the story of qutub minar

Prologue

Perhaps it would be more apt to title this post: Stories about Qutub Minar. As in plural.

Apart from being Delhi’s most iconic monument, it is steeped in multiple stories and a whole lot of firsts, making it unlike any other in the city. To top it, it is not the handiwork of any one ruler or dynasty, but is a collaborative effort spanning 800 years with even an East India Company officer adding his own bit to it—a Bengal-styled chhatri perched on top of the tower, which was thankfully brought down twenty years later.

So, here are Qutub Minar’s most famous stories. The spunk behind its stones. 😊 Continue reading

a heritage buff’s guide to the eight cities of delhi

Delhi, a city of 7 cities, 8 cities or 14 cities? It depends on which lens one is looking at the city from. But it surely is not one city!

India’s political centre has been around for a long time. 1,300 years as per historical records, in which it served as the capital city for different rulers over various periods.

Many set up their own capital, in their own name, for posterity’s sake in and around Delhi. For instance, Mubarak Shah, the second Sayyid dynasty ruler during the Delhi Sultanate period founded Mubarakabad in the 15th Century [included in the 14 cities list]; it is now a neighbourhood called Kotla Mubarakpur.

All together, 14 such cities were built over the centuries in this patch of strategically placed land in northern India with the fertile Gangetic plain to its east, the impenetrable Deccan plateau to the south, and the arid desert state of Rajasthan to the west. An area nourished by the river Yamuna and the monsoons.

Much smaller than present-day Delhi, these cities were often built a short distance away from an old one or incorporated earlier ones into its boundary walls, and at times even existed concurrently. Each of them has added a distinctive layer to Delhi, making Modern India’s capital quintessentially different from any other. Where else can you time travel across a millennium in an hour.

For this post, I am taking the ‘8 cities in a city’ theory. Seven historical cities in Delhi that still exist, and New Delhi, listed in chronological order.

It is a longish post. After all, we talking about 1,300 years and eight cities. 🙂 Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Happy time travel! Continue reading

india travel shot: jantar mantar, a slice of jaipur in delhi

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Deep in the heart of New Delhi’s central business district, Connaught Place, is a remnant of the Princely State of Jaipur. Surprised?

Known earlier as Jaisinghpura Village, this patch of land formed part of Jaipur’s territories from the 16th Century right up to the year 1911. When Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II built a monumental observatory to measure time in Delhi, on the invitation of the Mughal Emperor in 1724, he was technically building it on his own land.

He named his futuristic structures to measure the movement of the heavens Jantar Mantar, meaning instruments and formulae. So chaffed was he by his invention, he repeated it in his own capital, Jaipur, and three other cities in the following years.

Fast forward to 1911: Sir Edwin Lutyens decides this area is to be the site for the new Imperial capital, New Delhi. But it is already occupied. So, the British government buys it off from Jaipur, relocates all the villagers [to nearby Karol Bagh], and razes their homes to the ground. Except for the monuments and places of worship that stand on it.

Hence, surrounded by high-rises is a fenced area of green with a medieval observatory, along with Hindu [Hanuman Mandir and Bhairav Mandir], a couple of Jain temples, and a Sikh temple [Bangla Sahib Gurudwara], all dating back to Jai Singh’s reign.

These have become so much a part of Delhi’s heritage, the fact that they are actually remnants of the Princely State of Jaipur are all but forgotten. 🙂

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Note: Yash Gupta, a conservation architect at Intach, leads a fabulous 2-part walk through Jaisinghpura based on his research of the area.

lodhi art district’s 16 most dazzling street art paintings

What happens when a sedate neighbourhood for government employees comes face-to-face with passionate street artists from across the world—Lodhi Art District happens. 😊

A leafy residential area dating back to Edwin Lutyens’ 1940s New Delhi, Lodhi Colony is characterised by wide streets and housing blocks encased in lofty colonial arches and vast facades. Unlike most of Delhi, it is relatively traffic-free—the perfect setting for an open-air art gallery, is what St+art India Foundation figured in 2015.

And so, over the years, street artists from across the world and India, were invited to transform its faded vanilla walls into riots of colour. At times the art was loaded with thought-provoking messaging, and at others about the simple truths of life. But always, magnificent in their aesthetic beauty.

There are some 60 street art works scattered over the neighbourhood, as of December 2022. You would need a whole day to see them all. Of these, 16 are drop-dead dazzling, and my absolute favourites!

I have included a link to a google map prepared by St+art at the end of this post to help you locate these paintings, along with a link to their official [free] audio guide available on HopOn India.

Here they are, the best of Lodhi Art District’s lot. Be prepared to be bowled over. ❤ Continue reading

delhi’s shahjahanabad unraveled: heritage, sacred places, markets, and food

No visit to Delhi would be deemed complete without a visit to Shahjahanabad, popularly referred to as ‘Old Delhi’ after the creation of Lutyens’ ‘New Delhi.’ But it is an overwhelming place. A sensory overload. After all, what do you expect from 400 years of continued habitation and history packed into 6.1 sq. kilometres.

This pocket of land has seen it all. The zenith of Mughal rule. India’s First War of Independence. The sure and steady takeover of Delhi by the British, culminating in India’s independence in 1947.

It has been razed to the ground and bathed in blood three times over the course of time. Yet, it has bounced back on its feet. Livelier. It has seen executions in the name of religion, and yet, coexistence continues to exist within its walls. Devoid of any ‘city planning,’ apart from the Fort area, Chandni Chowk, and Jama Masjid, it has grown organically over the centuries with bundles of overhead electric wires and unpaved paths put up, as and when needed, to meet infrastructure needs. Yet, there are heritage treasures in its midst which are some of the most stunning in the country.

This chaotic wonderland, which defies all rules, had its foundation stone laid on 19 April, 1639 by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. For nine years, thereafter, construction took place under imperial orders, and in 1648 it was declared ready for use as the new Mughal capital. Continue reading

travel shorts: delhi’s 800-year-old spiritual retreat for eunuchs

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Delhi is full of tombs and gravestones. There are tombs for sultans and emperors, and their consorts. For wealthy nobles and ordinary folks. But gravestones, sorry not for one, but 50 revered eunuchs or transgender women who lived eight hundred years ago? Aaah, that can only happen in Delhi. 😊

Hijron Ka Khanqah, which literally translates to ‘a Sufi spiritual retreat for eunuchs’ is a collection of whitewashed gravestones fronted by a wall mosque in Mehrauli Village, a neighbourhood in Delhi continuously inhabited for the past one thousand years. Amidst these gravestones stands a marble tomb marked with a kalamdan, a raised ridge, typical of graves belonging to males in medieval India. Continue reading

a travel guide to colonial delhi

If you have been to Delhi, India’s capital city, your memories of it would most likely comprise of evocative Sultanate and Mughal monuments. Monuments which are remnants of the multiple cities that flourished here over the past one thousand years.

But no one can deny the city’s most alluring charm, perhaps just a tad bit more than its monuments, is its dense green canopy. A veritable garden city, its broad leafy avenues transform into tunnels of foliage in the monsoons. Large roundabouts embellished with manicured lawns, regal palms, and flowering bushes punctuate the roads at short intervals; roads lined by whitewashed bungalows set amidst their own personal gardens. Expansive reserves called the ‘Ridge’ run wild with jungles. And then there are the countless parks laid out neatly around the city’s monuments and jogging tracts through dark forests.

What if I told you none of this greenery is indigenous to Delhi. That the green cover is the Britishers’ most visible legacy to the city which they made their capital from 12 December, 1911 to 15 August, 1947. Even the Ridge, which Delhiites take much pride in, is draped in the Vilayati Kikar, a Mexican species, planted by the British. Its deep roots kill off any competition, especially Delhi’s native trees. Continue reading

an urban monk’s guide to delhi’s spiritual oases

This post is for all those Urban Monks who are not tied to any dogma, are secular, and are more focussed on the spiritual in the chaos of the material. Why do I say this? It’s because that’s what being an Urban Monk is all about. Isn’t it? Finding the sacred, everywhere, in our urban contexts.

This lofty lifestyle goal becomes pretty doable in a city like Delhi. 😊

Tsk tsk. Do I see you shake your head in disbelief? Let me explain.

Delhi’s rich history has been crafted by devout Hindus, Sufi pirs, Sikh saints, secular and rigid Central Asian Muslims, and Christian British colonizers. Add to this mix, ancient creeds like Zoroastrianism, Jainism and Buddhism, and modern religions like the Baha’i faith. They have all contributed to the warp and woof of the city’s fabric, turning it into a melting pot of beliefs.

Surrounded by the chaos of a metropolitan city, some of their places of worship are veritable oases of peace and calm. Silent, deep, and serene. As a bonus, they also ooze of history, heritage, and stories galore.

Next time you need to take a breather, there is no need to go rushing to a retreat or to the hills. I mean, you can, but you don’t have to. There is enough in Delhi to rejuvenate you and connect you with the divine. ❤

Here are my seven personal favourites, in no specific order. What are your favourites? Do share in the comments section. Continue reading

a culture vulture’s guide to delhi’s 7 best heritage parks

Culture vulture.
Noun INFORMAL
a person who is very interested in the arts.

Are you one? I like to think I am. Culture gets me all starry-eyed. Whether it be museums, art, or theatre. And somewhere in this mix, for me, is heritage, which places culture in a continuum of time. I see culture and heritage as part and parcel of the same mix, one incomplete without the other.

Luckily for my present location, Delhi oozes of heritage. Both tangible and intangible. And one of the many ways the city protects its built heritage is through heritage parks—a delightful combination of monuments and gardens, each unique and with a narrative of its own.

Here are its seven finest that I came across in my explorations of the city and which I would like to share with you in their historical order. If you are in Delhi, do make your way to them.

I have also included tips on how to add some present-day culture to the visits, to make them that much more memorable. Remember … continuum. Happy exploring. 😊 Continue reading

national crafts museum, new delhi – 90 minutes at the museum

“A glass pitcher, a wicker basket, a tunic of coarse cloth. Their beauty is inseparable from their function. Handicrafts belong to a world existing before the separation of the useful and the beautiful.”
~ Octavio Paz, Mexican poet

I love this quote by Octavio Paz for it captures the sheer ethos of handicrafts.

Whilst art is pure expression, craft on the other hand is purely utilitarian. Shape, proportion, and colour—all serve a purpose. To be useful.

But just because it is useful, it does not mean it needs to be ugly or even plain. The craftsperson, since time immemorial, has imbued craft with a sense of aesthetics, following a deep-seated human instinct to create beauty. Continue reading