FLASHBACK 03 Culture in Command

Restoration of Clock Tower: Delicate and decorative ceilings at Ranvas in Patiala are being restored. Repairs are on at the Clock Tower and the PWD Rest House, besides restoration of chajja at the district courts complex in Kapurthala. Development of the Sheikh Chilli's tomb by landscaping, gardening, construction of the boundary wall and repair of sarai cells are also on the cards.

Rashtrapati Niwas gets a facelift: Repair of Rashtrapati Niwas in Shimla is going on. Restoration of Jaina shrine and adjacent structures at Kangra Fort has started.

Excavated coins preserved: A copper reliquary and three coins, excavated recently from Ambaran in the Akhnoor sector, are being treated chemically for preservation.

The Amritsar festival saw Pandit Jasraj at his best

Sonal Mansingh performed at Kurukshetra

THIS year has seen cultural revival for the North. Historical richness of the region has, in fact, never been as much in focus as it was this year, which saw concerted efforts towards heritage restoration in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. A series of festivals were organised in the region to link people with their past. There was finally, some digging into the splendid past, with the state governments, as well as the Centre, measuring the tourism potential of heritage sites like Kurukshetra, Amritsar and Kapurthala.

Emergence of heritage tourism: The concept of heritage and religious tourism thus emerged, with strong emphasis on the need to boost domestic tourism that has grown phenomenally over the past. Statistics say that India's domestic tourism market has expanded from 238 million in 2001 to 278 million in 2002. As per a recent survey, over 500 million people in Indian travel for religious purposes annually. No wonder the concept of heritage tourism was in full evidence during the cultural festivals held in different parts this year

The Kurukshetra Utsav: Organised by the Union Ministry of Culture and Haryana, it took people closer to Kurukshetra's splendid locations like the sacred Brahmasarovar, conceived by Lord Brahma himself, and Jyotisar, the site that witnessed Lord Krishna's sermon, the Bhagvadgita. Through a series of events, including addresses by Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and Union Minister for Culture Jagmohan, the Centre tapped the city's potential as a religious destination. The Ministry is now spending heavily in maintenance of historic sites in Kurukshetra. About Rs 1.25 crore goes into sustaining the daily light and sound show at Jyotisar. Moreover, the Archaelogical Survey of India (ASI) is reviving the Saraswati that once flowed through Kurukshetra. In the largest-ever excavation project undertaken in India, the ASI will excavate locations between Adibadri (Haryana) and Dholavira (Gujarat). More than the cultural celebrations, this year's festival came across as a celebration of spiritual India, where scores of sages remained busy chanting shlokas, while scores of youngsters rejoiced in the cultural feast offered by Sonal Mansingh and Shovana Narayan.

The Baba Jassa Singh Sharad Utsav in Kapurthala: One knew little of the royal state of Kapurthala until the Kapurthala Heritage Society organised the three-day Baba Jassa Singh Sharad Utsav this year. Held in the backdrop of Jagatjit Palace, a remarkable homage to Louis XIV, the festival showcased Kapurthala's legacy ' its magnificent but dilapidated buildings, now being managed by the ASI. Some samples of Kapurthala's architectural might, focused during the festival, include the Clock Tower, a ramshackle building which has now been restored; the marvellous local courts, which were in news recently when a scaffolding collapsed. Among the other sites now declared unsafe due to persistent neglect are Gole Kothi, which used to be the home to royalty, and the PWD Guest House. In the backdrop of cultural presentations by performers like Begum Parveen Sultana and Pandits Rajan-Sajan Mishra, the residents of Kapurthala, for the first time, shared and celebrated their heritage, which is showcased in the Moorish sue, the Bhoot Bangla, Maharaja Fateh Singh's Samadhi and the mazar of Mir Nasir Ahmad, the founder of Kapurthala's musical tradition, which lives no more.

Heritage walk in Amritsar: There was a hint of controversy over local talent being ignored by the Punjab Government. In focus, apart from presentations, were seminars on Amritsar's concerns as a heritage city. Gurmeet Rai, who has prepared the document that supports the Harmandar Sahib's case for being declared a world heritage site, talked about the mounting urban pressure on the Golden Temple. Punjab INTACH kicked off the heritage walk, highlighting the significance of preserving the walled city, which houses 350 heritage buildings. Expert conservationists, who have launched successful conservation drives in old cities of Kolkata and Ahmedabad, were in attendance.

Heritage festival in Patiala: Here you had the first of the three heritage festivals organised in Punjab for the first time. Held in Qila Mubarak, a potentially endangered site, the festival reflected the state government's aspirations to make the cultural festivals a productive feature. From this year onwards, Patiala, Kapurthala and Amritsar, will host heritage festivals annually.

Centenary celebrations of Kalka-Shimla rail line: The year saw the hyped celebrations of the 100 years of completion of the Kalka-Shimla rail track. With celebrities descending on the Queen of Hills from various parts of the country and abroad, Himachal further strengthened its position on the tourism map. The fascinating tunnels and bridges that lie along the ethereal track were never as much in limelight as they were between November 9 and 12, which saw the hills celebrate their heritage like never before.

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