The culture, history, and heritage of a place define its presence today among various other factors that make it unique, and visible on a tourism map. Indian cities and towns have always been known for their diversity in language, religion, cultures and ethnicity. The pink city of Jaipur, in India’s northwestern state of Rajasthan, is one such city that has always drawn tourists from all over the world due to its culture, hospitality, and its association with royalty.
Founded by Sawai Jai Singh II in 1727, Jaipur was recently awarded the tag of World Heritage Site by UNESCO; the second Indian city after Ahmedabad. The decision was taken at the 43rd session of the World Heritage Committee (WHC) on July 6, 2019. According to UNESCO, a World Heritage Site means a location with an ‘outstanding universal value’.
Here, STIR speaks to Kavita Jain and Minakshi Jain, the conservation architects who have been working on preserving the heritage of multiple cities apart from Jaipur. With us, they discuss the process, the struggles in holding the tag for long and what this means for other Indian cities that aspire to join the list.
Meghna Mehta (MM): A large number of people, including yourself, have worked towards preparing the pitch for Jaipur to be considered as a World Heritage city. Why do you think it was important to achieve this status?
Kavita Jain (KJ): Jaipur is the first planned medieval city of India, which was conceptualised very intelligently, keeping in mind the existing features of the land, its expansion, trade with other cities, promotion of arts and crafts, and its growth. The city is of international importance. Thus, it deserves the status of a World Heritage Site.
Moreover, prominent Indian traditional cities are facing problems of population growth, decaying physical infrastructure, rising unemployment, and more than ever, these traditional cities are losing their character and planning relevance as new technologies are replacing the old ones; the unique symbolic identity is fading away. Achieving a heritage city status would not only preserve its identity, but would make way for unconventional modes of economy and create a positive attitude among the locals to preserve their cultural heritage.
Minakshi Jain (MJ): For Jaipur, many architects and planners have shown interest in its planning and architecture since long. I know, Professor Kulbhushan Jain’s graduating thesis from SPA (School of Planning and Architecture) was on Jaipur. Between 2004-2008, we drew up and implemented conservation and development plans for Hawa Mahal, Jantar Mantar, and Amber Palace, and also drew up a conservation and development plan for the monument district of Jaipur.
To add to this small list, many more conservation works have been carried out by various architects and many theses have been done at various city and academic institutions on the development and preservation of these cities. Hence, since long, experts have been aware of Jaipur’s planning and architecture’s universal value.
MM: What kind of work do you think went into presenting this idea to UNESCO? Could you share some of your thoughts on the project report and documents submitted?
KJ: I had prepared the DPR (detailed project report) for the Parkota wall between the years 2008-2012, highlighting the encroachments and the damage done to it till then. On the basis of this DPR, the Rajasthan High Court had even directed the repair of the wall and to remove the encroachment around it. Funds were also allocated to the local body for the said work. This DPR proved to be very handy in promoting the Jaipur bid to get this status.
I had also worked on the conservation of several monuments in Jaipur under RUIDP (Rajasthan Urban Infrastructure Development Project) under the ADB (Asian Development Bank) fund. These sites are located in Amber and Jaipur - such as the city gates, stepwells, temples, Amber fort wall, heritage walk routes, restoration of Nahargarh fort, part development works of the Amber fort and others, to name a few. Conservation of heritage during that time has helped in preserving the city’s cultural heritage. INTACH Jaipur, RUIDP, Department of Archaeology and Museums, Jaipur, are few of the other agencies responsible in achieving this status for Jaipur.
MJ: A lot of documentation and implemented conservation work must have helped in deciding the world heritage status. It definitely deserved the UNESCO tag. Even for Jodhpur, in the last five years, large parts of its historic city area, and its nuances of water architecture have been documented.
MM: How do you think the Heritage City tag will impact the way the city functions with respect to development, traffic, population, heritage sites, conservation - any particular rules that you think might change?
KJ: This status will definitely impact the way the city functions. Most importantly, it will affect the built control regulations and heritage by-laws, which will get more detailed and the enforcement might get much stricter. New modes of economy will be explored, which will give rise to a more floating population and a larger number of tourists; thereby, regulating all of them will pose a major challenge. Since the ownership in the old city area is mostly private, the development and retrofitting carried out in the inner parts of the city disturbed its architectural fabric. However, after getting this status, the enforcement of uniform development/redevelopment would be needed. As the main commercial hub of Jaipur lies in the city area, the traffic is very heavy there. Also, the recent introduction of the metro inside the walled city, and with the government pushing for e-mobility network, a new dedicated traffic management system would have to come into place. As far as heritage is concerned, it has been taken care of by various government agencies and conservation enthusiasts but thereafter, this tag would surge the involvement of local communities and various NGOs and foundations.
MJ: The important thing about our illustrious cities is, with or without the UNESCO tag, they should be taken care of. The UNESCO tag reminds and makes one aware that we have marvellous beauty in our own house. Do not forget. Do not wait for the tag.
Whatever historicity has remained till date, is to be saved and to be integrated into the development plan. The UNESCO tag expects the rejuvenation and integration of its universal value into the main stream.
MM: Ahmedabad was given the World Heritage City status in 2017, and now Jaipur. Do you think other Indian cities should be or are being pitched already?
KJ: Indian cities like Puducherry and Srinagar are working towards preparing dossiers to get this coveted tag.
MJ: Many of our cities can qualify for UNESCO’s world heritage list. Jaipur, Jodhpur, Delhi, Hyderabad, Jaisalmer, Varanasi and Kochi are some of them. India has a long cultural history with various development of settlements on its trade routes and rivers.
Even in Rajasthan, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Bikaner and Shekhavati are some of the cities that have unparalleled histrionics and their universal value could be included in the UNESCO world heritage list. They will come in the list, one after the other, as and when their dossiers will be sent.
MM: There was much talk about Delhi being proposed for this as well, and that was many years ago. Is there a reason why Delhi was not awarded the heritage status? Do you think Delhi will be pitched again?
KJ: The dossier prepared for Delhi contained the colonial era Lutyen’s zone, Mehrauli and Shahjahanabad, but the nomination was later withdrawn due to the fear that it will impede Delhi’s urban development.
Yes, Delhi’s proposal will be pitched again because there is general consensus among the people who are actively working towards preserving the heritage of Delhi. Their main task would be to take all the stakeholders in confidence by reducing their apprehension; hopefully Ahmedabad and Jaipur will show the way.
The above discussion and comments express the micro and macro nuances that are catered to as a city is given a World Heritage status, and that years of effort put together by various agencies and people towards conserving its historicity is what brings about this honour. The respect the heritage of a town or city receives over decades eventually plays the role in shaping its future.