Discovering Bombay’s Hidden Heritage with Khaki Tours

There’s a common misconception that Mumbai as a city lags far behind in history and heritage. While the city trumps in terms of nightlife and commerce, other Indian destinations such as New Delhi, Jaipur, Agra, and even Chennai are magnets for tourists looking to dive deep into culture and tradition. But this belief is being chipped away by a plucky group of people who truly believe that Mumbai is the largest open-air museum, and we only have to be taught where to look. Khaki Tours is at the forefront of this movement to re-energise interest in the city. I spoke to its founder, Bharat Gothoskar, to learn more about the organisation and understand where this passion to educate springs from. 

Where did the idea of Khaki tours come from? Tell me more about its origin story. 

“I had an inkling of Khaki Tours almost two decades before I had the courage actually to put my dreams into action. Even as a college student in the 90s, I’ve always been interested in heritage and history. In fact, I had hopes of being an architectural conservationist, but that never happened. Instead, I studied to be a mechanical engineer and do my MBA. In fact, my final MBA project was on how to use tourism best to raise funds and conserve our buildings. As a developing nation, we can’t always rely on the government to step in and save our cities. It’s necessary to have other means in place to collect money and protect our heritage.”

Pic @khakitours

In 2010, I was stuck in a traffic jam in Bhuleshwar and had what I call my eureka moment. I always wanted to sensitise people about our city’s riches, but I knew that my friends were too lazy to go on walks with me around various neighbourhoods.   I imagined how ideal it would be to have an open-air jeep to drive around and show off the city. I even decided then and there that it would be a WWII-style khaki-coloured jeep, and my company would be called Khaki. This was a nod to both the military style and my made-up acronym – Keeping Heritage Alive and Kicking in India – one I was especially delighted with. Now, keep in mind that this happened in 2010. Only five years later, in 2015, I conducted my first free walk under the official Khaki brand. Almost 20 friends attended this walk, and the response was super encouraging. But I was knee-deep into my full-time job at the time and paid no real heed. A few months later, another group of friends convinced me to organise a walk and visit the famous Lalbaug Ganpati. In this slow and steady way, I kept adding more walks to my repertoire, and more and more people started attending. There was even one walk that had 205 participants. I then realised that I could use this opportunity to raise money for a cause close to my heart. In no time at all, I raised enough funds to educate 50 girl children for a year. The time had come to take the leap and make my dreams a reality. It was time to launch Khaki Tours properly.”

So, what came next? What do Khaki Tours actually do? 

“Finally, realising the need for a proper organisation, I quit my full-time job after 16 years in the workforce. The idea was that I would take a sabbatical and then return to the corporate world. However, plans unfolded independently as Khaki Tours grew from strength to strength. Today, we have more than 40 hosts in Mumbai and in 2022, we will have completed more than 2,500 public and private tours. From a situation where heritage walks were largely unheard of, we now carry out close to 50 different tours every weekend. I would like to interject here that no other walking tour in the world offers so many tours in just one city. It’s high time we stop knowing more about Paris, London, and New York than our own home city. It’s time we make Mumbai cool again.”

How do you build your team at Khaki? 

“We have people from all walks of life on our team. From venture capitalists and bankers to plastic surgeons to filmmakers, each and everyone is super passionate about what they do. Many of our team members started off as our guests. And remember that all our ambassadors (we don’t call them tour guides) are hosting in their free time. But the very act of taking tours and meeting different people acts as a stimulus. It lights the fire to think out of the box and create something new. The team is always thinking about new walks and new places to discover. Someone wants to do more research on a topic. Another wants to conduct a lecture. Another is writing a book. It’s a wonderful amalgamation of energies and interests. 

How do you become part of the Khaki team? 

“In the first year, we had only one application. Today, with every round of intakes, we have close to 200 people applying to work with Khaki. Out of these, 50 get shortlisted and undergo intensive training. The first part of the training module is theory-based and divided into several modules spread over 13 weeks. After written exams, only 25 people pass to the next level, which is the practical part of things. This is when they learn how to actually conduct our walks. At the end of their training, there are only 10 who finally are employed with Khaki. It’s a rigorous process that only the truly committed get through. But we have always been blessed. The best people apply, and we always find volunteers who contribute to our mission.”

Pic @khakitours

Tell me about your favourite tour. 

“There’s one tour I am so possessive about that only I can conduct it. It’s the Jeep ride in Byculla. I also used to host another walk that has become super popular – our Grisly Girgaon Ghost Walk explores the spooky tales associated with this section of the old city. A project close to my heart was this series of 100 short videos I did for the Loksatta newspaper. In each ten-minute clip, I talked about different areas of the city and its heritage. The reach of these videos was insane. I had taxi drivers come up to me and discuss a video they had seen. The best compliment I ever received was when someone told me, ‘Bharat, you’ve managed to take the heritage movement away from the living rooms of South Bombay and opened up this world to the common man. The other day, I found out a 9-year-old kid had dressed up as me for his school fancy dress and he gave a speech on the architecture of Bombay. Can there be anything more gratifying than hearing that?”

So, what’s the toughest challenge of running Khaki Tours? 

The pandemic was our toughest period ever. The challenge of continuing a business which subsisted on being outdoors and with other people during the lockdown seemed insurmountable. There were many times when I was ready to quit, but my team never let me. Their conviction to keep going and their faith in what we do helped us survive. We launched virtual walks, an online lecture series, and even a series where food was delivered to people’s homes and an online “dinner party” was held. These were a roaring success and helped us make it through the pandemic. Today, we have rebounded bigger and better than before, and I can only thank my team for this.”

What next for Khaki Tours? 

“We have reached a critical mass in Mumbai. The challenge is now creating similar magic in other cities, and that’s the goal for sure. We are also expanding into more food tours in Mumbai. As of now, you can join us and explore the lanes of Bohri Mohalla or visit the Irani cafes in the city. There are several more in the pipeline as well. We also have Khaki Lab, which is our incubation cell for new ideas, as well as a cultural space for lectures, exhibitions, and dialogues. The Khaki Heritage Foundation is a non-profit organisation that is working towards making heritage a mass movement. All donations go towards conservation efforts in the city.” 

Where do you see the company heading in the future? 

“I think two words aptly sum up what we do at Khaki, and they are – Heritage Evangelism. We want to convert the world to the religion of conservation. There is an evangelical zeal in each and every person associated with Khaki Tours. And while it’s “easy” to walk around a city and spout history and facts, the core essence of what Khaki Tours stands for is magical storytelling. We believe how you make the connection makes all the difference. See, you have to understand we spend zero on publicity. Everything we have achieved to date has been through word of mouth. One person comes for a tour. He loves it and tells 15 other people about it. Next week, 16 people book a tour. If you have a superlative product, the buzz keeps developing. We are just scratching the surface about what can be done to make history approachable. History is all around you. It’s time to don your khaki chasma and see the magic for yourself.”

Pic @khakitours

A world of magic awaits when you explore the city with Khaki Tours. Choose between walking tours or open jeep safaris in various neighbourhoods. There are Victoria rides and sailing tours for a completely different perspective on the city. Public tours can be booked on the spot, but private tours need a few day’s notice. For more information on all their tours, timings, payment details, and the Khaki ambassadors, check out the website You can also follow them on social media or email them at

This was a commissioned piece but all views expressed are my own

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