India, as most of us know, is high on the list of favourite destinations in the world. Delhi as the capital attracts both tourists and businessmen, who often seek to fit their tours of the Capital’s multi-layered heritage into their tight schedules. Given this, exclusive walking-tours have become an attractive proposition.
The professionals who conduct them are called ‘study leaders’. Armed with detailed knowledge, they dramatically showcase the culture of Delhi. These dramatists are well-versed in the ‘politics of exhibiting’: they show only certain aspects that lend themselves to appealing storylines and that are tailored to the time-schedule of their clients. In a sense each walk is a lesson in choreography!
I have been conducting Delhi walks for a decade and have realised that it is not only knowledge but also a certain skill necessary to appeal to busy people who don’t mind spending a little more money for a quality experience.
I define these walks as ‘living exhibits’ with several dimensions. To cite an example, there was a group from London’s Financial Times, which was in Delhi for a business meeting. They had two hours and left it to me to choose a route. Aware that their interest was ‘Rising India’, I showed them the bazars of Old Delhi. Interestingly, the day coincided with the enactment of the Bharat Milap of the Ramlila celebrations. We started with the Digamber Jain Temple, at the mouth of Chandni Chowk. I introduced them to Jainism and the predominance of Jains among the local traders. This led to a description of the area’s business street cuisine. From there, we went to the camera market, where the trade leader narrated the wonders of black-and-white photography, the days of documenting the Emergency, and eventually the arrival of digital photography.
We then walked to the bullion market, Kuncha Mahajan. The leader of the trade association spoke proudly of the trade, showed off gold biscuits and revealed the wonders of the business. The walk ended with the Bharat Milap procession. It was rather surprising to see Lord Shiva riding on bullock cart, speaking on a Samsung mobile phone. It was a thrilling exposure to ‘Rising India’, with even the gods riding high!