is revered across several cultures and religions. The third highest peak on the planet, Mt. Khangchendzonga (8,586 m asl) straddles the western boundary of Khangchendzonga National Park and is one of 20 picturesque peaks measuring over 6,000 m located within the park. The combination of extremely high and rugged mountains covered by intact old-growth forests up to the unusually high timberline and the pronounced altitudinal vegetation zones further adds to the exceptional landscape beauty. These peaks have attracted people from all over the world, mountaineers, photographers and those seeking spiritual fulfilment. The park boasts eighteen glaciers including Zemu Glacier, one of the largest in Asia, occupying an area of around 10,700 ha. Similarly, there are 73 glacial lakes in the property including over eighteen crystal clear and placid high altitude lakes.

    Criterion (x): Khangchendzonga National Park is located within a mountain range of global biodiversity conservation significance and covers 25% of the State of Sikkim, acknowledged as one of the most significant biodiversity concentrations in India. The property has one of the highest levels of plant and mammal diversity recorded within the Central/High Asian Mountains. Khangchendzonga National Park is home to nearly half of India’s bird diversity, wild trees, orchids and rhododendrons and one third of the country's flowering plants. It contains the widest and most extensive zone of krummholz (stunted forest) in the Himalayan region. It also provides a critical refuge for a range of endemic, rare and threatened species of plants and animals. The national park exhibits an extraordinary altitudinal range of more than 7 kilometres in a relatively small area giving rise to an exceptional range of eastern Himalaya landscapes and associated wildlife habitat. This ecosystem mosaic provides a critical refuge for an impressive range of large mammals, including several apex predators. A remarkable six cat species have been confirmed (Leopard, Clouded Leopard, Snow Leopard, Jungle Cat, Golden Cat, Leopard Cat) within the park. Flagship species include Snow Leopard as the largest Himalayan predator, Jackal, Tibetan Wolf, large Indian Civet, Red Panda, Goral, Blue Sheep, Himalayan Tahr, Mainland Serow, two species of Musk Deer, two primates, four species of pika and several rodent species, including the parti-coloured Flying Squirrel.

    Integrity

    Khangchendzonga National Park has an adequate size to sustain the complete representation of its Outstanding Universal Value. The Park was established in 1977 and later expanded in 1997 to include the major mountains and the glaciers and additional lowland forests. The more than doubling in size also accommodated the larger ranges of seasonally migrating animals. The property comprises some 178,400 ha with a buffer zone of some 114,712 ha included within the larger Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve which overlays the property. The property encompasses a unique mountain system comprising of peaks, glaciers, lakes, rivers and an entire range of ecologically-linked biological elements, which ensures the sustainability of unique mountain ecosystem functions.

    The key human-made features that shape the sacred geography embedded in the Sikkimese belief systems, are included in the property. Dzonga, Sikkim's guardian deity and the owner and protector of the land, resides on Mount Khangchendzonga and, on its slopes, Mayel Lyang, the Lepcha's mythological place, is located. On the other hand, the Buddhist concept of beyul, or hidden sacred land, extends well beyond the boundaries of the property, endowing the whole of Sikkim with a sacred meaning.

    Therefore, other human-made attributes that are functionally important as a support to the cultural significance of the property, its protection and its understanding, are located in the buffer zone, in the Khangchendzonga Biosphere Reserve, and in the wider setting of the property.

    The representativeness of lower altitude ecosystems within the property could be improved by considering progressive additions of what are well protected and valuable forests in the current buffer zone. The functional integrity of this system would also profit from opportunities to engage with neighbouring countries such as Nepal, China and Bhutan which share the wider ecosystem: the most obvious collaboration being with the Kanchenjunga Conservation Area in Nepal as this protected area is contiguous with Khangchendzonga National Park and Mt Khangchendzonga effectively straddles the border between the two countries.

    The integrity of the associative values and of traditional knowledge has been impacted by past policies for environmental protection, changes in lifestyle and discouragement of traditional practices for subsistence.

    Authenticity

    The authenticity of the cultural attributes within the boundary of the property has been preserved. Although the tangible human-made attributes within the property are restricted to some chortens, gompas and several sacred shrines associated with revered natural features, their continued reverence, maintenance and the associated rituals attest that they bear credible witness to the property's Outstanding Universal Value. Sources of information on the associative values of the property and its attributes comprise the Nay-Sol and the Nay-Yik texts, which provide important information on the stories, the rituals and the associated natural features as well as the still-performed rituals, the oral history and the traditional knowledge held by the Lepcha.

    Protection and management requirements

    The protected area status of Khangchendzonga National Park under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 of India ensures strong legal protection of all fauna and flora as well as mountains, glaciers, water bodies and landscapes which contribute to the habitat of wildlife. This also assures the protection and conservation of the exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic value of the natural elements within the Park. The property comprises state-owned land and has been protected as a National Park since 1977, whilst the buffer zone is protected as a Forest Reserve.

    Natural features having cultural significance are protected by notifications, n.59/Home/98 and n. 70/Home/2001, issued by the Government of Sikkim. They identify the sacred features and regulate their use as places of worship. Some of the monuments fall under the protection of the Archaeological Survey of India, while other ones are managed by monastic and local communities through traditional management systems that extend to the immediate and wider settings of the monasteries (gya-ra and gya-nak zones).

    The property is managed by the Sikkim Forest, Environment and Wildlife Management Department under the guidance of a management plan with a vision to conserve key ecosystem and landscape attributes whilst promoting recreational opportunities, cultural and educational values as well as the advancement of scientific knowledge and strategies which advance the well-being of local communities. Opportunities should be taken to better empower local people and other stakeholders into decision making related to the property’s management. A partnership is envisaged with the Ecclesiastical Department of Sikkim, the Department of Cultural Heritage Affairs and the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, to ensure that consideration of cultural values and attributes are integrated into the existing management.

    Efforts should continue to expand knowledge of the property’s biological and ecological values as data is still inadequate. Inventory, research and monitoring should focus on clarifying the species composition within the property and informing policy and management. Periodic evaluation of the effectiveness of management should continue and be used to direct investment into priority areas so that financial and staff resources are matched to the challenges of future management.

    Khangchendzonga National Park displays a rich intertwined range of natural and cultural values which warrant a more integrated approach to the management of natural and cultural heritage. Legal protection, policy and management should be progressively reformed and improved to ensure an appropriate balance between the natural, cultural and spiritual aspects of the property.

    A participatory approach to management exists through the Eco-Development Committees (EDC’s): their role in monitoring and inspection is planned to also be extended to cultural aspects and attributes. From a cultural perspective, the extension of the traditional and participatory management to cultural attributes located in the buffer and transitional zones would greatly assist the effective protection of the cultural values, and the reinforcement of cultural ties and traditional knowledge of the local communities with their environment.

    There are no significant current threats for the property, however, vigilance will be required to monitor and respond to the potential for impact from increasing tourism as a result of publicity and promotion. Similar attention must be paid to the potential impact of climate change on the altitudinal gradients within the property and the sensitive ecological niches which provide critical habitat. Active management of the buffer zone will be essential to prevent unsympathetic developments and inappropriate landuses from surrounding local communities whilst at the same time supporting traditional livelihoods and the equitable sharing of benefits from the park and its buffer zone.

  4. Commends the State Party for undertaking a comprehensive evaluation of management effectiveness and encourages it to address the 12 recommended actionable points in an integrated and adaptive manner in keeping with the cultural values of the property;
  5. Recommends that the State Party give consideration to the following:
    1. finalize and implement the envisaged management system and related mechanisms, and extend it to the transitional zone in order to allow the full understanding of the cultural significance of the property and of associated cultural sites,
    2. prepare an implementation calendar for the finalisation of the management system and for the actions envisaged in the additional information submitted in November 2015,
    3. develop inventories of natural and human-made features that are mentioned in sacred texts, for conservation and monitoring purposes, paying careful attention to the landscape value of religious structures when planning maintenance or restoration activities,
    4. put in place protection and regulatory measures for the built heritage and the built-up areas in the transitional zones to assist in retaining their heritage features and improving their landscape characteristics; extend the monitoring system to the cultural dimensions of natural and human-made attributes and set up qualitative and quantitative indicators;
  6. Requests the State Party to submit a report on the implementation of the above-mentioned recommendations, along with an implementation calendar for the envisaged actions, by 1 December 2016, for review by the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies;
  7. Encourages the State Party to consider the progressive addition of suitable lower altitude areas to the inscribed property in order to improve the balance of ecosystems and habitats across the property’s more than 7 kilometre vertical gradient;
  8. Also encourages the States Parties of India and Nepal to foster greater collaboration between Khangchendzonga National Park (India) and Kanchenjunga Conservation Area (Nepal), noting that Mt Khangchendzonga effectively straddles the border between the two countries, and also noting the similarities between the ecosystems of the two protected areas and thus the potential for a future transboundary World Heritage extension of Khangchendzonga National Park.
Decision Code
40 COM 8B.17
Themes
Inscriptions on the World Heritage List
Year
2016
Documents
WHC/16/40.COM/19
Report of the Decisions adopted during the 40th session of the World Heritage Committee (Istanbul/UNESCO, 2016)
Context of Decision
WHC-16/40.COM/8B
WHC-16/40.COM/INF.8B1
WHC-16/40.COM/INF.8B2
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