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

royal splendour in jaipur’s city palace

“When you have good luck [pointing towards the elephant in a painting], you find love. When you get love, you feel powerful. When powerful, you are happy. When happy, you are brave. And when brave, you are kind.”

With a broad smile and tiny squirrel hair brush held gently in his fingers he pointed towards one of his favourite works even as, with a mere few strokes, he put together a miniature styled portrait for me, replete with a nose ring and odhni.

Hemant is one of the four award-winning Ramdev brothers patronised by Jaipur’s royal family, their studio perched on the fourth floor of Chandra Mahal which houses the royal residential apartments. His ancestors, Jaipur City Palace’s court painters, had spent their lives decorating the walls and ceilings of this royal abode and crafting flawless miniature landscapes and portraits since the city’s inception in 1727.

If you’ve been to Jaipur, the City Palace would, without a doubt, have been on your to-do, not-to-miss list. Did you notice the cream coloured, 7-storeyed building topped with a one-and-a-quarter flag which seemed to always loom in the background? Not many take the trouble of exploring this edifice. Yet it contains the palace’s most exquisite, most resplendent rooms. Continue reading

chettinad: opulent mansions and spicy chicken in sleepy villages

India is full of surprises. Do you agree?

There are the usual suspects in India’s travel mix: Temples, forts, palaces, beaches, the Himalayas, and wildlife reserves. Throw in some yummy food, colourful festivals and yoga, and one may well be duped into believing—India, aah! Been there, done that.

Then, almost out of the blue, is a collection of around 75 sleepy villages in southern Tamil Nadu filled with uber-rich villagers’ mansions dating from the 1850s to 1940. Often filled with a hundred-odd rooms, they span across two streets in the neat grid plans which swathe the villages.

On their walls are massive mahogany framed mirrors all the way from Belgium while the floors are decorated with dainty English ceramic tiles spangled with roses, hand-made Athangudi tiles and Italian marble. Smooth Burmese teak pillars hold up ceilings from which enormous sparkling Venetian Murano glass chandeliers dangle. Continue reading

britannia and company : parsi food at its best : south bombay

britannia1

[This post is not a food or restaurant review, and has not been commissioned either. It is a place I have eaten at and fallen in love with, at times for the food, at times for the ambience, and often for both. And like me, countless others have been smitten by it too. Such, that it is today part of the very fabric of Bombay’s history and culture.]

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Ninety-three year old Boman Kohinoor comes to our table to take our order. Charming, suave and gentle, he is the owner of Britannia and Company, a Parsi restaurant founded by his father, Rashid Kohinoor, in 1923. His son, Romin, is the chef.

Britannia and Company has remained virtually unchanged from when it was set up 92 years ago. The peeling paint, crystal chandeliers and Polish Bentwood furniture within are evocative of another era; the Iranian flag draped across the side wall a proud acknowledgement of the restaurant’s heritage.

It would be fair to say that the restaurant is driven by emotion rather than profit. The nominally priced meals could easily go for small fortunes apiece, taking the restaurant’s global repute and heritage into consideration, but the Kohinoors are happy selling them for a few hundred Rupees instead.

The family-owned eatery on a quiet street in colonial Ballard Estate opens only for fours every day to a packed house and long queues. If you are not eating you have to leave. Its patrons come from far and wide, from the office crowd in the Fort District to Parsi NRIs on holiday yearning for a taste of home.

I am charmed, to say the least. 🙂 Continue reading