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"Where is the Bathroom?"

They are the face of a new place for the tourist. But the tour guide is not necessarily a shifty looking, glib talker. We spoke with Parveen Mistry, a licensed tour guide with the Indian Tourist office.

Published: Nov 19, 2009 11:45:32 PM IST
Updated: Nov 19, 2009 11:55:05 PM IST

How does one become a tour guide?
By responding to advertisements by the government, and then undergoing training. They teach you every thing: Facts about a place, how to behave, and how to respond to different situations and people.

Do you ever lie to make a site more interesting?
Some guides do embellish stories if they find interest is flagging! But it is not really necessary. Most good guides don’t. I have never felt the need to do it. If my guests find that it is not interesting enough, then I just take them to another place. We have to make extremely sure that what we say is exactly accurate. Or we warn them that it is only an approximation.

Have you ever been stumped by a question?
Many times. I just tell them that I will find out and get back to them. And I always do.

Are you supposed to tip guides?
Sure. Tips are welcome, and most people do tip. But we never ask for it. I have been tipped amounts varying from Rs. 10 to Rs. 1,000. If the amount is too small or if the guide does not like to accept it, then they usually make that clear.

Who asks more questions, foreigners or Indians?
Foreigners. But that is because they don’t really know much about our cultural practices and they are very curious. Indians already have an idea of what to expect.

Do your guests stay in touch?
Oh yes! There are many people who ask me about my life and my children, and once they go back they send letters and photographs of their family and many of them stay in touch. This is one of the reasons that I love my profession.

Are people surprised to see a women guide?
Yes. Especially because there aren’t too many women guides in other parts of India. In the western region of India however, almost all the guides are women.

What’s the most-asked question?
“Where is the bathroom?” I have to keep track of where all the clean toilets are! Religion in India comes a close second. But people also want to know if they are being cheated, or where to shop, besides information about monuments.

Don’t you get bored of going over the same details every day?
Well, yes. But then I never get bored of meeting new people every day!

Who are the most informed about Indian heritage?
Americans. Not all, but many. Especially those who travel frequently. They read up a lot, and are well prepared to travel.

What is the hardest thing about your job?
Keeping my temper in check with guests who are condescending towards me and my country.

What do you think about the current state of some of our monuments?
It is very embarrassing. Especially the lack of hygiene. How can I ask my guests to keep things clean when all around them people throw garbage wherever they stand? Foreigners seem to have far more respect for monuments than us.

Co-ordinated by Divya Subramaniam

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(This story appears in the 04 December, 2009 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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