The Hugli River of Cultures Pilot Project, from Bandel to Barrackpore
The focus of this project are the five former trading posts and garrison settlements up the Hugli river from the megacity of Kolkata. Together they form a uniquely rich heritage corridor which is only now sporadically becoming the focus of national and individual international heritage initiatives. None, however, has built capacity in India in a sustained manner and, most importantly, none has looked to the river. This project will transform that situation. When it ends in January 2020, across all five cities, heritage activists will be upskilled to international standards in the documentation and promotion of both tangible and intangible heritage, thus energising the third sector groups.
Team members will collaboratively produce a diverse toolkit of cultural documentation including a substantive Heritage Management Strategy, an hour-long documentary film, architectural drawings, a postcard book, a photographic exhibition, recorded eyewitness testimony, an augmented reality App, all underpinned by academic research and directed at securing funds for preservation and access based on mutual consent and for the benefit the greatest number of sectors in civil society. This will allow the Hugli heritage activists and owner-custodians of the grand houses of Hugli to ‘talk heritage’ with nationally and internationally accredited documentation and visuals in the local Bengali language (and in English and French) to private sector interests and to local and national government whose own heritage projects are still in the primary planning stage.
About the project
The Hugli is a branch of the Ganges and a major navigable river flowing from the foothills of the Himalayas into the Bay of Bengal. On its lower reaches lies the megacity of Kolkata. This project focuses on five rapidly changing hinterland cities, southwards downstream towards Kolkata: Ban del, Chinsurah, Chandannagar, Serampore and Barrackpore. Although their combined population is over a third of the megalopolis (5.52M, compared with Kolkata͛ s 14.03M in 2011), administratively only two, Chinsurah and Chandannagar are even municipalities, the other three are merely statutory towns.
The two-year Hughli Rivers of Culture project responds to a heritage emergency in a corridor of five towns upriver from the 14m-strong megacity of Kolkata. The public spaces and buildings of these towns have traces of the presence of Danish, Dutch, Portuguese, British and French trade and martial control since the Portuguese settlement in the early 1600s, but the project aims to help burgeoning grassroots volunteer groups better understand and promote C20 Indian-European hybrid domestic architecture, contemporary cultural practices and memory now at extreme risk due to India’s rapid urbanisation. The goal is not to preserve these in aspic, but to work with the people in these places to adapt and use them for their own purposes. The twelve project outputs include a heritage management strategy (with colleagues in Architecture) and a Hughli Heritage Day (with colleagues in History at the IIT Kharagpur, India, at the Ironbridge International Institute for Cultural Heritage, Birmingham and in Geography here). The project is jointly funded by the Newton Fund/GCRF and the Indian Council for Historical Research and administered by the AHRC.