Monday, September 21, 2009

Delhi by Metro: Interview with Deepa, Tripbod in Mumbai

Alfonso: You define your project as “green and socially responsible”, could you please explain to our readers why the project you are developing in Delhi is both “green and socially responsible”?

Deepa: Delhi by Metro is an off-beat tour of Delhi by students from Manzil, an NGO that works in youth empowerment and learning.

The tour uses the Delhi Metro, as well as two additional forms of 'green' transport that are popular with the common man in Delhi - the compressed natural gas (CNG) powered green auto-rickshaw, and the cycle-rickshaw. The tour provides income for the student-guides, and also helps to finance some programmes at Manzil.

The tour covers both New Delhi and Old Delhi. It starts at Connaught Place, with an introduction to the history of Delhi, and a geographical orientation of the city. From Connaught Place, we take people by autorickshaw on an exploration of 'Lutyens Delhi' - the city of grand public spaces designed by the British, which is now called New Delhi. We drive through the Central Business District, seeing the markets and businesses there. We go to the Lutyens Bungalow Zone, Janpath, Rajpath, and visit the President's House, Parliament House, Secretariat and India Gate.

After this, we board the Metro to go to Old Delhi, where we experience the bustle of the bazaars both on foot, and using cycle-rickshaws. People really enjoy this part of the tour! We visit Dariba Kalan (the silver market), Kinari Bazaar (wedding market) and Paranthewali Galli (Lane of Parathas). This tour is also a cultural exploration of India’s multiple faiths – during the tour, you can see the Jama Masjid, a Hindu temple, a Jain derasars, a Sikh Gurudwara, all standing cheek-by-jowl, a testament to our diversity.

The final stop is at the legendary Haldiram's for snacks (try Delhi’s popular chaats!) and a cold drink. After that, we clamber onto the Delhi Metro again, to end the tour at Connaught Place.

Alfonso: How does this tour contribute to the local community?

The young people who work in this project do not come from affluent homes. So for them, this a great supplement to their family income. It is not intended to be a substitute for a job, but it does help them become valuable contributors to their families.

The price that tourists pay for the trip is 2000 rupees, out of which 750 go to the guide, 250 are for the NGO Manzil and 500 cover expenses such as local transport and the possibility to enjoy real Delhi food in a restaurant. Thus, tourists are getting an authentic experience of Delhi. They are actually experiencing the city on the streets like a local person. Therefore, for the tourists it is a very authentic experience, and for the guide and for the NGO this represents a source of income. Finally, the other 500 rupees is the profit of the trip, and they are for me. I am not doing any charity, this is the profit that I make myself.

Alfonso: In any case, I see that the accountability of the project is quite clear…

Deepa: The price and profitability structure is very clear. Initially, I invest some money, for example, for training sessions that I hope to recover afterwards so long as the project develops.

When we started this project, the guides were not familiar with the history, architecture, etc of the places we visited, so we wrote a tour script and did a three-month training program.

The training sessions were fun!

You can see photos here, and there are more photos on the Delhi Magic Blog:

We first launched this tour in 2008, and it did well, so I am hoping that by next year, I will break even on this project as well.

I did a similar project in Bombay (called Mumbai Local) and that’s doing very well. I have recovered all my initial costs and it is profitable. It helps that I have very good Google rankings for my websites, so we get a lot of enquiries.

Alfonso: It seems that we have pretty much covered the part on social responsibility, but now I would like to ask you about the fact that this project is environmentally responsible, could you please develop a bit on this aspect?

Is it really a tour by metro? Does the metro cover all areas that you visit in the tour?

Deepa: The metro doesn’t yet go to every part of the city that we visit. Therefore, there are also parts of the tour that are covered by cycle rickshaw and autorickshaw, and others that are covered by walking, such as the different city markets that we visit.

Alfonso: May I ask you how have you defined the tour?

Deepa: Typically when you look at Delhi tours that are covered by most travel agencies, these tours cover 2 parts: Old and New Delhi. In our case, we do cover both, but we do it in a smarter way because we use public transport, not a private car. We do get a lot of queries of interest by non governmental organizations or foundations who would like to do this kind of tour in India. People seem to be ready for such innovative ideas, and that is why it is functioning so well. Hopefully, it will be even better in a couple of years.

Alfonso: Are there similar projects in India that are already being developed? Will there be in the future?

Deepa: In Jaipur, I support an NGO in the area of water management and local self government in rural villages. These villages do not have external funding from international organizations such as the World Bank, the UN, but they have improved their water situation going back to traditional water management systems, and we want to show that to tourists. Again, the model is the same, I take a certain amount of money, a part goes to the guide, part to the NGO. In Udaipur I support a women’s organisation called Sadhna which basically provides livelihoods for women… so people can buy products directly from the cooperative and the cooperative also gets publicity – more people come to hear about them and they make more contacts.

Alfonso: Are these projects running in parallel?

Deepa: Yes, all these projects are running in parallel, so next time we can talk about another of these projects because it is difficult to fit all of them in one interview.

Alfonso: Definitely, one of these or one of your future projects could be the theme for another interview. In order to finish our interview, could you please tell our travellers why they should come to Delhi and participate in your tour?

Deepa: Delhi is a very old city with a very rich history. It is also like a microcosm of cultures and religions, because all peoples from all communities and religions live in Delhi and in our tour we cover all of them – in one road, one after the other you may see all types of temples, a mosque, a church, etc., and we also talk about the way India lives in diversity. Therefore, it is an introduction to India’s history and culture, and most people who have taken the tour say very nice things about it. After this tour people have a better understanding of Delhi because they have experienced Delhi not as a tourist but as a local person, since the guides are not professionals but local students and volunteers.

Alfonso: Well, actually this is the motto of Tripbod!

Deepa: Yes, the tourists can ask the guides directly what their life is like, and they hopefully understand the country from a different perspective.

Alfonso: Deepa, thanks a lot for such an interesting chat. I hope to talk with you about one of your projects, maybe next month? Meanwhile, I wish you success in your professional adventures!

Deepa: Thanks a lot!

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