Special Six: Memories of Delhi

It was ten years ago that I first visited Delhi. The trip was a celebration of sorts for having survived a very stressful year. I had convinced my mother, who had also had an equally stressful year albeit for different reasons, to accompany me. Perhaps because this was the first multi-day holiday trip that my mother and I were taking without any other family members and perhaps because it really felt like we were celebrating overcoming adversity, this trip remains my favourite travel memory. We enjoyed doing all the touristy things that the first time visitor to north India, on a package tour, would do on their travel around the Golden Triangle. This is the first of a series of posts on my Golden Triangle trip memories, starting with my favourite six from our time in Delhi.

  1. Staying at Hotel Broadway

The tour operator had booked us at Hotel Broadway situated on a dusty and tired looking road close to Delhi gate. The hotel did not look promising on the outside but the room that we checked into turned out to be a delight. Room number 46, was decorated by Paris-based artist Catherine Lévy, and was such a fun, eclectic and quirky room to be in. A blue sofa with red and yellow birds stitched on it was placed at one end of the room, with a low table from a nursery serving as the coffee table. I enjoyed writing in my travel journal each morning at the writing desk, which was a table generally found in canteens, and sitting in a revolving chair that was probably from a barber’s shop. The small radio fitted into the wall above the writing desk had strobe lights fitted on. I also liked the bedside lamps, which were an optician’s rectangular eye testing lamps, with the alphabets on its screens. The bathroom had a travel theme and it was covered with blue tiles and each tile with a picture of a different place from around the world. My favourite though was the ceiling fan, which would measure your luck each time you switched off the fan. We loved staying in this room and were disappointed when we were not given the same room at the end of our tour as well.

Ceiling fan.JPG

2. The ‘do rupiah’ kahani/ story

My mother and I discovered that the Delhi gate bazaar was just next door on our first evening in the city and we decided to explore the maze of tiny crowded and colourful streets filled with bright-coloured clothes, sweet shops filled with fly-ridden sweets, food carts selling pani puri, odds and ends shops selling gifts and souvenirs etc. My mother asked me if I had any small change and I gave her the ten rupee note that I had on me.

When I gave her the ten rupee note, she was like a child with her first ten rupee note at her first carnival. She happily bought an incense stick box and a packet of chips and was left with a 2 rupee coin, which she was determined to spend at the bazaar. We were walking further down the bazaar, when we saw an apple cart and she decided to spend her 2 rupee coin buying an apple. The apple-seller said that one apple was 3 rupees and she said ‘nahi, do rupees’. She was looking at an apple, when she suddenly started rooting through the apples on one corner of the cart. I was getting a bit worried and embarrassed because the cart owner started grumbling about it. She finally exclaimed gleefully as she picked up her two rupee coin, which I then realized had fallen into the cart.

I have always marveled at my mother’s ability to tap into her inner child and experience the moment with a child’s carefree and happy attitude. Especially even amidst painful life experiences. Being of a more serious disposition, I didn’t always appreciate this attitude especially during my teen years. However, I have learnt to value and treasure such moments with my mother.

3. Visit to Raj Ghat

During our first morning in Delhi, the guide who was a student at Jawaharlal Nehru University, discussed the suggested itinerary for the day with us and asked if we had specific places we wanted to visit. I expressed an interest in paying our respects at Raj Ghat so that is where we went first.

Gandhi's Samadhi.JPG

Flower seller.JPG

We bought some marigold flowers from the flower seller at the entrance and walked through the peaceful park to the memorial. The place where Mahatma Gandhi had been cremated, on 31st January 1948 on the banks of Yamuna river, had a marble platform and a burning lamp at one end.

As we drove away from Raj Ghat, I noticed the road was lined with memorials of cremation places of other Indian leaders like the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru.

4. A quick glimpse of India Gate

Having watched the republic day parades of India on TV, while living in Madras for a couple of years as a child, I had to stop by India Gate on our drive around Delhi.

Designed by Edwin Lutyens, India Gate is a war memorial to the 82,000 Indian soldiers who died during the first world war. The canopy behind India Gate once had the statue of King George V, but was subsequently removed.

IndiaGate.JPG

From India Gate, one could see Rashtrapati Bhawan, the President’s house, and the Parliament House. We were told that both the President’s palace and India Gate were built in perfect alignment and that they were of the same height of 42.5m. The Parliament house were two identical buildings on either side of the road leading to the President’s palace. I liked the symmetry of Lutyens’ design of the administrative centre of New Delhi.

5. Lotus Temple, the Baha’i house of worship

The Lotus temple was a pleasant surprise to my mother and I. What we liked most about the temple, considered the mother temple of those of Baha’i faith, was that not only was it open to people of all faiths, who were free to read scriptures of any faith within the temple, it was forbidden to have any sermons or ritualistic ceremonies within the temple. Everyone was asked to be silent within the temple premises. It made a huge impression on me.

Lotus temple.JPG

Lotus temple with Amma.jpg

6. Exploring Qutb Minar

Of all the ancient monuments and buildings we visited in Delhi on this trip, the one that made the most impression on me was the aesthetically pleasing Qutb Minar. It was simply a beautiful masterpiece. The Qutb Minar was built upon the ruins of the old city, with the foundation laid by Qutb al-din-Aibak, the founder of the Delhi sultanate in the 13th century. However, it was only completed by his successor after his death.

Alai Gate and Qutb Minar and Mosque.JPG

Alai Gate and Qutb Minar.JPG

Qutb Minar and the Alai Darwaza gate

Qutb Minar 4.JPG

Above the doorway.JPG

Ala-ud-din Khilji started the construction of the Alai Minar in early 14th century, as he wanted to build a monument that rivalled Qutb Minar. However, he died before the first storey was completed and work on the monument was discontinued.

Alai Minar.JPG

Alai Minar

The iron pillar with its Sanskrit inscriptions was brought from its original place to the site during the building of the Qutb Minar complex. Some of the translations indicate that the pillar was raised for Vishnu to celebrate the victory of a King in the 4th century.

The ancient pillar.JPG

Iron pillar

The UNESCO heritage site is impressive and it was interesting to see features of the older city peeping out of this ancient monument complex.

Qutb Minar pillars.jpg

Since that first visit to Delhi, I have visited a few times and explored the city more. While several of my Indian friends seem to prefer other Indian cities over Delhi, I continue to find the city fascinating.

I would highly recommend reading Khuswant Singh’s Delhi for those who have visited or are interested in visiting Delhi.

Have you visited Delhi? Which experience do you treasure most from your first visit to the capital of India?

[I am linking this post to Wanderful WednesdayFaraway Files #4Weekend Travel Inspiration and The Weekly Postcard]
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Book Review: Delhi

An absorbing historical novel by Khushwant Singh on the history of the city from the Moghul invasions to 1984. The past and the present are linked nicely and gives the reader a good view of both at the same time. I couldn’t put down the book once I had started it and read through the day till I came to the end.

I loved the way that the guide would take some of his clients to a site and tell the summary of the story behind the ruins and the next chapter would take the reader back to the time when the ruins were flourishing living areas. I also loved the thoughtfulness that the writer had put into introducing characters at different levels of society, from kings and queens to labourers and sweepers, at each point when the past is brought to life, thus bringing the reader awareness of how the society as a whole existed, rather than focus on only one section of the society.

It was interesting to read the character of Aurangzeb treated favourably in the novel, while Shah Jahan and his eldest son Dara’s character not so favourably treated, in contrast to popular fictive takes on idolizing Shah Jahan and vindicating the son who became the successor to the throne. The writer choses to do this by showing that ruling families will always be fraught with survival of the fittest which they do so by eliminating potential competition, their own siblings. In light of this, he suggests that when Aurangzeb came to the throne by killing his two brothers and imprisoning the third, Murad, for life and confining his old father to the confines of the Agra fort, along with his eldest and youngest sisters for the remainder of their life, he was doing what his line of ancestors had been doing so, including his own father, and thus he could not be looked upon as a tyrant king. He also further goes to highlight the fact that he was the first and only ruler who choose not to live the royal life the royal way but lived meagerly on his own earnings from the sale of the religious books he copied in his own hand, while treating state wealth as being in his custody for the state and not for his own pleasures. Neither did he maintain a harem as was the trend of the Mughals. It was an interesting perspective of a character who has been blackened in history and provides an angle which seeks to show the personal traits which governed his actions. Even the demolition of places of worship other than those of Islam was explained by his devout Islamic upbringing and his concern that his father and brothers were deviating from a life that should be inherent for a good Muslim and he felt that as a ruler he had to show all his subjects that Islam was the only religion of God.

What is special about the book is that while the writer has clear feelings about the characters he brings to life through his writing, he justifies the actions of each in their lives by recreating their upbringing, their personal paths in lives which brings them to a particular place and action in time, thereby inviting the reader to not judge but simply observe the historical passing moments.

The book also manages to link the actions in the past with results in the future. The killing of a Sikh Guru in the past resulting in a movement centuries down the line, vowing revenge and the actions of later day leader of India, Indira Gandhi to quench this rising with violence leading to her own assassination, which in turn results in the state supported killings of Sikhs living in Delhi.

The story also highlighted the toils and labours and petty vanity that human beings put into their brief existence on this earth and that it is meaningless in the passing of time and yet, history continues repeating its horrors and power struggles and power hungry individuals bring up some historical incident to justify their actions to the rest of the world, while it is pure greed or sadly mistaken logic that drives them on to destruction. Yet, life goes on and these human made destruction a drop in the continuing violence in the existence of human beings. Will the earth continue tolerating these violations on her?

A word of caution though – some might find parts of the novel squeamish, mostly the parts which involve the guide who tends to focus on his sexual experiences. Thus, ‘erotic’ is one of the labels that some reviewers and the publisher have used to describe the novel. I see a story very well handled by the writer and the language flawlessly flowing to create visions of the past.

I now look forward to getting hold of Khushwant’s Singh more famous book ‘A train to Pakistan.’

Book details:

  • Title – Delhi: A Novel
  • Author – Khushwant Singh
  • Published by Penguin Books India
  • Published 14 Oct 2000
  • ISBN13 9780140126198
  • Category – Fiction, Literary Fiction

Note: I have transferred this review from my first blog, View from my Desk, when I deleted that blog so that I could focus on Perspectives Quilt.