x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

New Delhi hopes tourist route will lead to World Heritage status

The government plans to link 30 historical monuments around the Indian capital, including Red Fort.

NEW DELHI // In an effort to have New Delhi named a Unesco World Heritage City, the government is creating a heritage route connecting more than 30 historical monuments in the Indian capital. The route will come into existence before next year's Commonwealth Games and will be the first attempt to qualify the city for the prestigious title.

The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach), a non-profit organisation dedicated to the conservation of heritage sites in India, has designed a project to put New Delhi in the list of 224 heritage cities worldwide. "At present the cognitive image of Delhi is not a historic one, instead some people talk about making it Shanghai or Singapore, the image of the city must emerge out of its heritage to qualify for the Unesco World Heritage city status," said A G Krishna Menon, the convener of Intach's New Delhi chapter.

The government signed a heritage pact deal with Intach last year for conservation and sustainable development of Delhi's historical and cultural heritage in order to help it become a World Heritage City. Success would result in Delhi receiving grants and the expertise of Unesco for the maintenance and conservation of monuments and heritage sites. According to Intach, New Delhi has more than 1,200 historical monuments, including three Unesco World Heritage monuments. "Considering the number of historical monuments, Delhi should have got the status long ago, but we have underplayed the rich heritage of the city," said Mr Menon.

Mr Menon says the government has failed to project this cultural heritage to the world. "We have hundreds of historical cities, like Banaras, Mathura, Kolkata, Delhi but not a single city in India has got the World Heritage City status so far. We have to develop and preserve the heritage to sell it to the world," he said The World Heritage City status is granted by Unesco after a comprehensive screening of the heritage conservation of a city and its historical sites. Cities like Cairo, Vienna and Brussels are listed among the 224 World Heritage cities.

With a population of over 16 million, New Delhi is spread over an area of around 45 sq km. According to historical records, the city has been continuously inhabited since the 6th century BC. Archaeologists have discovered the remains of seven major cities established in the area over the centuries. During the Mughal emperor Shahjahan's reign, a new walled city in New Delhi was built which served as the capital of the Mughal empire for over two centuries until the East India Company gained control of India and the capital was shifted to Kolkata. After King George V's coronation in 1911, the capital was moved back to New Delhi.

"It's an irony that Delhi's 1,000-year-old cultural and historical heritage is yet to be recognised by the world. Delhi has played a vital role in the changing political and power equation of the Indian subcontinent", said Ajmal Ansari, a historian based in Delhi. In the first phase, two World Heritage monuments - the Red Fort complex and the Humayun tomb - will be connected through the heritage route. The pilot project will be funded by the World Monuments Fund, with an initial grant of US$200,000 (Dh735,000).

"Our aim is to promote development of heritage sites and tourism. The heritage route will be an important step towards making Delhi a World Heritage City," Amita Baig, India projects coordinator for the fund. New Delhi attracts thousands of foreign tourists every day, but most of them face problems finding heritage sites. A hop-on-hop-off bus and rickshaw service along the route will make finding even the more obscure sites easy for tourists.

"A small number of tourists actually manage to visit historical sites apart from the famous ones. Once the route is ready, it will facilitate their visit to the lesser-known monuments and gradually they will be recognised and exposed to the outer world," said Mr Menon. Intach also plans to set up audio-visual interpretation centres and digitalised literature at the archaeological sites along the route to enhance the visitors knowledge of the monuments.

"Our aim is to facilitate tourists at the monuments. We are also planning to document the anecdotes and memories of the senior residents of Delhi as part of the World Heritage City campaign," said Mr Menon. jandrabi@thenational.ae