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Tracking Freddie’s footsteps in Panchgani
PAWANPREET KAUR  27th Nov 2011

Mercury performing

early five years ago, G. O. Lee, principal of St Peter's School in Panchgani was faced with an odd dilemma. A group of young Danes, who had camped in his school's playground, refused to budge till they were given a tour of the school. Lee had no choice but to oblige, but then again, St Peter's was no ordinary school. It was the proud alma mater of Freddie Mercury, lead vocalist of the iconic band Queen.

This little incident triggered an avalanche of ideas in Anil Shergill's head. He thought - why not give Freddie's fans an organised tour of his school and its surroundings? About a year ago, Shergill approached a travel company, curiously named Mercury Travels, with the idea. This lead to the inception of the Freddie Mercury tour of India, which offers a unique peep into his early life here.

Referred to as Simply Freddie, athe tour attempts to re-create Mercury's Indian roots. Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara and studied in St. Peter's School from 1954-1962. Mercury's principal encouraged him to learn to play piano, which became a lifelong passion. He also formed his first band, The Hectics, at age 12 and picked the name 'Freddie' while at school.

For Shergill, the tour was simply waiting to happen. "In the West, celebrity tourism is very popular. Freddie is an international celebrity and I thought, I thought this could be an exciting journey," says Shergill, himself an alumnus of St. Peter's.

The tour kicks off from Goa and goes on to Mumbai, Pune, Panchgani, Mahabaleshwar, before returning to Mumbai. It includes a visit to the Bulsara family's apartment in Mumbai, a stopover in Pune at Mercury's best friend and band member Farhang Irani's restaurant, before finally moving to Panchgani, where the tourists are given a five hours' tour of the school.

Visitors are treated to an interesting commentary on Mercury's days at the school, while touring his favourite haunts, including the assembly hall, St. Peter's church, The Hectics practice room, the ground where he played cricket, his classroom and dormitory. "Visitors also get a rare photo opportunity with Freddie's piano that sits in the school's majestic hall and can purchase rare Mercury memorabilia," says V.N. Kaul, Senior Manager, Mercury Travels. The school tour concludes with a performance of Queen songs by the school band.

The trip also includes other spots visited by Mercury, such as the small Venna Lake near Mahabaleshwar, where Freddie would go biking on weekends. "Legend has it that his childhood love for cycling inspired the song I want to ride my bicycle," says Kaul. To fans, being able to touch Mercury's beloved piano, in the very place where he learned music is absolutely exciting, he adds.

For Mercury travels, the idea made sense because it attempts to break away the holy trinity of Agra-Jaipur-Goa. "We want our clients to experience something unique. Tours like Simply Freddie helps tourists explore lesser-known and yet fascinating facets of India," says Kaul. Tourists can choose from a variety of packages ranging between Rs 1,05,000-2,62,000.

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