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Guides in India

Granted that South India has loads of visit-worthy monuments, landmarks and other attractions and things to do that are listed in all the tourist brochures and guidebooks. But visiting a new place is not just about group tours and taking pictures at all the famous points of interest. If you really want to get to know a city, you have to see it from a local’s perspective. Wander around on foot without an itinerary, hang out at the tea shops, eat street food and learn the local culture.

For instance, the guidebooks may tell you that Gandhi Bazaar is a market in Bangalore where you can get just about anything. What they won’t tell you is that a visit to Gandhi Bazaar is an excuse for locals to enjoy the tasty masala dosas and filter coffee at Vidyarthi Bhavan. The guidebooks will tell you that the fishing nets in Kochi are a historic tourist attraction, but did you know you can get fresh seafood straight from the ocean to your plate at the seafood stalls by the nets? That’s what people come to Vasco de Gama Square for.

You may visit the Charminar in Hyderabad to take pictures of the famous monument, but locals come to the Laad Bazaar right next to it to buy textile goods. You may read in the tourist brochures that T.Nagar in Chennai is India’s biggest retail zone and a must-visit for tourists. But which store in the giant shopping zone should you go to buy the best silks or gold jewelry at the most affordable rates? Take a local guide along and they’ll take you to Nalli Silk Sarees and all the right shops without getting lost in the maze of streets and alleys.

If you’re buying something from street vendors, you should know that they’ll clean your clock unless you know how to bargain in the local language - that’s Tamil or Telegu or Kananda or Malayalam, depending on which state you’re in. If you don’t speak the language or have a local to do it for you, you might as well hand over your wallet.

If you’re going to Mumbai the guidebooks will tell you that CST is a railway station and a magnificent example of colonial architecture listed as a heritage site by UNESCO. But does it tell you that there’s a heritage gallery inside? Or that you can get all kinds of clean, tasty and affordable food at the CST stalls? Or that you can spend hours poking around in the street markets just outside?

These are the kind of things for which you need someone who’s been a life-long resident in the city. These guides know all the good stuff that tourists don’t have the time to explore and find on their own. Just as important is the fact that local guides can take you to all the places you want to go without wasting time or money. Would you want to spend your time enjoying the sights and sounds of the city or waiting for half an hour at a bus stop and then trying to figure out how on earth you’re supposed to get into a packed bus where people are already hanging on with a leg or a hand at both exits?

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