Director of French Institute in India, Bertrand de Hartingh has called upon all stakeholders in Chandannagar in West Bengal to chip in to make the former French colony a tourism hub and the West Bengal government has expressed support for it.
"Like Marrakech in Morocco, Chandernagore can be a tourism destination in India if the owners of the heritage buildings are able to refurbish their own properties and manage to get enough support. One possible way will be to invite people from outside to stay in their traditional houses," Harthingh said.
Most of the 99 heritage buildings in Chandannagar which retain French influences are now private properties, he said yesterday at the conclusion of a week-long 'Bonjour India' project for Chandannagar.
Chandannagar, a former French colony earlier known as Chandernagore is located 35 km from the city in Hoogly district. It became independent in May 1950.
A week-long workshop was held as part of the 'Bonjour India' project to restore the heritage Registry building on the picturesque strand by the Ganga river in the town. It is one of the 99 heritage structures blending the unique Indo-French architectural patterns.
Hartingh said the restoration is "a people's project for which we can bring experts but is built on the participation of the owners (of the buildings)."
About financing, Hartingh said "We want financial support to make plans like restoration of the Registry building actionable."
Crowdfunding is definitely an option, he said.
Conservation architect Aishwarya Tipnis, who put together the 'Bonjour India' project and conducted the workshop, said the most striking feature of Chandernagore heritage buildings is that they are a melange of Bengali and French architectural styles unlike other French colonies which have only French architecture. All such old houses which look European from outside have the unique Bengal style court yard inside.
"While seven of the earmarked 99 heritage properties have been listed by West Bengal Heritage Commission, we are working to restore all the 99 including the Registry building ... We are preparing for the next phase of Registry building restoration," she said.
The workshop was held between January 5 to January 12 and was attended by students of three Indian institutions and one French institute.
It came up with ideas of having coffee shops and a modern library at the registry building complex after restoration, Hartingh said.
The week-long 'Bonjour Chandernagore' also consisted of 'adda' sessions where everything from gastronomy to the world-famed indigenous illumination were touched upon and local electricians and descendants of popular local sweet maker Surjo Modak were invited, Tipnis said.
West Bengal Minister of State for Information and Cultural Affairs Indranil Sen said the government supported the initiative and was committed to promoting Chandernagore as a tourism destination along with the French consulate.
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