For those who romanticise the past and seek to see it up close, watching an old movie, or reading a book is the easiest way. But for those who truly seek to turn back time, at least for a little while, there are experiential packages out there. With India’s veritable heritage, there are stories hidden in the walls of the old buildings and in old from times gone by. If you are someone who yearns to go back to yesteryears and learn more about the way of the people of yore, heritage walks are the answer.
If you’re in Kochi for the Biennale, or simply making a pitstop on a longer Kerala journey, The Kochi Heritage Project is something that shouldn’t be missed. Founded by Johann Binny Kuruvilla, a passionate historian, this project organises walks, tours and events with the aim to promote awareness about the importance of the port city’s heritage.
For Johann, a native of Fort Kochi, the seeds of his love for history and heritage began as early as he can remember. When he was 7 years old, his mother brought home the 16 volume Childcraft Encyclopedia, and he couldn’t get enough of the volumes that talked about history and heritage. By the time he was being taught history and geography in school, he had already read about them in these encyclopaedias. In his own words, “The seeds for my history and heritage began from this 16 volume encyclopaedia called Childcraft and my intuitiveness to know more about history. My personal interest in history and heritage started when I was very young. I was very intuitive to know about my family’s history and heritage. When I used to spend time at my ’s house, I used to ask them about where our family originated from and all kinds of questions about birth dates and death dates and such.”
Though he is originally from , Johann left the city when he was 10 years old and grew up in the middle east. He spent most of his time there except for a brief stint in Bangalore. After quitting his job at a telecom company in Bahrain in 2016, he returned to India and traveled the nation India for a year and a half. After this, he returned to Kochi and started looking for a job that placed him in his interested space of travel and history.
During his travels, he encountered a lot of places that were rich in heritage. When he’d visit places like Bombay or Delhi, he used to encounter passionate individuals who conducted heritage walks to educate people. Johann has a friend in who works for such an initiative and was really inspired when he took a walking tour with this friend and saw how he was sharing information and stories. It really captured his imagination and when he came back to Kochi, he started wondering, “why not have something like this in cochin?”
This thought is what moved him to try and establish an online presence. Since Instagram is the most accessible and widely used platform these days, he started the Kochi Heritage Project account and started putting out content from what he was gleaning from his personal research and reading. This started making an impact with people who are reading it, with Johann getting enquiries for more stories and content and this is what motivated him to keep working on the project. In fact, for Johann this venture is a project, ‘It started as a and the main aim was to promote Kochi’s heritage among locals and traveller, and to help create dialogue around heritage. These days, many of our heritage is lost due to the fact that many people are not aware about it. I felt it was important that we increase awareness about the heritage and roots of the city, to ensure that it continues to be preserved. ” This thought process is what prompted him to think of the tagline for the project - “Our past needs a future too”.
Going into the fifth year since its inception, the Kochi Heritage Project has changed quite a lot. When it started, it was about documenting the history, art, culture, architecture, food, people and places of Kochi. But then eventually Johann started conducting heritage walks. There is a Non Profit Organisation called Sahapedia that actively promoting heritage all over India, and at that point Johann couldn’t find Kochi on their map. He ended up mailing them and asking if he could take walks and he started conducting them in the Fort Kochi area through Sahapedia.
But owing to his reading and research over the years, Johann felt the need to do more in the heritage space, “I started doing heritage screenings, as I wanted to create more of an impact in the society and promote heritage awareness among the locals, as they are the ones who truly hold the power to preserve the heritage.”
Johann's idea was to promote heritage to the locals first and make them proud of the fact that they are part of the longer story of Kochi. In the last one year, the work that The Kochi Heritage Project does has truly transformed. Johann is now conducting private walks for travelers, resident groups and even for companies. They did a festival called ‘Cochin Heritage ’ in December 2022 with a string of heritage walks over the weekends that were all different from each other.
Something that is truly surprising to know is that the Kochi Heritage Project only had Johann working on it solely, up until last year. Recently, his wife has also become part of it, with regard to marketing on varying social media platforms or even giving Johann the moral and emotional support he needed in continuing with the project. He is hoping to develop The Kochi Heritage Project into an organisation to bring more people who are passionate about the cause of and preservation into the fold, so as to have a team that is working towards creating tangible impact in the heritage space.
“My long term goal is to help the city and its people realise that they are part of the city’s heritage and subsequently help in the preservation and conservation of the city. There’s obviously a lot of things that I hope to work towards. More and more walking trails in and around the city, including the suburbs, are definitely a goal. Heritage events in this space and collaborating with like minded organisations are also something that I hope can be achieved going ahead.”, Johann concluded.
So if you’re in Kochi, or planning to travel soon, you can reach out to the Kochi Heritage Project and embark on a tour through the history and heritage of the city with them.
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