American ExpressWorld Monument Fund (WMF), and the Indian National Trust of Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) announced today that the restoration of Balaji Ghat, a historic landmark in Varanasi, had been completed. To commemorate the occasion, a museum and cultural centre was inaugurated at the historic site for tourists. In 2012, Balaji Ghat was nominated by INTACH for the World Monuments Watch, a program created by WMF, to call attention to the cultural importance of the site and its conservation needs. At the time, American Express announced a grant of Rs 1.5 crore for the restoration.

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For the past two decades, American Express has partnered with a number of leading preservation organizations, including World Monuments Fund, to preserve and build awareness for at-risk heritage sites, and engage the public in preservation efforts around the world. To-date, American Express has granted more than $60 million in support of hundreds of preservation projects globally.

Speaking on the occasion, Manoj Adlakha, SVP and CEO, American Express Banking Corp, India, said, “As one of the leading players in the payments and travel industry, American Express recognises that no industry has a greater stake than ours in preserving the world’s historic monuments, cultural heritage and environment. It is a matter of great pride for us to be associated with preservation of India’s rich cultural heritage. Balaji Ghat was in urgent need of conservation and I am delighted to see that the historic site has been fully restored and a museum and cultural centre has been established.”

Built in 1735, on the banks of the Ganges River by King Balaji Peshwa, Balaji Ghat is an important pilgrimage destination. It is culturally significant to the local community, has been a centre of study of traditional sacred music, and remains a testimony of living traditions today. Lack of maintenance and a heavy influx of tourists over the years had led to the deterioration of the Balaji Ghat. Further, the main portion of the building was damaged in 1999. Some parts of ‘Naubatkhana’ of centuries-old Balaji temple, where late shehnai maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan used to sit for riyaz (practice), had collapsed in September and November 2009. The restoration of the building with a museum and cultural centre will help maintain it for public use.

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According to Lisa Ackerman, Executive Vice President & CEO, World Monument Fund, “WMF and American Express have worked together since the mid-1990s to protect cultural heritage sites throughout the world. We are especially grateful to American Express’s unwavering support for heritage conservation activities in India, which have included important sites throughout the country. Balaji Ghat was nominated by INTACH and was included in the 2012 World Monuments Watch to call attention to the cultural importance of the site and its conservation needs. The support of American Express provided essential support for INTACH to restore this site back so that it could once again serve the Varanasi community and visitors.”