Bengaluru is a city with an interesting past; in fact, if the age of the sheet rock at Lalbagh is taken into account, Bengaluru goes way back to pre-history! The city has such a fascinating heritage, it’s no wonder that the people who live in and visit this city want to know more about its history.
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I find that the best way to know about our heritage is to walk around an area. The good news is that there are now at least three organisations that conduct heritage walks regularly. It’s not just buildings and architecture that are shown and explained; trade and commerce, even such things as the history of the water supply in the city, have been the focus of some walks.
Having been on several of these walks, I realized that the way a walk is conducted can add immensely to both the enjoyment and the learning of the participants. It might seem simple enough to an onlooker, as if the organiser has identified various interesting buildings and homes , just strung them together and made a walk out of it. The reality is that far more goes into designing a walk.
It’s true that a listing of various interesting features, scenes and buildings will have to be made at the initial stage; but after that, a lot of factors influence what remains on the walk itinerary as well as what has to be left out. Such factors include:
- Accessibility. If a particular temple or shop or house is not open to visitors or not open on the day of the walk, it might just have to be viewed from outside; or even dropped from the itinerary altogether.
- When a sight lies outside a certain time-and-distance period. If it is going to take walkers more than 15 minutes of steady walking to reach a place, then it is probably not a good idea to include it in the heritage walk. Or, at the very least, some more sites nearby must be included to make it a more inclusive experience.
- General interest. If a particular kind of architectural detail, for example, a “monkey top” or an octagonal skylight, is all that there is to command interest, the general group of walkers may not find it interesting enough.
Organizers must also ensure that the whole trip does not take more than three hours at the most. This should include at least two well-designated breaks when the walkers can rest. At these ‘break-points’, it would be better if refreshments are organised. For example, on the British Bangalore walk by Bangalore Walks, juice and biscuits were provided when the party halted in front of Mayo Hall; on the Shivaji Nagar walk, we stopped at a little tea shop to have samosas and tea; on the Avenue Road walk, it was a break at the Meenakshi Amman temple, where puliyogare and mosaranna (the prasadam of the temple) were served. On the Bangalore Fort walk, juice, fruit and the signature biscuits of the area were served at Tipu’s Palace and, on the Malleswaram walk, refreshing lemon juice was served at the heritage hotel, Villa Pottipatti.
What’s being served during the break would also depend on the weather. Hot chai and filter kaapi are welcome, but in the hotter months, a cooling drink would be better.
Apart from the break, it would be good if the participants could also sample some of the food of the area in which they walk; we loved the excellent filter kaapi in one of the small darshinis when we walked in the K R Market area, just as we relished the sugar cane juice in the Fort area!
One essential factor for organising a walk is proper registration and limiting the number of people that one guide can address. I feel that more than 15 persons per guide would definitely detract from the experience for everyone. It would not be nice to crowd around the guide, trying to listen to the given information on what is being shown. So, unless the organisers have multiple guides, it would be best to limit the number to 15 or 20 people. Of course, I must say that when we went to the Market area, there were 45 people, but we had several guides and we broke up into smaller groups.
The registration also helps in other ways. One could create a database of the people who have participated in the walks. With their phone numbers and email ids, that kind of database will always be useful.
Having got the route and the number of people fixed, the organiser has to time the whole walk. It has to be remembered that no matter how rich the heritage area being shown, the walkers cannot be hurried from one place to another. There has to be a gentle pace, as participants stop and ponder, take photographs or just soak in the place. This is an essential part of a heritage walk, that it cannot be a hurried stride from one site to another, trailing behind an impatient guide. The organiser may have to leave out a couple of interesting things, but it must be remembered that there will be older people and small children and so the pace will have to be, perforce, that of the slowest in the group.
However, to some extent, the guide should keep the group moving and this is a real tightrope walk…how to achieve this without rushing the walkers, allowing people to get their own experiences, and yet keeping the group together. One good way is to announce at certain locations that the group can scatter and meet at a particular point in, say, 20 minutes.
The organisers also have to take into account the more knowledgeable members of the group. Canny guides can use their information to good account! On the Malleswaram walk, we had several people who have lived in the area for decades and listening to their stories as we walked was a great plus. But again, it’s a difficult call. An organiser has to decide where the line must be drawn or all the walkers will get mired in rambling recollections and nostalgia from a few people, missing out on important aspects of a sight! However, one walk will stay green in my memory because of the participation of those who live and work there.
On the Avenue Road walk, the two people who were supposed to conduct could not make it so it was the traders of Avenue Road who took us around! This proved to be a great bonus because they had so many anecdotes to share and we were shown how traffic congestion does not happen even on such a narrow road. They took us into their shops and opened up places that would otherwise have been inaccessible to the participants.
The meeting point at the outset of the walk must also be a landmark well-known to everyone. Recently, at one walk, a starting point that was known to the organisers turned out to be less so to the others; even some of the local people could not tell us where the place was and we wasted a lot of time getting to the starting point.
In connection with this, we come to the next essential that must be done while organising a heritage walk: list, in all the publicity material, the mobile numbers of the organisers who will be present during the walk. If this is not done, people who are trying to find the precise location of the starting point or who are held up for some reason have no way of communicating with the organisers and could miss out on the walk altogether.
Heritage walk are conducted by:
They charged a fee of Rs.100 when I went on the Shivaji Nagar walk. Refreshments were provided in the form of puliyogare and mosaranna (prasada) at the temple.
The walks are free. On the Malleswaram walk, lemon juice and biscuits were provided at Pottipatti Villa.
Rs.495 for adults and Rs.295 for children/seniors. Refreshments are provided.
It’s always better to carry water on such walks and perhaps some fruit or snacks if you tend to get peckish.
Also, directions regarding what to bring along have to be clearly given. For example, ‘wear comfortable clothes, good walking shoes, and carry water’ would be excellent tips to give participants-to-be. We are lucky that Bengaluru is a city where refreshments of all kinds are generally available all the time. I also found that sometimes these refreshments themselves form part of the heritage, like the mobile van from the Coffee Board that was serving coffee at the beginning of Avenue Road, before we started our walk!
Lastly, a hailer or loudspeaker might not be a bad thing for the organisers to carry. Sometimes a guide might not have a voice loud enough, particularly, if the site is in a busy, vehicular traffic prone area. It would also help in giving participants directions on how long they can linger at a spot, where they should gather, go next and so on.
Another aid that I found very useful on several walks was to have maps, copies of references or pictures, handed out to participants. It was fascinating to see an old map of Bengaluru and to see, for example, that Shivaji Nagar was referred to in the map as “Blackpally”. All these aids add to the experience. In fact, on the Shivaji Nagar walk, H R Pratibha (convenor of INTACH – Indian National Trust for Art, Culture and Heritage), Meera Iyer, who is a volunteer for INTACH, and Pankaj Modi, who was the guides for the walk, even brought out several traditionally played children’s games that INTACH is now developing. One participant immediately showed how good he was with the wooden top! The rest of us watched, spellbound, as he whipped the string and made the top spin at top speed.
Another thing that Meera did on the Avenue Road walk impressed me a lot….she had actually identified a public toilet which participants could use! It was quite clean and had water, too. When people are walking around for several hours, this helps. This certainly should be a point that heritage walk organisers should not leave out.
A friend suggested that pens and pads be made available for a small fee….many of us forget that people would like to document what they are seeing!
So it’s clear that a heritage walk has to be planned very carefully to be a success. Only then can you have the kind of walk that has the participants going home and saying to their friends, neighbours and relatives, “It was wonderful! You must come along next time.”
As the participation increases, so too will our awareness of the riches that our city has to offer…and hopefully, our interest in preserving our heritage. ⊕