Exeter alumnus is helping to unveil Kolkata’s hidden heritage

Dr Tathagata Neogi from Heritage Walk Calcutta with University of Exeter's Professor Sir Steve Smith and Professor Andrew Thorpe
Dr Tathagata Neogi with Professor Sir Steve Smith and Professor Andrew Thorpe

In 2017, Exeter alumnus Dr Tathagata Neogi became the co-founder of Heritage Walk Calcutta. Heritage Walk Calcutta differs from many Heritage companies, in that is founded and run by academics and aims to provide tourists with extensively researched tours of the city. Tours are geared towards locals and tourists alike, and aim to allow customers to experience the city in new ways and gain a deeper understanding of the complex historical issues that have formed communities in the city.

On 15 November 2018, Dr Neogi met with the University of Exeter’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Steve Smith, and Pro-Vice Chancellor of the College of Humanities, Professor Andrew Thorpe, to discuss the business model that Dr Neogi has developed and to recognise his appointment as a new Honorary Research Fellow at the University. Dr Neogi’s expertise of the Heritage sector in Kolkata will contribute to new Exeter research bids and initiatives in the city, helping to support Exeter’s burgeoning presence in West Bengal.

Dr Neogi graduated from Exeter’s prestigious split-site PhD programme with the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. The NIAS-Exeter PhD programme allows research students in Drama and Archaeology to benefit from supervision both in Exeter and in India, giving them access to sites and resources that they would otherwise not have the opportunity to explore. Having graduated with a PhD in Archaeology, Dr Neogi sought to use his skills and experience to develop his new company in his home town of Kolkata.

Since its foundation, Heritage Walk Calcutta has gone from strength to strength, with more than 1,500 guests currently having taken a tour since the company was founded and with the business growing steadily. More than 60% of the company’s customers are locals of Kolkata, who want to learn more about their city and gain a deeper understanding of their environment. Heritage Walk Calcutta deliberately prices its walks lower than other companies, for the express purpose of ensuring that locals and tourists alike can find out more about the city’s past. Tours range from the Dalhousie Square Walk, which retraces the steps of Lt. Col. Mark Wood’s 1784 map of the city, and the popular Murder and Mayhem tour, which explores sensational 19th century cases undertaken by the Calcutta Police Department.

The company’s business model also works closely with the local student community. Postgraduate Student Interns are hired to research and develop their own tours of the city, with guidance and support from Heritage Walk Calcutta’s permanent staff. The result is that the company can continue to generate fresh new tours, whilst supporting local students to develop new skills and benefit from mentoring that will help them develop PhD applications to propel them into academic careers.

Prof Andrew Thorpe said of the visit: “Firstly, I’m delighted to see that Tathagata has gone onto create such a successful business. I’m pleased to know that the NIAS / Exeter PhD programme helped him to develop the expertise required to take this forward, and it was a pleasure hearing about the important work that they are currently doing. Heritage companies like this play a vital role in helping to create connections between communities and their built environment, something that has never been more important than it is now, given the rapid urban expansion in India. I’m sure that working with Tathagata and his company can only help Exeter to develop valuable new research in India.”