Every visitor to Delhi sees the Qutab Minar, but few take time to visit the spread of protected forest right behind it, at Mehrauli Park. The park and its 70-odd structures can best be explored with the aid of guides from INTACH, which has undertaken restoration of the buildings in the park. Every Sunday at 8am, historians, architects and city planners guide small groups through the place where Thomas Metcalfe built his home, dubbing it Dil Khush (gives pleasure to your heart). Cost: Rs30. Email queries to: firstname.lastname@example.org, 011-2464 5482 extn. 105.
Another Saturday and you don’t know what to do with the kids? Bundle them off on a walking tour of their own. Jaishree Goyal organizes her “classroom without walls” for school groups, but she also arranges private groups on Saturdays, taking groups of 30 and 50 children for walks through Delhi’s historical sites, stopping for activities and snacks along the way. Cost: Rs300 to Rs350 per child. Email queries to: email@example.com.
Look for Dr. Sudhir Oswal, a Delhi-based cardiologist, in the early morning, and it’s likely he is out exploring the Ridge or bird watching. Then on Sundays, he shares his discoveries with anyone interested in nature. If the city has worn you out, join him for some birdwatching, meet the soil specialist at the Biodiversity Park, or just wander through his favourite paths. Cost: Free. Email queries to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Avnish Puri, the owner of Master Guest House, runs the tour mainly for his guests, but he’s happy to take along anyone who wants to acquaint themselves with his “Hidden Delhi”. The four- to five-hour trek will take you through the side of the city you won’t find in any guidebook. You’ll see the flower market and the red light district, visit Avnish’s “beautiful launderette” and meditate in a Hindu temple. Cost: Rs995 (includes tea and breakfast). Contact: 011-2874 1089 or 011-2874 1914.
It is the largest slum in Asia, and you haven’t really seen or lived in Mumbai if you’ve not been to Dharavi. Reality Tours and Travels offers a two-hour walk through the slum. Their aim, however, is to show Dharavi as a place of enterprise, humour and frenetic activity, instead of a poverty-stricken camp. The walk takes you through the leather and pottery factories, and, most popular of all, the recycling workshops where plastic, paper and cardboard are recycled to make other products. The tour guides share a good camaraderie with the people of Dharavi and don’t allow cameras, for the privacy of the residents. And 80% of your tour fee, after tax, goes to NGOs working with the less-privileged. Cost: Rs300. Contact: Krishna Pujari on 098208 22253 or email queries to realitytoursandtravels.com.
Plug on a set of headphones and wander through the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, or The Prince of Wales Museum as we used to know it, at Kala Ghoda in Mumbai. The audio tour shows you 38 of the museum’s most important pieces, stopping at all the galleries. And it’s not just narration, you’ll also hear music apt for some of the works and detailed descriptions about the gallery and the pieces, if you’re interested. There are seven languages to pick from: English, Hindi, Marathi, French, Japanese, Spanish and German. Cost: Rs150 for foreign languages, Rs75 for Indian languages. Family schemes for six people cost Rs400 for foreign and Rs200 for Indian languages. Contact: 022-2284 4519.
For a department store under the sun; for plastic, fabric, gold and spice, all within walking distance of each other, and for cheaper prices than the shelves of Hypercity, visit Bhuleshwar Bazaar. And do it in the company of Deepa Krishnan’s Mumbai Magic—a la carte tours, for that extra slice of life, for answers to questions you’d never muster the courage to ask a stranger, for a sight of places you’d never venture into by yourself. Krishnan, an IIM-Kolkata graduate, takes groups of two to six on market-specific tours of Bhuleshwar and Chor Bazaar or for a heritage ramble through the city’s Fort area. Cost: Rs1,125 per person. Email queries to: email@example.com, 098677 07414.
In an effort to encourage heritage preservation, ARCH, a Kolkata-based organization, started the Heritage Walk through downtown Kolkata and one through the Northern areas of Darjeepapra and Shobha bazar to show off historical gems hidden in the city. Perfect for the architectural history buff or the curious city dweller. Cost: Rs300. Email queries to: Manish Chakraborti at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Terence d Lima is an expert on Matheran, the forested hill station near Mumbai. D Lima organizes customized walks and rambles around Matheran. His day excursions don’t cover the typical tourist points, he specializes in flora and fauna, colonial and heritage structures, and local tribes and customs. You can opt for a ramble after breakfast, lunch, or a full day’s tour. All of them move away from the main areas and take you into the jungle. Cost: Rs500 for two, Rs100 for every additional person. Contact: 094233 67739.
Raaja Bhasin, the town’s historian and writer, knows absolutely everything there is to know about the summer capital of British India. He has one standard route—from The Mall to the Vice Regal Lodge—but Bhasin keeps it flexible, depending on the group’s involvement. Do try to go past the Gaiety Theatre, The Ridge, a couple of churches, and end up at The Oberoi Cecil for lunch. Bhasin’s book, Ten Heritage Walks of Shimla, will be out next month, but there’s nothing like the real thing. Cost: $150 (approx. Rs6,750). Log on to: raajabhasin.com.
V. Sriram is a Carnatic music buff and knows any corner of Chennai that has made musical history. In December, when the city hosts its music and dance season, he organizes culture walks in the old George Town area. His most popular walk winds from Bunder Street, where composer Thyagaraja lodged with a rich merchant, to the Madras Jubilee Gayana Sabha, where concerts were held in the late 19th century, to the home of the legendary musician Veena Dhanammal. Cost: Usually free and sometimes ends with breakfast. Email queries to: firstname.lastname@example.org, 098400 24200.
Author Heta Pandit detailed 18 of her favourite walks in her 2004 book, Walking in Goa. The three that top the list of the 12-year Goa resident are tours through the village of Pilerene, the Saotome walk and a ramble through Pandit’s home village, Saligao. “There’s more to Goa than beaches and beer,” she says, so if you’re on a shack-hunt, then you need to find another gig. Cost: Rs500 per head for a group of 1 to 6 people. Email queries to: email@example.com, 098221 28022.
Manju and Maan Baruah (father and son) run Wild Grass Resort in Kaziranga (Assam). It is a place that goes beyond the basics, but is not a conventional resort. The regular ‘organized’ rides into the sanctuary are done efficiently, guides, et al. However, you would do well to chat up young Maan, when your day is through. He has documented nearly all the birds in the Kaziranga National Park (around 500). He can also take you on treks to nearby areas (leech infested, he warns) to spot rare butterflies or hoolock gibbons. And yes, he will try to get you leech socks. Cost: Free with hotel stay. Contact: Maan Baruah, 03776 262085, 0361 2546827.