Kochi, Aug 2 (ANI): Kerala Tourism has signed an agreement with UNESCO to begin a historic cooperation between the state and the world's foremost cultural organisation in promoting and protecting the ancient Spice Route heritage.
The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which seeks to formalise a framework of cooperation in cultural heritage protection and promotion in the state, was signed between Kerala Tourism Secretary, Suman Billa and UNESCO Director in India, Shigeru Aoyagi, in Thiruvananthapuram yesterday.
A.P Anilkumar, Minister for Tourism, Govt of Kerala, and K M Chandrasekhar, Vice Chairman, Kerala State Planning Board, were present on the occasion.
"The Spice Route project is a new milestone in the growth of tourism in Kerala. It is a revival of the ancient spice route that connected 31 countries," said Anilkumar.
"For the project to be successful, it needs the support from all those countries. That is why we have sought the cooperation of UNESCO."
Under the agreement, the Spice Route Initiative of the state government will form the bedrock of co-operation and partnership between the two sides along with protection and promotion of historical areas of Kerala. Both Kerala and UNESCO will also mobilise bilateral and multilateral collaborations with the other countries involved in the ancient spice trade.
"This is a historic occasion for Kerala," the minister noted.
"The partnership between our state and UNESCO is a major step towards reviving an ancient heritage in which Kerala was the undisputed leader on the global stage," he said.
"By taking the initiative in bringing together all the countries that were once part of the historic spice trade between Kerala and the rest of the world, we are not only promoting peace and cultural exchange, but also aiding the people of the state to become partners in development by realising its mammoth tourism potential," he added.
Aoyagi described the signing of the agreement with Kerala Tourism as 'a major landmark for UNESCO'. "We are very happy to work with the Government of Kerala, particularly on this project that seeks to preserve the cultural heritage of India," he said after the signing of the MoU.
"The Spice Route Project has great potential for promoting world peace and inter-faith tolerance, apart from contributing to the sustainable development of the countries involved. In the long run, UNESCO aims to put the Muziris Heritage Project and the Spice Route Project on the World Heritage list," he added.
Several historical areas of Kerala linked with the ancient Spice Route, including urban areas, will be developed under the agreement to promote the objective of heritage building.
"The Muziris Heritage Project is one of the biggest tourism-linked conservation projects ever undertaken in the world, with significant financial support from the Government. of India and the Government. of Kerala," said Billa, who has led the state tourism department's efforts in engaging with the other countries on the Spice Route and UNESCO for several years.
The Muziris Heritage Project, which is part of the Spice Route Project, would enjoy continued financial support from the Centre, he said, adding: "The state government is expected to set aside a substantial contribution from its side for the project in the future."
He also informed that Kerala Tourism is working with UNESCO to organise a culinary festival in which chefs from all the 31 countries linked to the Spice Route would reinvent the different culinary traditions of their countries.
"By inviting today's global travellers to tread the path once travelled by ancient traders and explorers, the Spice Route Initiative of Kerala throws open an unprecedented collaboration between a large number of countries from several continents," Billa said.
Bhaswati Mukherjee, who had earlier served as India's Permanent Representative to UNESCO in Paris, said the Spice Route Project brings together the multi-cultural and multi-ethnic civilisations and communities along the ancient trade route. "I am excited to be a part of this important initiative," added Mukherjee, a former Ambassador to the Netherlands, and now a member of the Spice Route Committee.
Another highlight of the agreement is promoting academic exchange, intercultural dialogue and joint heritage conservation projects on a shared heritage development initiative among the Spice Route countries located in Asia, Far East, Africa and Europe.
With the help of UNESCO, Kerala Tourism has already started giving a concrete shape to the project, in the last one year, by initiating talks with the ambassadors of all Spice Route countries accredited with UNESCO in Paris.
"The initiative is also aimed at retracing the ancient trade route and rekindling the cultural exchange that occurred between the nations while connecting countries and their histories," said Kerala Tourism Director P. I. Sheik Pareeth.
"In the coming days, the route that once triggered global exchanges and even wars, will develop as a symbol of peace and solidarity," Pareeth said, adding Kerala would be a big gainer as more and more people from other Spice Route-linked countries would travel to the state to trace the origin of the ancient trade route.
The Spice Route tours, which will be promoted in a big way internationally, are expected to give a spurt to foreign tourist arrivals in Kerala. The state is also expected to witness a conference of ambassadors related to the Spice Route countries.
Under the agreement with UNESCO, several heritage projects related to the Spice Route will be designed and implemented in the state, besides undertaking surveys and studies, joint publications, seminars and workshops and capacity-building activities like instituting scholarships and internships.
The areas in the state, which will be part of the Spice Route development initiative, include several villages and urban areas under Ernakaulam and Thrissur districts. Archaeological evidences from excavations carried out by the state government in Muziris have already given a huge boost to the Spice Route initiative through discoveries of evidence linking the region around Kochi and Thrissur with the spice trade more than two millennia ago.
Muziris was a flourishing port, serving as a key link to the spice trade with the West, in the ancient times until it disappeared in the 14th century.
Several countries, especially Portugal, The Netherlands, Denmark and Germany, have shown keen interest in the initiative. The United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has also lauded the conservation projects related to the Spice Route in Kerala.
The heritage projects around Muziris, supported by the Central government, are expected to be an exciting new addition to the many tourist destinations in Kerala. The state's key status on the cultural tourism map has already received a fillip with the country's first biennale, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, launched in 2012-13. The second edition of the biennale beginning in December this year is expected to bring in thousands of domestic and international tourists to the region. (ANI)