Walking around to discover a new city may seem daunting at first, but it could actually prove to be a very interesting experience.
Many of us end up moving cities for our job or to live with a spouse and one of the first things we should do is find out more about our new home. This is important because once in a while there comes a weekend where there are no plans and the first question that pops up is "what should I do to pass time?"
Walking across the length and breadth of the city was how I got to know Delhi, many years ago. It became a hobby and that too a fascinating one. At every step, there were new sights, new people to observe. I saw people mingling in multicultural groups doing their own unique thing (Paharganj in the north); pavements taken over from pedestrians by vendors selling everything from tree roots to T shirts (Connaught Place to much of Central Delhi); oddly shaped buildings, some pretty, some absurd (all around Greater Kailash and Kailash Hill in the south); half-lit alleyways (the bohemian villages of Delhi); mysteriously aromatic food joints (all over Hazrat Nizamuddin, foodie central); goats travelling in an auto-rickshaw to pigeons fighting for space among piles of novels (Chandni Chowk) and even old imperial ruins in sprawling Vasant Vihar parks. Walking the city started as a new experiment and ended up capturing my imagination and giving me plenty of stories to ruminate over on lazy weekends.
One of the most interesting aspects of urban walking to discover a city is the new perspectives that are revealed and how they combine with the senses to form patterns around each other instantly. The depth and dimension of a place is often lost behind the glass windows of a car or a bus, like the aroma of spices in a colourful spice market, or a scrape against an ancient, broken brick wall while poking around a fallen ruin inside a public park. The mind is constantly in action through these little sorties and one keeps discovering little nuggets. The strains of various dialects as they flow in a market, the squeezing through alleys and pathways to reach destinations, the chaos of a good streetside bargain, the stories of commerce and daily commutes that seamlessly interweave with lives; the experience is often exhilarating.
I remember walking down the leafy confines of Golf Links and Lodhi Colony in Lutyens' Delhi wondering about the horses which would have passed beneath the old arches or the many soldiers who would have polished their boots in anticipation of the daily evening parade inside the old barracks. My imagination would run riot even as I saw, heard and smelled what was around me.
Curiosity can preserve inspiration for a very long time and it's not even tedious. All you need is your comfortable shoes, your choice of music, a quiet weekend and your active imagination to lift the veil as the city weaves its stories around you and welcomes you into a chapter of discovery. Given that most of us spend the major part of our lives struggling through the concrete jungle and rat races, it is always a welcome break from the daily grind to get out and walk around. Start small, like maybe discovering the story behind the broken temple in the neighbourhood park or visiting the local market that comes up mysteriously every Tuesday and disappears for the rest of the week. Look for the glint of stained glass in that rundown church to Instagram across the world or find that tea stall behind the tree line which has a collection of 87 varieties, all to be brewed right there on the footpath. Then maybe expand your horizons -- find the much talked about food stalls, always heard of but never experienced, in the old town, or the dusty bookshop which still sells a copy of Pygmalion for five rupees in the shadow of a Mughal ruin. The stories keep stacking up.
So, if you are looking for a new hobby, walking around a city is both healthy, adventurous, fun and an inexpensive way to spend a quiet weekend afternoon.