The tourist didn't stop in B'lore

Its heritage structures in decay, its traditions, festivals and multi-cultures undocumented, the City has fallen off the tourist map

Beyond its tech city tag and once-cherished Garden City definition, does Bangalore pack enough punch to arrest the tourist’s fleeting attention?

Can the City, with its obvious but forgotten heritage, get beyond the transit point that it has been reduced to in the tourist map? Is there a way to beckon the visitor to the City’s soul, its history, its celebrated festivals, its latent but thriving sub-cultures?

Trapped in a narrative based on a network of malls and the Metro, a visitor to this City rarely has a clue to its heritage. The tech parks, Vidhana Soudha, Cubbon Park, Lalbagh, and a few historical structures more or less make up their idea of Bangalore! Shouldn’t this change?

If century-old buildings once defined the City’s claim to fame, the government clearly has shown no concern to preserve them. Here’s why: Fifteen years ago, there were over 1,800 buildings more than 100 years old. Five years ago, that number had slumped to 800, and today it stands at less than 400. Three hundred of these are government-owned, mostly out of access for the public.

Intangible heritage 

But the buildings and monuments including forts, palaces and temples only form the tangible heritage of the City. As urban expert V Ravichandar and historian Vikram Sampath point out, music, dance, handicrafts (textiles), festivals and processions, visual and performing arts form the intangibles, and should be part of the narrative. If museums host the moveable artefacts, the City’s lakes and parks should be seen as a green heritage, preserved and showcased to all.

It needs a new tourism paradigm beyond its monuments and heritage struct­ures, exploiting the underestimated soft power of our culture, assert Ravichandar and Sampath, who form the recently formed Vision Group. “Bangalore needs a centrally located, public arts, culture and museum district -- much like what global cities like London and New York have and several other smaller spaces dispersed across the City for this purpose,” the Group explains. 

This could be woven into a showcase of the City’s history from Kempegowda’s time, its history, literature, folk arts and rural artisans. If these are smartly interlinked, letting a visitor to organically move from one arena to another, the City’s tourist appeal could be hugely enhanced. “There should be something to do every day and for everyone,” says Ravichandar, indicating the need for an informal arrangement where the government just acts as a facilitator and public organisations handle events.

One idea worth carrying forward could be the proposal for a heritage corridor from the Fort in City Market area to the Bangalore Palace. “There are a number of heritage buildings along this stretch, on either side of Palace Road and surrounding areas. There are buildings attached to the Bangalore University, Law College, Carlton House and the well known government monuments,” notes urban architect, Naresh Narasimhan. 

Guided wine tours

The Karnataka Tourism Vision Group, headed by T V Mohandas Pai, has made another proposal to boost Bangalore’s tourist potential: By promoting adventure tourism in Nandi Hills, heritage trails around the Devanahalli fort, and guided wine tours for local and outstation visitors.

Clubbing tours through this corridor with stories about Bangalore’s origin and its history, culture and traditions could be transformational. Festivals such as Karaga and related events could be integrated into the tourist calendar with rich, interactive information sharing. “A variety of  interpretive material is necessary (digital and print) to help residents and visitors understand all the rich heritage values of Bangalore.

Such materials help build local awareness, which is very necessary, as well as information for visitors. Such interpretive material need to go far beyond bland descriptions of when a building was built and by whom to tell the story of the city,” notes the Vision Group, which includes Jyoti Hosagrahar, Director, Sustainable Urbanism, Columbia University.

But the City’s tourist structure is so underdeveloped that it is hard to find a trained tourist guide. Despite its tech city tag, Bangalore has no audio guides that could have enriched tourists visiting different sites and monuments here. Private organisations such as Bangalore Walks have shown that guided heritage walks work well. These small-scale initiatives could be replicated on a larger plane by the government.

“With government tying up with these and other bodies, there will be an enhancement of capacity building for these private organisations besides creating job opportunities. Many theatre groups which are active in the City can be roped in to make this a continuous feature.”

On a visit to Bangalore, Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker, Lisa Mazzotta says she has heard about the City’s history in bits and pieces. “I know a little about the City’s origin, the boiled beans story, but I miss a free tour of the place such as the one in Singapore. There, the tour takes you with a guide to different regions, markets and cultural centres. It was a fantastic learning experience for me. I wish there is something like that here,” she says.

Engaging walks

Deepa Krishnan from Bangalore Magic is well aware of this yearning to know a city deeper, in a guided, informal way. The walks arranged by her firm is part of a unique approach to understanding the City in its various avatars. She explains, “In our tours, we hope to help tourists see Bangalore through local eyes – for example, our Food Walk in Malleswaram and our Photowalk through Jayanagar are delightful explorations of cuisine and culture, giving overseas visitors a peek into daily life of Bangaloreans. The people who do the tours are knowledgeable, engaging and willing to answer questions.”

In the absence of a culture of preserving monuments, the City has seen over a third of its estimated 1,500 heritage sites crumble away. There are no exact records, since proposals to set up a heritage register have proved non-starters. 

The register was talked about under the Bangalore Metropolitan Regional Governance Bill, and before that, in a proposed amendment to the Town and Country Planning Act. The Agenda for Bengaluru Infrastructure and Development (ABIDe) had also included this in its Bengaluru Master Plan 2020.

The heritage register was to be designed as an inventory of all heritage sites in the City. The sites had to be identified based on age and their importance to the City’s identity. Besides monuments, the register was to include precincts, natural and cultural sites with special architectural or historic interest.
 Urban experts and historians are convinced that culture heritage management has to be integrated into the master plan and all development plans of the City. Only then can places such as Russell Market, KR Market and Chickpet be included in tourist itineraries.  

Until this happens, no tourist or young Bangalorean, will know that the Chickpet area was where the City had its beginnings. Legend has it that the Doddapete Square, which today looks chaotic and unkempt, was from where Kempegowda had organised a ground-breaking ritual in 1537. 

Four pairs of bullocks were let loose to plough the land in four directions from here, and the routes traversed by the ploughs had become the nucleus of the new town’s four main streets. Four towers were erected to commemorate this event. Three of them still stand, but no one knows or cares.

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