Technology adds new dimension to India's heritage tourism (April 18 is World Heritage Day)
Technology is aiding in the digital preservation of India's cultural heritage, with mobile apps offering audio tours and virtual space providing panoramic views of various historical sights - all at the click of a button.
The innovations in the world of culture and heritage began a few years ago.
In October 2013, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and Google India ushered in the world of "digital tourism", bringing popular technology like "street view trekker" - which provides a 360 degree view of a particular site - to India by offering visual walkthroughs (taking a walk around a site in the virtual world).
The collaboration has so far seen the successful publication of panoramic imagery of 30 important heritage sites, including Unesco World Heritage Sites like the Taj Mahal, the Qutub Minar and the Red Fort.
All these historical sites can be explored through Google maps and the Google Cultural Institute (GCI).
"Digital technology is increasingly being used for the preservation, representation, enjoyment and promotion of the world's rich cultural heritage," Suren Ruhela, director and product manager, India Google Maps, told IANS.
"Online tools like GCI can be used to preserve heritage and share information about the same with global audience, irrespective of the size of the country. So technology is addressing the access barrier by providing equal opportunity for all," he said.
He added that people can take a virtual walk at rock-cut Jain temples (across India), marvel at the Nagarjunakonda Buddhist stupas (in Andhra Pradesh) or relive Mughal history in Fatehpur Sikri (near Agra in Uttar Pradesh).
But that's not all.
Now, a smart phone can tell one about the history and heritage of 17 of India's historical sites.
This innovative idea came to Gautam Shewakramani's mind when he realized that there are 981 Unesco World Heritage Sites worldwide, of which 30 are in India. But there was not much awareness about them.
"As an avid traveller, what I found was that most of the tour guides available at the heritage sites have no knowledge about its history. And the audio tours at various historical forts are so boring that a person who is not into history will not like it," Shewakramani, the founder of AudioCompass, told IANS.
AudioCompass provides a free mobile application for smart phones that gives audio tours of popular Indian heritage sites or heritage walks. Monuments and their interesting features have been selected for a particular city.
This means that for a city like Agra, one can take an audio tour of the Taj Mahal or Fatehpur Sikri, and be informed about historical anecdotes associated with them.
The Global Positioning System (GPS) will identify the place and, with the click of a button, you are transported into the history of that place.
"Indian travellers are becoming more mature. They don't want to be tied down and they don't want to compromise either. Technology is helping them to access heritage and our audio guides are not boring. So, they learn in a happy way," Shewakramani explained, adding that two destinations were planned to be added every month.
Experts said that this route of cultural preservation using technology is a revolutionary idea, and in many ways an essential ingredient for bringing closer interaction between tangible heritage and human beings.
Taking the aid of technology for digital preservation is one way and using social media is another way of increasing awareness amongst the people, the experts added.
Ajay Reddy's www.gounesco.com online initiative is an attempt in this direction.
The site urges travellers to take up the challenge of visiting World Heritage Sites across the globe on their own. They can then post their pictures along with the site as a proof - and earn points.
Each visit to a site gets you 100 points, and those with the highest number of points get prizes.
"Technology is a key aspect in preserving culture. I am using the tool to bring awareness because not many know that a World Heritage Site is right next to you," Reddy told IANS.
"So when you post a picture, the visual appeal of the place gives you a thrill, and probably you might make an effort to learn about the site, or aim to go there next," he added.
(Shilpa Raina can be contacted at email@example.com)
(Posted on 17-04-2014)