World Heritage Day: Unlocking the Potential of Heritage Tourism in Maharashtra
By Kiran Patil,
There are over 500 forts in Maharashtra out of which around 350 forts can be located or are recorded. Some of the forts were built 2200 years ago in history around the time of “Satavahana” or before that. Forts were the best way to protect an empire from invaders or enemy attacks. The old forts were primarily built for safety and security purposes to protect surrounding areas and keep a close watch on intruders. The forts can be mainly classified as residence fort or Gadhi, Bhuikot fort, mountain forts, sea forts, etc. Some forts were only used as “chowki” meaning jakat or toll points to collect taxes from traders and also to keep an eye on local movements. The forts of Maharashtra were war forts which witnessed many battles and the fort walls had to face cannon attacks on several occasions. This is the main reason why the forts of Maharashtra are not in good condition today. Today, these forts are under the control of various authorities for repair and maintenance. Visiting these forts should be part of every traveller’s itinerary, as they are a true reflection of the state’s culture. . Silent and astonishing reminders of a rich past, these forts are teeming with sagas of romance, chivalry and bravery.
Maharashtra is known for business trips to Mumbai and Pune, and luxury or leisure trips to Mahabaleshwar, Konkan, Kolhapur, Aurangabad, Nasik etc. Unfortunately the forts are mainly visited by hikers and young people only. Families, luxury and leisure travelers tend to show limited interest in forts. If popular destinations are promoted with forts and heritage sites nearby, they can attract more tourist visits. It is easy to divert the flow of tourists to heritage sites as they are already traveling to popular destinations and we only need to include forts and heritage sites in their itinerary. We need to collaborate and work closely with various industry players and tourism organizations to organize heritage tours to ancient forts and monuments in Maharashtra including Marathwada and Vidarbha as this will create a level playing field in the state . We need to organize routes that include forts, caves, heritage sites and historical monuments as well as beaches, wildlife and hill stations. The combination of different destinations will attract all types of travelers with varying interests, which in turn will create a balanced tourism industry in the state.
Our key agenda should be to promote our heritage sites on national and global platforms and to present our monuments as “undiscovered gems”. This is only possible if we tell the stories of our heroes effectively. More and more people are looking for experiences that bring history to life in engaging ways. We need to provide a hands-on experience that will inspire and entertain people of all age groups. Activities such as showcasing local cuisine via food trails, local folk dances, local martial arts, storytelling sessions about the wars fought on each fort and war heroes, etc. The promotion of heritage through fort tourism can be achieved by imbibing the values of authenticity, quality, imagination, responsibility and pleasure. In addition, we should improve the basic tourist facilities around these forts such as parking, access road, stairs, cleanliness, toilets, drinking water, guides, security, signage. , information boards, etc. Strong like Raigad, Janjira, Shivneri, Sindhudurga, Sinhagad, etc. attend a large number of tourist visits. Some of the reasons attributed to high tours are accessibility, tourist facilities, guides, safety, etc.
Through a focused approach to heritage tourism, we can seek to attract large numbers of travelers to our forts and heritage sites. This will further motivate authorities and private sector enthusiasts to invest in tourism facilities, infrastructure and equipment, which would ultimately lead to the sustainability and continuity of conservation works to combat degradation.
Each fort or heritage site can enable the economic and social development of local communities and create sustainable income opportunities. Every traveller’s visit to these isolated sites through our efforts can generate income for locals in the form of community tourism; be it local guides, security guards, local shopping, accommodation, food, transfers, etc.
We estimate a minimum of 20 direct and 50 indirect sources of employment from each fort and heritage site. For direct employment, local villagers in the form of local labor, local guide, security officer, food monitoring activity, home stay, etc. and for indirect employment, taxi service operators, travel agents, tour operators, parking lot operators, souvenir shops, cafeterias, activities such as folk dancing, cultural programs, martial arts, social media experts , graphic designers, event planners, etc. can be aligned.
Combination of various interests
We need to create awareness in the travel industry through engagement with relevant stakeholders such as inbound travel agents, tour operators, travel promoters, route builders, vloggers, etc. like Antur Fort with Ajanta Caves, Lohagad Fort with Lonavala, Tikona Fort with Pavana Lake, Pratapgad Fort with Mahabaleshwar, Janjira Fort with Kashid Beach, Jawahar Palace with Sula wines, Ajinkyatara fort with Wai, etc.
Effective use of:
Families of warriors, their residences and those of Wada
Most of the descendants of the Sardar (warrior) families live in Maharashtra. Some old residences, normally known as ‘Wada’, are in a state of disrepair, making their way to soon be swallowed up by the ravages of time. Few of them are in satisfactory condition but are not maintained. The history of these great families is lost after centuries of Swarajya and British rule. Apart from the royal families and a few sardar families, the other families that played a central role in swarajya are not recognized today. Linking their residential forts and former wadas to tourism can help restore dignity and recognition to these families. The existence of ancient spears, swords, artifacts, letters, coins, costumes, artillery, etc. found in these homes can be used to educate and restore ancient heirlooms.
Maharashtra has several museums, a few under the control of the Maharashtra State Department of Archeology and a few under private ownership. Museums such as Gargoti Museum in Sinnar, Aundh Museum, Bhor, Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj Museum in Mumbai, etc. are well maintained by the authorities, which can also generate tourism. Many royal and warrior families have a collection of ancient artillery that could be used effectively. A few of them include Dhamale Wada in Mulshi, Amatya Wada in Gaganbawda, Ghorpade Gadhi in Bahadurwadi, Jadhav Wada in Chikhali, the new palace in Kolhapur, Dabhade Gadhi in Talegaon etc.
Jungles, temples and Sahyadri
The jungle safari, pilgrimage, holy places and Sahyadri hills can also be incorporated into all types of travel itineraries in the state.
Communities, local art, culture, cuisine, traditional dance and festivals, etc.
Communities spread across the state may also be included in travel itineraries. Each community has its unique lifestyle, costumes, cuisine, art and lifestyle. Some examples of these communities include Varhadi community of Vidarbh, Warli community of Palghar, Kokana community of Nadurbar, Khandeshi of Jalgaon, Korku of Melghat, Gond of Gadchiroli, Agri – Koli of Mumbai and Konkan, etc. to these communities in travel itineraries to promote the cultural heritage of Maharashtra. Their homes can be marketed as rural accommodation and their cuisine and cooking methods can be promoted in the form of “Food Trails” ……. !!
The scope of heritage tourism in Maharashtra is immense. The state’s flourishing history can still be seen in various majestic monuments and forts, as well as other historic destinations. We must develop our heritage and our tourist sites and make them welcoming to tourists in order to enhance their tourist potential and their cultural importance.
(The author is Managing Director of Marathi Heritage and Founder of the Bharati Vidyapeeth Institute for Management and Entrepreneurship Development. Opinions expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)