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Every day busloads of tourists hop off at Humayun's Tomb, Qutub Minar or Red Fort to take in some of Delhi's heritage sights. In cinema city Mumbai, the top draw for tourists is Amitabh Bachchan's bungalow, Jalsa. Both sets of tourist destinations, disparate as they may be in every other aspect, are united in one - their histories are left to be narrated by local amateur tour guides. Those who crave accuracy and breadth in detail and perhaps even privacy in their appreciation of it can look to entrepreneur Gautam Shewakramani.
Shewakramani heads AudioCompass, a company that customises audio tours for five UNESCO World Heritage sites like the Agra Fort, Taj Mahal, Khajuraho temples, the Buddhist stupa at Sanchi and the Salarjung Musuem in Hyderabad. He's now set to service Mumbai with audio tours called 'Bollywood Star Homes Tour' and 'Mumbai-Footsteps of the Raj'. While the first is self-explanatory, the second will compare the city in 1947 and 2012 through two fictional characters.
"Bollywood is a galvanising force in this country, and this tour is a fun take on the names that run it, " Shewakramani tells TOI-Crest. "We will take you past the homes of the biggest personalities in the industry, both past and present, and will give you an insight into how the stars live and where they came from. What cars do they drive? Where do they park these cars? (A valid question if you were familiar with the city's nightmarish parking scene). How did they choose their homes? And other crucial FAQs.
We've designed these tours to not only appeal to film fans, but to anyone keen to grasp the madness and mystique of Bollywood, " he explains.
The tours, which are available on the webiste as a downloadable app across the iOS and Android platforms - unlike other tours that charge in excess of $150 for a six-hour introduction to B-town - will also pass on advice like where one can buy the best samosas near Jalsa. It takes listeners down memory lane, beginning with Mehmood Studios, where many great films have been shot, and then takes them past the great mansions of stars like Rajesh Khanna and Shah Rukh Khan.
We won't be breaching their privacy, says Shewakramani. "This information is, to the best of our knowledge, available in public records. In addition, we won't be intruding on anyone's privacy, " he maintains.
Cinephiles may be eager for the low-down on Bollywood, but it's the other Mumbai tour that has Shewakramani, a graduate of MIT Sloan School of Management, excited. The 1 hour, 47 minutes-long tour, 'Mumbai - Footsteps of the Raj', which has been vetted by city historians, takes a listener into Fort, the heart of the former British outpost. Here, they will set off from St Thomas Cathedral (the first Anglican church in Mumbai), to Horniman Circle, Kala Ghoda to Rampart Row, past the Yacht Club, and finally end at The Gateway of India. "The tour, which has 35 stops, allows you to have a real sense of things along the way, and I think it will be a great route for anybody who has even the mildest interest in the history of this city, " is Shewakramani's claim.
"People come to Mumbai and do the routine 'Bombay darshan' across the city, but we wanted this tour to focus on the Fort area where every corner has a story to tell. We've included the obvious sights as well as some obscure attractions, and thrown in interesting historical nuggets like about how Premchand Roychand bore the cost for the Rajabai Clock Tower, Mumbai's own version of the Big Ben, on the condition that it was named after his mother. Or how the Army & Navy building in Kala Ghoda, which has a Westside in it now, has always had a store within its premises. Mumbai is still one of the more recognizable Victorian cities in the world and the Gothic architecture you can see here is stunning even today, " he adds.
Listeners - who are warned not to take this tour during peak traffic hours - can learn where Dr BR Ambedkar hung out, why the walls of the Fort were demolished;they can know more about David Sassoon, after whom the smelly Sassoon docks are named, how he landed in Bombay with no money or knowledge of English. Then there's old Customs House, one of the oldest stone house structures in the city which is still used for civic affairs like registering properties and marriage. The tour also talks about the evolution of Bombay to Mumbai and Shivaji and his legacy. For those without an iPhone or Android, AudioCompass will also rent out easy-to-use devices from various convenient locations around South Bombay soon.
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