hen in Rome, do as the Romans do. Rightly said, but most of us are not confident about speaking or understanding a new language. So, when Ish Jindal and Sanchit Malik found themselves alone and confused on the streets of Moscow, they realised that many tourists in India might be facing similar quandaries. Thus was born Padhaaro, a first-of-its kind "welcome visitor" programme in India.
"Roaming around the streets of Moscow, we didn't know what to do or where to go despite having maps and guides at our disposal. It became impossible with signboards in Russian and, rarely anyone speaking English. Finally, we called up a friend in Moscow (who is a local) and it was only then we could tour the city. Not only that, she also introduced us to Moscow's lifestyle, its thinking, culture and a lot of other things. Then, we realised that tourists coming to India must be facing similar changes on their trip and that if a local friend is showing around his/her city, the experience would be amazingly different," says Jindal.
While doing their research, the duo found that the perception about India as a tourist destination is not good. Realising this, they thought of helping tourists by providing them with the assistance of a person from the locality/city; this would ensure their holiday hassle-free and safe.
"We also wanted tourists to take back new relationships and friendships and not just pictures of monuments. And hence, few of us grouped together, researched a bit about other similar services existing across the globe, got inspired and started Padhaaro in January — a group of young, passionate travel enthusiasts slowly trying to change the way tourists experience India," says Malik.
To avail Padhaaro's services, all that a visitor needs to do is fill the 'Tourist Visit' request form with his/her complete itinerary, interests and other needs. Once filled, the team looks for available 'greeters' — a local from a particular city, who can take tourists to acquaint them with the local flavours and traditions.
"We let the tourist and the greeters interact directly; they decide where they wish to go and what they want to do. The whole interaction takes place through emails and phone. When a tourist arrives in a particular city, a Padhaaro greeter meets him at a public place and then they carry on with their decided activities. Our greeters are students or professionals and know their respective cities very well. We do not look for someone who is well-aware of the history of his area, as we are not looking for a guide. We want people who would be interested in showing their city around to a foreign tourist," says Jindal. The desired qualities for a greeter include, passion, simplicity, well conversant, knowledge of a foreign language other than English and easy availability.
With around 70 greeters operating in close to 15 cities across India, the service is getting positive response. Anastasia Kurdyukova from Russia writes, "I had dreamt of visiting India for a long time but not as an ordinary tourist, rather with the help of a Russian tourist agency. I was eager to know the "real India" with all its colours and feel the Indian lifestyle. It would have been next to impossible, but for Padhaaro. It was my greeter who helped me plan a journey so that my friend and I could see as much as possible."