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‘Beyond Taj’: Why I Rejected A Conventional Degree to Show Tourists ‘Unexplored’ Agra

‘Beyond Taj’: Why I Rejected A Conventional Degree to Show Tourists ‘Unexplored’ Agra

Meet Ritik Gupta, a resident of Agra who chose not to purse an MBA degree to launch Trocals, a travel startup that helps tourists explore the city’s lesser-known wonders, from the food to the history and heritage.

Like many in their twenties, Ritik Gupta was facing a conundrum regarding what to do with his life. 

While he was sure he wanted to create something of his own, he was uncertain about the ‘whats’ and the ‘hows’. Hailing from the small town of Agra, he had only a few options, he says — joining his family business or pursuing higher education. 

Even after getting into a top MBA college, the 24-year-old did not feel that his life was taking the right direction. He spent his days brainstorming ideas and looking for opportunities. 

When he decided to reject admission offers and not pursue MBA, he was unaware that he would one day establish a unique tour company all by himself. 

“In 2018, I went to Mumbai for an interview and explored the city like any other tourist would. When I came back, I realised that there was so much more to the city than what I saw,” he recalls in conversation with The Better India

Pushed by the zest to show others the rich art, culture and heritage of his hometown, he started reading up more about the history of unexplored areas of Agra. 

Ritik Gupta, Founder of Trocals
Ritik Gupta, Founder of Trocals

In 2019, Ritik founded Trocals, or travel with locals, a startup that conducts walks in “undiscovered and underrated” lanes and bylanes of Agra while relating unheard stories of the areas. It takes tourists around the city on foot to “explore the unexplored”, he explains. 

Everyone knows the Taj Mahal, but there is a lot beyond it. Trocals takes you to those areas of the city,” he notes. 

Beyond the Taj 

Trocals takes its guests on walking tours of the city while sharing some personal and some universal anecdotes of the area. 

“We have different walking tours like Old Agra, which is a ‘walk in the past’, where we explore oldest areas of the city and discuss the origin and evolution of the area. There is a garden walk where we explore the different gardens of the city, ranging from major ones to the hidden ones. There is another walk that covers areas touched by the British. There is also a walk that I call Beyond the Taj, which covers the area surrounding the Taj Mahal. The city is full of history and there is so much to explore,” says Ritik.

The Old Agra tour explores underrated places like Jama Masjid, Kinari Bazaar, Mankameshwar Temple, the spice market of Rawat Para, Seth Gali, and more. The walking tours also explore the culturally rich areas of Aga Khan Ki Haveli, Darjah of Ahmed Bhukhari, Itmad ud Daulah, Chini Ka Rauza, and Mehtab Bhag. 

“One place that we love to visit is Khaneyalam Bagh. It is a place from where all the water systems of the Taj Mahal operate. Then there is Dussehra Ghat, which is a beautiful and serene ghat and has a wonderful view of the Taj Mahal,” he says.  

tourists walk through agra
Ritik helps tourists to explore the lesser known areas of Agra on foot

Ritik explains that the city is full of monuments with a rich history. Itmad ud Daulah, for instance, is the tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, a Mughal mausoleum. Often called ‘Baby Taj’ or the ‘Draft of Taj’, it is a striking tomb with intricate marble carvings. It stands as a testimony of a daughter’s love for her father, as it was built by Nur Jahan, the daughter of I’timād-ud-Daula. 

Another testimony of love stands in a quiet catholic cemetery, known to be built by a grieving widow Ann Hessings for her husband John Hessings who died defending Agra Fort from the British in 1803. 

Agra through its food

Trocals also has another innovative way of exploring the culture and food — cooking with locals. 

They arrange cooking sessions with Ritik’s family so that the guests get a true picture and flavour of authentic vegetarian Agra food like bhedai kachori, jalebi, and different kinds of chaat etc. 

“My mother holds these sessions, and our guests cook food like chai pakoras, dal chawal and chutney, which we eat together. We discuss the various stories behind different recipes. They see our home temple and we try to explain the significance of different things in it,” says Ritik. 

“There are many local eateries I like to take the guests to, like street food of the famous local market Sadar Bazaar and of old Agra,” he adds. 

Beside wanting to build a career of his own, Ritik also wanted to give employment opportunities to the locals and artisans of the city. 

“Whenever we visit a lesser-known area, we automatically generate work for the people around us. We also have handicraft walking tours, where our guests make something to take back home. These workshops give work opportunities to local artisans and also promote local art,” he says.

The handicrafts workshops consist of marble inlay, leather shoe, and zardosi workshops. “We have worked with more than 40 local artisans for these workshops,” Ritik says. 

Deshdeep Upadhyay, who runs Marble World Exhibitors and is a collaborator with Trocals, says, “This partnership is very good for these artisans, as they firstly get a good amount of exposure from meeting people from different countries, which surely motivates them and inspires them. It is also a good source of income for them.” 

He adds, “We pay them a fair amount and then the guests also tip them accordingly. For the artisans, that their work is going to reach a place they have never visited is also a moment of pride and motivation.” 

While supporting local artist communities, Trocals also plants a tree after every walk. Today, they have planted more than 400 trees, he says. “It started as a small thing where our guests and I just planted a tree in my house garden. But then we decided to make a habit out of it.” 

In the pipeline

“These walks are not only about visiting these places, but it is an experience that includes looking at the city from the perspective of the locals. They are not just a typical history walk, but an amalgamation of personal anecdotes,” says Ritik.

Making a comeback after COVID induced lockdowns, he adds that the company is at its all-time peak. 

“We had to shut down our operations during the pandemic. But now we are hitting seven figures profits and it has been good. The company has also expanded to neighbouring places like Delhi, jaipur, Dharamshala and Uttarakhand. We have conducted more than 500 walks in Agra itself and have hosted more than 4,000 guests from 67 countries,” he says. 

As for the future, Trocals wants to keep up with supporting local artisans and planting trees to make Agra greener. They are also planning on collaborating with local schools for underprivileged children.

“I am still learning, still trying to figure out a way to make the startup a success while being giving back to the society. Art, food and culture — these are the things that describe Trocals, the company is not just about travel but about all of those things,” he says. 

Edited by Divya Sethu

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