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Reviving the magic of Jantar Mantar 

Hope surfaced last week for the Jantar Mantar, the 1724 observatory standing in the heart of New Delhi. Worn down over the years by wind and rain, sheer neglect, indifference and inadequacy of resources, the observatory suddenly shot to the limelight when the Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels took over the task of beautifying it and restoring it to its former glory under a strategic memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).

Present at the signing of the MoU at Jantar Mantar were ASI's director general Ms Komal Anand and Park Hotels director Ms Priya Paul. The project will be carried out under the guidance of a Project Implementation Committee. Plans are underway to coopt several specialists and astronomers into the committee so as to help revive the ancient instruments at Jantar Mantar. The restoration process will include lighting up the observatory, protecting and improving its environs, putting up signs for visitors, and facilities for the interpretation of the instruments in it. Budgets for the project will be discussed at the first sitting of the committee in December.

For Park Hotels, this is a way of improving their surroundings and giving back to Delhi some of its former glory. Ms Paul says, "We have been watching the Jantar Mantar through the seasons in our neighbourhood. And for the past year and half, we have been negotiating with the National Culture Fund and the ASI to take on its care. The Park Hotels believe that the national heritage of India should be protected and preserved. I am delighted and hope that this unique private sector-government partnership will act as a catalyst for many similar projects in the future."

The Park Group of Hotels, one of the country's first luxury hotel chains, has over 30 years of experience in the field of hospitality. This is now an added dimension to the group's vision: advocacy of environmental and social issues and nurturing art and culture.

The Jantar Mantar was built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh of Jaipur in 1724 in order to update the astronomical tables in his times. From then on, the data collected at the observatory became the basis of astronomical tables, which were used by Indian astronomers to prepare almanacs for nearly 150 years.

After the death of Jai Singh, the observatory ceased to function as a place of astronomical activity, and was slowly reduced to ruins. Since 1952, some half-hearted efforts were initiated by the ASI, but as major repair work could not be undertaken, these were mostly in the form of patchwork. "The ASI couldn't undertake any massive restoration activity mainly due to paucity of resources," says Ms Anand.

Park Hotels' move will therefore boost tourism as well. Present at the signing of the MoU was Mr Atul Sinha, director-general, Tourism, who said, "There is a growing need for any number of such healthy understandings between the private and the public sectors." He also said that the private sector could act as an engine of social and economic transformation, given adequate support and cooperation by the government.

Well, the Park group of hotels is already on it's way to preserving and promoting the rich fibre of cultural heritage that runs through this country. What remains to be seen is how well they cross all the hurdles and accomplish the task of conservation and beautification of the magnificent Jantar Mantar.

Copyright © 2000 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.

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