Heritage walks on weekends are a popular way of acquainting Delhi’s citizens with their culture, especially when the group leader is a storyteller
As you walk past the dark caves, you could see silhouettes inside, and hear occasional sounds of weeping. The whole air around these caves — where worshippers were offering prayers to the djiins — seems eerily different. Feroz Shah Kotla is said to be the house of djinns — where worshippers from all over come to seek solace from their worldly sorrows. A walk through the mystical fort, all by yourself, can leave you with a lot of questions. But, when you have someone with you — who can narrate the history behind such intriguing djinn tales and the ancient monument — then you will probably have all the answers you were seeking.
Heritage walks in Delhi are now an established event on the local calendar, gaining popularity day by day. On these tours, there is someone narrating the history of a place, a person or an era. They offer engaging interactions while exploring the nuances of heritage sites. Not one, but several heritage walk groups conduct such walks, the most well-known being Shahpedia Walks and Talks, Delhi Karavan and Delhi Heritage Walks. Your companion is more than just a trained guide of the type certified by the state tourism departments – they are storytellers.
Delhi Karavan, which was founded in 2011 and has been successfully conducting heritage walks in the city, also conducts food walks and storytelling walks. “I think heritage walks are an important part of our society. It helps citizens understand their city better. It helps create awareness about a city’s monuments and heritage sites. This, again, contributes in the conservation of such historic monuments and sites. Once we understand the value and importance of something, then we try to protect it. Once we are aware of the story behind it, then only we try to preserve it,” says Asif Dehlvi, founder of Delhi Karavan.
Dehlvi has been conducting heritage walks since 2011. “It is my passion, my profession, my hobby — everything. My main centre is Delhi. Apart from that I also conduct walks in Hyderabad, Bangalore, Rajasthan and Kolkata. Earlier, I was into a desk job. But I was not content with it. I wanted to do something meaningful in life. So, one day I just quit my job and joined this profession,” he recalls.
Delhi Karavan has been conducting various food walks like chaat foodwalk, biryani foodwalk, kebab foodwalk in Old Delhi, among many. Apart from that they organise night walk, ghost walk, clean walk — all different kinds of walks. “Our aim is to present the history of our city to the audience in an intriguing way. We want the audience to take something away from the experience,” adds Dehlvi.
Historian and author Rana Safvi believes heritage walks are conducted by those who have knowledge, and not by regular guides. “They tell you the real history of a place, which is important because so much of history is being distorted nowadays. Often people do not get to know the correct history of a place,” she says.
She also believes these walks play an important role in preservation of monuments. “These walks connect the monuments to those who are hearing the stories. And only if you have some kind of identification with a place, then only you want to look after it. Moreover, if you are talking about a monument, you are also talking about an era and a culture. Thus, it helps create cultural awareness as well,” says Safvi.
“When I attended a walk in Old Delhi, they took us to places which are known only to the locals there — a tourist or outsider would not have discovered the place otherwise. You get to know a lot about the culture, history and heritage of a particular place, in a much more fascinating way than reading about them in books!” says Parul Kulshreshtha, a reporter, who is a regular in these city walks.
Ekta Chauhan, who conducts walks in Khirkee village in collaboration with a group, seconds this view. She has been a history student. But she believes that in three years of college, she has not learnt as much as she did by attending heritage walks. She further elaborates, “If I just give you a book to read about Chandni Chowk, you will get bored. But if I actually take you there and show you the real locations while narrating the history behind it, you will find it way more interesting.” Chauhan works as a consultant but has been conducting such walks for a year now. It is her hobby, as well as passion.
She believes it can be used as a tool to engage youth in history. “I feel when we read about history in books, it does not tell much. Especially for school kids, history appears to be a dry subject. But I feel these heritage walks can be a whole new educational model. School and colleges should organise these walks for the students, at least during the weekends. They can feel the monuments, they can see things clearly and that way they can learn more about them.”
Delhi as a city has so many monuments to offer. But people mostly watch movies, visit malls, go to cafes or restaurants on weekends – which may be entertaining, but are not educative in any way. “Heritage is an important part of forming our identity in the city. People do not seem to know much about the city they live in nowadays and thus seem to feel disconnected,” adds Chauhan.
She further draws attention to the fact that many monuments in Delhi are neglected. “If I tell the government to put money on these monuments, they will probably say that ‘nobody comes here, so it will be just a waste of our resources’. But if people started visiting the place – if every Sunday at least 50 people turn up, then the government will surely take note of the monument and provide basic facilities for its preservation.”
“I feel when you attend these walks you get to know many things which are not available on the internet. I realised that there is so much about Old Delhi that is undiscovered and unknown to us,” says Shloka Badkar, a journalist who loves attending such walks.
Thus, with more and more people coming forward to organise heritage walks in the city, and more people coming forward to attend the walks, they have become an important tool to create awareness, to spread knowledge and to preserve heritage. “It is our responsibility to preserve the days gone by, just the way we are preserving our present,” says Dehlvi.