READY SET GO….I hear the instructor say. The people around me break into hoots and excited cheers. Never have I seen such enthusiasm at 6:30 a.m. in the morning. The world is slowly waking up and the sky slowly breaking into dawn. The coconut trees are dancing to the crisp air while the ancient ruins and boulders I am surrounded with, remain still, like they always have, withstanding the test of time. I hear footsteps plundering on to the ground, all at once, as people brush past me happy and stimulated with energy. No I am not at a race; I am at a Heritage Run in Hampi.
Heritage and culture have always been serious and sophisticated topics for discussion. Despite our concern, the past few decades have seen its deterioration and destruction in various forms. The youth especially, is fascinated by the cultures and traditions of other nations, and thus, our own Indian heritage—tangible and intangible—seem to have taken a back seat. For a country like India where dialect, fashion, lifestyle and culture changes every 100 kilometers, it becomes essential for us to not only preserve this diversity, but also applaud it from time to time.
Heritage in India demands our undivided attention. This celebration demands an innovation which has come to life in the form of heritage runs and walks being held all over the nation by various organizations to promote, preserve and proclaim the extravagant legacies that our ancestors left behind for us.
Therefore, heritage walks and runs are a great way to get the citizens intrigued and involved. It is the way to appreciate the various art and architectural forms that India is proud to host.
“Walks are relatively slow, and allow the person to live in that environment, and become an immediate part of it. It gives you time to stop, to admire, to talk to people, to ask for history and to absorb all that is around you. Moreover, urban cities today have hardly any open spaces left. Most of the heritage monuments have open spaces around them that allow you to breathe, stop and think. Heritage Walks and runs create a connection like no other,” says Anuradha Reddy, Co-Convener of The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), Hyderabad.
Kanika Singh, one of the team members of the Delhi Heritage Walk and a research scholar of history, feels that heritage walks are not only sources of knowledge, but they also provide insight into our own neighborhood.
“These Heritage Walks not only break many assumptions that we might have about this world, but also give us the power to appreciate it, question it or criticize it,” says Singh.
And appreciate, I did, as I ran huddled in small groups at the heritage run in Hampi. I was expecting the heritage run to take me to all the conventional tourist-clad places –more precisely the UNESCO World Heritage Sites— but a sly turn later, I found myself running on the banks of the Tungabhadra, on paths that changed every minute-from muddy, to rocky, to concrete and sandy. I passed by broken pillars that once held an entire royal stature.
I came across carvings of deities on gravel, on ground, half-broken mandapas, all lost and forgotten to time; all perhaps not worthy to attract tourists; or make it to the list of the must-see places. But here was a heritage run taking me on an offbeat path which made me realize that heritage in all its forms, even in the forms of ruins – is stunning.
This perhaps is the charm of these walks or else who knew that the Shivaji Bridge, amongst the hundred other bridges in Pune, is unique, for it displays, both the colonial and Mughal style of architecture,or that the little by lanes of Chandni Chowk in Delhi house the Mirza Ghalib Ki Haweli or that a massive 3000 monumental ruins reside in Hampi.
“I have lived in Jammu, all my life and it was only after that I had attended the Heritage Walk did I find out about the astounding heritage and the lesser known monuments here. They took us through the narrowest lanes of Jammu, and I realized what a bustling culture my city had,” says Rshba Raina, a student and an enthusiastic traveler from Jammu.
Heritage Walks not only enlighten us about different cultures, but also provide us insight into our own surroundings. Heritage is not part of our academic structure, thus we sometimes fail to comprehend our own culture, and remain ignorant about the hidden monuments, traditions, or legacy that resides in our place of living. This kind of exposure to our heritage helps us understand our history and tradition better. And this is affirmed by Debashish Nayak , director of Centre for Heritage Management Studies, who says, “heritage walks and heritage runs are powerful tools to rediscover our own neighborhoods.”
“The diversity of belief, faith, customs, language, art and architecture that goes in establishing a city scape is beyond amazement. But as urbanization increases, this culture is marginalized and limited to the interiors. The spirit of the city, its heritage ceases to exist,” says Nayak.
I stopped to catch my breath. Although it was a fun run with no winners to be declared, I did not want to end up last. But I took that moment to absorb what was around me: Tungabhadra making its way through the boulders rippling softly, a once-beautiful Mandapa and hundreds of people walking, running past me.
I saw a group of old men, their aged bodies, but undaunted spirits, matching steps with enthusiastic five-year olds, middle-aged adults, to excited students, to adventurous housewives, to fitness freaks and families: running for heritage.
The best part about heritage is that it does not require a special class or a specific demography nor has an age limit. It can be savored by all – and heritage walks and runs are just another opportunity for us to do so.
“Heritage is for anyone and everyone to learn from and enjoy.” says Reddy.
Today, organizations and institutions conducting heritage walks and runs have sprung up in all major cities and towns. Some organizations are collaborating with the city municipalities, so as to involve more stakeholders as well as the local government.
Ahmedabad is among the first few cities which has been hosting a Heritage Festival since 1996 in collaboration with the local government and ever since, they have introduced several heritage activities like The Night Walk, The Audio Walk, Hastakala (a Heritage Film Festival), Festival Café among others, that gives the taste of the Amdavadi life.
Ahmedabad is proof that our heritage has endless possibilities and infinite secrets that one can only hope to discover. A complex, yet creative thought has gone behind it, and years of labor, hard-work and passion to give to us the most marvelous pieces of art, architecture and culture that continues to awe us till date.
As I near the end of my heritage walk, I am compelled to believe that even a lifetime isn’t enough to see it all, to understand what the heroes of the past were thinking, and to solve the beautiful mysteries each site had associated with it. As I retrace my steps back to the starting point along with hundred others, I feel a sense of thrill and tranquility like never before, and I can’t wait to experience this feeling all over again.
Devyani Nighoskar is a media student from symbiosis centre of media and communication, Pune.