Bharat Gothoskar an Evangelist on the mission to conserve heritage in India
“The pure beauty of a building and our heritage lay in its story”
I always loved taking these long walks, discovering newer things in the same place I would have walked 100 times. There is just so much culture, history, generations of untold stories and memories that are hidden in the nooks and crannies of this beautiful city that I have had the privilege to call home. The stories that echo in the walls of what we now call heritage are stories that could leave you spellbound and never fails to make me take pride in my culture.
I researched all the places I could in the city just out of curiosity and I continue to so till date. Even as a project during my MBA days, I chose to propose a marketing plan for promoting heritage. The activity of hosting walks is something that I had been putting together for the past 10 years. I would take my relatives and friends for these small excursions around the city. We would travel to Banganga and sit there looking at the ducks, fishes, the ever-flowing stream of water and the temple so alive at the top. As time passed, it was no longer just sharing the wisdom of these places but to actually be able to contribute to the conservation of these heritages that I so adored. What were just walks with friends eventually carved itself into what I now call ‘Khaki Tours’.
If one spends 5 minutes with Bharat and you will be filled with fun facts and trivia about places and things that might not have even been archived. He never realized that there we people as enthusiastic about learning more about the city until his first post on social media. “For my first official walk, all I did was create an event on Facebook for a walk around the Banganga Tank. About 25 people came for this walk and by the time I put my 3rd walk, we had over 150 people when we had accounted for just 50. After receiving a huge response, requests started pouring to have open walks in other parts of the city, covering other interesting spots of Mumbai. That is probably the first time I recognized the fact that we were doing SOMETHING right. Today, the Khaki walks have become a medium for Mumbaikars to fall in love with their city all over again and appreciate the heritage that can be found in its nooks and crannies. Most walks have surprises that stun people, for instance, the ‘other Gateway of India’ which was part of the GamdeviWalk or the two-metre-high Shiva statue from the fifth century, during Queensway Parel walk.
The name 'Khaki' came with the vision of showing around the visitors of this city in an open-air jeep. The jeep in mind was a typical military jeep with the khaki colours on them and hence the name 'Khaki Tours' was born”
I was doing well with a marketing job, in a reputed company and leaving that behind to work on Khaki full time was a tough decision to make. My wife was and is my pillar. She said, “I am there” and that meant the world to me. She told me that you should never have to live your life with resentment for not doing something you have always wanted to. Wait till you retire to start something for yourself just so it seems risk-free but have no energy.
Currently, Khaki Tours has a total inventory of 15 walks, which are divided into long walks, which span around 2.5 hours, and short walks, which take about 1.5 hours. Team Khaki has about 15 members who help in different aspects like content generation, hosting, and volunteering. The team has conducted about 200 walks and 100 jeep rides to date.
The team organizes tours old markets, a couple of outdoor trips to Alibag and Kulaba fort, which takes an entire day including walks to the famous haunted places.
As Bharat walks through the crammed streets of Mumbai, showing you the narrowest building in the city, a 100-year-old colonial building, Pav baked in a coal oven, a Chinese Temple and all the stories in each path, he is joined by locals just curious to listen more about the place that they have called home and also start sharing the stories that was passed on to them in their family. Together, they unearth these secrets.
A lot of people talk about how the heritage of this country is not being conserved. We all crave the High-rise buildings, redevelopment and a Starbucks on the corner street from our homes and wanting all these things are alright, but it comes with a cost. Expecting the government to come up with solutions for the vast heritage we have to preserve is impossible, but at least we need to start somewhere. Khaki is that way for me. We recently organized a walk for the BMC and these workers were surprised to know so many things that they have seen almost every day. It is all about sharing and talking about the stories behind this that makes people interested. I call myself a heritage evangelist – one who seeks to call people’s attention to heritage extinction and elaborates on the need for heritage conversation of the city and my dream is to turn every citizen towards this.
Gothoskar now organizes at least 2 walks every month and is involved in creating policies with the government to restore some endangered heritage, He is also working on a book with a collection of all the stories he has gathered over the years and looks forward to a country filled with heritage evangelists just like himself. So for now, he only has one suggestion, to join him on his next walk, be fascinated and don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes.