Travel junkies, you can keep your biking trips to Ladakh, your Instagram tours of Nepal, your budget for a someday trip to South America. Rajeev Velankar and his gang of oldies are the explorers to beat, even though none of their trips have been out of Mumbai.
The group of mostly retired men and women – some former classmates, some as old as 75 – have been planning excursions to places whose doors typically remain steadfastly closed to visitors. They’ve been inside a functioning lighthouse off the tip of Colaba and studied ballistics and rape-investigation kits at the forensic lab in Kalina. They’ve also checked out the Regional Meteorological Centre and the Bhandup water plant.
See it all
“We’re interested in anything that is beyond the normal,” says Velankar. “In our time, such visits were unheard of, so the aim is to find and learn the things we could not do before. And of course, to have a tremendously enjoyable time.” It’s as hard as you’d expect it to be. “We’re pensioners with a dwindling income, so we only choose from places that are free,” he adds. And yet, their adventures could put gap-year backpackers to shame. At one outing, to Prong’s Lighthouse off Colaba, the group took a boat out to sea, climbed the steep steps to the top and enjoyed a view only a handful of Mumbaikars have seen. All without selfies.
The old method
Age brings with it weak eyes and knees, but also certain advantages, Velankar says. Silver-haired civilians pose less of a threat to visit restricted areas like lighthouses. They’re also more likely to have old friends in high places so getting permissions is easier. But only slightly. Velankar worked for months to wrangle clearance for Prong’s. “When I finally got through the right people, they asked why we wanted to do it. But I’ve read many Perry Mason and Sherlock Holmes novels – I’m nothing if not tenacious!” On their wishlist is a visit to the currency note press in Nashik “or at least look inside the Reserve Bank of India”. Both places are stricter than usual but Velankar is optimistic: “If you try hard enough you will get to see everything.”
From HT Brunch, January 31, 2016
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