It is 7.30 am. A group of six people — all tourists and all clad in shorts and T-shirt — is ready to set out for Old Delhi on a cycle.
Jack Leenaars, a Dutch national, is their tour guide. The lanky 34-year-old runs a cycle tour to go around Old Delhi called Delhibycycle.
The tour starts everyday at 7.30 am from the Ajmeri Gate side of New Delhi Railway Station when traffic is thin on the streets.
Leenaars sets out with a group of foreign tourists and whoever is keen to experience the Walled City on a cycle.
The itinerary includes a visit to Chandni Chowk, cycling through the myriad bylanes of the locality, a morning treat at a street teashop in Civil Lines and breakfast at the famous Karim’s restaurant.
“I have been a cycle enthusiast since my childhood. I believe that cycle is the best way to explore a city, especially a place like Old Delhi,” says Leenaars, who has an intimate knowledge of Old Delhi’s lanes and its landmarks. “It allows you to soak in the myriad sights and sounds and you can cover a lot of distance in a couple of hours.”
He hit upon the idea to start a cycle tour for Old Delhi earlier this year. So far, he has taken about 300 people on cycle rides in old Delhi.
Leenaars, whose tours are more about experiencing the streets than about exploring the monuments, says apart from foreign tourists, many Delhiites have also taken his cycles tour.
“I feel Delhiities do not know their city well. Many of them join the tour to explore the city in a different way,” he says. “They get to know aspects of the city that they had not known earlier.”
Lalita de Goederen, who has been part of the Leenaars’ tour, says: "I have been to the Walled City on rickshaws, but exploring it on cycle is like taking a fascinating journey into the past. I think not much has changed in the Walled City in the last 100 years."
Leenaars' trip costs Rs 1150 per head.
Another group of enthusiasts who call themselves the Delhi Cycling Club also organises heritage bicycle rides to various parts of the Capital, including Shahjahanabad and Lutyens' Delhi.
But unlike Leenaars' tour, which is about the street experience, the club's tours are about exploring monuments across the city.
Volunteers trained as heritage tourism guides from the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, Delhi, accompany the cyclists to explain the history, architecture and significance of these monuments.
The tour covers around 18 km in 3 hours.
"About 100 people join us on these heritage rides. They talk, share information about monuments and have lots of fun," says Rajendra Verma, the coordinator of Delhi Cycling Club, which has about 600 members.
“Cycle rides are the best way to explore a place like Shahjahanabad where every street has something of heritage value. It is also the best way to conserve monuments,” he says.
Aditya Sharma (35), an advocate, loves to explore the monuments on a cycle.
“The best thing about exploring the city on a cycle is that you get to explore the city at a unique pace, neither too slow, nor too fast. I have explored almost all the monuments by cycle,” says Sharma.
Delhi Metro's cycle rental facility at Patel Chowk Metro Station, which was started in February this year, is also pretty popular among tourists.
They hire cycles to explore sites like the India Gate, Jantar Mantar and Rashtrpati Bhawan.
“On an average our cycles do 30 trips every day. Most people who take the cycles on rent are tourists, including foreigners,” says Anuj Dayal, chief public relations officer of the DMRC. “Many tourists even book these cycles in advance.”