The 9th Pondicherry Heritage Festival (PHF) that gets under way on February 1 will shift the spotlight from a projection of the city’s unique charms to woo holiday-makers to preparing an agenda of action around the concept of responsible tourism.
The 45-day PHF edition (on till March 15) themed, “Responsible Tourism”, will have a diverse mix events spanning across monumental and living heritage, culture, environment and local food systems as well as a round table on the theme led by experts and policy-makers.
Quizzing and creative events for school and college students on the festival theme, traditional games, boat rides in the mangroves, kayaking, cycle tours and food walk are part of the PHF experience this year. The Tourism Department and a host of private partners are supporting the festival.
“Given the steady upsurge in tourist arrivals amply validating the city’s popularity as a destination, the challenge ahead is less about wooing more people but more about balancing the gains of tourism against maintaining sustainability of the place and its ecosystems”, said Kakoli Banerjee, co-founder of PPH and member PondyCAN.
The 2002 Cape Town Declaration characterises responsible tourism as one that minimises impacts, generates economic benefits for host communities, involves local people in decision-making and conserves natural and cultural heritage. Multiple challenges emerging from mindless tourism range from littering, traffic snarls and rise in crime to deterioration of authenticity and overstressing the carrying capacity of an area’s infrastructure.
PHF organisers hope to make a beginning in transforming holidays into more meaningful experiences, heritage becomes a part of people’s lives, the place retains its unique character and also that tourists make their visit a living example of responsible tourism.
Doris Barboni, Head of Ecology, French Institute of Pondicherry (IFP) and Delphine Thivet, Head of Social Sciences at IFP, gave an overview of events that would focus on raising environmental awareness such as the wetlands photography competition (February 11) and the local food systems festival (March 6-11) that would explore the social, political, cultural and economic dimensions of food and agriculture.
The festival would facilitate citizens to reclaim democratic control over indigenous food systems. A revival of millet consumption in line with the declaration of 2023 as the International Year of Millets by the United Nations General Assembly through field visits and farmer-consumer interfaces, Ms. Thivet said.
Kishor Kumar Tripathy, member secretary, AuroBharati, Sri Aurobindo Society, said events planned to mark the concurrence of the 75 th Independence anniversary and 150 th birth anniversary of Sri Aurobindo, included a Vedic chanting workshop and demonstration session (February 10/Matriniketan) to memorialise the city’s history as “Vedapuri” and screening of “The Transformation”, a documentary that depicts the period when Sri Aurobindo was interned at the Alipore jail (1908-09) on February 28 at SAS office.
Satish Nallam, president of Alliance Francaise Puducherry, said the expanding base of events and new collaborators was an encouraging sign to raise heritage consciousness and promote the idea of responsible tourism.
Arul, co-convenor, INTACH, pointed to the long strides taken in heritage conservation courtesy of events like the PHF, volunteers and a responsive administration, since civil society rallied together after the landmark Mairie building collapsed nine years ago to pre-empt another calamity. The recent government notification of 114 structures as heritage buildings was a fillip to the movement, he added.
Sithara Gerdes, secretary, Crafts Council of India, Puducherry chapter, a three-day handicrafts and handloom/home decor exhibition was scheduled at the Gandhi Thidal (February 10-12) to showcase products of over 35 artisan and craftsmen from the region.
Gayatri Majumdar, poet-publisher associated with SAS, said in addition to poetry reading sessions, cultural shows would include performances by Meera Das (Odissi) on February 2 at Matriniketan.
Performances by Anita Ratnam (Bharatanatyam) on February 24 and a concert by Amrit Ramnath (classical-contemporary vocal) on February 20 in heritage venues are other highlights.