Sunday, 28 November 2010

Sarojini Market

Location - Sarojini Nagar (click here for the map location)

Co-ordinates - N28 34.563 E77 11.765

Closest Metro Station - INA (Yellow Line)

Landmark - is a landmark in itself

They sell everything and cheap here. From the flimsiest possible sleeping bags which start at Rs. 950 and go down to Rs. 600 and then Rs. 250 if you just decide to walk away to cranberries, stoles, salwar kameez for as little as Rs. 100. There are discount deals on everything. Everything is 'fixed price' and the fixed price is very very low. As the day progresses, the market crowds till everyone is hitting everyone else with their elbows and knees. All this while, the vendors keep shouting at the top of their voices to get the customer's attention.

Export Lane in the morning, very uncrowded
Colourful footwear
The Salwar Kameez for 100 stall
Some fruit as well
Men's underwear by the dozen
The sale goes on

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Tomb of Mubarak Shah - Kotla Mubarakpur

Location - Kotla Mubarakpur

Co-ordinates - NA (alleys too narrow for a GPS signal)

Closest Metro Station - Lajpat Nagar (Purple Line)

Landmark - Opp Defence Colony

I started at a little before 8. It was a Saturday, not many people were around. As I crossed the road to Kotla Mubarakpur, it felt like crossing a few centuries. From the wide open posh Defence Colony to the cluttered medivial village of Kotla Mubarakpur is a change that can inspire anyone to say this. One moment, its B block, House no 28 in Defence Colony and a 2 minute walk across the road, there is an old settlement easy to get lost in. Houses hug each other closely, the roofs almost touch together, light barely gets in. From Honda Accords to good old bicycles, from stores selling olive oil to shops selling oily bread pakoras, the transformation does not take a minute.

Transported to the past

As I walked into the narrow alleys, it was not difficult to realize I was lost. Each street looked like the other. After 2 turns, all sense of direction was lost. India is a land of uncertainities. Ask for directions from 10 people and I can bet an arm on it, you will get 10 answers. I asked people for old 'gumbads' (Gumbad is Urdu/Hindi for tombs). 'There are none around', 'What does that mean?', 'You should go to Red Fort', 'Its just around the corner' were amongst the responses I elicited. After multiple attempts, many failings, getting lost a few times, someone told me I needed to find the mosque. With an SLR slung around the neck and a small backpack across the back, I was already getting some weird looks. In due time, I found something. It was everything I had not expected.

Tomb of Mubarak Shah crisscrossed by electricity wires
Staring at me was an octagonal tomb. Quite large, the size was accentuated by the closed surroundings. Surrounded by an iron railing and rounded by a 10 feet wide road, the claustrophobic surroundings made it look much bigger than it was. All around were myriad shops, a cobbler, a laundry, a general store. Trash was littered around. Atop the building was a lantern structure with pigeons flitting around.

Pigeons Flit around the top of the tomb
The front gate was crudely locked with a bolt and screw. I enquired around and was told the local cobbler is the caretaker. After I had circled the building twice, a boy approached me. 'Do you want to get in?' he asked me. 'Yes'. 'Use the side gate'. He led me through the side gate and I was in the verandah. The boy looked about 15. His name was Aman. Over the next 30 minutes as I walked around the tomb, I bombarded him with questions and he answered patiently. The 'Tomb of Mubarak Shah' is locally known as Bada Gumbad (large dome). The locals say it houses the remains of a Sufi and his family. The largest grave is said to belong to the Sufi (unnamed) and the rest to his disciples/family.

Graves in the Tomb
Cats and pigeons inhabit the Lodhi period tomb. By my guess, at anytime, it has 5 feline inmates and about 10 flying. Octagonal in shape, as is typical of Lodhi period tombs, the inside has intricate engravings all around. Three sides of the tomb have arched gateways while the one on the west is fashioned as a mihrab for a praying mosque with verses from Quran engraved on rock.

The Mihrab of the tomb with the engravings on top right and left

The roof on the inside and the western face on the outside also have ornate carvings. Floral patterns or verses from the Quran are the most common. The roof has remains of the famed blue tile work. Though soiled by time, it still retains some of the original colour.
Carvings on the roof
Carvings on the outside western face (on the outside of the prayer face)
Unlike most other monuments that one gets to see around Delhi, this is a live monument. Everyday, people from all faiths come to the tomb, leave their footwear outside, walkin into to sanctum sanctorum and ask the Sufi for help with worldly matters. The multi-communal aspect of the monument is best highlighted by the half broken small idol of Ganesha displayed on South East face of the monument. As I was walking around the monument, I saw many a passer by pay their respects to the idol and I would guess, in turn to the Sufi as well.

The broken Ganesha idol on the South East face
From the Dadi Poti Maqbaras to Kotla Mubarakpur was quite a change. Both places have tombs from Lodhi period. One set is right opposite a posh market, is lighted by ASI, is fairly well maintained and is only visited by camera holding tourists, almost bearing an eerie, far away look. On the other hand is this quaint, large tomb in a quaint, medivial village, surrounded by walls on all sides, littered by pigeon and cat poop and still has enough significance for Aman to tell me to not worry about my footwear left outside. 'Bahar chhod dijiye, yahan se koi nahin le jayega' - Leave your footwear outside and dont bother, no one will steal from here (that is from a Sufi's tomb where people come to pray).

Offerings on one of the graves
Aman, my informal guide for the morning
For more, read the wikipedia link here and references section.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Dadi-Poti ka Maqbara

Location - Hauz Khas/Green Park (Map location here)

Co-ordinates - N28 33.208 E77 12.226

Closest Metro Station - Hauz Khas/Green Park (Yellow Line)

Landmark - Aurobindo Market
The Dadi and Poti tombs from the entry gate

Just as the road turns in towards the Hauz Khas village, rounding the corner around the Aurobindo market, a look to the right transports the scene to the 15th century. On the left of me, across the road is the Aurobindo market. I was in the market at the Midlands book shop, trying to hunt down 'The Hall of a Thousand Columns' by Tim McIntosh Smith. The book traces the 8 year journey of the great Moroccan traveller Ibn Batuta in India and derives its name from a hall in the Tughlaqabad palace which Batuta has eloquently described in his journals. Just as I left the book shop and walked out a little further up towards Hauz Khas village, there was blinding light on the right. It was already dark and I could see 2 monuments bathed in orange light. The domes atop them were lighted puprle. Intrigued, I entered through the black iron gate.

The tombs lighted up in the night

The complex houses 2 tombs, one fairly larger than the other. The larger, Dadi ka Maqbara, dates to the Lodi period while the smaller, Poti ka Maqbara is from the Tughlaq period. The original names of the tombs are not known, nor is anything known about the people buried in. It is said the tombs derived their current names much later and owe this to the disparity in their sizes (Dadi is grandmother and Poti is granddaugther in Hindi).

The tombs from the North

Dadi ka Maqbara - 15.86 metres X 15.86 metres in dimension, dating to Lodhi period, this is the larger of the 2 tombs. The northern and southern walls have arched entrances and 2 levels of 4 arched niches each, giving it a 2 storey appearance from the outside, which is typical of many Lodi period tombs. Inside, the structure is square at the base. As the walls rise, its get octagonal, then hexagonal and finally 32 sided before the sides merge seamlessly to form the round of the dome. There are unidentified graves inside.

From the North East

From the complex's entry gate

Same shot, different time

One of the corners inside the Dadi tomb

Poti ka Maqbara - smaller in size at 11.8 metres X 11.8 metres and with sloping walls typical of the Tughlaq period, this structure is a bit of an enigma. Tombs traditionally have their entrances to the South and as such, the south face gets the maximum artisan attention. However, the south face here is plain. The north face on the other hand is ornately decorated, though the decoration has blackened with time and lack of care. The dome on the top is supplemented by a lantern shaped structure, possibly to hold a lamp. As with the larger monument, there are unidentified graves inside.

The carving (blackened on the top and sides) on the north face of the Poti ka Maqbara

Looking through the South entrance with shadows in the night
The lantern structure on the top of Poti ka Maqbara
Poti ka Maqbara glows in the night
As the evening descends, the lights put up by ASI come on and give them a surreal look. Watching them from the road outside is like looking back in time. From seeing a black Mercedes flit past you to these serene structures which have seen it all for the last 6 centuries. To think that the man whose adventures I was trying to find the book for could have possibly overseen (or atleast seen) the building of these monuments 6 centuries ago!!

Monday, 22 November 2010

The Beginnings

While I have spent majority of my last 5 days in commuting in a crowded metro, getting ditched by call cabs, not finding autos to get back home, occasionally getting frustrated with the commute, unsuccessfully (till a few minutes ago) trying to find suitable accomodation, along the way I have also managed to see and observe a few things. For one, I am still camera-less, so everytime I have been out, I have tried to bring along my good friend Vivek with his camera. Looking at the job he has done, I think I should stop carrying my camera forever. In short, below is what we managed to do:

1. Bakrid at Jama Masjid - was the day I reached Delhi. This girl was washing her hands in the mosque's water tank in the courtyard. Along the main steps were lined sumptuous goodies for the occasion and a few unsuspecting creatures were awaiting slaughter.

2. Mehrauli Archeological Park - attended a heritage walk at 8 AM this last Sunday. There is so much around that park that is known and much more that is unknown. The photos below are from the Jamali Kamali mosque and tomb respectively.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Footloose in Dilli

The inspiration first came from a friend. He wanted to be 'Footloose in Chandni Chowk'. That was late 2009. I was just out of my job and had started trekking the mountains. The urge to be in the mountains was too strong. The realization that winters are not the best time to be there had not quite dawned. He never went footloose. Neither did I. Almost exactly a year later, on Nov 1, 2010, as I was lying down on the upper berth of the Duronto Express from Delhi to Pune reading 'City of Djinns', the seed was sowed again. It started as a daydream. I fancied myself in William Fraser's big haveli, surrounded by his militia. Across the road was James Skinner's St. James Church near Kashmere Gate. The Yamuna was still following its original course and I could picture it flowing serenly below the majestic ramparts of the Red Fort. Lutyen's Delhi was nowhere to be seen.

Freshly out of the daydream, I dismissed it. What nonsense! How can this be done? A second later, why not? If I could start hiking afresh one year ago, why could I not start walking Delhi this winter. Before I had reached Pune, I had a plan. I would walk Delhi over the winter and also fulfill one of my longest standing dreams. That of learning a language. Turns out the language is Spanish. Quite why, I dont know. Dont ask either. It just is because I want it to be.

Come 17th November, as I get down from the return Duronto Express, I will head to a friend's place and share a flat with him for a few weeks. My parents will have to take the pains of couriering some essentials to me, including the camera and some winter clothing. 22nd November, I start the Basic Spanish course at Instituto Hispania for 5 weeks. The classes are Mon-Thu, 2-5 PM. Rest of the time, I will be walking. True to the footloose spirit, I dont have any specific plans. Just a few landmarks jotted down as starting points for any day. From then on, my feet will guide me till I find someone or something interesting. It could be a quaint shop and its keeper, a place to eat food or a forgotten, derelict monument. Whatever I manage to see is sure to find its way here.

If there are any other ideas you have about how I could get lost everyday, please feel free to let me know. If you are in Delhi and footlooseness appeals to you, please feel free to join in anyday. Dont expect anything. Just a walk from one place to another, often getting lost before its time to get home. Then, try to find the way out. If not, hire a cycle rickshaw and pedal away to glory. Remember, I am walking Dilli and not Delhi.