Mumbai, the vibrant and dynamic city, renowned for its art-deco style of architecture and the grandeur of the Gothic and Victorian structures built during the time of the British. Born out of colonial era, the southern part of the city also popularly called the ‘Town’; harbours some very old and astonishing pieces of architecture. The old city holds within itself so much of history which todays common Mumbaikar is totally unaware of. In today’s modern life, Mumbaikars preoccupied with their daily routines are losing touch with the city’s rich past. Well, the good news is that there is one organization which is trying to change this; it’s called ‘Raconteur Walks’ and it is trying to make Mumbaikars understand their hometown better by walking them through its history.
Born out of a need for better tourism infrastructure, ‘Raconteur Walks’ (RW) is a theme based walking tour company that aims to provide a professional touring solution for both tourists and locals. Their aim is to take tourists and locals on a journey to uncover the hidden secrets of Mumbai. Their tagline says it all, ‘Live the city’!
|The famous Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Mumbai|
Viraat Kasliwal, the founder of RW, is only 24 years old. He was born in a family of entrepreneurs; in fact he is the fifth generation entrepreneur in his family! A graduate from HR College, he was born and raised in South Mumbai. Growing up among the beautiful buildings of town, he developed a attraction towards Mumbai’s history. The architecture of certain buildings like the University campus and the Town Hall captivated him since his early days. Viraat is a true blue Mumbaikar who deeply loves the history of his hometown. It is this love for the city that makes him the apt person to run a tour company that enlightens people about Mumbai’s past. “This city means the world to me and nothing would want to make me leave it. It’s always been home for me and there’s a warmth that emanates out of this city and her people that makes everyone always feel like they’re at home”, says Viraat.
The idea to start RW struck Viraat after a few trips to the US and Switzerland made him realize that India is actually a treasure chest of history, but due to the poor tourism infrastructure India was not a big tourist destination globally. He saw an obvious lack of good quality tourism options in India and thus RW was born to fill this gap. He says a lot of tourists come to Mumbai after hearing stories about the grandeur of India, but due to the poor tourism facilities many of them return disappointed! Through RW he set out to change this major lacuna.
Having an idea is one thing, but starting up a company is a different ball game altogether and Viraat too went through those tough early days that all entrepreneurs have to go through. The first thing he did was to meticulously research about the city’s history. He started out his research in September 2009 and it lasted almost till December 2010. During this time he researched 40 books, 55 magazines and periodicals and countless websites. His vision was clear, to start a good quality touring company he would need at least 100 times more knowledge than what a guide book like lonely planet can provide! His family was always there to support him both emotionally and financially. He would turn to his father when in need of some financial advice and his mother always stood behind him like a rock. His biggest challenge however, has been the perception that people in India hold about tourism companies. People failed to understand the difference between RW and any other local guide at the ‘Gateway of India’. Changing this perception has been one his biggest challenges.
|A walking tour at the Flora Fountain|
As of now RW organizes three walks based on history theme, all of which are conducted in the Fort region of South Mumbai. A walk is about 2.5 Kms and lasts about 3 hours. A walking group consists on no more than 10 people. Viraat is very cautious when it comes to hiring his guides. The parameters which are of paramount importance for a person to become a guide at RW are command over English, charisma, extrovertness and self-confidence. He tries to keep his team youthful, in fact at 24 he is the oldest member of his team! Most of the guides are young college students who are either pursuing education or have just passed out. He also looks out for part time actors from English theatre. “Language and formality will never be a problem if you walk with us”, says Viraat. Walking groups are not allowed to be larger than 10, so that the guide can give personal attention to each tourist. The company strives to ensure that it’s not just about walking, it is about creating an experience for your customers, and it is about making people really live the city!
Viraat enlightened us with some really interesting facts about the city’s history. The name Bombay was derived from Bom Bahia (The good bay), a name given by Portuguese sailor Francis Almeida in 1508. Neither the Portuguese nor the local rulers had any major interest in the area which is today know as South Mumbai. It was only the British who realized the importance of Mumbai Harbour and began developing the Bombay island. Nobel Laureate Rudyard Kipling who wrote Kim and The Jungle Book was born in Mumbai. Such pieces of info assured us as to how little the average Mumbaikar is aware about the history of the city he calls home!
The next step for RW is to increase the number of walks it organizes from 3 to 15 and also add newer themes to the walks. The bigger aim, however, is to take the company pan India. Viraat wants RW to become a household name in tours. He wants to provide people across India an honest, professional and organized touring option. “The quality of our walk and the smiles on our guest’s faces are what is most important to us”, says a candid Viraat. Given his dedication to his work and his passion Discovering-Mumbai believes that RW will surely achieve the goals that it has set for itself. We are all praise of our true blue Mumbaikar Viraat Kasliwal and we wish him all the very best on his future endeavours. May you keep enlightening the people of Mumbai about their history!
You can check out more about them and their latest walk on their website http://mumbaiwalkingtours.com/