National Maritime Heritage Complex – India’s Tryst With Maritime Glory

On 5th Aug 2021, India’s Minister for Ports, Shipping and Waterways – Shri Sarbananda Sonowal in a written reply in Lok Sabha (Lower House of Indian Parliament) informed that a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has been signed between the Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways (MoPSW) and Ministry of Culture (MoC) for ‘Cooperation in Development of National Maritime Heritage Complex (NMHC) at Lothal, Gujarat’, on 16th June 2021.

The need for a Maritime Heritage Centre was long felt, but no government in the past showed the drive and tenacity to develop a world-class Maritime Heritage Centre.

In the words of Shri Sarbananda Sonowal, India’s dynamic Minister of Shipping, who is leading from the front to position India as a big player in the Trillion $ “Blue Economy” – “NMHC is proposed to be developed as a world-class international tourist destination, the first of its kind in the country, comprising of a maritime museum, lighthouse museum, maritime theme parks, amusement parks centres, etc.

National Maritime Heritage Complex – India’s Tryst With Maritime Glory

It would showcase the maritime heritage of the country from ancient to modern times by adopting an edutainment approach using the latest technology to spread awareness about India’s maritime heritage”.

According to the architectural plan for the proposed NMHC, each of India’s coastal States and Union Territory (UT) would be given exclusive space for the pavilion at NMHC that would showcase the rich maritime heritage of the respective States and Union Territories. The bottom line is to provide a platform for each coastal state to highlight the stupendous cultural diversity at the international level.

The government has chosen the “edutainment approach”(education with entertainment) to captivate the mindset of the discerning visitors. NMHC will be well spread out over 400 acres, and will have Heritage Theme Park, National Maritime Heritage Museum, Lighthouse Museum, Maritime Institute, eco-resorts etc….

The site of the proposed NMHC is Lothal in India’s western state of Gujarat. It may be recalled that in the days of yore, Lothal used to be a buzzing trade and commercial centre. According to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), Lothal has been credited by historians to be the world’s earliest known dock, that connected the city the ancient trade route between Harappan cities in Sindh and Saurashtra peninsula. Lothal has already been nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it’s on the tentative list.

National Maritime Heritage Complex – India’s Tryst With Maritime Glory

Lothal has deep connections with the Indus Valley Civilization that flourished around 2,500 BC. At its peak, the Indus Valley Civilization was one of the greatest urban civilizations. The concept of planned towns and commercial urban commercial hubs had its origins in Indus Valley Civilization. Extensive roads and a well-developed drainage system were the hallmarks of the Indus Valley Civilization.

Lothal with its glorious maritime heritage, or if I may put it this way – “Unparalleled”, the proposed project once complete, will catapult Lothal as one of India’s gems in terms of tourism. Already, the government’s choice of Lothal as the site for a maritime heritage centre has earned global appreciation.

The big question doing the rounds is how will NMHC be different from other museums? Well, what can be more stupendous than the concept of recreating the ancient city of Lothal and offering the very best of the contemporary world’s luxurious paraphernalia! This is gonna be India’s WOW Tourism moment – a perfect marriage of history and modernity.

Indian Defence Review is of the opinion that from 3000 BC to 2000 BC, India was a naval superpower with a flourishing shipbuilding industry. The “Dark Age” of India’s shipbuilding began from 2000 BC to 600 BC. While, from 600 BC to the last leg of the 19th century, India’s maritime position was every bit glorious. India confronted the “Dark Age” again from the end of the 19th century to the 20th century.

What would be the reaction of the Western World if they are told that iconic explorers like Alexander the Great and Vasco Da Gama themselves had recognized long back ancient India’s maritime competency? Not just that, Alexander had commissioned an entire flotilla to be built in India!

National Maritime Heritage Complex – India’s Tryst With Maritime Glory

Way back in 1420 CE, Nicole Dei Conti left no stone unturned with his admiration for Indian shipbuilding prowess and he quotes – “The native of India build some ships larger than ours, capable of containing 2,000 butts. Some ships are so built-in compartments that should one part be shattered, the other portion remaining, the same may accomplish the voyage.”

F. Baltazar Salvyus, a Frenchman dating back to 1811 CE was of the opinion that in ancient times, Indian made vessels were in great demand and that they could offer solutions to Europe. If historical evidence is anything to go by, the British seafarers too benefitted hugely from India’s vast storehouse of maritime knowledge, some of which they integrated successfully into their own shipping ethos.

According to the mandarins of India’s Tourism and Culture Departments, all exhibitions will highlight the evolution of not just India’s glory in terms of its maritime heritage but also the country’s rich cultural melange dating back to several centuries.

Subjects and themes that are going to be showcased at the NMHC through an “Edutainment” approach will cover Maritime contact and trade during ancient India and the emergence of a mercantile society. Also, on the list of themes approved by the government are the landing of Vasco da Gama and other European travellers, myths of sea and ocean, traditional navigation techniques, maritime traditions from Vedic and pre-Mauryan periods of Indian history to name just a few.

National Maritime Heritage Complex – India’s Tryst With Maritime Glory

In developing this National Maritime Heritage Complex at Lothal into a world-class tourist destination, the government of India and Portugal will be working in tandem. India and Portugal have already signed an MoU to develop Lothal as a world-class National Maritime Heritage Complex (NMHC).

The MoU was signed in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Portugal President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa. An official release said that the MoU will pave the way for cooperation between the two countries for showcasing common Maritime Heritage.

The NMHC would be funded by the Ministry of Shipping and the Ministry of Culture through the National Culture Fund (NCF) by way of grant. The Ministry of Culture would facilitate fundraising through the NCF. The NCF can receive funds from grants, donations, foreign contributions, and corporate social responsibility (CSR) funds.

Demographic change, rising inequality, climate impacts, globalisation, digitalisation,
increasing mobility, geopolitical factors, working/leisure time balance, safety and security
are some of the important factors and trends that will fundamentally change the
environment for tourism in the years to come.

National Maritime Heritage Complex – India’s Tryst With Maritime Glory

Building on the Ministry of Shipping’s vast infrastructure to construct various scenarios for the future of tourism, it is expected that a centre of maritime excellence like NMHS, once fully operational, will set in motion a process of strategic planning and policy design, and promote collaborative, proactive and integrated policy responses.

Core questions to be addressed will include: how do megatrends influence maritime tourism demand and consumption? What are the impacts of megatrends on maritime tourism supply and infrastructure? What do megatrends mean for medium to long-term investment strategies? How do megatrends affect the future of jobs in tourism?

India needs a long-term strategic development, soundly-developed tourism policy and an
integrated governmental approach promoting greater coherence between tourism and
related policies. One must also take into consideration the shift to sustainable tourism consumption and production which contributes to sustainable destinations, involves and benefits local communities, creates jobs and promotes development; tourism as a tool for economic diplomacy and development;

A world-class National Maritime Heritage Complex is expected to support the design, adoption and implementation of tourism policy reforms to enhance long-run productivity, growth performance and inclusiveness; Promote mutual understanding of tourism policy developments and contribute to the advancement of international cooperation in tourism.

Kishore Jayaraman, President, Rolls-Royce, India & South Asia in his insightful article on Forbes India entitled “Indian maritime sector—on the cusp of a revolution” nicely sums up the upbeat mood of Maritime India thus –

“There are many factors conducive to the development of a robust and sustainable maritime sector. Finally, it will depend on how the different stakeholders utilise the opportunities presented to them to transform the sector into an engine of growth for India. Therefore, while 2016 was viewed as the year for enabling the maritime sector’s transformation, it seems India is on the cusp of major maritime revolution which will play out over the next couple of years”.

National Maritime Heritage Complex – India’s Tryst With Maritime Glory

Let us all cheer for Mr Dependable, Shri Sarbananda Sonowal, India’s Maritime Captain, with a quote from William Arthur Ward – “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails”.

Images: Subhasish Chakraborty

Subhasish Chakraborty

Travel Journalist

Subhasish Chakraborty has been working as a Travel Journalist for the past two decades and has been editorially involved with numerous international In-Flight magazines of renowned airlines like Cathy Pacific, Dragon Air, Bhutan Airlines, Air Asia, Airport Authority of India and many more. He was also involved with the UNWTO (World Tourism Organization) as a Consultant.