HYDERABAD: We Hyderabadis are a lucky lot. We are princesses without crowns. Kings without armies. We live in a city where history is in the air.
And buildings and bastions, forts and palaces, walls and gates of historical importance and architectural splendor surround us. Heritage is our strength and that is why Hyderabad should mark April 18, World Heritage Day, in its diary for a special celebration. Even more so because this city of monuments is celebrating the 425th year of its hoary existence.
The International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), technical partner of UNESCO, passed a Declaration in 1982 for celebrating April 18th every year as the “International Monuments and Sites Day”.
On this day, events such as exhibitions, awards, heritage walks and visits to monuments, publications, discussions and debates, talks etc are organized, across the world, celebrating heritage and spreading knowledge on history, architecture and conservation. The agenda is to preserve and promote, increase participation and partnerships.
This year the theme is “Cultural Heritage and Sustainable Tourism”, to commemorate United Nations International Year of Sustainable Tourism, 2017. Tourism is not only one of the major sources for funding heritage conservation, it aids infrastructure development, betterment of services and contributes to economy, directly and indirectly.
It is not as though we don’t celebrate heritage. Hyderabad celebrated its 400 years of existence in 1991. The Charminar Pedestrianisation Project, restoration of of Chowmahalla and British Residency started. Unesco World Heritage City Status for Hyderabad was conceptualized. Save Musi campaign began.
Two hundred years of Secunderabad was celebrated in 2006. 1908 Hyderabad floods were remembered at its centenary and groups gathered at historic tamarind tree that saved 150 lives located in the Osmania Hospital complex. Celebrations of 100 years of Osmania University are going on this year.
And yet, our city and states are not-so-attractive destinations for tourists. By any standards, a city celebrating 425 years of existence should be a fascinating destination for international tourists and yet in 2015 a mere 2 ½ lakh international tourists visited us.
Lack of preservation of historical buildings and places, lack of conservation efforts, drawbacks in promotion campaigns and infrastructure such as stays and tours and basic facilities, failure to recognise our own heritage are the glaring reasons. But a lack of enthusiasm to recognize unexplored heritage and showcase it with proper planning is also one of the main reasons we fail to attract revenue-generating tourists.
But in the 425th year, Hyderabad needs rescue. Intervention is needed at many levels. While the Government has taken a positive step forward with the new Telangana Heritage Bill, fforts should focus on planning for optimization of tourism potential in contributing to local development.
Sustainable tourism should not only aim at development of infrastructure and destination planning for tourist arrivals, but also plan to share benefits with local communities and artisans through direct employment or informally. The traditional customs and crafts should be as much promoted and marketed for supporting cultural heritage preservation.
And then, it is also up to the citizens to take up the responsibility of restoring lost glory to the city. Public participation is important and heritage as a treasure should be discussed and talked about regularly. Locals need to become custodians as well as frequent visitors at monuments and an increase in visitors would put the onus of providing better facilities on the government.
Backpacking in the city, taking short tours out of the city to the forts and havelis thrown about the state, learning, understanding and appreciating our history and architecture, listening to narratives and telling stories, capturing pictures and posting videos, shopping and strolling - this World Heritage Day may very well be an occasion to rediscover our city and pay a tribute to its long and chequered legend. And a Hyderabadi may yet find his lost soul in one of those quaint gallis of his ancient city.
(The writer is a conservation architect and urban-regional planner)