Turn a head and you see a Boston tee scrunched up under a guitar slung on the shoulder. Turn another and you see a Hahvard tee, head most appropriately pouring down an Apple MacBook Air screen. Turn another 25 degrees and you see two MIT tees giggling over a newspaper headline which says, “In Harvard vs. Yale, MIT wins”. The occasion is a game between Harvard and Yale, the entire surface of the field was lifted off the ground — just another casual engineering prank by MIT students. They play pranks, yes, “engineering” ones. It’s a tradition to play such pranks for graduation, like hauling up a car atop the main building of MIT, keeping it there overnight without being arrested by the Boston Police.

This isn’t the Boston we had heard of. History told us about the American Revolution, Paul Revere’s famous (for wrong reasons) ride, the heroes of Boston who led the Revolution. The first and the best way to experience Boston is a walk along Charles river. The waters ripple ever so gently, the trees aligning it spread a green calm. You wonder, why walk, why not simply jog along like the rest of Boston seems to be doing! Be it night or day, Boston’s joggers seem to be on the run. I found that pulsating energy on a perpetual roll, what with watching rowing teams race down the river in their canoes, oars swishing furiously and a fussy mother duck quacking at her brood to fall into single file!

Alive with history

History catches up with you at every turn in Boston, it’s a place where the old stays alive, graciously paved on cobbled streets, along with the new — the tall Prudential building with the hippest boutiques and duck tours taking off just outside. The quacking continues and this time the conducktors of the famous Boston Duck Tours make sure you quack at every passing duck tour bus/boat. The duck is an authentic, renovated World War II amphibious landing vehicle that played a crucial role in the Allied forces’ invasions. This showed us the major sights of Boston, taking us past Bunker Hill, Boston Commons, the gold-domed Massachusetts State House, Beacon Hill, Newbury street, the Big Dig, and a 20-minute splash into the Charles river with fascinating interludes of how it is now the second cleanest river in the US.

The city stays young, despite its living connection with the past. The Bunker Hill monument stands tall as a 221-feet granite obelisk marking the site of the first battle of the Revolution. The architecture of the Old North Cathedral left us open mouthed and the serenity inside left us bathed in a calm that smiled at the whole world. We walked through the Freedom Trail, following the red paved stones that cuts across streets, and a brief meander into Boston Commons gave us the taste of Boston’s quieter side of life. The park was bustling with kids scampering around, excitedly squealing over the Swan boats, old couples sat on benches while the sun played among the branches of weeping willows. A walk like this needs a hot dog and Bostonian fried dough sprinkled with cinnamon and castor sugar. It tasted just like nani-ma’s meethi mathri softened up.

We walked till the kids protested: “We will park ourselves at the next Dunkin Donuts if we don’t take a cab now!” Considering there is a Dunkin Donuts every 30 feet, just like our paan ki dukan on every nukkad, it was wiser to drive to Quincy Market. Boston’s wealthiest merchant, Peter Faneuil (1700-1743) gifted Faneuil Hall, Boston’s first market place close to the waterfront, to the city. This became home to merchants, fishermen, produce sellers and a meeting hall for discussions on local political issues. You walk into street performances which remind you of Covent Garden in London, flowers causing a riot of colours from their baskets, push carts selling stuff from T-shirts, silk sarongs, Red Sox memorabilia, trinkets, shells and what have you! The Quincy Market, designed in the Greek Revival style, became an extension of Faneuil Hall. The food court at Fanueil Hall was abuzz like an angrezi version of our desi fish market. From Japanese, Chinese, American junk food to Calzones and gelatoes, you can look like a well-fed matron within a few minutes. Quincy market is thronged by over 20 million visitors every year. It’s where the pulse of Boston lies, it throbs with an energy and gives you a tremendous variety of experiences. The shopping is what it is — Ambercrombie and Fitch, Urban Oufitters, Gap, and street fashion on push carts.

Just let go

Harvard square lives by its own culture. A sunny day starting with breakfast at Au Bon Pain, the spirit and zest is unmistakable. You can play chess over coffee and win $2 a move. There is an unofficial tour of the Harvard campus conducted by the students themselves which reveals rib-tickling anecdotes about how Harvard grew in size and stature over the last few decades. It’s like a modern Shakespearean play being enacted.

Sunday is the day to be at Harvard Square. The Harvard Coop book store in its richly wood-panelled interiors can inspire a non-reader into buying books. Its warm, cosy ambience, books arranged in a user friendly and inviting manner can make you spend hours there. A band plays its music on the pavement, the Italian eateries dish out the tastiest risottos and salads. And if you start missing spicy food, saunter into a narrow street which has the Student’s community centre, a cute little Thai restaurant will give you just what you want. The area is compact and walking the streets means you get infected by the buoyancy in the air. Youth has its own magic!

The feel of Boston is European. It has a culture, thanks to its historical past, old Gothic architecture, cobbled streets. The river adds to its delightful capers. It’s essential to get the complete feel of the city which boasts of the first public park, first public library, first subway and even where the first plans for the American Revolution were conceived. All this makes you feel as if you’ve stepped back in time, and yet are in step with today — the Boston spirit lives on its own rhythm.

Quick facts

Getting there: There are flights from Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi, Chennai, Ahmedabad and Bangalore. The price of an one-way ticket in economy class may vary from $750 to $3500.

Places to stay: Greater Boston has the accommodations you’re looking for: The North End and Waterfront have the harbour-side luxury to make your stay exquisite; to be in the centre of it all, explore the Back Bay, Beacon Hill, and Downtown; there are plenty of overnight options to be found just across the Charles river in Boston’s Left Bank.

Places of interest: Boston has limitless options for exploration, education and fun. Attractions such as the New England Aquarium and the Museum of Science are some of the finest in the country.

The city loves its festivals, from the frequent celebrations of patron saints in the North End to First Night. If it’s your pleasure to go wherever the nightlife takes you, Boston will keep you moving non-stop when the sun sets, with bars, pubs, clubs and more.

Keywords: BostonU.S.

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Sunday MagazineJune 28, 2012