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Stepping it up

What’s the best way to learn about a new place' You could try driving around and figuring out how to get from A to B. Or, you could put on your walking shoes and start exploring the highways and byways.

Walking tours are founded on the theory that there’s no better way to get to know a place than to walk around it. And, heck, moving at the slow pace that God intended, is a wonderfully relaxing way to take in the sights and sounds.

“Walking tours are an interesting way of soaking in the historical beauty of a place, besides discovering how the people there go about the business of life,” says Vikram Madhok, managing director, Abercrombie & Kent.

In India, the ‘walking’ season starts mainly during winter when it’s pleasant to walk outdoors and carries on from October till March. There are different kinds of walking tours for you to take your pick from.

Village tours are pretty absorbing where you get an idea of what it’s like to live away from the Big City. Experience diverse, ethnic, and colourful lives untouched by modern times. Add to the old world charm by staying in picturesque forts and palaces.

And what better way to revel in the colour and spirit of Rajasthan than to walk through its bazaars or to explore its villages. Abercrombie & Kent offers customised tours to the heart of the Pink City, Jaipur. A highly recommended tour takes tourists through the famous Johri Bazaar. Silver, gold, precious and semi-precious stones and artisans at work are the highpoints of the trip. If it’s handicrafts that one is after, then a walk through the quaint village of Naila is recommended. Other travel companies like Trinetra tours take travellers through unexplored villages of Rajasthan like Dungarpur, Ghanerao, Narlai and Kumbhalgarh. Local escorts and guides accompany tourists on the walks.

If you find a walk in the dry plains of Rajasthan a tad boring or you’ve probably been there and done that, there is the choice of negotiating the twists and turns, steeps ascents and descents of the mountainous roads in Darjeeling, and Sikkim in the east or Mashobra, Leh and Ladakh in the north. The Wind Horse India Tours and Escapade Adventure Travels organises walking tours in these areas.

Then there are heritage walks that promise to take you into the past as you saunter through forts, monuments and religious structures. The old city of Cochin with its Jewish synagogue and old Jewish quarters is on the itinerary of Abercrombie & Kent in the south. In the north, they take you into the narrow lanes of Delhi’s Chandni Chowk for an experience of the spice market in the Khari Baoli area or the famous food galis (alleys).

Media person Satish Jacob who organises walking tours along with India Habitat Centre and Abercrombie & Kent to Old Delhi, was one of the first individuals to popularise the concept of walking tours. “In the course of my walks, I have even come upon new and undiscovered havelis. Since I can read Persian and Urdu, I know about the lifestyle of the nawabs and haveli owners of yore. It turns out to be a very interesting exercise,” he says.

The price points can vary. If you opt for standard accommodation such as the Rohitgarh Fort, according to Trinetra Tours, the package including breakfast, driver and guide charges comes to about a $150 (approx Rs 6887) per day for a couple. Wind Horse India Tours provides meals, accommodation and local guides to hilly destinations at Rs 2,000 - Rs 2,500 per day, per person. Abercrombie & Kent charges around $150-$350 (approx Rs 16,070) per person per night for packages that also takes care of accommodation, meals, transfers and guides.

According to Sanjay Saini of Escapade Adventure Travels, luxuries can be provided for, like mobile showers even in camps, as they did for a visitor from Russia. “He is the third richest person in Russia and he wanted the amenities. We charged above $120 (approx Rs 5,508) per night per head for it,” he says.

Now walking about can be a bit strenuous, so you need to be physically fit and wear sturdy shoes. The tour operators will usually provide you with water, sunhats and food, so you can be carefree and simply enjoy the walk. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “Few people know how to take a walk. The qualifications are endurance, plain clothes, old shoes, an eye for nature, good humour, vast curiosity, good speech, good silence and nothing too much.”

Illustration by Suvomoy Mitra

My favourite holiday
Achla Sachdev, choreographer

A couple of years ago, I’d visited the Fiji Islands, the beauty of which is still etched in my memory. I’d gone there on a shoot and stayed for around 10 days. The place is lush with greenery — something that I just love. Yes, I’m a nature lover!

Fiji is one place where you need not gape at manmade wonders. In fact, there isn’t any such place to visit — no museum or palace etc.

So in between work, I spent my time canoeing, trekking and walking along the beaches. I also took boatrides to some of the nearby islands. The boatman would throw a net into the water and we’d jump into it. It was so much fun!

Besides loads of photographs, I’ve brought back with me countless memories of Fiji, a place I will surely visit again!

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