At 7 am, I found myself at Raisina Hill, staring at Rashtrapati Bhavan. I had been pitilessly dragged out of my womb-like cozy bed to start the day a little too early. And like any other self-respecting Delhi bachelor who had spent the night before prowling the Capital’s watering holes, I was agonised.
It was not like I had befriended the President who wanted to have breakfast with a commoner in her Mughal Garden. The actual reason was a tour called (what else) — Tour of Rajpath. Yes, you might have done it before — when you got married in Delhi, your in-laws made you hop onto a tour bus to show you Dilli. Or if you are still unmarried, you have been coming to India Gate with your friends after the revelries at United Coffee House in Connaught Place. But we did it slightly differently — on a Segway Personal Traveller.
A PT or personal traveller is a two-wheeled self-balancing vehicle invented by an American called Dean Kamen. The bloke lives in a hexagonal, shed-style mansion, and among other things, has also created a device that can launch humans in the air in order to reach rooftops or tall buildings. A Segway PT is kept upright by computers and motors and the shifting weight of our feet and body controls its function. It runs on batteries, has an electric motor and can go up to 20 km per hour. In short, if you are a gadget freak, it’s a super-cool eco-friendly vehicle to glide around in.
This city tour by Bird Segway India, a unit of Bird Group, which is a cluster of diversified companies with interest in luxury retail and travel, is new to India. Guided city tours on a PT are already popular abroad, especially in Europe. The tour of Rajpath (one tour can take 4-5 people) covers locations such as the Secretariats, Parliament, Rashtrapati Bhawan, India Gate and its surrounding areas. The group plans to promote such tours across the country targeting places like Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi, the beaches in Mumbai or the Taj Mahal in Agra.
Secretariat on wheels
My tour, which started at South Block Parking and ended at India Gate, while stopping at Parliament House along the way, lasted 45 minutes. But those precious minutes connect the archetypal busy city dweller to a forgotten city and little delights. I watched a flock of pigeons feed on bread crumbs, a childhood exercise I had consigned to oblivion. A bunch of sexagenarians in shorts jogged towards longevity, and a lone tourist tried to capture the serenity around India Gate through his SLR. The tour is not fixed and you can stop anywhere as long as you don’t lag behind and venture too far away from the group.
Stopping the PT is devilishly simple — all you need to do is lean back a little and apply gentle pressure on your heels. Our group raced our PTs on Janpath, giving wing to our childhood fantasies. At 20 kmph, it didn’t help me show off my concealed F1 instincts but it helped me retrospect. All those who wander once in a while on a PT (at 20 kmph) in a 100 kmph city, aren’t lost.
By the end, traffic was getting heavier. You can circumvent that by opting for the first tour that starts at 5 am (hop on insomniacs!). But lesser mortals too, who choose the 7.10 am time slot, can relish the calmness around Amar Jawan Jyoti and the Indo-Saracenic Revival architecture of the North and South blocks of the Secretariat. But the curious looks on the faces of security personnel as you glide by? Priceless. Don’t forget to carry your camera.
The major chunk of the fun comes from riding the PT. Even if you are a whiner who finds nothing new to explore about Rajpath, riding this nifty device early in the morning will help you handle the rest of the day with enthusiasm and positivity. As I said before operating the PT is very simple, if you have a pair of willing, enthusiastic legs, you become a PT rider. If you are under 13 years of age, you’ll need an adult to accompany you. And yes, if your weight is above 110 kg, the tour operators might not be very enthusiastic about you riding their 5 lakh plus machine.
We do have one quibble, though. Coughing up Rs 1,630 (on Friday, Saturday, Sunday plus holidays) or Rs 1,350 (Monday to Thursday) for the chance to move around on a motorised scooter of sorts is a little exorbitant. Also, the tour guides kept me engrossed with details about the machines but had little to share about the places we were visiting. Bummer. I would have been happier if some of them had done their homework and told me interesting things about Rajpath that I didn’t know.