Remember the rickety bus tour you went on from school, peeping between window rods to get a better look of Rajabhai Tower, or dividing your attention between the food packets your friend was opening, your teacher’s instructions to stand in a file and the drab tour guide parroting boring facts under the scorching sun?
AudioCompass, launched in 2011 but finally making waves now, is here to change all that. All you need actually is a mobile phone. You can either download the app on your phone, or go online www.audiocompass.in and book a culture call (see box). We took two culture call tours on our phone to find out what it is all about:
Footsteps of the Raj tour around south Mumbai
While most of us think we know every inch of Colaba or Marine Drive by heart, I honestly did not know much about the history of the Horniman Circle or Fort. While you can also download a tour app on your smartphone, I chose to take the audio tour on my mobile phone after registering online.
At the beginning of the tour, the voice of the chirpy Richa Sharma, who has lived in Mumbai since she was a teenager, greets us. Accompanying Sharma, and adding a diverse perspective to 36 spots in south Mumbai that we will visit in the next two hours, is the voiceover of Robert Strictland, who was a general in the infantry during the British Raj. With these two guides, we set out to discover Bombay in Mumbai.
The first stop is St Thomas’s Cathedral. Did you know it is also known as Zero Point Bombay, as all distances in and around Bombay were once measured from this spot? The tour is full of such interesting trivia. For instance, I learn that in 1676, the roof of the cathedral was made cannonball proof.
At the next stop, Elphinstone building at Horniman Circle, I find out that the city has played host to two Lord Elphinstones. The building is dedicated to the military man who solved much of the city’s water problems at the time by starting work on the Vihar lake.
I check out more: the Mumbai Samachar office, PM Road, The Great Western Building, Apollo Gate, Lion Gate, Kala Ghoda, Esplanade, Taj Mahal Palace and the Regal, before giving up on the past and walking into a McDonalds for a 2013 edition of a cola.
OUR VERDICT: While in parts the narration got repetitive or reminded me of my Class X history class, overall it was an eye opener. The recording is crisp, clear and the background score adds the right mood to the tour. Make sure the volume of your phone is at the highest, since you will be walking on the footpath next to honking cars at all times.
Rating: * * * *
Bollywood Star Homes Tour
Bollywood Inc employs six million people, and the Indian film industry makes 1,000 films in a year in Hindi, Telugu and Tamil. With a number-heavy introduction to Bollywood, we begin the tour around Bandra, hoping to catch a glimpse of a
“Many will find the content known and not offering any new information. But our sole aim here is to offer reliable facts about actors and their homes,” says Gautam Shewakramani, founder of AudioCompass, when we quiz him before we begin the trip.
As we dial our stop outside Dilip Kumar’s home, the music of Mughal-e-Azam rings in my ears, and the trivia about the original Devdas follows. An Afghan by birth, Dilip Kumar’s real name is Mohammed Yousuf Khan, who used to work in a canteen before he became an actor. Married to Saira Banu, who is half his age, their courtship created a scandal. Ah! But there is some new information for me: after their wedding, Kumar went to her place to stay for many days.
On Perry Cross Road stands cricket god Sachin Tendulkar’s bungalow. We are told this is insured for Rs 100 crore! The audio here takes me through each level of the home — the ground floor has the kitchen, a separate room for trophies, the kids’ bedrooms are on the second floor, a floor for the gymnasium and a swimming pool. In the two basements are parked Sachin’s 40 to 50 cars. Wow!
Outside Shah Rukh Khan’s home, Mannat, we meet a marketing professional who agrees to listen to the track. “Everyone has a story of struggle, and the king of Bollywood also worked hard to buy this heritage home,” he says. After listening to the audio, he knows more: that SRK bought the house in 1999 for $3 million USD and today it is worth $25 million.
OUR VERDICT: If you’re in Bandra, and have some free time, this tour could be fun. You can even test your Bollywood knowledge quotient. For those who do not enjoy an overdose of Bollywood, you can give this one a miss.
Rating: * * * * *
How to get the tour on your phone
To sign up for an audio culture call, register your mobile phone number on culturecalls.audiocompass.in. Select the tour you wish to access, enter your mobile number and pay Rs 10 for the tour by credit/debit card or netbanking via a secure payment gateway. Once your payment is processed, you will automatically receive an email and SMS confirmation providing you with a unique access number of the tour, which is valid for 24 hours, a list of stops, code numbers you need to key in for each stop and an optional printable map