When P Madhusudhan, a tourist guide in Telangana, was wondering how to tide over the coronavirus pandemic that had put an end to his livelihood, a foreign client who has made multiple trips to India, called him and asked after him. Madhu, who comes from a weaver family in Choutuppal, tells TNM that he became a tourist guide 20 years ago. It was his first job and he is still in the field, through the twists and turns that it has taken.
"The bond that we share with our clients makes our job so special. When we guide them through the tours, we also learn a lot from them; it's a mutual learning process. And some of them are so affectionate. Though the government did not help me during the pandemic, one of my foreign clients who has made multiple trips, called me and asked about my well-being during the lockdown. He also helped me financially though I did not ask for it. I was so touched," he says.
Seated on a comfortable chair in his Hyderabad home, Madhusudhan displays photo albums [a relic of the past after smartphones took over] that show the smiling faces of his clients. People he has accompanied on tours over the years, many of whom have become his well-wishers.
Madhusudhan with a foreign tourist
Madhusudhan with members from Nizam's family at Falaknuma Palace
Despite knowing that it is not a lucrative career option, many tourist guides have dug their heels in the field out of their passion to explore.
John Wilson has over 27 years of experience as a tour guide. Speaking to TNM, the veteran says, "I like to explore new places. We should also know about the city that we're living in. I have over 40 books just on Hyderabad city which I have read."
John takes people on various tours, including food tours, textile tours, cultural tours and even dynasty tours.
John Wilson with a tourist at Charminar
He believes that to have an edge over other tourist guides, it's necessary to have a social media presence, read as much as one can and also be aware of current affairs.
The guides say that with tourism being one of the first sectors to be affected by the coronavirus pandemic, it will also be among the last ones to recover. After nearly a year, tourist destinations have been slowly opening up, but domestic tourists are not keen on hiring guides. Needless to say, there are few international travellers at this time.
For Vijay, a tourist guide at the historic Ramappa temple in Mulugu district of Telangana, the coronavirus lockdown that brought the country to a standstill in March 2020, flattened his livelihood for close to a year. Several temples and monuments were closed to the public for months together, and even after receiving permission to open them, there isn't much enthusiasm from visitors for hiring tourist guides.
Vijay at the Ramappa Temple
â€śIt's been a couple of months since tourists started coming again to the Ramappa temple. However, not many are interested in having a guide accompany them, especially in COVID-19 times. They are skeptical about our health,â€ť says Vijay, who hails from Warangal.
As an old hand in the field, John says that the government has done the least to help tourist guides financially.
â€śBasically our profession is independent and most of us are freelancers. But in the lockdown, we were drastically hit by the pandemic and the government did not do anything to help us," he says.
John Wilson with tourists
To become a tourist guide officially, one has to go through the government's process. The Ministry of Tourism and Culture calls for graduates and gives them a three-month training after which they're given an official license to be a tourist guide. While the Union government gives a Red card, the state government gives a Green card for eligible tourist guides. Red card holders can operate region-wise and travel along the entire belt while Green card holders can only operate in their own states.
But after providing the license, the government does not offer any support for the guides. The guides will have to approach travel operators and agencies, network and meet people to get opportunities. There are about 3,217 such tourist guides across India.
For inbound tourism, a typical Deccan tour covering Hyderabad, Bidar, Gulbarga and other cities in the belt that leads to Bengaluru takes about 15 days. There may be several such tours during the peak season and the guides stay away from their homes for a long time during it.
â€śWe get paid about Rs 6,000 per day when we go out of station. We have to manage our food and accommodation ourselves. If it's a city tour, it's about Rs 1,500 to 2,000, depending on the time spent," says Madhu, who has a Red card license and covers inbound tourism across south India.
The guides hope that with the world slowly moving on from the crisis, the tourism industry will also revive â€” and their clients will be back to listen to their stories once again.