What's your passion: arts, crafts, history, nature, culture or cuisine? Customised walking tours are becoming a hit in India. They are a great way to discover a unique facet of any city. So put on those walking shoes and get going.
1. Rock Walk, Hyderabad
The Deccan Plateau is a natural wonder of stony ridges and hillocks. The rock formations in and around Hyderabad are granite monoliths that are older than the Himalayas. Geologists estimate them to be 2,500 million years old. Unfortunately most have made way for malls and skyrises today. Save the Rocks Foundation conducts regular treks to these rocky areas.
Learn about the unusual geological formations, legends and local history behind the stones. Discover hidden lakes among the rocks, teeming with birdlife. With names like Obelisk, Hamburger and Mushroom, let your imagination run wild deciphering the shapes that the stones suggest. The walk is conducted free of charge and takes place on the third Sunday of every month. www.saverocks.org
2. Bringing the Goddess to Earth, Kolkata
Get behind the scenes of preparations for the Durga Puja with a walk down the bylanes of old Kumartuli, the potter's town. Known for its internationally renowned artisans who craft beautiful and life-sized idols from straw and clay, this little quarter by the river gives you a glimpse into how the idols are made and the conditions in which the potters live and work.
Begin at 6.30 in the morning from Armenian Ghat and catch some early morning wrestling, which you're welcome to join in! Move to the flower market, Howrah Bridge, Old Mint and the Nimtala burning ghat. Explore the Bengali concept of beauty and understand why the idols of Goddess Durga are voluptuous. Size zero doesn't work here. www.calcuttawalks.com
3. Old Delhi Food Trail
What's the first thought that comes to your mind when you think of food in Delhi? Mughlai? Perish the thought. For a change, focus on the unique 'Baniya' vegetarian streetfood of Sitaram Bazaar. The Old Delhi Food Trail walks you through the bazaar to learn about the ingredients and essentials of Indian cooking. The colourful and interesting streetfood in this market caters to the Baniya community.
Crisp Gol Gappas, Kulcha Chole, Bedmi Puri (stuffed with a spicy mixture of lentils), Nagori Halwa (small puris served with halwa)--the list of enticing streetfood is endless. After this, visit Masterji Kee Haveli, one of the last-standing havelis in Delhi. Here, you can choose to participate in the cooking of a vegetarian meal or just watch. This is not a cooking lesson though; it is a chance to get up close and personal with four generations of a family that continues to live under one roof. www.delhimagic.com
5. Maximum City Walk, Mumbai
If you've read Suketu Mehta's acclaimed book, Maximum City, you might want to retrace his footsteps in this hard-hitting tour. The characters and places in the novel come alive in this tour. Go past Dariya Mahal, Radhabai Chawl in Jogeshwari and the Brabourne restaurant. Engage with the fast-vanishing breed of letter writers at the General Post Office and try out Vada Pao at Borkar's ("the best Vada-Paos in Bombay") followed by sherbets at Sikkanagar.
Add to this the 'Babbanji Bihari's Bombay tour' and you might discover the life of a typical Bihari migrant to the city of dreams. Babbanji is a character in the book, a modern-day Dick Whittington. Does he make it big? You never know--anything is possible in Maximum City. www.beyondbombay.com
4. Mylapore Walk, Chennai
This walk makes you go through Chennai's cultural hub and one of its oldest areas--Mylapore. The Portuguese arrived on Mylapore's shores in 1523 and left only in 1749, when the British took over. Despite this, the area has retained its incredible temples and the traditions that revolve around them. The walk takes you to the 300-year-old Kapaleeswarar Temple, the epicentre around which Mylapore is built.
Peek into the temple's daily routine, its own schedule--one that is not usually visible to the outside world. Later, walk through the surrounding areas. Learn about life around the temple tank with its myriad chaos of small shops dedicated to everything from jewellery, brassware, silk, puja items, to fruit and vegetable shops. The walk ends with snacks and coffee at the popular Saravana Bhavan. www.chennaimagic.com
6. Cholta Cholta, Goa
'Cholta Cholta' is a Konkani term that means 'While Walking'. This innovative guided walk for children (and accompanying adults) is organised by Bookworm, a library and educational resource for children in Goa. These heritage walks are interspersed with maps, stories, historical anecdotes and activities like colouring, treasure hunts and retracing the route (on paper) that make learning about history fun for children.
A dry run in advance of the walk ensures that the route is safe for children. Each time a different route is chosen. Recent walks have included the Governor's Palace, the Museum of Christian Art, a natural heritage trail, Casa da Moeda and the Azad Maidan. www.goabookworm.wordpress.com
7. Matunga Market food walk, Mumbai
Matunga, in central Mumbai, has a vibrant cultural scene, an indication of the various communities living here. The Food Walk takes you through the markets of this area, and gives a peek into the food of the three communities--Tamil Brahmins, Gujaratis and Jains. All the three are vegetarian, but have different customs and rules, which are very much visible in their food.
The tour begins at the Kannika Parameshwari temple where you learn about the history of Hinduism and Buddhism. From there, head to the market area where you'll be introduced to local fruits, vegetables and spices, with an explanation of how they fit into the daily meal.
Discover inventive foods like Khakra Dosa (a plain dosa made very crisp and then dried liked a khakra), Jain Mousse (mousse prepared without egg) and Chocolate Barfi. The combinations are tantalising and designed to please every palate. Do leave some space for authentic aromatic South Indian coffee at the end. www.mumbaimagic.com
8. The Madras Reporter's Beat, Chennai
Fancy being a journalist for a day? Then sign up for this new walk around Chennai where the participants see the city from a writer's point of view. Bring along tools that a writer may need--pen, paper, or a camera. At various points along the walk, the group stops to chat with people. Participants keep an eye out for the mundane, the exotic, the offbeat.
At the end of the walk, participants go back and work on a piece of writing that has its genesis in the walk. This could be an essay, a report, an investigative piece. It could be funny or serious--there are no strict guidelines for content or length. The organisers plan to collate these stories into an online newspaper that reflects the true Madras. www.selectiveamnesia.org
9. Cemetery Lanes Walk, Shimla
Whether you like ghost stories or are just curious about local history, the Cemetery Lanes Walk will take you off Shimla's busy tourist trails. Instead you'll visit three of its five cemeteries. The Kanlog cemetery is the largest one and is surrounded by a dense forest of cedar trees. Pass by old houses, the last reminders of a bygone era and see the Combermere Bridge rise from the mist.
This is the first British landmark bridge in Shimla and was built in 1828. The walk is popular among people who have a past association with Shimla and with British families trying to locate their ancestors buried here. The walk begins in the morning and takes almost the full day. www.shimlawalks.blogspot.com
10. Victorian Bangalore Walk
Did you know that the heart of Tipu Sultan's home has a distinct Victorian flavour? If modern day Bengaluru seems far removed from Victorian charms of Kolkata or Mumbai, this walk might be an eye-opener for you. Bangalore Walks organises these tours and claim that their appeal is in showcasing the history that is not obvious.
Bangalore was not designed for sightseeing in the way other cities are, and many tourists head for Mysore as soon as they can. Yet, around every corner is a slice of history waiting to be unpeeled layer by layer.
The walks tell the story of Bangalore from its past and how it influences present, chaotic Bengaluru. The USP of these walks is in their mystery. In over six years of packed, weekly walks, very few participants have revealed the contents of their tour. You have to find out for yourself. www.bangalorewalks.com
Five interesting International walks
York: Explore Viking toilets, Roman loos and other conveniences in the Historic Toilet Tour. www.visityork.org
Iceland: The Elves are here. Find them on The Hidden World Tour. www.alfar.is
New York: Discover Bill Clinton's Harlem and what makes this a unique neighbourhood. www.newyorktalksandwalks.com
Paris: Discover why Paris known as the capital of dark chocolates at the Paris Chocolate Tour. www.paris-walks.com
Lisbon: Experience a city with one sense short. Your guide is legally blind and you are blindfolded. What will you see? www.lisbonwalker.com