Showcasing the ancient in modern Delhi for Games visitors

By Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS,

New Delhi : Delhi, the capital of several dynasties and empires down the ages, will showcase its array of ancient forts, edifices and memorial structures for visitors to the Commonwealth Games. At least major 46 of them are being refurbished at a cost of about Rs.24 crore($5 million) by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).

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“The ASI is beautifying the major historical monuments of the city by adding value to their preserved heritage without comprising on the authenticity and integrity of structures to make them more tourist friendly,” ASI director-general Gautam Sengupta told IANS in an interview.

“The monuments are being refurbished at an estimated cost of Rs.23.59 crore,” he said. The structures will have improved lighting, new signages, audio-video guides, cafeterias and better public amenities.

The aim is to expose the tourists to the history of the capital in all its grandeur and glory.

Some of the landmarks listed for conservation and beautification for the Games include Purana Qila complex, Humayun’s Tomb complex, Qutab Minar complex, Hazrat Nizamuddin complex, Lodhi Garden monuments, the City Wall at Kashmere Gate, Khooni Darwaza, Jantar Mantar, Red Fort, Salimgarh Fort, Siri Fort wall and Tughlaqabad Fort.

The makeover also includes rehauling of the environs by clearing squatters within the protected sites, the official said.

“All the 46 monuments require structural renovation, chemical treatment and landscaping. Thirteen monuments will be illuminated with the help of the India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC). But we are not adding any new sound and light shows,” he said.

“Our aim is to make the monuments much more visible with more tourist-friendly arrangements. Monuments like the Purana Qila or the Old Fort, the Red Fort and Quli Khan’s Tomb will host cultural events during the Commonwealth Games,” Sengupta said.

“In the evenings, we want tourists to be exposed to the history of the capital in all the glory and grandeur. We are printing colourful publications to capture the attention of the tourists. They are a departure from the ones brought out regularly by the ASI,” he said.

The department plans to set up cafeterias and small souvenir kiosks at the heritage sites to market handicrafts, the official said.

The department is compiling a pictorial coffee table anthology on the monuments of Delhi that will be released before the Games, Sengupta said.

The culture ministry, which oversees the ASI, and the tourism ministry are promoting Delhi-Agra-Jaipur as the archaeological tourist triangle during the Commonwealth Games.

“Along with Delhi, Jaipur and Agra will receive sizable tourist inflows. The inclusion of the 18th century Jantar Mantar, the monument devoted to the study of astronomy and time in Jaipur, in the Unesco list of World Heritage sites, will translate into more footfalls to Jaipur from the capital,” Sengupta said.

“The archaeology department of the Rajasthan government has set up a site management committee to repair and beautify the monument, with the ASI as the nodal agency,” he said. India now has 28 World Heritage monuments.

One of the uphill tasks that the department faces is clearing encroachment from the premises of the protected monuments.

Citing an example, ASI additional director-general B.R Mani said the department went to court “to relocate the Bharat Scouts and Guides from the premises of the Humayun’s Tomb”.

The ASI is currently landscaping the area vacated by the Bharat Scouts and Guides, he said.

“It was encroached upon by shops and odd settlements. A complex with two monuments, the Bara Batashewala Tomb where the son-in-law of Mughal emperor Akbar was said to have been buried and the Chhote Batashewala tomb, an unidentified grave, was located opposite the Humayun’s tomb to its north,” Mani said.

“The campus was not in ASI custody. We moved the urban development department and the complex was transferred to the ASI two years ago,” he added.

In the last two years, the ASI has cleaned the Batashewala complex. “But the renovation and landscaping will begin after the Commonwealth Games,” Mani said.

Citing a study by Maulavi Zafar Hasan, a Muslim cleric, Mani said a “survey by Hasan between 1909 and 1914 showed that Delhi has 1,300 big and small monuments”.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at [email protected])