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.

Dormitory of Mughals

Humayun, it seems did not rest in peace after his death. His body was moved around and finally his wife decided to build a huge tomb for him – unsurprisingly called Humayun’s tomb. In this grave, he must have thought…”Finally, a nice airy room to rest with a high roof and lots of windows”.
But it was not destined for him to remain in peace because even today hundreds of people come to that airy room with high roof and say ‘how beautiful!’. The matters have been made worse by Obama who visited the tomb last month. Reportedly, the footfall here has increased 30% after that.(though I didn’t overhear even one English speaking foreigner)
Graves of some relatives of Humayun

Honestly speaking, inside the monument there is nothing beautiful. May be except the architecture which to an untrained eyes is just a complex maze of rooms filled with graves. There are over hundred graves from the Mughal family at this place which is called the dormitory of Mughals. The old walls are filled with graffiti which makes the interiors simply ugly. The graves too are long past their good days. The restoration work has been in progress but it seems very slow and the focus has been on the exterior than interiors.
Wish Rubina hated the guy
Quite logical because, it is actually the exterior which makes the monument attractive. The view from far away standing in the lawns is excellent with red sandstone merging with the blue sky and the well kept green lawns. Here one gets to see the perfect symmetry and the simplicity of the monument which is a prelude to the Taj Mahal and has a stark resemblance to it. Both are on the banks of same river – Yamuna. Both share a similar story (built in memory of a husband or wife) and both have expansive lawns around them.
Similar to Taj Mahal??
I fully utilized the combination of this rare Delhi greenery, royal surroundings and the warm winter sun to write this post and read a book before returning to the call of the hunger.

Around the Powerhouse of India

A cold Sunday afternoon warmed by a bright sun is a nice time to venture out for a walk around the most powerful area in India. A metro was taken to Central Secretariat. As I emerged out of the impressive, gargantuan station a pool of stagnant water met me. A long canal along Rajpath is supposed to be an attraction but has been barricaded away from view because of the obvious conditions.

I turned right on the magnificent Rajpath towards the Raisina Hill. The last time I was here, some apprehension had led me to avoid jump across the last crossing after which there is a slight climb onto the hill. The presence of overwhelming North and South block buildings had made me think that we – the aam aadmi would not be allowed to encroach the domain of the powerful. But that apprehension was absent this time – I saw plenty of auto rickshaws take the road uphill.

But before walking up to Raisina, I turned right at the crossing. People were lazing around in the adjoining gardens and I day dreamed of sitting there and leisurely reading a book in the winter sun. Close by a horde of news channel vans were idling away in what seemed like a special parking made for them. A familiar looking news reporter was packing up after a monologue with the camera as I moved closer to what was her background – the Parliament House. Somehow it was incredible to find that the primary government offices are a mere stone’s throw away from the parliament.

Parliament House

Parliament House – it is not as far away as it looks

After getting as close as possible (which was not much), I turned back and climbed the hill towards the buildings which house the offices of Prime Minister and other top ministers.  I don’t know much about architecture but some observations point to it being a mix of Indian and English architecture (which it actually is according to books). For example, the trapezium kind design of lamp posts seems English – photos and movies being my reference. While the red color of the building is perhaps the favorite of Mughal era and the dome structures also seemed to be inspired from Indian culture. An interesting sight on the way was a foreign tourist on an old ‘Hero Cycle’ (the ones we look down upon!). He was wearing an industrial helmet, a mask worn in hospitals, dark sunglasses (hopefully not bought for Rs 100 at CP) and was standing right in the middle of the road trying to find his way in a map. Quite obviously he had learnt the ‘Jugad’ – something that we Indians have stamped our ownership on.

Liberty is something that needs to be earned before enjoying

North Block which houses the Ministry of Finance

Moving ahead I ventured inside the North Block building. 2 guys ahead of me were showing some identification to the 2 policemen guarding the door. I tried to show him mine but the sentinel of the building waved me inside without even a glance. There was nothing much apart from a hall inside. You can see the actual offices from the windows but they have separate entrances. Further down the stairs, was a small police control room in a corner and a gate further north opened up on the street behind the building. I reversed, climbed up the stairs back to the Rajpath. Standing atop the hill you can see an extra ordinary side of Delhi – wide silky smooth roads, greenery all around and a wonderfully straight avenue which on a smoggy day like today seemed like a road to heaven. Far away I could see a faint silhouette of the India Gate. On a clear, bright sunny day there would be a completely different kind of awesomeness to the view.

Inside North Block Building

The hall inside the North Block

Behind me stood my next stop – Rashtrapati Bhavan. There were a number of tourists on the way – most of the young ones clearly posing for the facebook and orkut (if it still finds favors) albums. One thing that everyone was trying to do was click a view of the presidential palace from behind the closed gates. The gates blocked the access to huge green expanse that are the gardens of the palace. Ironically, there were plenty of monkeys having fun in the finely pruned grass but for a common man this is where the road ends. It was time to do a U-turn back to the ‘other’ Delhi.

Rashtrapati Bhavan... Doors closed

Closed doors of the President of India

Itna Sannata Kyun Hai Bhai

A peculiar thing I see in a metro is that everyone is very quite inside. And strangely it has no co-relation with the number of people inside. It is more prominent in case of the underground one. I first observed this in the New York metro or Subway as they call it. We four people – excited to be outside the boundaries of the nation for the first time, were the only ones chatting, clicking photos etc. Apart from us, everyone fell in the category of either eyes on books, eyes closed or eyes gazing randomly at a point with mind somewhere far away. Many of them also had a customary iPod earphone in place. Simply saying, no one was interested in creating much noise there.

I had thought at that time that this cannot be possible in a place like India. Of course till then, I only had the experience of a Mumbai local as a reference point. A few months later I happened to take a metro ride in Kolkata and experienced a similar quietness among the travelers. And now in Delhi, no matter how crowded the train is, a human sound disturbs you only at stations – that too if crowded. Else its only the wheezing sound of the high-speed train moving perilously close to the tunnel walls. People are busy talking to their minds than to some one else. Even when some one tries to break the status-quo, he finds himself against a huge barrier created by the sound of silence. Almost all, even the adamant ones fail to pass the hurdle and soon fall silent feeling odd.

One major reason for lack of voices in an underground metro is the lack of mobile signals. It seems that no connectivity lends a welcome break for people and may be gives them an opportunity for them to reflect inside for sometime. May be that is why the silence is carried on despite the metro moving into the elevated zone. Soon, the destination – the real world beckons. The signals are back and the mobiles go where they belong – on the ears. The metro meanwhile carries on quietly carrying some more silent people close to their self.

Delhi – Gurgaon Metro

Dhalta Sooraj

“Kahin bhi baith sakte hain kya?”, a guy asked me as soon as I had taken a seat in the almost empty Metro from Qutab Minar to Gurgaon. He was a middle aged person – a laborer who was confused and was feeling out of place with his old torn air bag amongst the suave, urban crowd most of who seemed like on a picnic in the metro.
“Pehli baar Metro mein aaya hun”, he explained, probably as confused as one of the kids who was asking his father the reasons for putting the hanging handles on the roof. But he was equally ecstatic too – after all he may not get to travel everyday on a 5 star AC train which according to another kid was “moving in the sky”.
“Gurgaon ka konsa station hai?”, he again asked leaving me confused as well.
“Aapne kahan jaana hai?”, I asked.
“Gurgaon bus stand se apne gaon ki bus pakadni hai”.
I told him to get off at Iffco Chowk station, which I later realised was quite a bit away from the actual Iffco Chowk. After all this was my first journey on Gurgon Metro Line too. Till now I had only travelled on the underground sections in North Delhi. The underground part has its own charm. While travelling you cannot see anything around, the sense of direction has any meaning only if you look at the map on top of the doors. Overhead Metro on the other hand was scenic. And the journey from Quatab to Gurgaon is filled with diversity. You start with Quatab Minar behind you and a vast expanse of greenery around. The trees fall short as you ‘move in the sky’. The way is occasionally dotted with different farmhouses, their privacy destroyed by giving the public a bird’s eye view of the palatial bungalows. The distinct Chattarpur temple then looms large over to the left. Gradually the human intrusion starts surfacing as the green gives way to the brown and then eventually a jungle of a different kind – the skyline of the millenium city. And within half an hour, you have successfully made the transition from the history to the future.
Gurgaon Skyline
As I sat there clicking photos and watching excited toddlers having different views of the changing views outside, it was tough not to notice the laborer. He had not looked outside the window even once and sat there looking at the floor all the time. The only time he looked around with expectation was when a station came. Obviously he will have some different kind of experiences to tell to his family.

Delhi-6

A visit to Chandni Chowk is an out of Delhi experience – the Delhi that is experienced in a normal routine with flyovers after flyovers, broad (but still jammed) roads, duplicate malls where once inside its tough to tell which part of the country you are in. That is the New Delhi.
Chandni Chowk is different. Its Old Delhi.

Chandni Chowk

The Moonlight Market

And if the makers of movie Delhi-6 felt that their portrayal would help us get a glimpse of the experience of Chandni Chowk, they were completely wrong. You have to be here to really experience it. In a movie you can only see a part of it. You are not able to feel the people & rickshaws grazing you, smell that unmatchable aroma of kababs, see kilometeres of wires intertwined beyond comprehension such that no one even attempts to touch them, taste the original mughlai dishes at Kareem’s and hear the rickshaw walas continuously shouting in an attempt to clear the way which even one person is sufficient to block.
My Delhi-6 experience started in company of Amit when we got off near the Old delhi railway Station Opposite the massive Red Fort.
We walked, trying to find way towards Chandni Chowk area and utlimately the final destination – Kareems. A turn and after walking some distance we found ourselves facing Sheesh Ganj Gurudwara. I remembered it from childhood when once I had been to this gurudwara where Guru Teg Bahadur had finally fallen after carrying his decapitated head in his hands from Red Fort.
We randomly walked soaking in the feel of the famous Chandni Chowk. Chandni Chowk was developed by Jahanara Begumm – daughter of Shah Jahan when he moved his court from Agra to Delhi after his wife’s death. It is essentially a street – the principal avenue of the Old City. Something like Shahjanabad’s ‘Brigade Road’- a boulevard with shops on either side.
It may have been the attraction of the town in its hey days but now it is a definition of chaos. I tried to find some method to the madness but could find none.

Chaos at Chandni Chowk

No Method in Madness

Though the place still has the archaic feel to it but there are islands of modernity. There are ‘Outlaw’ brands interspersed between the traditional ‘Asharfian’ and several other ‘cloth houses’. Among the many Burqa clad women, sometimes you spot young girls with bright clothes & i-pod in ears. A shining clean, vegetarian Haldirams stands among the numerous dirty roadside, completely non-vegeterian shops.

No method in Madness

Entering the Alleys – The Footwear market

We turned left in a small gali which had endless shops of footwear shops. But the space for footwear was only on walls of the shops. On road, 2 rickshaws grazed by if they had to cross each other. The rickshawallahs repeatedly called out to people walking in front to make their way. It was them or us or may be us on them!!
we carried on through the small alleys. There was some apprehension to go on when the alley suddenly turned dark. But it was an interesting decision to go on. The setting remained the same but the name, owners and the contents at the shops changed completely. The turbaned heads were in prominence near Sheesh Ganj, then people in white, embordieried skull caps appeared manning their leather footwear. And now suddenly out of no where we could see a ‘Sri Ganga Temple’ and shops named Laxmi, Saraswati, Durga – all selling wedding cards.

Dark Alleys

Darkness acting as a divide between religions

By now tired, having no idea where we were headed and Ovi Maps failing in these labyrinths we took a rickshaw and gave him responsibility to make our hungry tummys reach their destination – Kareems – the famous Time Magazine featured ‘dhaba’. As we neared the end of the narrow alley we found a truck attempting to enter it – a truck in a place where rickshaws were barely able to make their way. We defintely believe in the statement ‘impossible is nothing’ as far as driving is concerned.
Soon the massive Jama Masjid came into view. A big bazar with only resturants stood adjoining it. And between the hanging chicken – raw and roasted and smell of kababs sat Kareems – the neatly organised and overflowing with people struggling, waiting and cajoling the waiters to get their seats. Ancestors of the owners worked as chefs in the royal kitchens of Mughal Emperors. The present owner’s great grandfather Haji Karimuddin, who served in the kitchen of Bahadur Shah Zafar, then decided to bring the royal delicacies to the masses after the Mughals era ended. Seeing the menu there you know that why these Mughal rajas were like tall, broad shouldered, meaty hunks or you may call them  ‘Hulks’.

Kareem

Kareem Hotel – well not exactly a Hotel!

We had to share table with couple of other people but it was all worth the wait and the walk. Seekh Kabab was nice and juicy, mutton was the best I have ever had. The chicken, though immersed in oil was good, the roti very very heavy and the kheer was tasted after long time.
After the chandni chowk walk and a heavy dinner, nothing except sleep was on mind! ShahJahan would have retired to his Bedroom at the Fort across the road but we had to take a long journey back where Delhi suddenly turned new as soon as we crossed the Delhi Gate. Its tough to find this  inconspicuous gate on a map.  The Mughal era map of Old Delhi shows this gate to the south of walled city which once  was a passage out of the city. Now, though it seems like an obstruction between the passages.

India Gate

In a cage

Last time(it was also the first time) I visited India gate, it was a bright sunny day. It had rained heavily in the morning and the air was clear so that you could see far away at the magnificent north and south blocks down the beautiful Rajpath.
The Amar Jyoti and the inverted gun with the helmet on top was like a magnet to which the handful of eyes and cameras seemed attracted to. I left Delhi with a beautiful picture of India Gate in mind.
But then I was told that its beauty multiplies at night with all the brightly lit nights and all. So recently a trip was taken to see the memorial glitter at night. First glance from a distance was disappointing. The gate was caged in iron rods – renovation for Common wealth games. Also it was disappointing to see the memorial for 90,000 soldiers as a more of a picnic spot, with typical  irritants perfectly in place – the usual wrappers of chips, plastic bottles etc. The most irritating of the lot was the screaming ice cream walas, the channe walas and the baloonwalas. The noise from these vendors could have paled the sounds of gun shots in any war. The Amar Jyoti was just something irrelevant, unnoticed in the background, the gun and the helmet invisible.
And then somehow you zone out of all the noise, sit and calmly absorb the magnificence of the structure only to find a police constable shooing you away as its 9.30 PM already. Security  issues obviously. Don’t know why these arise in the night only. How is the place any safer with hundreds of people there throughout the day and not at night? Apart from shooing people away, can the police start fining people literring around – may be in a small area just around the India Gate? Can hawkers be banned in the immediate vicinity? These were some of the many random questions the mind was asking as a disappointed me walked away.

Qutab Minar

Standing among the ruins
Except for that 72 meter tall structure, everything here is in tatters. Years have caught up with the tombs, Sarai (rest house), madarassa (school) in the compound. But the best part amongst these ruins is that hundreds of visitors there were not ruining the place by littering it with empty water bottles and packets of chips or biscuits. The reason was more of a compulsion than voluntary. Bags – which are the carriers of the ‘litterable’ items were not allowed inside the compound. For a mere Rs 2, you could store your bags in the cloak room, of course at your own risk.

As I went from one broken building to another, I also realized that why the tooti-footi, broken buildings in Europe – like the Colosseum in Rome are a great attraction. These aged, half broken, out of shape ruins are strangely attractive. I am still not able to pin point at the exact reason. The silhouette of an incomplete structure with lush green grass – nicely pruned in front provides a contrast of perfection and flaw. May be that was it. Or maybe the freedom to imagine what it would have been in its prime. What would the madarassa where children used to study look  like. Or how would the place have looked had the Alai Minar been completed. (Alai Minar was meant to be double the size of Qutab Minar but could not be completed).

Outside, a man who looked like a senior cleric of a mosque nearby was painting a picture to my imagination of the glorious past. He was sitting outside on a chair laughing and talking to his mobile. All the while, two kids, aged around 10 stood on either side of him waving hand-fans at him assuaging him of the heat on a sunny May afternoon. It would have been the same in the time of the kings who built the Minar. Except that I don’t think kids would have been at the job of being the Fan for the Raja.

Traffic Jam

I am struck in a terrible Delhi traffic jam right now. In the sweltering heat, inside an auto – where unlike an AC car, there is no barrier between me and the dust, heat and the typical traffic jam noises – just two primarily – horn and the engine. But within these 2 parameters there is as much variety on offer as it in Sachin’s shots.
There are 2 rows of vehicles that have formed – typical of a jam. I am on the right side as we have to take a U turn. On my left is a Santro with two kids who, unaware and unflusterred by the jam are enjoying themselves with some game. Blarring horns don’t affect them, neither does the slow moving traffic. They are not in a hurry to reach somewhere. As I am looking at them, trying to make out what is the game they are involved in, I catch their attention. They make faces at me. May be they don’t like my frustrated face. Just then their line moves forward – perfect opportunity  to mock me with their tongues out and the thumbs up. Meanwhile I curse my luck for being in the wrong line.
Behind them is a contrasting picture. A mercedes moves up and stands elegantly besides my auto. I can see some big honcho sitting through the shaded window –  a copy of the economic times in his hands. This surprises me a bit. Newspapers lose their importance after morning. In Mumbai, ETs are ubiquitous when you take a morning train to Churchgate station (the financial nerve center) but in the evening? Only time you see that happening is during placement season, when someone has an interview the next day . But then Who knows this guy is also headed for some interview!!  He looks calm but is frequently turning his newspaper pages and glancing above it into the non-moving traffic. The contrast between the playfullness of the Santro and the seriousness of the mercedes amazes me.
Tired from waiting and to save his oil, the auto driver turns his engine off. Unlike Mumbai, Delhi Autowalahs dont go on a meter which keeps running while stationary too. But by some corollary to some Murphy’s Law, the line starts moving as soon as the engine sputters down. It is the most beautiful site I guess – watching the vehicle ahead inching away in a traffic Jam. It seems like it has opened up all the way. I pass the Santro and almost mock the children back. But anyways, they are absorbed in their little game. All hopes dash, when I see the car ahead stop again.
This time it is a big white ambassador by my side. An unused Red Light on top – may be he has realised that its of no use in a jam like this. Antennas coming out of everywhere. The outside looks powerful but the sad point is that I cannot see inside – the windows are dark black – perhaps just like their lives. What is the neta inside doing right now? We only see them on TV, giving speeches, press conferences, on dharnas, abusing some one or the other. But what exactly do they do normally – for example just now stranded in a traffic jam?
My line has moved further ahead. There is a cut in the divider and the auto successfully manages to take the much desired U turn. Whenever there is a traffic jam, the other side of the road(if there is a divider) – one for the on coming traffic is free of traffic and vehicles zoom past you. The person stuck in it often wonders why is he not on the other, empty side where he can move freely at a high speed. But then, it is not the direction. Is it?

Rajdhani

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The Power Houses – North and South Blocks

It was a conscious decision to take a metro ride so I asked the auto wallah to take a detour to the nearest metro station instead going directly to ISBT(Delhi’s Inter state Bus Stand). The nearest metro station happened to be Central Secretariat. At an intersection the road on the left looked very familiar and so did the buildings at the end of the road. Another semicircular building hid behind trees in the north-west direction. I have never had a chance to see the power hub of India at close quarters and this was an opportunity not to be missed.
So I started moving on the familiar road I had seen earlier – the one which we see every 26th January – Rajpath.
The two colossal structures – South Block and North Block, looming large ahead.
To the right was the Parliament House.


The Parliament House – looks just like we see in TV 🙂

I clicked some photos. And as I turned around to come back – there was the India Gate standing distinctly far down the road.


India Gate down the Rajpath
Amazingly when I told one of my friends about this, the prompt question was “you must be thinking of RDB!!!”. Well, Miss T, either you can read minds or I am obsessed about RDB and everyone knows it.. because that was the first thought the came to my mind – the masti ki pathshala song where they circle the India Gate.
I walked some 2 – 3 kilometers to reach the famous 42 meter high monument with names of all the Indian WW 1 and Afghan War martyrs inscribed on it.


The Majestic India Gate
It was a transformation from the history to the future – the Metro trains. As soon as you step on to the stairs going down to the underground station (there are many stations on ground level too but I experienced the underground one), you are into a different world altogether. Sparkling clean floors & platforms, close circuit cameras all around, automatic gates and of course the metro train itself. It is a different world down there. But as soon as you step off the stairs again and enter ISBT – it is the normal story again – filth, garbage all over. The metro was host to all – literate and illiterate so the argument that it is the uneducated ones who are responsible for all the filth is wrong. If one sees cleanliness, he is motivated to maintain it and feels ashamed at spoiling it. I hope the metro effect spreads everywhere.