Airports Authority of India (AAI) has been trying to bring local heritage to the fore by developing art and culture at a number of its airports so as to provide a taste of the location.
A country as diverse as India is symbolised by the plurality of its culture and heritage. Today airports are not just transport hubs but are destinations as well. Since airports are the natural gateways and often the first point of contact with the local destination for travellers, it is imperative that the experience of the traveller must be memorable. In an effort to enhance passenger experience and connect foreign visitors with the local region and its community, there is an imminent need to create a sense of place within the airport by reflecting the unique identity and culture of the local area/states. Also, the travellers visiting different states/destinations within the country should be introduced to the culture and ethos of that place.
Bagdogra Airport: Connecting People and Culture
A sense of place is a unique collection of qualities and characteristics – visual, cultural, social, and environmental – that defines a location. The phenomenon is about conveying lifestyles and traditions, making any place a destination in its own right, just like an airport, which is not just a place you fly to and from. Zürich Airport is a great example. Going from one terminal to another, travellers notice cow noises, yodelling and an animated Heidi, giving them a flavour of Switzerland.
AAI is already working on the same, especially at Bagdogra Airport in West Bengal, where the AAI team undertook an endeavour to recreate the environment of the area by bringing together tea; mountains; local handicraft of Darjeeling and Sikkim; the iconic Toy Train of Darjeeling; music and dance of Bengali and Nepali culture – along with other iconic items from the region.
Moutat: Aroma of Darjeeling Tea
The concept of creating a sense of place is best exemplified by Moutat – bringing the tea gardens to Bagdogra Airport. Moutat is a group of four women who want to bring out the best of the culture of the region and present it to people by serving a free cup of Darjeeling tea as ‘Welcome Drink’ to every passenger boarding their flights from the Bagdogra Airport.
The motive behind serving the tea is to get the visitors introduced to the flavour of the region. Apart from this, the airport also hosts other well-known tea brands of the region, for example, Makaibari, Gopaldhara and Golden Tips, who have factory outlets at the airport.
Gifts from Sikkim
In order to promote the culture of Sikkim to tourists through everyday lifestyle products, which are authentic and known as souvenirs of the place, Bagdogra Airport has collaborated with Sikkimis, an off-shoot of Bakery, Retail, and Event and Workshop (B.R.E.W). Their products are inspired by some aspect of Sikkim’s life, which makes a great souvenir or gift that allows tourists to take a bit of the beautiful hills with them.
Bagdogra Airport has an outlet of Artmart, an art gallery where they promote local artists and display paintings on local themes, like tea gardens, mountains and wildlife of Dooars. All paintings are 100 pc hand-painted. The gallery not only creates a ‘sense of place’ but also beautifies the ambience of the airport.
From the Hands of Weavers
The airport also hosts an outlet of ‘Biswa Bangla’ in the waiting area. The showroom attracts large number of domestic as well as foreign tourists who are looking for local memorabilia: handicraft products developed by craftsmen and weavers of West Bengal.
Visitors to the showrooms are enlightened on West Bengal’s heritage art and craft forms. ‘Biswa Bangla’, which runs under Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME), Government of West Bengal, has a ‘social business’ approach of creating entrepreneurs out of artists at one hand, and bringing back profits to the bottom of the pyramid on the other. This helps sustain art and craft in the region by creating viable livelihood opportunities.
Doorway to Traditions
On the occasion of Bagdogra Airport crossing the one million passenger mark, AAI in association with the Tourism Department of the government of West Bengal organised a welcome ceremony for the Millionth passenger. The ceremony included a traditional Bengali dance with traditional dhak (Bengali instrument) and Nepali dance. Another airport, in the state of West Bengal that has incorporated art and culture is Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport at Kolkata.
Kolkata Airport:An Ambassador of Art and Culture
Kolkata has long been known for its literary, artistic, and revolutionary heritage, as the former capital of British India, Kolkata was the birth place of modern Indian literary and artistic thought and thus the city tends to have a special appreciation for art and literature.
The Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport (NSCBIA) at Kolkata is the gateway to the East Asian Countries. It has undergone several changes and modifications over the last several decades to meet the growing air traffic requirements.
The landscape concept for the airport terminal is rooted in the rich cultural heritage of Kolkata and Bengal. It is conceived as one of the biggest pieces of land art inspired by works of literary giant Rabindranath Tagore. The land art connects the building with its environment, the outside with the inside, and creates a unique landscape. It also offers two disparate spatial experiences – the vastness of the grand central garden and the intimacy of the internal courtyards. The grand central garden is a canvas inspired by paintings and poems by Tagore. It also acts as the setting for the building. The garden occurs in two levels separated by a sweeping curve, a direct inspiration from one of Tagore’s famous paintings.
Compared to the simplicity of the lower level, the upper level of the garden is textured and patterned. The pattern, which is unique in nature, has many variations and is inspired by letters and words extracted from one of Tagore’s famous poems from ‘Gitanjali’.
The Tagore-inspired pattern makes its way across the entire ceiling further joining the open planned space. AAI has also installed an 18 ft tall statute of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose in front of the Terminal in whose honour this airport is named.
At many places in the airport, paintings of great painters of West Bengal have been showcased, which are the object of attraction for both international and domestic passengers.
While travelling through the airport, passengers can have a glimpse of Rabindranath Tagore’s letters and scripts, which have been vividly reproduced in the ceiling of the terminal building by using powder coated aluminium piping. In another huge ceiling of the terminal building, Tagore’s handwritings have been converted into embossed letters, which is very rare at airports all over the globe. In order to promote and reflect the cultural appeal of the city and its art, AAI has also allotted space to various governmental organisations on concessional rates who promote art and heritage culture by selling various goods made by the artisans of West Bengal and other States.
“Airports Authority of India is determined to preserve the art and culture of the country in general and the states in particular where the airport is located, the same can be felt at our state-of-the-art airports spread across the length and breadth of the country, Kolkata Airport is one amongst them,” said Dr Guruprasad Mohapatra, IAS, Chairman AAI.