Bloemfontein

I was aware of the city before I knew that I had to come here. Of course the reference was cricket.

The city is Hansie Cronje and Allan Donald’s hometown. And it was at this ground that Virender Sehwag hit his first test century in 2001. For the LoTR lovers, this is the city where J.R.R. Tolkien was born.

Apart from that, the city, known as ‘city of roses’ is the judicial capital of South Africa (South Africa has 3 capitals). And like Chandigarh, there is an annual rose festival organized here too.  Another similarity with Chandigarh is the size of the airport.

Travel from India encompassed 3 different size of aircrafts. A moderate Airbus 330 to Dubai. Then a massive A-380 to Johannesburg and then a small turboprop Havilland to Bloemfontein over the huge – many of them exactly circular, farms of free state province. Outside the small airport there was only one taxi. And the first car I sat in, in South Africa, was a Hyundai Santro. Only that it is called Atos here.

The city is of course beautiful – mainly because you can see the huge expansive, dome like sky stretching out 360 degrees around you. There are only 2 buildings which can be called skyscrapers. The weather is somewhat like Bangalore – at least in January. Hot during the day and really cool in the evenings. Or such is the case in the particular area where I am putting up – Dan Piennar.

It is situated on a small hill overlooking the entire city of the Bloemfontein. Sitting in the room, you can even see the cricket stadium far away (or at least the flood lights). The breeze (and it is a wind today) has an inhibited access – from any direction which makes it cool in the morning and the evenings. And like Bangalore, it rains whenever the temperature crosses a threshold and more often than
not you can see a rainbow (though I don’t think that is the reason it is called the rainbow nation).

The sunsets are to die for. Everyday there is a different hue to the sky – Purple, orange, Blue. And the beautiful and rich houses..err. bunglows around the area form the perfect foreground.

Dubai – In Transit

As the aircraft starts its final descent to Dubai and the sun has gone down for the day, the first thing that you see outside the window is a massive yellow line snaking around the terrain below. As the aircraft tilts a bit to maneuver a turn you can see more such ‘snakes’. At this point of time, without the aid of google maps, I am assuming that these must be the lights along the highway which stretches out of Dubai in different directions. From the top it looks beautiful. And ‘street light’ on the highway. Well.. rich country!

The second ‘aha’ moment on this brief transit stop at Dubai came on entering the lift (elevator if you like to call it) at the airport. These were perhaps the largest lifts I have seen.  I think it could easily pack in 50 people. May be more if you pack it like we do in India. The descent is also beautiful – along the water falling along a wall – at approximately the same speed as the lift.

The third amazing thing for me was to see a person in the proper ‘Arab dress’ for the first time. By the Arab dress I mean the flowing white robe with a black round band/ring on the head. When we were children, there used to be a certain fascination with this headgear. I remember we used to have a round ring like thing which used to hold a part of a cloth stretched so that some embroidery could be done on it and we used to imitate the Arab dress using that.

The final thing worth mentioning was the length of the corridor of the hotel – The Millennium Airport hotel where the few hours of night were spent. I haven’t seen such a long corridor in any hotel till now. If you are in a habit of talking a walk after your dinner, you just need to take the room at the end of the corridor (incidentally ours was at the end of it!!)

Quli Khan’s Tomb or Metcalfe’s Dilkhusha

Quli Khan is the lesser known brother of Adham Khan – who was (in) famously thrown from the Agra fort by Akbar.

The tomb is lesser known for Quli Khan and more for being the summer/weekend retreat for Sir Thomas Metcalfe – the resident british at the Mughal court. Thomas Metcalfe was instrumental in setting up an arrangement with Mirza Fakhru, one of the sons of Bahadur Shah Zafar – the last Mughal. They signed a secret understanding that British would recognize him as the formal heir after Zafar’s death and Mirza Fakhru would move the Mughal court from Red fort to Mehrauli, thus giving the fort to be used as British barracks. Eventually both Fakhru and Sir Thomas died – allegedly due to poisoning (by one of the wives of Zafar who wanted her son to be the heir to the throne)

But before all that, Sir Thomas Metcalfe made this tomb into a classic retreat home – on the lines of today’s farmhouse and called it Dilkhusha. He removed the grave of Quli Khan and made that room as his dining hall. The blue interiors look magnificent even today and on the outside there was a sprawling garden. Streamlets of water used to flow down from the house towards a dovecote – some of whose bricks are used from ancient temples which were perhaps broken down to build the monuments (like Qutub Minar) that we see today. The whole place gave a tough competition in its magnificence to the Zafar Mahal (Bahadur Shah’s summer retreat) in the same Mehrauli area.

But one thing that still eludes is some information on Quli Khan himself – whose grave has now been restored and who peacefully lies where perhaps Metcalfe’s dining table stood a century and half ago.

Bricks, perhaps used from old temples to be used in the more recent monuments

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