Travels in India – Wrapping up the International Conference of National Trusts

Posted on: December 6th, 2007 by David J. Brown 1 Comment

An INTACH “Heritage Walker” describes Delhi’s Red Fort.The third and fourth days of the International Conference of National Trusts in New Delhi both began with field trips out into the city. On Tuesday I had signed up for a visit to the historic Red Fort and St. James Church, although when I heard of the trip to the President's Palace I felt I missed a real opportunity. Unfortunately due to security issues one had to be pre-registered so I joined my original tour.

Both of these sites were interesting, but I have to say that after seeing Agra Fort - which has so much more remaining historic material - Delhi's Red Fort was something of a disappointment. From a historical perspective, this is a very special place to the city and nation, and INTACH used the famous towers as the logo for the 12th ICNT. Built in the 17th century, its most famous modern connection is the August 15, 1947 speech by Prime Minister Nehru on the day India achieved Independence from the British. The original speech was entitled "A Tryst With Destiny" and every August 15th the Prime Minister recreates that special event when he or she ascends the wall near the front gate and speaks to the tens of thousands of people who fill the grounds below. The emotional impact of the place on Indians was very real, especially when described by our young INTACH "Heritage Walker" - an energetic "paid volunteer" who leads walking tours through the city (photo above).

Craftsmen at work.Tuesday also included a visit to the impressive Indira Ghandi National Centre for Arts, where we saw craftsmen demonstrate the traditional crafts used to restore many of the country's monuments. We toured an exhibition of the work of INTACH throughout the country that left many of us in awe of the scope of their work and partnerships.

Wednesday's field trip was a much more emotional visit for the foreign delegates, as many of us visited Rajghat, Mahatma Gandhi's memorial. Located in a beautiful setting that serves as a memorial park for many of India's political leaders, the Gandhi memorial is set within a stone-walled enclosure, and includes an eternal flame and a simple yet powerful memorial that holds his ashes. After removing our socks and shoes and entering, we were all enjoying the peaceful setting when we heard squeals and laughter - and looked up to see 40+ eight-year-old girls in their school uniforms come bounding around the corner. They were excited, they were uninhibited, and they were clearly enjoying the field trip. Heritage tourism at its best! For a virtual tour of the Rajghat, go to www.gandhisamadhi.org.

Tuesday's meeting sessions were concurrent and varied. I spoke on a panel on the role of National Trusts, and I used our work on Modernism and the Recent Past as an example of how National Trusts need to be out in front on emerging issues. Then I gave a brief update on PreservationNation to discuss how we're working to expand our audiences. That technology discussion fit perfectly with the presentation made by the World Bank's Geoffrey Read, where he showed Internet penetration by country (the US is by far the largest per capita at 70% although China is the largest in number with 420 million users) and made the case that advocacy and getting more members had to be at the top of the priority list for all National Trusts and INTO. Not surprisingly, he pushed National Trusts to use technology to achieve this growth.

The problem with concurrent sessions is that so much else is going on that you can't attend, but I sat in on some terrific discussions around property acquisition, National Trusts' management of a working ranch in Western Canada to showcase best faming practices, and branding programs by National Trusts on everything from food grown with sustainable practices to anti-litter campaigns. (Apparently Irish communities vie NOT to be identified as the dirtiest community in Ireland by the Irish National Trust!)

All good things come to an end, and the conference moved towards it conclusion on Wednesday. At the final session, I was asked to give the summation remarks, following speeches by the former Indian ambassador to the U.S., Dr. Karan Singh (currently the President, Indian Council for Cultural Relations) and the Chief Minister of Delhi (the city's chief executive) Mrs. Sheila Dikshit. Dr. Singh is quite the orator and turned a sly smile toward me as he gently chided the U.S. government for failing to sign the Kyoto Protocol and for Donald Rumsfeld's statements that "stuff happens" after the looting of Iraq's central museum during the Iraq war. I congratulated Dr. Singh on not losing the ability to lobby the American government (there were representatives from the embassy in the audience) even though he was no longer posted in Washington.

At a wonderful wrap-up party hosted by the Chief Minister (Mr. Misra does know how to turn out the high-level politicians), we saw a beautiful Indian dance and said our good-byes before heading to airports, post-conference tours, and holidays. I had the thrill of trying to figure out the chaotic Delhi airport, but made it through for what seemed like a 10-hour flight to Paris, where I'm finishing up this post before catching that next interminable flight to Dulles. I'm running on fumes...but they are fumes from a fantastic and exhilarating experience I'll never forget.

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One Response

  1. Margaret G.

    December 11, 2007

    Namaste! Good work, Mr. Brown!