Walking tours of 5 Indian cities

Discover the heritage of these five popular cities while meandering through their streets and alleyways on foot.

1. Amritsar

amritsar golden temple

One of the largest cities in Punjab, a lot of people vist Amritsar to pray at the Golden Temple. But the city’s narrow lanes offer a fascinating glimpse into the daily life of the city. Start your walk at the Town Hall, built in 1873 and a fine example of colonial architecture. It was once the centre of Amritsar’s local administration. Visit Jallianwala Bagh where in 1919 hundreds of people were shot dead. The massacre’s scars can still be seen on the walls. Then head to Gurdwara Saragarahi, built to honour the memory of the soldiers who died in the Battle of Saragarhi in 1987. Then there’s Ramgarhia Bunga, a former garrison house, built in the 18th century. The army was station there to protect Golden Temple from invaders. Qila Ahluwalia is a fort that once belonged to Jassa Singh Ahluwalia, a great Sikh warrior. And Jalebiwala Chowk in the city’s commercial district is where you should stop to savour some lip-smacking delicacies. Along the way you’ll also pass Balanand Akhara, Sangalwala Akhara and Chitta Akhara, which aren’t linked to wrestlers, but are 250-year-old hostels for spiritualists and saints. Sangalwala Akhara is one of Sikhism’s largest schools of learning, and is well known for its large library.
End your trip at the magnificent Golden Temple, which was completed in 1604 and is considered the holiest gurdwara of Sikhism.

Photograph: Paul Simpson/Flickr (Under Creative Commons License)

2. Lucknow


The best way to explore Lucknow’s culture and heritage is by foot, admiring the beautiful havelis, lip-smacking Tundey kebab stalls and small chikan and zardozi workshops along the way. Start your walk at Lal Pul and head to Tila Wali Masjid, a beautiful white mosque built in 1680. Next up is Bara Imambara, one of the grandest Mughal-era buildings in Lucknow, and a popular Shia Muslim shrine. Meander down the maze-like alleyways of Gol Darwaza, Chowk Bazaar and Phool Wali Gali and sample the local cuisine while taking in the mind-boggling variety of things on sale. Walk through Rumi Darwaza, a combination of Hindi-Muslim architecture that features intricately done work. Chhota Imambara is close by and has colourful stucco work, gilt-edged mirrors and exquisite chandeliers. It’s a must-visit. Next is Ulama-e-Farangi Mahal, which until the 20th century was an Islamic seminary that drew brilliant minds from the subcontinent. End your walk at Akbari Darwaza, a once grand gate that has now fallen into ruin.

Photograph: Areeb Anwer/Flickr (Under Creative Commons License)

3. Kolkata


Once the colonial capital of India, Kolkata is teaming with heritage structures in various architectural styles. The area around Lal Dighi, once called Dalhousie Square but now BBD Bagh, is the oldest square in the city. This area has some of the city’s grandest buildings that are still in use. Start your walk at Great Eastern Hotel (now called The Lalit Great Eastern), built in 1841 and one of the oldest hotels in the country. Then head to Raj Bhavan, now the official residence of the Governor of West Bengal. Built by Lord Wellesley, it occupies 27 acres and the building itself has 84,000 sq ft of space. Then it’s time for St John’s Church, which was originally a cathedral and is the third oldest church in Kolkata. It houses a number of memorials and tombs of distinguished Kolkata residents, including that of Job Charnock, traditionally regarded as the founder of British Kolkata. Next up is the imposing General Post Office with grand high-domed roof and tall Corinthian pillars. There’s also a postal museum that displays stamps and artefacts. Walk over to Writer’s Building; it once housed the junior clerks of the East India Company, and is now the secretariat building of the state government. The building has a Greco-Roman look and the terrace has several notable statues. From there walk to St Andrew’s Church and then the Old Currency Building, a masterpiece of Italian architecture with it’s large brick arches, cast iron gates and Venetian windows. The building is in rundown state and restoration work is ongoing.

Photograph: Ujjwal India/Wikimedia (Under Creative Commons License)

4. Shimla


By the second half of the 19th century, the British used Shimla as their summer capital. The sleepy little hill station mushroomed into a small town. Take a slightly unusual walk away from the popular touristy spots. Shimla has five cemeteries that hold the remains of some of its most prominent citizens and hark back to a bygone era. Kanlog cemetery is the largest one and was started around 1850. Dense and towering cedar trees surround it, though the ever-expanding town has made its inroads here as well. Most of the gravestones have lost their information, while some are being reclaimed by nature. Nun’s Graveyard is used by the nuns of the Convent of Jesus and Mary, and the graves here are in better condition as they are privately maintained. Sanjauli Cemetery is the only one still in use by the local Christian community. Many British are buried in the five cemeteries and descents often come here looking to find their roots. Though the graves are not well maintained, the cemeteries offer people a glimpse of a bygone era that will soon be lost.
Photograph: Abhimanyu/Wikimedia (Under Creative Commons License)

5. Bangalore


You wouldn’t think it, but this city has quite a few Victorian-era churches and bungalows nestled among more modern constructs. Start out at Holy Trinity Church, a major landmark built in the English Renaissance style in 1851. It has ornate marble murals and beautiful stained glass windows brought from London. Also visit East Parade Malayalam Church located in the Bangalore Cantonment. Uniquely, there are no column or pillars inside the church, therefore the view of the altar is unobstructed. Then head to Mayo Hall an impressive stone and mortar building with Tuscan columns, pediment windows, balustrade ledges, and Greek cornices. Once it was decorated with Italian chandeliers and ornate furniture. While walking around, don’t forget to keep an eye out for quaint bungalows and buildings sporting interesting colonial-style architectural elements.

Photograph: Charles Haynes/Flickr (Under Creative Commons License)