Beating Retreat

lighted up..

After the hectic preparations and an immaculate parade, the soldiers who have come from various regiments around the country need to celebrate the success of the picture perfect republic day.

And these celebrations take place in a traditional way – called the Beating Retreat.  The North and South block along with the Rashtrapati Bhavan are beautifully illuminated.  Thepresident comes, unfurls the flag and there is a band and another march past by the three pillars of India’s defense – Air force, Navy and Army.

Jai Hind

Talking of pillars, there is an interesting story behind the Rashtrapati Bhavan. It is said that Edward Lutyens, the chief architect had wanted the palace to sit majestically, all by itself on top of the Raisina Hill. But he was forced to have the two buildings – North and South block alongside it. So he placed a 145 foot Jaipur column in front of the palace which in a way spoils the whole view.

Rashtrapati BhavanThe 145 foot Jaipur Column – Spoils the view?

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Blast from the Past

The best part about history is the story. And they can be found in plenty at the Purana Quila. The popularity of the place is indicated at the approach road itself. There was a long line of cars and people turning right towards the neighboring zoo but the ones marching straight towards the ‘real’ place were only couples interested in having some space and time to them. Space they get in plenty as they are only a handful of them in what was around 500 years ago a whole city.

The Purana Quila

The story of the place goes like this. Humayun, the second Mughal ruler, decided to build a city and chose this site on the banks of river Yamuna. A walled city called Dinpanah was quickly built. Sher Shah Suri then defeated Humayun, forced the poor guy out of India and took charge of the city. He allegedly demolished all buildings inside and built some of his own (and called it Shergarh). Humayun returned with vengeance and regained the city 15 years later. After a few months, he was enjoying the magnificent view on top floor of his library (Sher Mandal) when he heard the prayer call and in a hurry slipped down the stairs and died. This was perhaps coming. History tells that whoever tried to build a city in Delhi did not survive to rule. (Shah Jahan and the British are other prominent examples after Humayun) . His tomb was later built a few kilometers down south and is now a more popular tourist spot.

Sher Mandal – Humayun fell down the stairs here and died

But this is a story only 500 years old. Much more interesting is another one. In 1950’s areas of Purana Quila were excavated and many civilizations were found to have existed here. They date back to the days of Mahabharat and the city of Indraprastha. A mud hut has been excavated from that age.  Unfortunately, it may be the case that the pandavas and kauravas were not at all like we see in the TV serials with all kinds of jewellery and all. They were, as William Dalrymple puts it, simple cave men who fought with sticks and stones.

The Western Entrance

Just behind the Sher Mandal there is a steep slope. On this slope is the evidence of 3000 years of Delhi. The actual slope is now covered with trees but it is beautifully displayed in a well maintained museum. On entering the museum there is a huge photograph which truly shows the importance of the site. There is a wall with the three thousand years in different layers. Indraprastha at the bottom, then Maurya, Sunga, Saka, Gupta, Post Gupta, Rajput, Sultanate and finally the Sher Mandal on top representing the Mughal era. Far away you can see the buildings of modern Delhi.

May be 500 years from now these would also become just a layer in history.

Lodhi Gardens

Lodhi Gardens, I found on a recent visit is divided into three areas. These distinctions are around the main monuments at these gardens – the Sikander Tomb, Bada and Sheesh Gumbad and Mohamamed Shah’s tomb. The first one – Sikander Tomb is a shady place isolated by the remains of a watercourse, which once connected to the Yamuna but now acts as a boundary to this area. The seclusion along with the numerous crevices among the ruins help the couples who want privacy in the center of Delhi.

Bada Gumbad

The scene across the “Khairpur ka Pul” over the watercourse is completely different. The couples give way to families and large groups of people here. The huge green expanse under the shadow of two imposing structures – Bada Gumbad and Shish Gumbad is seemingly a famous picnic spot. There are hundreds of people, all of them carrying food baskets and sheets to sit on and enjoy the sun. Many of the groups have bats and balls and the adults are re-living their younger days by hijacking a game which their children started. In one corner, a group of oldies are sitting, heavily dressed while some sweating youngsters in their track suits jog around on the track.

The Mosque besides the Bada Gumbad in a sorry condition

The monuments themselves are in a similar state as some of the other ones in Delhi – dilapidated both from outside as well as inside (though the restoration work has supposedly started in 2009). They are tombs from the Lodhi period (the ones before Mughals arrived). The first look at the monument, however reminds you of the Khushwant Singh’s words that the dome of the Bada Gumbad looks like a woman’s bosom. Well, use your imagination.

Does it?

Another small, artificial and most probably this century bridge takes you to the third section of the Gardens. It is the Mohammed Shah’s tomb. The architecture is distinctly different here. It is an octagonal structure (whereas the others are square). Though there are many graves inside the monuments, the major one is considered to be of Mohammad Shah (last of Sayyid Dynasty rulers. Lodhi’s followed them)

Mohammed Shah’s Tomb

One benefit of the location of the gardens is the nearness to the Khan Market. So after you have had a nice long walk, you can always go try out the variety of delicacies on offer there. Or may be vice versa.