The fascinating tales of the fast-dwindling diasporic Chinese settlers in Kolkata and their consistently active clubs, temples and shops in Old Chinatown area, popularly known as Chinapara, will be expertly narrated before the local residents as part of the second edition of the nationwide India Heritage Walk Festival (IHWF) in February.
Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) is among 37 cities hosting the February 02-28, multi-city IHWF 2019 organised jointly by Sahapedia (sahapedia.org), the online resource on Indian arts and culture, and UNESCO, to encourage citizens to explore the tangible and intangible heritage of their cities and towns. All bookings for the festival are powered by Odigos, a product by the Bird Group, is an online marketplace that connects tourists to certified guides in India. Odigos app provides a seamless way for travellers and locals alike to understand and explore the iconic sites of our country.
A walk around Chinapara on February 3 will seek to alter the linear narrative of Kolkata as a Bengali city.It can be seen as a world city and a melting pot of numerous cultures and communities, all contributing to the city’s milieu and cosmopolitanism. The Chinese are one such community, who have made stellar contributions to Kolkata’s history.
During the free, two-and-a-half-hour guided tour (8:00 am-10:30 am), led by Shaikh Sohail, participants will visit and experience the once thriving centres of the Old Chinatown area. Sohail, who works as a project manager for a telecom organisation and has set up Break Free Trails that organises heritage walks in Kolkata and its neighbourhoods, will share the history of the Chinese community in eastern India, discussing the similarities and diversity.
A second walk, slated for February 10, will take the visitors to Kolkata’s Tiretta Bazaar, which is the oldest Chinatown in the world outside the sphere of Chinese cultural influence in Southeast Asia. The Chinese community from several villages in South China started arriving and settling in Calcutta, a thriving colonial capital, in the late 1770s. Soon they made the city their home, with only formal ties to their original homeland, excelled as artisans and restaurateurs, and built Taoist temples in their settlement in Tiretta Bazaar that evolved into a thriving Chinatown, adding to Kolkata’s ethnic and cultural diversity.
Dr Tathagata Neogi and Chelsea McGill will lead this two-hour (10 am-12pm) tour, which is free. Dr Neogi is the co-founder of Heritage Walk Calcutta. He led a heritage documentation project in West Bengal and was a member of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS). McGill holds an MA from the University of Chicago with specializations in Linguistic Anthropology and South Asian Studies, is fluent in Bengali and founded Heritage Walk Calcutta with her husband, Dr Tathagata Neogi.
In this walk, the participants will explore several Chinese temples and learn about Chinese culture and traditions unique to Kolkata’s Cantonese community. Another walk in the city on February 2 will take the visitors on a guided art walk at the iconic Victoria Memorial that was conceived by Viceroy Lord Curzon in memory of Queen Victoria and is emblematic of the British Raj. Known for its architecture, the collection of the museum is stunning.
Soumyadeep Roy, a visual artist and writer who has exhibited his works locally as well as internationally, will lead this two-hour (11 am-1 pm) free guided tour, delving into the history of the museum’s collection of paintings and their links with the city’s history. The museum has the largest collection of paintings by Thomas and William Daniell, world’s third largest oil paintings, original paintings by Johann Zoffany, sculptures, lithographs, manuscripts, historical documents, and over 28,000 other such artefacts.
Yet another heritage walk in Kolkata on February 5 will trace the origins and remains of the varied communities that hung their boots and called Calcutta home. During the walk (10 am-12.30 pm), the attendees will explore why Chinese breakfast still rules Tiretta Bazar, why the Parsi community is dwindling in number with each passing day, and how the Armenians gave the city its oldest surviving Christian church.
Iftekhar Ahsan, a native of Rajasthan with a solid reputation as an explorer of Kolkata and one of the best people to walk around the town with, will lead this walk giving fascinating insights about the communities of the Chinese, Anglo-Indians, Muslims, Marwaris, Biharis and many more that made this city a crucible of diverse cultures.
The IHWF, which received the prestigious PATA Gold Award 2018 for its maiden edition organised last year, is a one-of-its-kind month-long festival covering 37 cities, with nearly 100 heritage walks and outreach events. The February 02-28 festival is being supported by NMDC, a state-run mineral producer and explorer. The events’ bookings are facilitated by Odigos, an app that makes travel and discovery easier in India.
Vaibhav Chauhan, Festival Director (IHWF) and Secretary, Sahapedia, said: “We want to democratise access to local history and culture. One might be living in the same neighbourhood for years, but there is a big chance that an important landmark, tucked away in a back alley, has been missed and forgotten. The IHWF is that opportunity to discover the hidden gems linked to the history of a place, town or city.”
Junhi Han, Head and Programme Specialist for Culture, UNESCO New Delhi office, said, “The IHWF programme addresses knowledge of local architectural heritage, sustainable tourism, with a special focus on gender-related issues and accessibility in cultural heritage facilitating more inclusive and better outreach. The festival is expected to involve, engage and sensitize more people, in particular the youth, about their cultural heritage.”
Details about the walks, registration and other programmes of IHWF 2019 are available on https://www.odigosguides.com/India-heritage-walk-festival