09 Jul 2017 05:39am IST
By Eugenio Viassa Monteiro
Settled in Delhi I’m visiting a few sites considered ‘Heritage of Humanity’ built centuries before colonial occupation. The landmark buildings found are uniquely beautiful possessing sharply defined proportions and a good balance between all integrating parts as well as the layouts or extension of surrounding spaces. One imagines the brilliant architects and artists who worked here full of well structured know-how and open to knowledge and improvement.
I do not refer to the Taj Mahal only but to several others, special reference made to Humayun’s Tomb.
A question comes to my mind: with such beauty surrounded by green spaces, water mirrors and channels reflecting the monument, is it not a trait of underdevelopment to leave such heritage abandoned and derelict sorely exposed to natural elements? Any rich country would make huge economic gains, showcasing these architectural masterpieces to visitors.
Many are likely to have spared a thought on it but probably without strong conviction or enough power to lead those responsible to meaningful decisions. In fact, there is a need for proactive people to overcome the critics and the hurdles. The country could earn money from past investments by inventing ways to make proper use of them. I’m tempted to recall some facts and make a few suggestions:
In Jaipur, thousands have been coming to the gardens of Diggi Palace since 2007 to attend one of the most successful book festivals. There is a growing presence of accomplished writers as well as promising youngsters – who write in a variety of local languages – delivering lectures on their writings, promoting book sales, etc.
I would like to go a little further and take advantage of the premises and surroundings for various uses of high social value. These can generate enough revenue to pay for the compound’s upkeep and improvements, making it more attractive to locals as well as to domestic and foreign visitors.
Preserving the original design, the main building around the garden could be refurbished to accommodate a large 5-star hotel equipped with every amenity. Adaptation work is not without drawbacks and challenges that a good architect will not find insurmountable. In other instances the monument and related buildings should be fully preserved; in such cases an entirely new hotel should be built with easy access to the monument and gardens.
Under a competitive bid, the owner entity could propose the business model for the concession. An annual rent accrued by a percentage of total sales would be paid and this might be an interesting cash-cow. The concession period would have to be long enough to recoup investments made; once expired a new bidding process would take place.
Besides hostelry, the gardens are an excellent setting for exhibitions, fairs and performances. A timetable should be set to hold public events. For example, a fortnight or longer for book-fairs, handicrafts’ fairs, local art products’ exhibition, toys’ production, pottery items, kids’ clothing, paintings, musical instruments, etc. Imagination must be allowed to roam free finding new initiatives to develop in an effort to attract visitors and greater hotel occupancy.
Only as an example, during the fortnight dedicated to painting, would-be painters keen to learn techniques could carry their tools into the garden inviting renowned painters to deliver classes and provide guidance.
To attract tourists the hotel must be managed to high standards and extra care paid to the maintenance of gardens and buildings; this may also have a pedagogical impact on local visitors. For hotel guests visits to the monument should be free of charge; for the local population a very low price could be set, foreign tourists should pay a higher admission rate.
India’s artistic heritage is rich and ancient. It deserves attention to acquire greater visibility and draw visitors. Many sites are classified as Heritage of Humanity. As India’s economic emergence continues, the growing interest in Indian civilization, art forms, culture, architecture, monumentality, etc, must be turned into a source of funds. These would help to finance the recovery of other artistic and ancient constructions that have long remained forgotten for paucity of resources.
It is important that each State recovers its own architectural jewels and attracts many more eager tourists.
(The author is Professor at AESE-Business School; Director of AAPI-Portugal-India Friendship Association)