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Heritage holidays in Punjab

Puneet Pal Singh Gill  |  New Delhi/ Ludhiana 

TOURISM: Tradition and entrepreneurship could provide the thrust for travel opportunities to India's food bowl.
No other state has managed what Rajasthan has "" marrying the charm of its forts, palaces and havelis with the comforts of luxury hoteliering to convert into heritage realty.
And yet, it isn't for lack of architectural precedents "" from Madhya Pradesh to Gujarat and even the south, there are enough examples of private entrepreneurship that have triumphed over local ennui.
And now Punjab, which has had a poor history in promoting tourism, might just follow that example. With several forts and palaces strewn across its rich plains, the state tourism department is putting in place an aggressive plan to commercialise returns from its heritage.
Already, the Nabha Foundation, in collaboration with the Punjab government, is working on a plan for the conservation of Nabha Qila on a 99-year lease, where it wants to showcase the process of development of heritage in a manner that is useful to the community.
"We will not convert it into a hotel, but set up an NGO and a post-graduate institute of rural management there," says Yaaminey Mubayi, development specialist, culture, the Nabha Foundation.
A sum of Rs 15 crore has been earmarked for the purpose. The Nabha Foundation has been set up by Uday Khemka, grandson of Ripudaman Singh, the last independent ruler of Nabha.
Earlier this month, the small town played host to a global group of architects attending a conference on New Architecture and Urbanism: Development of Indian Traditions, organised by INTBAU (International Network for Traditional Building, Architecture & Urbanism) and the Nabha Foundation.
In recent years, the Punjab government has realised the importance of tourism in earning revenue as well as keeping its heritage intact.
Besides Nabha, which has been identified as a prime example of a heritage town that has the potential for economic growth by leveraging its local art, craft and architecture for development purposes, tourism can also be a major revenue earner for Patiala and Kapurthala.
In fact, in Patiala, Punjab Tourism has handed the 300-year-old Rajindra Kothi to the Delhi-based Neemrana group to develop as a heritage hotel. This will make it, when it opens in 2008 following extensive conservation and restoration work, the state's first heritage hotel.
In Sangrur, Punjab Tourism has asked the department of health to transfer the 200-year old kothi of the maharaja of Jind to the tourism department. This 40-acre property too will be developed as a heritage hotel.
The state tourism department organises the Patiala Heritage Festival every year in collaboration with INTACH, spending Rs 1 crore on promoting the event. And descendants of the royal family of Kapurthala have expressed interest in promoting tourism to this former kingdom which is well known for its French architecture.
Dr Yaaminey Mubayi said the Nabha Foundation had associated itself with the architectural conference because of its belief that traditional architecture and local heritage play a key role in the development of a region: "The world over, places such as Nabha have used their local skills and heritage to bring about economic growth for their regions, and that's what the Nabha Foundation is striving to achieve."
Now to see whether the experiment will pay off, and tourism to Punjab will move beyond the predictable pilgrims and NRIs the state is known to attract.

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First Published: Thu, February 01 2007. 00:00 IST