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Sister cities: Lessons from the far east Print E-mail
Wednesday, 25 November 2009 15:37

AHMEDABAD: If the historic fable of ‘Jab kutte pe sassa aya, Ahmad Shah ne shehr basaya’ is intrinsic to the never-say-die Amdavadi spirit, it is strangely similar to that of Melaka, where their founding fable has a mouse deer chasing two of the king’s dogs and toppling them into river by the same name (Melaka).

Impressed by the courage of the mouse deer, just like Ahmad Shah was awe-struck by a rabbit’s guts on the banks of Sabarmati, Iskandar Shah decided on the spot to found a city at the very spot he saw the spectacle. Very much the story of another Shah, Ahmad of Ahmedabad. The similarities do not end here and need to be examined in detail because this Malaysian city just got the Unesco’s World Heritage City status last year. Both trading cities were established by sultans around the same time — Ahmedabad in 1411 and Melaka in 1400-1414.

Early Amdavadi traders operating out of Cambay showed the way to European and Arab traders to avoid the treacherous Chinese silk route, which went via the Himalayas, and instead took the sea route through Melaka strait. This brought prosperity to Melaka and the city honoured the Gujaratis by exclusively reserving one of their four harbours for Gujarati traders. More recently, a chief minister of Melaka in 1940s was of Gujarati descent.

Pitching hard for the walled city of Ahmedabad to get World Heritage City status is professor Syed Idid, a senior urban design expert in Malaysia and the man responsible for getting Melaka the Unesco recognition after a prolonged struggle last year. "Today Melaka has structures dated only post-1511 when the Dutch, Portuguese and English started forming its townscape. The original Malay timber houses have been wiped out. Ahmedabad has many buildings dated 1411 which are still in tact," he says.

Melaka has 3,000 heritage buildings spread over 43 hectares which is nothing compared to Ahmedabad which has 60,000 ‘pol’ houses spread over 900 hectares," says Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) heritage cell advisor Debashish Nayak.

Today, a year after being declared a World Heritage City, Melaka is looking to host almost 8 million visitors in 2010. Streets that were once ridden with filth were resurrected. The river that meanders through the city and largely remained septic with sewage water has turned blue and has fresh water fish. All this was possible because the Unesco and other agencies liberally funded the conservation measures and turned Melaka into a showcase of a medieval civilisation. Truly, it is just a matter of time before an inspired Ahmedabad catches up with its 600 year old partner.

The Malaysian town of Melaka officially celebrated its World Heritage City status only a month after Unesco’s announcement on July 7, 2008. Such low was the awareness regarding the Unesco status.
By July 2009, Melaka attracted 7.2 million tourists. To put things in perspective, this is 74 per cent more than tourists inflow in India, which stood at 5.37 million in 2008.

The attitude of locals as well as the government changed for the better. ‘Visiting Malacca Means Visiting Malaysia’ became the main catch phrase for the government. For the first time, authorities developed a portion of the river that meandered through the heritage city and converted into a walkway. This inspired many living in heritage homes around this stretch to refurbish their backyards and brought about local participation.

Detailed traffic management plans, more space for pedestrians around historic buildings like Fort A Famosa, St John’s Fort, St Peter’s Church, St Paul’s Church, Christ Church and Francis Xavier Church was encouraged. Besides primary streets like Jonker and Hereen were redone and assigned staggered parking.

The government encouraged locals to open up dilapidated pre-war houses of Dutch, Portugese and British legacies to being part of the ‘Malysia My Second Home (MM2H)’ programme. Under this programme, local people could restore these properties to their former glory while adding modern-day comforts. The programme was opened to retirees in western nations. This also allowed tourists to invest in heritage properties. Subsidised airfares, offering tax-free cars and multiple entry social visit pass were issued. The
Malaysian government in its recent business paper plans to sell Melaka as a hub for doing business with China, India and the Middle East.

But prof Syed Idid, a conservation expert from Malaysia who played a key role in getting Melaka and Penang (George Town) the Unesco status, said, "Today, Melaka streets are choc-a-bloc with cars and heritage houses are converted into budget hotels. In such a case, a heritage impact assessment becomes necessary. Imagine if the world heritage city does not have locals who have preserved the customs, food and ethos, Melaka-Penang may lose its heritage city status. This is a challenge," said Idid.

However, a larger objective of conservation was achieved when locals understood, "What is ours that others can share," building in a sense of pride and ownership among them.

When it comes to maintaining heritage buildings — right from the paint being used on buildings to adaptive constructions had to conform heritage regulations of Melaka. Besides, traditional wholesaling activities, warehouses, pubs and cafes were allowed with certain restrictions. Super markets, large commercial complexes and emporiums which would have had detrimental effects to the environment and visual quality were prohibited.

Source: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ahmedabad/Sister-cities-Lessons-from-the-far-east/articleshow/5265746.cms



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