The third and ongoing edition of the Delhi Walk Festival includes as many as 170 walks spread across the city. The event, which culminates on 12 November, aims to provide an opportunity to residents and visitors to learn more about this city by the simple act of walking through its locales. In this 11-day festival, three major hubs of the city were explored, such as Town Hall at Chandni Chowk, Gallery 1AQ at Mehrauli, and the India Post head office on Lodhi Road. Personalities such as politician Aruna Roy, historian William Dalrymple, vocalist Iqbal Ahmad Khan, photographer Ram Rehman, physicist Vikram Soni, urbanist Gautam Bhan , novelist Shahzi Zaman, director M.K Raina, artist Samar Jodha, Master Chef Joe Baath, and historian Sohail Hashmi led the multiple walks across the city. Organised by SALT XP, an event management company, the festival aims to create awareness of the historical narratives, cultures and heritage of Delhi. Aastha Chauhan the co-founder of the festival spoke to Guardian 20 about what makes the Delhi Walk Festival unique.

Q. The Delhi Walk Festival contains over 170 walks. Could you talk about your research that led you to design such a long list of walks?

A. Other than our regular partners, we had put out a call for a #MyDelhiWalk contest earlier this year. Through this exercise we received a number of very interesting applications and met with many new walk leaders, many of whom had never led a walk. Several others reached out to us on social media, others we had invited and some were unwittingly dragged into something they didn’t quite expect.

Q. What do you think makes these walks special? Also, give us some examples.

A. Bhim Singh Rawat’s Yamuna walk takes you to a section of the river where the water is still clean enough to take a dip in and is alive with water birds and aquatic animals. The riverbed is sandy and its banks are full of farmland under floriculture.

Introduced to us by Manoj Mishra of the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan, Rawat has been exploring the river in detail since 2009. He has familiarised himself with the different communities living along the river right from its source, till its meeting, or sangam, with the Ganga. This settlement of people called Delhi would not have existed without the Yamuna. For us the Yamuna is where the city began, and so did our first two editions.

The night walks by Delhi Galiyara take you to Paharganj and Mehrauli, where Pallavi, the walk leader, encourages you to wander the night, while discussing the rich heritage of days gone by, experiencing the togetherness of a group of women talking, laughing, discussing history and exchanging their views on gender discrimination and woman empowerment.

This edition of the DWF celebrates the female flâneur and these walks by Delhi Galiyara represent that well along with other walks led by women or about women of Delhi. The fact that the walks explore the city at night makes it even more meaningful to us, as it makes night exploration possible, safer and for all genders alike.

Aastha Chauhan, co-founder, Delhi Walk Festival.

Q. Could you talk about the basic idea behind the Delhi Walk Festival?

A. When we started programming for “Delhi, I Love You”, the idea of a weekend calendar of walks emerged as a concept. We had been in conversation with Sohail Hashmi and Delhi Dallying regarding the framework for such an exercise and how to make it effective for both the walk leaders as well as the participants. Eventually, the first edition was launched in February 2016 and its success led to the subsequent edition in November.

Q. What connects you, personally, to this city?

A. I came to Delhi in 2002 to pursue my post graduate studies in sculpture.  I have been a resident since. Real learning happens once we leave university and Delhi, in that sense, is my real guru.

Briefly, things I appreciate about Delhi are: her cultural plurality, political courage. Delhi is where the country comes to voice their grievances and in that she represents the true vestiges of democracy and decency, it is also the city where I made friends from all corners of India and the world.

Sohail Hashmi led the participants to the bylanes of Mehrauli.

Q. Every city has a different sense of history and culture. What could be done to generate an interest in such elements among the inhabitants of a city? 

A. I think there should be many more walk festivals.

Q. Could you tell us a little about next year’s plan with respect to the Delhi Walk Festival? What are the new elements you are looking forward to adding to the festival?

A.  We are working with SALT, an event management company, towards creating similar partnerships in Bombay and Bangalore. The idea is to create similar platform with our local partners in several other cities.

For the future editions we will be programming more talks, book readings and interactions at the venue. The success of Shazi Zaman, Ishamuddin Khan and William Darlymple’s talks at the hub have given us many more ideas for the future.


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