Celebrate the very best of your city with local places, food and people. Shillpi A Singh gives a rundown of some offbeat activities that come loaded with fun unlimited and can be enjoyed without burning a hole in your wallet
Travel enthusiast Divya Sharma had been waiting for this Sunday for weeks for she loves to explore her city of dreams in a hatke style. A hardcore marketing professional by the day, she squeezes time over the weekends, sometimes alone, in twin cities she calls home — Mumbai and Delhi — to travel, explore, enjoy and make most of it.
If you are curious about what made last Sunday special for Sharma, the clue is a treasure hunt called Curious City Challenge by Mumbai-based tour agency Some Place Else. “The morning walk was more than just attending to nature’s call. It gave me an opportunity to explore the area around Bandra and meet like-minded people. The treasure hunt part was most exciting though as my pet could help me complete a lot of tasks,” she says with a grin.
Ritika Saraf, the founder of Some Place Else, says, “We realised that dog parents want to spend more time with their pets outside their home and colony, but don’t get a chance to do that as most places restrict entry of pets. Also, there are no activities that engage pet parents with their pets in a way that they can create a strong bond. That is how we thought of extending the challenge to let dog owners walk their dog in the by-lanes of Bandra and explore it too.”
Doing the due
Believe it or not, in the last few years, Sharma has undertaken umpteen midnight cycle tours across the length and breadth of Mumbai and has also explored Delhi and Mumbai’s history, heritage spots and culture. A foodie, her favourite is a trip down the food lanes, especially during Ramzan, across the bylanes of Old Delhi and along the Muhammad Ali Road in Mumbai. But her favourite is Home Cooked Delhi by Urban Adventures, a company that runs tour operations across 12 cities in India. “The trip that I took along with my expat friend gave us an opportunity to step into the kitchen of a Delhiite’s house. The tour was not only about cooking and learning some quick and easy Indian recipes but also chatting about daily life in Delhi over delicious food and hot chai,” she says. Other activities that she has indulged include trekking and taking a nature walk in the woods. And mind you all of these have been through trusted travel agencies and tour organisers. “Because that’s the way the young and happening like to move around these days,” says Rishabh Arora, an avid traveller.
Thanks to technology, one only needs to call or drop an email to get the details of the tour from a plethora of choices being offered by travel and tour sites that are currently operational in the country. Deepa Krishnan of Magic Tours, says, “When someone writes in, we ask about their interests, and then we match the experiences. We create a plan for 4-5 days or whatever it is that someone wants.” Once the activity of interest has been zeroed in, one can even customise it according to one’s requirement. “These people know it best and take us through with so much ease. It feels like taking a gliding tour and not just a guided tour,” says Sharma.
The people who are running the show are passionate about travel and come armed with a lot of professional experience that makes them serve their clients with perfection. Surprisingly most of the founders and owners of such city-based tour agencies are first-generation entrepreneurs. Rihen Ajmera, the Founder & CEO of Awestrich, went on a backpacking trip to Japan during his corporate stint only to utilise his pending leaves and came back with the idea that changed the course of his career. He gave up his job to work full time towards his goal to make travel experiences safe, economical and immersive. “I believe that when people travel, they take back stories and share with their peers. India, a country of more than a billion people, has more than a billion storytellers. We aim to make city-based travel enriching and an affair to remember,” he says, having started native tours in Delhi recently.
“To give unique experiences to city explorers and travellers, we connect local people with travellers. The tours are guided by our native hosts indeed. The price is different for every experience and varies depending the number of guests participating,” says Marialena of Withlocals.com, a peer-to-peer marketplace where local people offer experiences and their skills to travellers. Raving about his guided tour of Old Delhi through padharoo.com, Lucknow-based Samay Bharadwaj says, “Our guide had an incredible command of the local history, gift of the gab, was a people’s person who unveiled the culture, heritage, food, and places to visit with ease. He was a die-hard adventure lover, photographer and travel buff that added to my tour experience.”
The price for such guided tours is determined by the number of participants, hours, activity, food and drinks, and travel mode. In most cases, they are nominal and don’t pinch much but don’t cover personal expenses and insurance cost. “It is surely an inexpensive way to learn, meet and greet new people,” says Sharma. Surprisingly, all the tours are in the range of a few hundred or thousands; the bill rarely crosses more than Rs 5,000.
And if you are the types who is socially conscious and wants to make a difference to the lives of the underprivileged, there’s a good takeaway in hiring the services of a native. “The tour involving local people is rewarding. Our flagship tours — ‘Mumbai Local’ and ‘Delhi by Metro’ are long-term, profitable and sustainable initiatives that help stud0ents from slums put themselves through college,” says Krishnan.