Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Preservation of Ancient Ahom Monuments with a view to boosting tourism in Assam

The history of the great Ahom dynasty can be traced nearly 785 years ago when in early 13th century, Sukaphaa, a Shan prince began his journey with about 9000 followers, mostly men. He crossed the Patkai hills and reached the Brahmaputra valley in 1228. He moved from place to place, searching for a seat. He decided not to attack the local tribes like the Morans and the Barahis but befriend them instead. His followers, married into the local ethnic groups. Sukaphaa finally established his capital at Charaideo near present-day Sivasagar in 1253 and began the great task of state formation.

The great Ahoms ruled for 600 years giving peace ,tranquility and building a stronger state which was able to withstand even the mighty Mughal army for 16 times. Apart from the kingdoms in the Deccan no other kingdom had ever been able to stand up to the mighty Mughals as the Ahoms had done. Like every great kingdom the Ahoms too had build some magnificent architecture as a testimony to their might and power. Some of the famous architectural marvels include the Rang Ghar, the Talatal ghar, the Shiva deol among others.

In modern times these monuments have been a sign of the greatness of the Ahom kingdom and also a source of pride for the Assamese people. These monuments stand testimony to the might of the kingdom which ruled for 600 years .The Ahom kingdom gave the very definition of the greater Assamese society weaving a multi ethnic mosaic of Assamese culture with different tribes coming together form the very basis of the greater Assamese society .We owe to the Ahoms as much for giving us one common identity. As citizens of Assam it is our solemn duty to honor this great dynasty and there is no better way than showing their architectural marvels to the world.

It is in the light of the above mentioned condition that a proper roadmap is needed to preserve the ancient Ahom monuments with a view of boosting the tourism scenario in Assam. The first thing that comes to our mind is how to proceed about it .Well Assam has for long not been able to exploit its tourism sector for the lack of a proper development model. It is time a new approach is taken up with emphasis on eco friendly tourism and delivering package based models instead of mere sightseeing tours.

While discussing about the tourism model in Assam we must identify the major constraints in monuments conservation and tourism today. It may be classified into four major areas-

· Lack of proper conservation techniques

· Lack of awareness

· Problem of infrastructural maintenance funding

· Linking up tourism with these monuments

In the first case when we talk of problems plaguing the tourism industry in case of preserving monuments the first thing that comes to our mind is the lack of knowledge regarding proper conservation techniques. Generally the methods employed by ASI ( Archaeological survey of India) are not upto date with modern conservation techniques .Secondly there is a dearth of local expert officials who actually possess wider knowledge about the local conditions .Thirdly the manpower itself in this sector is very low. To combat these problems first of all ASI must equip itself with the most modern technologies regarding monuments conservation. These includes the latest chemical methods for monuments restoration the methods employed by European countries for painting restorations etc. Also the environmental threat to the monuments must be accounted for and proper steps should be taken to mitigate this problem.

The ASI officers must be properly trained .Better pay scale better job opportunities must be compounded with trainings and workshops on a regular basis so that it is able to attract some of the best minds of the nation tomorrow. These officers must also interact with local officials who can be made to work with the ASI teams on contract site to site basis. The local officials will help in understanding the nature of the work the officers have to undergo while performing restoration of any monuments.

To compound the manpower in this sector the State and Central government must give adequate grants to the local universities running courses in archeology so that they are able to improve their existing infrastructure. Their course module must be upgraded keeping in tune with the latest developments complete with field trips and on site experiences. Furthermore the students in this field must be provided with ample employment opportunities once they pass out so that this sector is seen as a viable source of employment.

The second major problem that the growth of tourism industry faces is lack of awareness among the people. Any region with such a rich cultural history like Assam must take forward extensive steps to educate the world about the rich cultural heritage of the state. In this area the tourism department of the Assam government must take steps to take the cultural heritage of Assam outside .This can be done through street plays, talks, documentaries and also using the internet as a medium to showcase the heritage of the state. Assam must participate in all tourism fairs and along with eco tourism the Ahom rich legacy must be specially mentioned. In this regard an exclusive “THROUGH THE FOOTSTEPS OF SUKAPHA –THE AHOM LEGACY” tour can be promoted. The tour can be built which will trace Sukaphaa footprints to the next 600 years of its Ahom rule. All historical sites built during the Ahom reign can be covered in this programme and the whole experience should be made available to tourists as just one package. This can be done in the lines of Palace on Wheels train of Rajasthan. Such a step will make it easier for people to understand and experience the Ahom legacy at one go and this will make for an exhilarating experience.

The third major problem is funding for the maintenance of these sites. Sometimes the maintenance of these monuments take a much heavier toll on the state exchequer and the state just lets it wither away. To combat this; an interesting PPP growth model can be accepted. The state government can sign MOU’s with public sector as well as private sector companies. This will bring revenue for maintenance of the monuments. The companies can sign these MOU’s either under their CSR (corporate social responsibility) commitment or they can be reimbursed by sharing a part of ticket collections with them. The government and the companies can equally divide the work of maintenance of monuments and this will lead to a far more efficient system.

The final problem that this sector faces is the problem of properly tying up tourism itself to these sites and making itself marketable. In this regard the state government must make a number of interesting propositions .First and foremost a voracious awareness campaign must be build up to educate people worldwide about the rich Ahom legacy of Assam. Next the government can encourage literary cultural festivals etc at the courtyard of the famous monuments, for example a “famous musical folk nite” in the courtyard of Ranghar.If such festivals are televised worldwide then it will be beneficial for the sites itself as awareness will rise about such sites. The government can also encourage cluster development of some of the major Ahom monuments construction sites like Sibsagar, Dibrugarh, Lakhimpur and Sonitpur and promote these areas as one package .In these sites itself proper tourist lodges (with stress in budget lodges rather than 5 star ones ) must be build up so that tourists have a comfortable stay .Efforts should be made to retain a Ahom flavor in these tourists resorts in cuisine, styling etc so that visitors have a wholesome Ahom culture experience.

The entire rich Ahom legacy must be showcased with special emphasis on its monuments which will be a fitting tribute to the dynasty which gave the Assamese society its identity today.

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