Imagine re-discovering the historic port town of Fort Kochi through the eyes—and cartoons—of one of India’s most renowned cartoonists, E P Unny.
The Chief Political Cartoonist at The Indian Express, who started dabbling in the art more than four decades ago, will be leading a walk at the 500-year-old Fort Kochi as part of the second edition of the India Heritage Walk Festival (IHWF) 2019. The pan-India festival, organised by Sahapedia in collaboration with UNESCO, will take place from February 02-28. 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.
Fort Kochi, the historic enclave captured by European conquerors over nearly half a millennium, is all of one square mile. But this “stamp-size town” has a surfeit of recorded history, which is home to several communities, speaking a variety of languages and following different customs and religions.
“I spent five weeks here in 2007, sourcing many stories and sketching. During the walk, I would aim to share with participants the sheer fascination of crossing the road across a couple of centuries,” said the Kerala-born famed cartoonist, who has also published a book on Fort Kochi, capturing the multi-layered history of the town through a set of 130-odd sketches.
The guided tour by Unny will be conducted on February 16, 9:30 am – 11:30 am.
Fort Kochi is the first European township in India, which was built as a fort city by the Portuguese and then refortified by the Dutch. The fort city was already close to 300 years old by the time the English arrived. Their language, religion and culture permeated through the lives of the locals who mixed with them. What they left behind was more than just buildings and architecture—this is the subject of another heritage walk by travel and adventure blogger Johann Kuruvilla. The two-hour free guided tour, ‘500 Years of the Kochi Fort: Going Down the Memory Lane’, will be held on February 03, 8 am onwards.
Hailing from Fort Kochi, Kuruvilla will take participants through the remnants of the fabled fort after which the town is now named, and the stories that bring it alive. The event will also comprise of a tour around the now barely existing fort walls and its old bastions, touching upon some of its colonial remnants such as the Vasco da Gama Square, Santa Cruz Basilica, Indo-Portuguese Museum, Bishop’s House, Old Lighthouse, Dutch Cemetery, David Hall, St. Francis Church and finally ending at the iconic Chinese Nets. The two-hour guided tour will begin on February 03, from 8 am.
Other heritage walks in the area include ‘Mattancherry – The Melting Pot of Cultures’, by Antony Thommen; and ‘Tracing the Journey of Ernakulam Town in Modern Times’ by Balagopal C K. The walks will be held on February 10, from 9-11 am, and February 17, 8 am-10:30 am, respectively.
In two parallel events, titled ‘Baithaks’, Kochi will be the focus of conversations around responsible tourism, heritage preservation and marginalised communities. On February 08, artist Vinu V V and poet, painter M R Renukumar will discuss artistic practices centering on the lives of marginalised communities, in a Baithak called ‘Shattered and Chiseled’. The discussion will take place at David Hall, Fort Kochi, between 10:30 am – 12 noon.
Known for his work in social advocacy and responsible tourism, Sumesh Mangalassery, Chairman, Kabani Tours, will explore the relevance of developing sustainable community tourism through participatory processes. The Baithak, titled ‘Sustainable Tourism and Participatory Heritage Conservation’, will be held on February 19, 5 pm onwards, at the Museum of Kerala History, Kochi.
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.”
N. Baijendra Kumar, CMD, NMDC, said: “Initiatives like IHWF involve local communities which is integral for promoting India’s heritage. NMDC has been working in the remotest tribal areas of Bastar and Bailadila Hills for the past 60 years and also has closely promoted tribal culture, and other forms of Indian heritage. We are supporting Sahapedia in its efforts to increase civil society participation in understanding our nation’s heritage.”
Dr. Ankur Bhatia, Executive Director, Bird Group, said: “The Bird Group is always looking towards the future, and an important part of the future is understanding and cherishing the past. This association with Sahapedia brings us a step closer to achieving our vision of making Indian arts and culture inclusive and interactive. Odigos app by Bird Group, that aims to streamline guided travel tour experiences of travellers, will play the role of a tech enabler for Sahapedia’s IHWF bookings and support the guides community.”
Details about the walks, registration and other programmes of IHWF 2019 are available on https://www.odigosguides.com/India-heritage-walk-festival