The days of the Raj might be over, but the romance lingers on. Nowhere is this more evident than along the banks of the Ganga (Hooghly) between Kolkata and Tribeni. This 60km stretch, which saw the growth of the colonial settlements of five nationalities (Portuguese, Dutch, Danish, French and British), is packed with architectural treasures, some well preserved, others falling to ruin. The settlements — Bandel, Bankibazar, Hooghly, Chinsurah, Chandernagore, Barrackpore, Serampore — have become mere suburbs of Kolkata.

Now INTACH is trying to revive interest in these forgotten settlements by promoting heritage tourism here.

The strategy is two-pronged — generate enough interest to draw in the tourists and then use the revenue for preservation and conservation. In fact, INTACH had begun work on identifying the areas around Kolkata that would interest heritage and culture tourists almost a decade ago. That culminated in a report called ‘Evolution of Euro-Indian Urbanisation on the West Bank of Ganga in Bengal’. Now this project has been re launched and the organization is focusing its energies on promoting specific areas for heritage tourism. To attract tourists, INTACH has also proposed a river cruise down the Ganga.

The proposal is indeed ambitious, for INTACH plans to link the river cruise with maintenance and preservation of heritage sites along the route. The organisation projects a yearly cost of around Rs 52 lakh to operate the river cruise, while the estimated yearly revenue from ticket sales has been pegged at Rs 72 lakh. But capital is required urgently if the project has to take off. The hunt for partners is on. To attract potential partners, INTACH and the Central Ministry of Tourism have made a documentary tracing the history of the region. G.M. Kapur, convenor of the Kolkata Chapter of INTACH, says, “A lot of interest has been generated among tour operators. People from the US have also shown interest. But for the project to take off, we need help from the state government, which is not forthcoming.” INTACH is also looking at the countries that originally built these settlements for help. Says Kapur, “Foreign embassies are also keen on this project. There is no question of the project not happening.”

At the moment, however, the proposal remains on the drawing board and needs an immense amount of co-ordination among all the stakeholders — even for rudimentary work like building of landing sites, putting up signage and descriptions of monuments and basic maintenance like painting the Jubilee Bridge. But if and when the project finds support and takes off, you can look forward to heading out on a sunset cruise down the Ganga to relive the days of the Raj.

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