Discover your city with a Bangalore Walk!

metblogs7.jpgNearly a year ago, I heard of this new concept of BangaloreWALKs and I was quite fascinated. Firstly, it was difficult to understand how one could take 3 hours to walk down the very short MG Road! What exactly was there that could sustain our interest for so long? But being of an experimentative nature, I decided to give it a go. The walk turned out to be a revelation for me – I realised that I didn’t know much about the city I live in at all! It also revealed several interested features, monuments and landmarks that I had never noticed or bothered about when passing by MG Road.

That Bangalore walk was indeed quite an eye opener. I also tried out the Bangalore Beer Walk after that, which turned out to be a real fun experience too! By the way, these walks actual make nice gifts and treats too. Instead of wondering what to give a dear one or someone special, take them for a Bangalore Walk, I’m sure it’s an experience he/she will cherish!

Arun Pai, the man behind BangaloreWALKs, has been working hard over the past year to get the concept up and running. And a year later, he says that it’s gotten a very encouraging response. Today, I also went on the Green Heritage walk around Lalbagh, conducted by a gentleman called Vijay Thiruvady, who is a treasure trove of interesting information. Here’s a Q&A with Arun Pai, about BangaloreWALKs and what makes it special.

Perhaps, after reading this, you too will go on one of the walks!

How did the concept of Bangalore Walks come about?
Travelling to London and other European cities exposed me to the wonder of guided city walks – as a wonderful way to really understand a city by walking through its by-lanes. Tourism in India, on the contrary, was all about shielding visitors from cities, and sending them to fantastic exotic ‘manufactured’ locales, beaches, resorts and places.

metblogs6.jpgBangalore is now a bigger brand than India probably (there is a joke about a visitor wondering why you need a visa from India to come to Bangalore!), it is the inspiration of Tom Friedman’s Flat World – yet, we have nothing to offer visitors to Bangalore – other than packing them off to Mysore to see a palace. People come from all over the world seeking the Bangalore story, and we all say that there is nothing to do here other than visit some pubs, malls and IT parks?

As a Bangalorean, I was acutely aware of my own lack of knowledge of my own city, and I always wondered there was so little city pride among locals – unlike people in Chennai, Kolkata, Delhi or London, New York, Paris. And when I did try to find out more, or go on a city tour, there was precious little that was exciting or interesting – very few books on Bangalore were available… and nobody seemed to know much or care about the city.

Then I read Peter Colaco’s “Bangalore – a Century of Tales from City and Cantonment” – and I was fascinated to read things about the city that I grew up in, that I had never thought about earlier. This got me curious, I started walking around and looking around, I started talking to people and reading whatever I could find – and discovered a fascinating story about how this city developed and became what it is today. I discovered an incredibly rich story tucked away in people’s memories, several books, newspapers, monuments, buildings, and I took it upon myself to collect all this information and connect the dots. The fundamental question I asked was “Why Bangalore? Why is Bangalore suddenly the focus of global attention? There has got to be a reason other than the weather and the pubs.” This was the voyage of discovery that ultimately resulted in the conception and beginning of BangaloreWALKS.

Where did you start?
I chose MG Road as a starting point as the main thoroughfare of Bangalore. Everyone who visits Bangalore – even for a few hours – goes to MG Rd. Yet nobody knows anything about it, and it does not even feature on the “Sightseeing tour of Bangalore”. The first time I walked down the road (it’s barely 2 kms long), it took me 30 minutes and I noticed many things I normally missed when I drove my car or bike. I did some research, met people, read some history, and discovered several fascinating things. Soon, the same walk took me 2 hours, and when we conducted our first group walk last year, it took all of 4 hours. Soon, we had enough material that could engage anyone’s attention for 6 hours on MG Rd!

metblogs8.jpgToday we conduct 2 three-hour walks on MG Rd, and have enough material for another 3 hour walk! For example, very few people know that present-day MG Rd was an important campground for a very crucial battle fought in 1791 called the Battle of Bangalore, that changed the fortunes of the British in India. There was also a specific (and painfully obvious) reason why MG Rd was chosen as a spot around which the cantonment city was built.

This, and many other discoveries, led me onto a fascinating journey into the past. The Brits and Americans are very good at putting labels, signposts and historic markers all over their cities – telling you “This happened here in 1492…”. Even when nothing of great importance really happened there. As a people, we like to rubbish other countries (they have no history in the US and so on), but we don’t exactly do much about preserving and taking pride in our own history. This has always troubled me, and I set out to do something about it in a meaningful way.

How long did you have to research the market before launching the concept?
Looking back now, all my travels around India and the world were all part of the research. Travel broadens the mind, and asking questions about people and places helps one get perspective. I did about 3 months of formal ‘research’ – ie, read books, interview historians and old-timers, before launching BangaloreWALKS. That was a year ago. I have no background in history (am a boring engineer MBA), hated the subject in school, never read the classics, and have always been more interested in people and things that you can see and hear – so I stumbled through 3 months of research in unconventional ways.

Research is an ongoing thing, and I discover new things almost everyday. Each walk, with a group of 10-15 people, always throws up interesting ideas, perspectives and anecdotes, which we add to our repertoire. Each walk is better than the previous one as it build upon past experiences. Having now walked with several thousand people over the past year, we have a enviable array of personal experiences related first-hand which have all got added to our ‘Bangalore story’. What is fascinating, and what keeps us going, is that there is so much left to learn and discover about this city. It creates a sense of humility – that you cannot know it all – and that there are many more twists and turns in this constantly unfolding tale.

What kind of challenges did you face initially?
Several challenges – mainly perception. People asked me 2 questions when I said I conduct a BangaloreWALK – 1) Can you actually walk in Bangalore?? and 2) Is there anything to see in Bangalore? There is no history here!! I cannot tell you how challenging it was to overcome this mindset. A year down the road, I find people more amenable to the concept of a history walk in Bangalore – and mainly because a friend has told them about it, or they read about it somewhere. But the skepticism abounds, and I start every morning walk telling people they have a right to be skeptical, and request a chance to change their mindset.

metblogs4.jpgAny other challenges were logistical. People in Bangalore are not used to seeing a bunch of people walking on MG Rd, with cameras, stopping at monuments. When I took pictures on MG Rd, people would stop me and ask what on earth I was doing! Our apathy is truly amazing – these same people would travel the world and think nothing of paying good money to see a building or monument there, while ours lie in total neglect in the city centre. In short, the attitudes of everyone concerned were the main challenges.

I can say with some satisfaction that we have managed to change the attitudes of thousands of people – walkers, citizens, policemen, autodrivers, shopkeepers – who populate our walking routes.

Any big challenge you still face?
Growth. Expansion. How we do offer more walks in more places to more people. The concept has been very successful, we have thousands of satisfied and happy walkers, all of whom want more events and walks. We have added new walks, started specialized bus tours, and a variety of events with the basic aim of making everyone’s Bangalore visit special. And this includes locals…

metblos5.jpgI was tremendously fortunate to meet Mr Vijay Thiruvady a few months after we started the MG Rd walks. He is what you may call a ‘walking encyclopedia’ and he had such a fascinating way of talking about LalBagh (where he walked very often), that I requested him to create a Green Heritage Walk in LalBagh. It took a few months of research and trials, and we now have a fascinating 3 hour walk in lalBagh. The walk has attracted an eclectic audience from several countries, including notables like Zafar Futehally and several academics from Harvard and similar institutions overseas and in India. People of the eminence of Girish Karnad have said very nice things about the walk and we are very proud of having told the LalBagh Story to hundreds of people. Read some of Vijay’s Musings at to get some wonderful perspectives on the green heritage of Bangalore.

I am optimistic that we will encounter more such people who have the passion and interest to create and present walks for BangaloreWALKS. Anyone interested?

What would you call Bangalore Walks’ USP?
Relating the Bangalore story in a way that all people can connect. Whether they are a 70-year-old Bangalorean, a 15-year-old schoolgirl, a visiting CEO from New York, or a group of Cambodian tourists. We avoid any academic discussions on history or architecture – we talk about things that you can see, hear and feel, and uncover surprises very often. Locals are stunned at how little they know about their own city, while foreigners get an understanding of Bangalore’s place in world history, and connect it to their own. Making a history or nature walk a Fun & Informative Family Outing has been a challenge, and is now our biggest USP. We attract people only by word of mouth and do not advertise the walks. We do not have partnerships or alliances, do not do package deals or discounts, and attract only seriously interested people who care about the city and want to know more.

What kind of response have you been getting to the walks now and are you satisfied with it?
metblogs1.jpgIncredible response. I had underestimated the people of Bangalore – there is a huge interest among people to know more about their city. And a willingness to pay for that pleasure. We have just completed a year of walks – without missing a single weekend. We get 30-40 interested walkers every weekend for our two walks – the Victorian Bangalore walk and the Green Heritage Walk in LalBagh – and several more during weekdays for special tours. What is most comforting is that we have done no advertising at all, and all those who come do so because of word of mouth.

Our walks are not cheap at all (Rs 495 for a walk, including breakfast), yet people have been coming in large numbers. One of the most satisfying aspects of the walks is that over 75% of our walkers are locals out to discover their own city. Lots of people bring their parents and come for a weekend family outing. We do get several overseas visitors as well, mainly business visitors, but the real challenge is to take a 70-year-old Bangalorean who has lived here all his life, and delight him for 3 hours in his city. I can proudly say we have done that on numerous occasions.

Walks are quite popular in cities like Paris, New York, London etc. Any walk that you enjoyed greatly on a personal level and would recommend for those traveling outside?
London for sure – I was inspired by the Jack the Ripper Walk (incidentally, Jack the Ripper has a Bangalore connection!), the Beatles Walk, and also by several walks in Edinburgh. Most walks are great, because these places have lots of history (as do all places), and good guides. Also they are good walking cities. Without sounding pompous, I can say that we modeled BangaloreWALKS on the London Walks, and I think we do a far better job!

metblogs3.jpgMost people who have been on both walks tend to agree. For one, we offer more frills (refreshments and breakfast at the end) and we conduct it in a very interactive fashion, and customize our scripts based on the audience. And we talk about things that people can relate to in their everyday lives here in Bangalore (not some mythical Jack the Ripper story, or some 15th century tale from Scotland). People from all over the world are coming to Bangalore and doing a BangaloreWALK, and we hope everyone in Bangalore will come on our walks first before going on a walk overseas!

Recently, when the United Nations World Tourism Organization had their conference in Bangalore, Karnataka Tourism asked us to take them on a full-day Bangalore Experience. Many of them commented that it was one of the best city experiences they had ever had. We took them to Mysore too, and did our little bit to promote Bangalore to decision makers in global tourism.

What are the various kinds of walks you conduct now?
We have the Victorian Bangalore walk (history walk on MG Rd) and the Green Heritage Walk (nature walk in LalBagh) every Sat & Sun morning that are open to all. We conduct several walks for groups – the Bangalore Beer Walk, and the End of Empire Walk are popular. We also conduct special experiences for Overseas Visitors in Groups (or delegations) called Bangalore through the Ages, and also do History Experiences at Srirangapatna/Mysore and Nandi Hills.

metblogs9.jpgThese use a bus or car to get around, but we do make people walk around and explore when we get to the destination. Recently, we started offering walks for Children, and several schools have signed up. We have also done various specials like the “Wine, Women & Song Walk” only for women, and the “Love & the City Walk”, only for couples. We are now working on a “History Run” – a 6 km run through the old cantonment. Another innovation is the Traffic Jam Buster – that we offer to overseas visitors – this is a scripted tour on the bus from Airport to Electronic City – companies like Infy and Wipro hate having their visitors stuck in traffic jams, so they hire us to provide an engaging story on board the bus! Our website will help you keep tabs on what’s happening.

Bangalore is losing a lot of its tree cover, old buildings etc. to rapid commercialization and growth. How do you think we can work towards preserving the culture of Bangalore and keeping its essence alive?
Preservation has to start from the citizens. From you and me. While the government has a role for sure, it is only through mass civic action by citizens that things will change. Governments only respond to civic demands. If we can permit people to urinate on MG Road and not do anything about it (as citizens), the same apathy will allow people to destroy trees and pull down historic buildings. Until we get a sense of pride and identity about the city, things won’t change.

If there are more people who want a mall like say, Bangalore Central, and there are fewer people who care about the wonderful Hotel Victoria that it replaced, then we only have ourselves to blame for the changing character of the city landscape. I don’t mean to be cynical, but preserving buildings and trees seems to be lower on people’s priorities than reducing traffic and pollution. If a majority of people want wider roads and less congestion on MG Road, then unfortunately, the trees in the middle of MG Rd opp HSBC will have to go. And they did last year, while we were on a morning walk.

metblogs2.jpgBangaloreWALKS is our attempt to help people connect to the city they live in. We have had people who have walked everyday in LalBagh for decades come on our 3 hour walk, and leave totally fascinated and bewildered by what they discover about the garden. If more people connect to Bangalore and care about the city, things will change. If more entrepreneurs start initiatives like BangaloreWALKS that celebrate the city, things will improve.

If we get corporates who come forward and take responsibility to preserve the culture of the city, it will happen. And this will only happen when individuals in these companies or in the government take it upon themselves to bring about change. When you drive along MG Rd in an air-conditioned chauffer driven car, you will never understand why it is important to have say, a clean walkway without refuse and urinating hordes, along what is supposed to be the main artery and pride of Bangalore. We have had several eminent architects come on our walk confess that is has been a long time since they actually walked along MG Rd. I think most people in power are guilty of the same. Sitting in a car and insulating yourself from the city is the surest way of being insensitive to its basic needs. And sadly, most of our decision makers and those who can make a difference do just that.

We would like to believe that we have made a small beginning to change people’s perceptions towards this wonderful city. Until that happens, there is no hope for real change. Please join us on a walk to see what I am talking about!

(Note: All pics taken during the Victorian Walk and the Green Heritage Walk in Lalbagh. The gentleman featured is Vijay Thiruvady.)

2 Comments so far

  1. Shruthi (unregistered) on August 14th, 2006 @ 12:48 pm

    Excellent article, Anita. I had heard about Bangalore Walks, but never really got around to take a walk. This post pushes The Walk quite high up on my to-do list.

  2. Ramesh Murthy (unregistered) on August 15th, 2006 @ 5:18 pm

    this is the ! best !! blogs i have read till date and i have been sending this to all my frnds.
    I come back every day to see any new posts…keep the bangalore dream alive.


Terms of use | Privacy Policy | Content: Creative Commons | Site and Design © 2009 | Metroblogging ® and Metblogs ® are registered trademarks of Bode Media, Inc.