The organic and historical links between the ancient city and the surrounding villages must be developed.
India is on the cusp of a paradigm shift in how its much neglected heritage should be preserved. The funding shortage was almost ended with the launch of two new programs by the central government: HRIDAY, focusing on heritage towns and PRASAD, improving pilgrimage destinations.
Moreover, if Smart City initiatives can place culture as a full-fledged fourth pillar, along with social, economic and environmental sustainability, then we will truly leap into the 21st century practice of sustainable heritage development. However, this requires appropriate capacity building to facilitate transformation.
As a potential demonstration project, the ancient city of Amaravati in Andhra Pradesh offers a triangulation of possibilities. The HRIDAY and PRASAD programs are accompanied by the announcement by Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu to name the new capital of Amaravati state. The juxtaposition of the old and the new could save the neglected heritage city from oblivion. But it is a double-edged sword. Investment in infrastructure will come as a breath of fresh air and the planned capital offers prospects for better access and increased weekend visits to the ancient city. But real estate speculation and improving the recreational spectrum need to be regulated to minimize negative impacts. What is at stake is the complexity of heritage, both tangible and intangible.
Several factors can help minimize negative impacts. A local governance mechanism could ensure the cultural leadership of the community and provide benefits to key stakeholders. There are layers of history in Amaravati, often reduced to minimal details like dates, kings and dynasties, with an emphasis only on “relics” of in situ heritage. In short, the layers of meaning from the so-called megalithic times from some 2,600 years ago until now must be shown, creating a contemporary understanding between locals and outsiders, developing educational programs and promoting experiential tourism. .
All tourism is cultural. Even what is natural is culturally perceived. The dichotomy of the natural and the cultural is a colonial legacy. In this context, heritage tourism is different because it uses non-renewable resources, both cultural and natural. It therefore requires responsible tourism development and must go beyond simple site visits to allow an experiential visit. The focus is no longer on the typical tourist. It’s about the visitors.
Visitors can be residents of the neighborhood or of the hinterland; schoolchildren and higher education students looking for a learning outcome; or national or international visitors paying for an Amaravati experience. An understanding of the demographic and psychographic characteristics of these target groups will aid in the development of relevant experiences. The historical contextualization of heritage resources, informed by rigorous research, openness to multiple interpretations of all forms of heritage and facilitating a plurality of understandings of visitors, is essential to create meaningful experiences in the revitalization of Amaravati.
There are lessons to be learned from other Asian countries that have demonstrated their own methods of safeguarding their diverse heritage in a context of rapid economic growth. Hoi, an ancient city in central Vietnam, for example, is protected by the very people whose ancestors built homes there in the 18th and 19th centuries. Hoi An district [known in the ancient times as Faifo] was also called Amaravati between the 7th and 12th century during the years of the kingdom of Champa. The Hoi An Homeowners Association ensures responsible and relevant infrastructure development. The Hoi An case study is exemplary in bringing together culture, health and well-being where heritage valuation informs all walks of life.
Coming from Amaravati and having worked in the ancient city of Hoi An, I advocate locally anchored and developed pathways for the ancient city of Amaravati, informed by new approaches on all fronts with a development action plan sustainable. The organic historical links and relationships between the ancient city and the surrounding communities and villages must be taken into account as a matter of priority.
The investment of resources must help conservation. The old ginning factory, the historic houses on Pujari Street, Zamindar’s house and other buildings from the last 200 years in the ancient city of Amaravati are in urgent need of protection. New attractions must be developed in the hinterland. Environmental impacts need to be monitored with an increase in tourist visits and business activities.
Amaravati, the ancient Dhanyakataka, once the thriving capital center of the Andhradesa formation, may once again become the heart of the lower valley of the Krishna River. A local Amaravati heritage society could ensure civil society engagement and benefit sharing. An Amaravati ecomuseum, an open-air spatial approach to all forms of heritage, including the ancient city and its hinterland, will ensure sustainable growth.
Professor Amareswar Galla is Executive Director of the International Institute for Inclusive Museum, Australia and Denmark