Mumbai through the eyes of seven tour guides

Meet Mumbai's unofficial ambassadors. From showcasing the stars of Bollywood to selling Dharavi's squalor, tour guides tell you why you should sign up with them. Suprita Mitter listens in

BDL Museum tour: Avant-garde and for all ages
Curator Himanshu Kadam joined Byculla’s Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum’s curatorial team in 2010, and has been conducting public tours in Marathi, Hindi and English since. “I enjoy the direct engagement with visitors. A majority are native to Mumbai and Maharashtra. However, visitors from other parts of India and overseas also drop by. The museum has made it to all major travel indicators as a top destination in Mumbai,” shares Kadam. “Recently, we conducted a guided tour for a group from an old age home, mostly 60-70 year-olds. Their enthusiasm and curiosity was inspiring A few had already visited the museum previously, and noticed the change that the institution, and the city, had undergone. It was a learning experience for us too as the interaction with the group led to a better understanding of the museum and the city’s past,” recalls Kadam. Being a Mumbaikar, Kadam finds the city’s capacity to submerge and evolve cultures, and identities, fascinating, along with the fact that it is a classic example of the past and present living and growing together.

Himanshu Kadam (left) guides tourists through Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Byculla

>> Why take this tour?
“It is a good place to experience  best practices in the Indian museum scene. The vibrancy of space and its avant-garde approach towards art and culture will appeal to the visitor. The building is a rare example of Palladian architecture in Mumbai, that is otherwise known for its neo-gothic structures. The Victorian interiors reflect the amalgamation of two distinct identities. The right corner (home to marble statues of former governors and relics) near the entrance should not be missed.

Time: 10 am to 6 pm, Wednesdays closed
At: 91 A, Rani Baug, Veer Mata Jijabai Bhonsle Udyan, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Marg, Byculla (E).
Call: 23731234 
Entry: Rs 10

Bollywood Dream Tour: Star gazing in Filmcity
Jay Mijgar's interest in cinema led him to join the Bollywood Dream Tour, organised by Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) and Filmcity, after completing a PhD in Hindi literature. “I joined the tours when they began on February 5, 2014. Everybody who comes to visit Mumbai wants to see film stars. The look on their faces when they spot a celebrity is priceless. That’s what I love about this job,” shares Mijgar. The two-hour tour takes a group of 27 tourists across 48 locations, including studios where films and television serials have been shot in the past, or are being filmed. “Only 20  per cent of visitors are from Mumbai. We get large crowds from north India, especially Delhi, and Gujarat. The biggest demand among tourists is to see Salman Khan, Kapil Sharma and the cast of Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashma. TV stars are as popular as film stars,” reveals Mijgar, adding that tourists often call actors by their character names which some actors enjoy while others are embarrassed. “We have successful days when big stars like Salman Khan, Vidya Balan or Boman Irani come out and wave to the tourists. We tell tourists in advance that spotting stars is a matter of luck and cannot be guaranteed. While the sets for Bajirao Mastani has been dismantled, films like the SRK-starred Raees and Hrithik Roshan’s Mohenjodara are currently being shot at Film City. While foreign tourists are not allowed on the tour, Mijgar says this rule is likely to change shortly.

Tourists pose outside Filmcity’s popular temple seen in daily soaps and movies

>> Why take this tour?
“Most guides are industry insiders. Currently, we have junior artistes from TV shows like Ashoka and Taarak Mehta, working with us. They always know the schedule of who is shooting where and draft the day’s schedule in advance.”

Tourists travel inside Filmcity in a Bollywood-themed tour bus
Tourists travel inside Filmcity in a Bollywood-themed tour bus

Rs 499 plus taxes

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CSMVS tour: Treasures, textiles and more
It's all in a day’s work for Bilwa Kulkarni of the education department at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS). She enjoys taking tourists through the numerous galleries at the museum. “It’s nice to see how people relate what they see here with their life and situations. I try to adapt my narration based on this,” she shares. “There are three galleries that are most dear to me. The sculpture gallery has so many stories and can be interpreted in various ways. The gallery of miniature paintings and the textile museum also leave people spell bound. Clothes are our second skin. It is something that everyone connects with,” she adds. Recalling one of her most memorable tours, she says, “We hosted a group of hearing impaired children. Since I have a beginner’s training in dance, I used hand movements and gestures to narrate stories to them.” The Mumbaikar loves that the city has a manic pace but so much that is worth standing and staring at. “The museum allows you to spend the time to slow down,” she concludes.

Students at the museum tour
Students at the museum tour

>>  Why take this tour?
“The museum has conceived different tours, including a shorter highlight tour for those who are time strapped. There is also a special tour for children curated to include galleries that will appeal to them, like the natural history and arms and armour galleries. You can also pick customised individual gallery tours. The CSMVS is home to rare plants that are found in its garden. You can take a tour to include these too.”

Time: 10 am to 6 pm
At: 159-161, Mahatma Gandhi Road, Kala Ghoda, Fort.
Call: 22844484
Cost: Rs 50

Reality Tours & Travels: Packaging Dharavi
Sonmohan Mestri, a Dharavi resident, better known as Sunny, was excited about the possibility of being featured in the newspaper. His ability to respond to our queries in English comes from interacting with tourists he shows  around Dharavi In 2012, he spotted an advertisement in mid-day and approached Reality Tours and Travels (RTT) for a job. “It felt good to show outsiders how people live in Dharavi,” Mestri tells us. He recalls his first experience as a guide, “I was a bit nervous. Gradually, I was able to interact and answer their questions. They were happy when I told them it was my first tour and their compliments helped me feel less conscious.” While the company plays host to tourists from across the world, the largest numbers are from the US and UK. Mestri was thrilled when RTT’s British CEO, Paul Whittle, gave a speech in correct Hindi at a party that celebrated the company’s 10th anniversary. “I have many fond memories. This one time, two UK professional body builders were in Mumbai to promote their bodybuilding product. Someone had recommended our tour, and I was the guide. Normally, guests don’t get too much attention because locals are used to foreign tourists. But that day, everyone came forward to shake hands and inquired body building tips. The kids would scream bodybuilderwallah! We don’t take visitors to a gym as part of the tour but I showed them a one. They lifted weights; I think the visit helped inspire the gym staff too,” recalls Mestri. A thorough Mumbaikar, he is inspired by the fact that people travel long distances to earn their livelihood.

Sunny (centre) and fellow guide Naynish playing Kabbadi with British tourists
Sunny (centre) and fellow guide Naynish playing Kabbadi with British tourists

>>  Why take this tour?
“Locals take pride to conduct this tour. You get a sense of community and enterprise. The company also gives 80% of their profit back to the community. Dharavi is like a small town within a city and I can’t imagine Mumbai without Dharavi in it.”

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Cost: starting Rs 800

Bombay Heritage Walks: Looking beyond landmarks
Twenty four-year-old Sarthak Chand joined Bombay Heritage Walks (BHW) in late 2010, and was  conducting walks by 2011. “I dropped out of architecture school to pursue documentary photojournalism in 2014, and being a presenter at BHW is my  link to the field,” reveals Chand. “In my first year of Architecture, when I was doing a project on the history of this city, I became aware of the various parts of the city, I was only remotely aware of. I read more about its history and innumerable stories. While researching for a college assignment, I came across Bombay Heritage Walks. After training and extensive research, I started leading the walks and continue to do so even today,” he adds. The Mumbaikar finds this   a city filled with stories of wonder. “For most visitors, the underlying story of the city helps them make sense of the chaos that they witness firsthand. The neglected history of Watson’s Hotel and the story behind the naming of popular landmarks are all instances that arouse interest in the listener and often evoke a sense of joy on their discovery,” Chand tells us. He recalls an incident where “during one walk with a large group of photographers, it began to rain. Hooked on to the story of the city, the entire group decided to continue the walk in the downpour and enjoyed it despite being drenched.”

Students during the museum tour
Students during the museum tour

>>  Why take this tour?
The team of presenters at Bombay Heritage Walk comprises architects and art historians who conduct the walks in their spare time (weekends), to raise awareness about the architectural heritage of Mumbai. They focus on conservation efforts while informing participants about parts of the city that need public attention.

c/o Chandu Halwai, Navyug Niketan, 185 Walkeshwar Rd, Teenbatti.

Call: 23690992
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Cost: starting Rs 3,500 for four people

Seek Sherpa: For art’s sake
27-year-old Reeti Roy began conducting art walks in April 2015. With a degree in anthropology from London School of Economics and Political Science, she always considered herself an art aficionado. “As a child, my mother would collect art and take us to exhibitions in Calcutta, where I grew up, as well as to Santiniketan. I would also spend time with my best friend’s mother who is an art historian,” she shares. “I enjoy introducing travellers to the city through my eyes. I am curious about cities, cityscapes, its people and the art that informs it,” she explains. Part of Seek Sherpa, a group that focuses on art walks in the city, Roy’ route from the Asiatic Society Library and stops at murals and architecture en route to Jehangir Art Gallery where one can also interact with street artists. “What makes Mumbai special is its syncretism and pluralism. Along the way, we spot a Zoroastrian building, a church and if you walk for a kilometer, you will see the Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue. The city epitomises tolerance and pluralism that is in debate these days,” Roy says adding that the best tours are when there is an exchange. “The most fun I have had on a tour is when an art curator was part of the group, and we had lengthy discussions about Indian art and how it is perceived in the Western World,” she recalls.

Reeti Roy (third from left) at the walk
Reeti Roy (third from left) at the walk

>>  Why take this tour?
You can understand the social fabric of a city through its art. In this tour, they discuss about art and situate it within the context of a city.”

Call: 9871606657
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Cost: Rs 800

Alisha Sadikot: Finding Mumbai
For Alisha Sadikot, it is the “Aha!” moment on the faces of participants of her walks that thrills her to bits. After completing her masters in Art History and working with the Asiatic Society, Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum and Bombay Heritage Walks, Sadikot started the Inheritage Project — her solo city tour project. “I focus more on people who have lived in Mumbai all their life and want to know the city better. Areas like Byculla (E) and Mazgaon are filled with stories that people are unaware of. These areas used to be very different in the 19th century,” says Sadikot who also holds workshops for college students interested in heritage and conservation. “Part of the programme focuses on how they can use their social media skills to help in this context,” shares Sadikot, adding that the most important factor of being a guide is to understand the group you are speaking to and what appeals to them. “In the early 2000s, Mumbai didn’t have many heritage walks. Most people who worked in the Fort and Fountain area would often stop to listen to what I was saying and confess that they had no idea about the history of these places,” she adds.

Alisha Sadikot (in red) with the participants at the bandra Sea link
Alisha Sadikot (in red) with the participants at the Bandra Sea link

>>  Why take this tour?
They offer different tours for families, adults and students that offer an insight into history, art, collections, communities and neighbourhoods.

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