The reaction of Shanghai’s residents to Pondicherry may surprise Indians who hope to see China’s efficient infrastructure replicated in India.
The Chinese are braving heat strokes, hour-long queues and pricey 160-yuan (Rs 1,120) World Expo tickets to the six-km-sized trade fair that opened on the riverfront of Shanghai’s financial hub of Pudong on May 2. About 700 of the thousands of expo visitors per day are streaming into the Tamil-style verandah of the Pondicherry pavilion.
Some Chinese visitors have left comments that China’s cities could ‘learn’ from Pondicherry’s heritage conservation programme. Pondicherry and Ahmedabad are the only Indian cities selected by expo organisers as examples of urban best practices. The Pondicherry pavilion is in a little hall with Liverpool, Venice and China’s scenic Hangzhou and Suzhou.
From the pavilion, INTACH co-convener Ajit Koujalgi shared some visitor comments with Hindustan Times: “The heritage preservation initiatives have helped the city maintain its unique identity. I hope our (China) cities could learn from Pondicherry’s experience,” said a visitor.
Pondicherry strikes a chord with Shanghai’s residents, for whom the issue is that China’s largest city is losing its cultural heritage and traditional architecture to the building boom.
Visitors are inquiring about tours to this city they had never heard of until visiting the pavilion, since India’s tourism marketing in China focuses on the Buddhist circuit and Agra. “It’s really interesting what the city has done to preserve heritage buildings,’’ said a visitor. “I hope to visit Pondicherry.’’
From May-October, the publicity potential for Pondicherry will be unprecedented with 70 million visitors expected to visit this expo, the biggest in its 159-year history since it opened in London, 1851. Suzhou has invited Pondicherry’s conservationists for an urban renewal forum in June.
“With this international attention, I hope the politicians and bureaucrats back home will be motivated to do more to protect heritage in Pondicherry,’’ said Koujalgi.
The pavilion sells Auroville handicrafts and plans to serve tea, samosas, coffee and croissants to showcase the fusion of Indian and French culture.