The city’s past and the signs of it remain a constant inspiration for locals and visitors alike. This is the reason that enthusiasts of history often organize heritage walks – an activity that has become a reason for special bonding among people with similar interests – and reveal the secrets in places that may seem commonplace to the uninitiated.
Walks for a reason
‘‘I am a musafir (wanderer) at heart’’, says Asif Khan Dehlvi, a heritage walker and storyteller. Dehlvi worked in several corporate jobs before entering the field in 2011.
“Those jobs were dull and monotonous, and I did not know what my interests were. The moment I realised that I want to pursue what truly intrigues me, I left my job and got involved in heritage walks and storytelling baithaks. I enjoy telling stories, and there are so many to tell in Delhi”, he adds as he shares the reason behind his decision to follow the profession.
For many, apart from the personal joy they feel in such sessions, making people aware of the history of their homeland triumphs the cause.
‘‘I want to make people aware of the city’s history and need to preserve it – its buildings and neighbourhoods’’ says historian and author Swapna Liddle who has been leading such heritage walks for more than 23 years now.
On similar lines, Dehlvi says how spreading knowledge is one of the core reasons he continues these walks. ‘‘With heritage walks, we intend to make people aware of our roots as a society, the cultural connections, the spiritual evolution over centuries. Even for students today, these heritage tours turn out helpful in actually understanding and learning history. These storytelling sessions, amidst lush lawns or enchanting ruins, provide a much-needed respite from today’s fast lives”, he adds.
Preserving the city
‘‘These walks are not the only aspect that we indulge ourselves in. The main aim is to revive the culture of Delhi. To make sure we keep the stories alive, we do multiple cultural events like workshops on Urdu learning, calligraphy, and more. These walks are just one way we can keep our mission alive”, says Abu Sufiyan, the founder of The DelhiPedia, a community dedicated to preserving Delhi’s culture.
Liddle says that heritage walks were a result of her concern for historical buildings in the city. ‘‘Residents of all ages join these walks, and we have been successful in bringing heritage issues to the forefront of public discussion. In the past two decades, heritage is discussed much more in the media than ever”, she explains.
Sufiyan works primarily in the areas around old Delhi and believes that it is beyond Karims and kebabs. He wishes to change the typical image of the locality and introduce his audience to its rich history. Sharing an anecdote about a journalist from the Times of India being skeptical about the area because she was new to the city, he says, “She believed the place was unsafe and full of crooks. She joined one of our walks, and her perception of the place changed. When she learned about the culture of the place, she personally told me how her views changed. This is exactly what I want to achieve in the long run.”
The passion that spreads
Everyone involved in these heritage walks does it out of passion. Almost every walk leader Patriot spoke to believes that there is huge popularity among young and old people alike to explore the city.
Dehlvi says, “Although the numbers keep varying, it has been a successful venture in terms of regular turnout. People regularly sign up for walks. Once, we received more than 100 registrations, and we split the walk into two days.”
They have also managed to create a community that helps each other in terms of need. Sufiyan and his small community managed to raise an amount of 2 crores during the pandemic for helping the poor people of old Delhi. They helped people in need with groceries, house rents and education fees.
“We as a community owe this to the place so I don’t see this as a commercial venture – it’s personal. Now that there are so many such heritage communities coming up, it makes me feel good”, Dehlvi remarks.
Asked what keeps them going, they echo the same answer: the love for the city.
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