Published: 29th June 2018
This man is giving Hyderabad's tourists a walk to remember through his engaging heritage walks
Navin Sigamany's The Hyderabad Walking Company ensures that during their heritage walks, you not only walk with fellow enthusiasts, but alongside history as well
Every city in India is a treasure trove of stories. Walking through its lanes is like walking through the history that is etched in its crumbling monuments, old heritage buildings and forgotten shrines — each with its own tale to tell. When you think of a city that is an exemplar of this heritage, Hyderabad tops the list — popular for both HITEC City and Old City. While HITEC City is the future and represents all that is new and fast, one trip to the Old City takes you back to the past, when life was slower and simpler. And that is what makes this city unique and full of mysteries. And while there are people who are unfolding the mysteries that the City of Nizams holds — like Gopala Krishna AB through his heritage walks, Hyderabad Trails and Phaneendra Boosala through walks that incorporate an ancient form of storytelling, Dastangoi — Navin Sigamany has joined the bandwagon with his own set of heritage walks, The Hyderabad Walking Company.
Sigamany, the storyteller
Born in Coimbatore, Sigamany worked in Chennai for a while and then came to Hyderabad in 2006 to work with Google. "Hyderabad is not exactly a city for tourism, but a lot of people visit it for business. They are usually free on the weekends and want to make good use of their time," says Sigamany. So, after falling in love with the city and reading books about it written by scholars like Narendra Luther and others, the 42-year-old started giving his own tours to his co-workers. "Whenever someone, visitor or local, showed the slightest inclination to explore Hyderabad, I would drag them around and show them the city myself," he shares and laughs. One look at the reviews his tours have got on TripAdvisor and we deduce that he must've been quite popular even before he even started The Hyderabad Walking Company.
Sigamany also conducts local walks where people from the same locality meet and explore it. He also organises food walks
And what makes him and his tours different from the regular guided tours, where guides dole out historical facts and figures without blinking an eye, is that he is a storyteller. You have to meet Sigamany, like we did, to know the drama he creates while narrating the story — through his voice, expressions and gestures. Not only does one find themselves invested in his tales, but the joy of discovery that one feels at the end is something that is delightful (ask us, we know!). "It is these stories that people remember, not how tall a structure is or when it was built," he says passionately, in a conversation that was scheduled for twenty minutes but went on for about an hour and a half.
Rumour has it
Last year, Sigamany decided to quit his job at 'the golden goose of the IT world', Google, to pursue his passion for storytelling. He started The Hyderabad Walking Company in May this year. "I don't take more than 12 people per walk because I don't want to dilute the experience for them," he states.
Sigamany has noticed a lot of things typical to Hyderabad. Like, if someone jumps the line, the people behind coolly accept it rather than pick a fight. "From where I come (Chennai), that would be an invitation to fight. This city is definitely good for my blood pressure," laughs Sigamany. He is also now used to having his newspaper and milk delivered only at 8 am as opposed to 5 am in Chennai. "The laidback attitude of this city has taught me that one need not take life so seriously," shares Sigamany
Under The Hyderabad Walking Company, Sigamany gives two types of tours — private and customised — that begin at `600, but can go up to `19,000, depending on the level of customisation. These walks are full of anecdotes — both verified and rumours — which come with disclaimers. One such rumour that he put to rest during one of his walks was that Hyderabad's famous Osmania biscuits had mutton in them. "I just laughed and took the participants to one of the bakeries that make them, so that they could see it for themselves," he shares.
Another unique aspect of Sigamany's tours is that no two tours are alike when they are at least two months apart. "The highlights remain the same like say, Irani chai at Hotel Nayab and a visit to the Charminar, but there will be other changes because I revisit my own tours to discover new things about the city," shares the avid traveller.
Say cheese: Navin and group at Mitti ka sher
While success is assured, Sigamany is still apprehensive about it; wondering how he will scale up once requests for tours start pouring in more often. Maybe team up with someone who is as passionate as him? "Maybe. But I'm possessive about Hyderabad when it comes to this," he laughs sheepishly. Well, that's a problem for another day. For now, he is working on souvenirs like posters and coasters which the members can take back with them, apart from the many stories that he shares about the city. "I'm sharing my city with you the way I enjoy it," he tells us and we decide to end the conversation on this note before the rain clouds gather around us to pour over the city we've both come to love.
Two things about Hyderabad you never knew, as told by Navin Sigamany
After the famous Govind Dosa near Charminar, if you go a little further and turn right, you will see an old mosque. This is the tomb of Hazrath Syedna Shah Sadullah Sahab Naqshbandi Mujaddadi, the saint responsible for bringing the Sufi culture to the South. Because he was a simple man, he insisted on a simple tomb which has a regular rectangular base at the centre and a mound of sand, instead of the customary ornate designs. This is what gives it the famous name Rethi Wali Dargah.
The mosque on the side
Before you enter the Golconda Fort, there is a small and quaint masjid on the right. In all probability, you'll fail to notice it. It is at this masjid, which is still functioning, that Sultan Quli Qutb Shah, the founder of the Quli Qutb Shah dynasty, met his death. His own son Jamsheed Quli Qutb Shah, who had cancer, was eager to ascend the throne and seeing no signs of his father passing away anytime soon, slit his father's throat when the latter was offering prayers. "Game of Thrones has got nothing on the tales of the Nizams of Hyderabad," laughs Sigamany.
Pick your pearl
"Do you know why Hyderabad is known as the City of Pearls though it is nowhere near the coastline?" asks Sigamany. He goes on to explain that in the yesteryears, Hyderabad was one of the most well-fortified cities of the South and traders used to come here with their pearls as they considered it a safe place. Soon, the industry grew and pearl polishers, graders and jewellers began to set up shop here. Even today, the city receives pearls from Hawaii, the Philippines, Tahiti and several other places.
The four clocks that adorn the four sides of the Charminar, which was known as the Arc de Triomphe of the East, stopped working in the 1900s. That's when Rasool Khan from Wahid Watch and Co, a small watch repair shop in Chudi Bazaar came forward to mend it and successfully did. Till date, his son, Sikander Khan goes up the Charminar to wind all the four clocks once every 48 hours.