Sandwiched between the grand history of Delhi and the rich repository of Rajasthan’s heritage, it is difficult for people to imagine that the millennium city of Gurugram could have any comparable cities or monuments in its own immediate surroundings that could potentially be developed for heritage tourism. Residents of Gurugram have limited weekend options, except for driving to nearby states or venturing to a few nature outlets which are limited in tourist facilities.
How about taking another look at the historic cities around Gurugram? Do we have any tangible remains to recreate the ambience of the bygone era? Can we create a meaningful, sustainable heritage tourism model with our leftover monuments that will take us beyond the ‘mall mentality’ or ‘reconstructed experiences such as the Kingdom of Dreams’ to a more authentic and meaningful experience?
The Haryana region has served as a battlefield in India’s history with destruction of major towns and villages; the last substantial damage caused during the first battle for independence in 1857. The few old remains around Gurugram are either scattered as isolated monuments or subsequently demolished with increasing urbanisation. Maybe it’s time to look at these various scattered parts of our history and consider the possibility of experiencing them as a more cohesive narrative of the region.
We can list five interesting historical zones to be explored from various phases of history at a distance of 30-45 minutes’ drive from Gurugram within the Gurgaon district that can work as a small heritage tourist circuit for residents and visitors:
Sindhu Saraswati (Indus Valley ) and Buddhist period towns: Gurugram as Dronacharya’s village and the Indus valley period settlements of Dhankot , Sayid and later Atta, located within 11km of the city, definitely call for an interpretation centre that talks about Gurugram’s origin, Sayid as Guru’s residential place and Dhankot as the place from where milk was supplied in that period. Besides stories from the Mahabharata, it can showcase the painted greyware, Buddhist relics and Jain and Gurjara Pratihara period remains found during excavations in these areas.
Medieval period Sohna: The seat of Kambohs, Khanzadas, Mughals, Jats and British since the 12th century, this town has magnificent monuments and tombs from medieval layers of history along with a picturesque fort bastion on the Aravalli hill top. Besides the famous Sulphur Springs, it was visited by Mughal emperor Akbar and was a popular tourist destination with the British. The town can have its own heritage walks and trails narrating its glorious history with visits to some of the most magnificent Sultanate and Mughal period monuments in the Gurugram district.
Farrukhnagar and 1857: A beautiful 18th century octagonal walled town, intact with most of the original gates, Sheeshmahal, Havelis and Bazaar Street, replete with the art of Moorah making, painted chatris and Gol baoli; this is where one can experience a complete settlement as it existed in 18th century founded by the Baluch Chief Faujdar Khan under Emperor Farrukhsiyar. It also played an important role in the Revolt of 1857. INTACH Gurugram Chapter has conducted several heritage walks for this town. And Atul Dev, convener of the Gurugram Chapter is scheduling more heritage walks in 2018.
Riyasat town of Pataudi: Founded by the Nawabi chieftain Pata, the town has interesting historic structures dating back to 19th-20th century. The most magnificent masterpiece is the lavish Nawab Pataudi Palace built in 1934. It was designed by British architect Robert Tor Russell with able assistance from Austrian architect Karl Molt von Heinz. Currently being renovated under the present nawab and actor, Saif Ali Khan Pataudi, it is proposed to function as an exclusive Heritage Hotel under the Neemrana Group.
Badshahpur-Jharsa and Colonial period Gurugram: Linked to Begum Samru and British Cantonment settlement with Sadar Bazar, churches and Civil Lines bungalows, this section of the historical remains can provide a narrative of colonial and post-colonial history, including the later period when the town became an industrial hub.
Collectively, the historic towns and remains around Gurugram present a wide range of heritage, ranging from the ancient to Sultanate, Mughal, Rajput and colonial periods. The protection, thematic organisation and promotion of this cultural heritage could contribute significantly to heritage tourism in the city, besides boosting local economy by creating new employment opportunities for them. This initiative requires strong public and private sector participation and, considering the presence of major businesses in the city, government can channelise some CSR (corporate social responsibility) funds into planned heritage development. While NGOs such as INTACH are promoting awareness through listing, conservation and heritage walks, the work needs to be supplemented with heritage infrastructure and tourist facilities. A collective heritage circuit with signages, interactive interpretation and basic facilities can present a unique experience to the residents and visitors to the city.