The locked house


Colonial Building

A Colonial building in a Mughal Garden Complex, living amid ruins of the Revolt of 1857, locked and forgotten, except by park officials and evening joggers.

For whom was it built? Why is it locked away? What lies behind those red stone walls?


nanopoblano2015lightThis is post #3 in this year’s NaBloPoMo, or as Ra calls it Nano Poblano

NaBloPoMo = National Blog Posting Month = Thirty straight days of blogging

Thanks a bunch to all the cheering peppers who have been tweeting and liking posts across WordPress 🙂

Broken

Minaret at Qudsia Bagh

My grandmother often says that of the several artistic abilities our family possesses, the ability to throw, is the one that we need the most! At our home, when things break, our instinctive reaction is that of fixing them. So for this week’s photo challenge, broken, I had quite a few options at home! Except, of course, they had mostly been fixed, or have become something else. For instance, the beads from several broken bracelets and necklaces have now become a gypsy-style garland. And all the broken seashells from our collections have now become a decorative wall hanging.

* * *

We were in Old Delhi to meet relatives and decided to explore Qudsia Bagh in the evening. Clean jogging tracks surrounded by palm trees and Laburnums in full bloom, the park was a sight for sore eyes and sun-drained explorers like us. Large pots of water and benches with bird feed attracted birds by the dozen.

“What are you waiting for? Take out the camera!” It took me a little while to react. My brother nudged me as I stared at a kite sitting atop the earthen pot. Before I could take a clean shot, it flew above us and onto a tree branch. Another one swooped down and flew low, before joining its friend on the branch. They didn’t seem to mind the people around them — little children swinging on monkey bars and groups of evening walkers.

We continued walking, and it wasn’t long before we spotted a wall behind a few trees. An old building! After several months, we discovered something old in Delhi. An entrance gate of some sort, with a staircase on the side leading up to the roof; an old locked up lodge that seemed appropriate for some mystery novel; and a mosque under renovation — we hopped from one building to another, trying to cover as much ground as possible in the little time we had left in the day. But with daylight fading and our stomachs grumbling, we had to head back.

As we were returning, I noticed this minaret-like structure. It turned out to be at the exact same place we saw the kites earlier. In our excitement of seeing the kites, I’d missed this one entirely.

Minaret at Qudsia Bagh
Minaret at Qudsia Bagh

I clicked a few more photographs of the park just as a peacock came out for its evening walk.

We may go and visit Qudsia Bagh again. We might climb the gate, inspect that old house more closely, and perhaps, find more treasures.


From Wikipedia: Qudsia Bagh is an 18th-century garden complex and palace located in Old Delhi, India. Constructed in 1748 for Qudsia Begum, this complex was largely destroyed during the Indian rebellion of 1857.

For more broken images, visit the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge: Broken

Well Hidden


It was in the first week of March, late in the afternoon. Winter was receding and the weather was just perfect for going monument hunting.

Before leaving, we ran a quick search on the internet. A map in hand, we got off at the Qutab Minar Metro station and walked along the road. After about fifteen minutes, we entered a small opening.

It’s called a park. But we soon realised we were in a jungle.

landmark
The water ‘stream’ which served as our landmark

We tried to figure out where we were on the map. We turned the map around, trying to align it with the shadows, to get a sense of which direction to head towards. As it turned out, we were poor map readers. We took different paths, each one giving us different leads, and none of them making any presence on the map.

Along each dust road, we saw broken and crumbling remains of the past, surrounded by the filth of ‘modern’ day. The old ruins told us we were somewhere – but not exactly where. After taking three different roads, and ending up at the same water stream, I folded the map and put it inside my pocket.

We asked some locals for directions. Some of them gave us a vague direction in which to go. One lady pointed out that we had entered the wrong gate, and that the proper entrance was ahead along the main road. There was, however, a way through the village. We had come too far inside. If we were to turn back, it would only be to return another day.

A middle-aged gentleman gave us two sets of directions; the one he recommended, was longer and clean, through the main road; the other was shorter and filthy, through the village. We gambled on the shorter one. We had already walked a lot, and since we were wearing shoes, we didn’t think filth would be much of a problem. If only we knew better.

crumbling
Was this a garbage dumping ground 4 centuries ago?

We walked along the narrow, steep village roads and crossed a stretch of rotting garbage. But it was a foul-smelling stretch of pigs, which made us run as fast as we could. We continued on the path, wondering what else was in store. As per the directions, we had to take another turn. There were trees all around and we still couldn’t figure out where we were. We decided between ourselves, that if we did not find anything in the next 5 minutes, we’d look for the way out.

And then, just after turning, we saw a stone signboard.

wall
The wall, well hidden; the security guard stands out like a sore thumb

Almost an hour after entering the jungle, we stood facing a stone wall. We walked around and climbed up the stairs.

Rajon ki baoli, read the stone sign.  The mason’s stepwell. We had reached what we had come looking for. Tired wanderers, the thirst of our eyes was finally quenched with the sight of the well.

For those of you who have a little better sense of direction, hopefully this map will help. Clearly, we didn’t do our homework properly. To view the interactive map on Google Maps, click here. For better photographs, ask Wiki

How to reach Rajon ki baoli
How to reach Rajon ki baoli
How to get a good workout
How to get a good workout

The Sultan’s Cave

Pigeons

Delhi is often described as a graveyard, due to the vast number of Tombs that are spread across the city. Most of them look alike, but some stand out.

A small sign along the main road indicated the path towards our destination. It was a narrow dust road, with trees on either side. We walked a short distance before hitting a fork in the road. Short shrubs, open fields, and grazing goats in front of us, city buildings and afternoon traffic behind. But there was no hint of a historical monument in sight.

We asked the man standing next to the goats, where we could find Sultan Ghari. He paused for a while, and then asked us if we wanted to visit the Dargah. We nodded, and he pointed towards the road on the right.

The tomb is a revered place for devotees of both Hindu and Muslim religious communities of the nearby villages of Mahipalpur and Rangpur since they consider the tomb as the dargah of a saintly ‘peer’; a visit to the tomb is more or less mandatory for newlyweds from these two villages. – Wikipedia

These words made me curious…

It wasn’t very far, but hidden behind the trees, the building seemed to magically appear out of nowhere. And the moment we first saw it, we were surprised. It did not look like a tomb at all. In fact, had we not known it was a tomb, we would have assumed it to be a fortress.

Sultan Ghari was built by Iltutmish, for his eldest son Nasiru’d-Din Mahmud – Raziya Sultan’s brother. It was the first Islamic mausoleum built in India.

Considering how old it was, it was beautifully preserved, and looked like it was built just yesterday. We bought our tickets – five rupees each – and climbed up. We were asked to take off our footwear before entering the stone courtyard.

In the centre of the courtyard was a huge octagonal platform, on top of which dozens of pigeons were feasting on seeds. The walls of the fortress had huge ‘windows’. One of the walls had a narrow, steep, open staircase. Standing atop the wall, we caught a bird’s-eye view of the city, as well as ruins from another time.

The actual grave of the prince was beneath the fortress. On one side of the central platform, a small opening lead downstairs to a small chamber. Lit only by oil lamps, it was extremely dark. We felt our way around and stepped down the stairs cautiously. The air was heavy with incense.

A green chadar was spread on the ground, and bataashas were kept next to it – symbols of both Islamic and Hindu faiths.

There was complete silence inside the chamber. So silent, the two of us spoke to each other in hushed tones. While the world boils and burns, fueled by religious animosity, it is places like these that provide hope that peace will one day prevail.

Back outside, we climbed up the stairs along the wall, to get a birds-eye view of the whole complex, as well as the surrounding ruins.

Here are some photographs of Sultan Ghari.

With the main purpose of our visit achieved, we had decided to have a little fun with the pigeons. I must say the pigeons were extremely cooperative, and willingly flew away the moment one of us went near them!

PS. Apologies for the poor quality of images…

The Old, Beneath The New

Upon Entering - First View

A gallery tour of Ugrasen ki Baoli – not really on a tourist’s itinerary. But then, not even locals are aware of its presence!

Ugrasen ki Baoli

Delhi has been loved, and loathed, by people for centuries. She has been built, razed to the ground, and rebuilt, by the same people who destroyed her.

The city has always been the favourite city of successive rulers. The proof of their love, lies in the monuments they constructed, that are spread across the city. Most of the newer buildings were constructed at the site of older structures. So the Fort of Rai Pithora, was razed to the ground, only for the Qutub Minar to be built.

Purana Qila (Old Fort) was built by Humayun, only to be destroyed by Sher Shah Suri. Sher Shah built his own capital at that site, only for Humayun to return! But even before the battles between these kings, an ancient civilization existed there – excavations of objects and pottery dating back to 1000 BC proving the antiquity of the Fort.

Besides the most obvious monuments, there are several smaller ones – those that are not on a tourist’s itinerary. They are hidden from public view. Even locals, never fully explore the city. To peel away the different layers of the city, requires more than just a few days. To understand what makes immigrants fall in love with the city, requires more than a lifetime.

In our quest to explore the ‘other’ side of Delhi, a few of us visited a baoli.

A baoli is a step-well, unique to the desert regions of western India. Ugrasen ki Baoli, is just off the main road near Connaught Place (Rajiv Chowk), at the heart of Delhi.

A short walk from the Barakhamba Metro station led us to the walls of the baoli. It looked like any other stone wall we’d seen, until we stepped inside. We collectively gasped at the sight in front of us – a long flight of steps leading to the bottom of the well.

There were scores of pigeons happily going about their daily lives, unaware of their historical home; a few groups of people, wanting to ‘hang out’ together; and one youth, working on his laptop, seeking refuge from the harsh heat!

We descended the stairs, to be welcomed by a very strong odour and screeching sounds. We looked up from the bottom of the well, to the ceiling of the tower – bats. We climbed up the stairs faster than we had descended!

The old, the new, and the pigeons – The three elements that define Delhi – A gallery tour

Related Links:
My friend who introduced the baoli to me, posted a few photographs on one of his posts too. Do check them out here.

The Good People Of Kotla

Gates Unlocked

Long long ago, when I didn’t have a blog page, I just recorded the random thoughts that came to my mind in separate files on the computer. I wrote this little journal entry on the 22nd day of the month of May in the year 2010. It is in relation to the video about the monuments around Kotla Mubarakpur.

I was working on a short film about the little known monuments around kotla mubarakpur. The narration had been finalised and all that was required was to go for the photo shoot.One of the monuments that was to be covered was that of the Tomb of Mubarak Shah.

I had done a little research about how to get there. And all that I could find were a few photographs, and the location on the satellite image of the area. I could not find any information about the occupant of the tomb, except his name.

A week ago, I had gone hunting for the monument with a friend of mine. I feared going there all alone, knowing that it was a medieval village, and there were very narrow gullies. We asked for directions from some locals, and after a long time, finally managed to locate it. An elderly gentlemen, who gave us the precise direction to the tomb, asked us rather suspiciously why we wanted to go there. We just replied that we wanted to see it. It was rather awkward.

When we reached the tomb, we found it fenced up and locked. We were expecting it. Entry to the tomb was sealed. The village buildings were barely a few feet from the monument. The monument cut a rather sorry picture. It belonged to one of the rulers of Delhi during the fifteenth century. And it was languishing in the middle of some obscure village, with even the locals not bothered about it.

Today, I had to go there again, with my brother, for the actual shoot. We left early in the morning, in order to avoid the scorching summer sun. I felt rather lazy and was beginning to regret the idea.

But we had set out, and the work had to be done. I traced back my steps and to my relief, we managed to reach the monument without asking any one for directions. A horrible stench and open drains greeted us. My brother pulled out his camera and began taking some shots at a very close range.

Anyone with a rather fancy camera is bound to attract attention. And some shop keepers were leaning out of their windows. After a while, a few men surrounded my brother and began questioning him. He answered them in his usual calm and friendly manner. We had come there to see the monument, and were clicking photographs for personal reasons.

His answers seemed to be sufficient for them to relax around him. For, a few seconds later, a middle aged gentleman passed by and told me that it was the tomb of Mubarak Shah and said that we could enter it through the gate on the other side. We reached the gate and I climbed up the ramp in front of the locked gate. I looked at my brother and told him we could enter it. He joined me, and then we realised that it was locked.

Gates Unlocked
Gates Unlocked (Photo by R. Karthik)

By this time, a lot of eyes were fixed on us. And just as we were turning back, a youth walked up carrying a set of keys. He opened the lock on the outer fence and entered the tomb. An observer shouted light-heartedly, “yeh yahaan ka maalik hai!” (He is the owner of this building).

He asked us to take off our shoes and we entered the tomb’s premises. It was then we realised, that we were probably the only outsiders to have set foot in this tomb. A very special privilege indeed. The caretaker then allowed us to enter the main burial area.

When we entered, we were awestruck. There were six tombs inside the tomb – not just one. They were covered with half burnt incense sticks and sweets. There was a broken street lamp fitted on to one of the walls lighting up the interiors. The inscriptions on the walls were well preserved and it was rather peaceful being inside. We took as many photographs as we could and exited the gate, thanking the care taker for his generosity.

As we were leaving, a local called out to the caretaker. “Upar bhi le jaao inhe” (take them upstairs as well).

My brother asked the caretaker, if there was a way to go upstairs as well. We had been around the circumference of the tomb and not noticed any staircase.

Once again the care taker unlocked the gate and ushered us inside. He told us not to take off our shoes and we followed him to another gate. It led to a hidden staircase to the roof. The stone staircase was steep, dark, narrow, and smelling of rotting flesh. With difficulty, we climbed up and reached the terrace. The main gumbad was surrounded by many chattris. I stood there chatting with one of the locals, sharing whatever little knowledge I had about the monument as well as the surrounding tombs, while my brother went around the terrace.

Once we had exited the premises, we spoke to some more locals who were still very suspicious. They told us how officials from ASI would just come there, give some false promises, and leave. The locals had taken it upon themselves to protect the monument.

It was amazing how, just a week ago, I had formed a rather negative opinion about the tomb – how it was lying completely neglected. And today, I had a completely different perspective. Some hospitable locals had granted us access to the monument that few could get. They had taken care of the monument that no one had bothered about.

We left the village and the stench behind us, still unable to believe our luck.

Back home, I edited my script for the film. To the concluding lines, I added, “Though these monuments are over 500 years old, there are no wide-eyed tourists gazing in awe at their magnificence. They might have suffered the ignorance of officials, but they have stood the test of time and survived with a little help from the locals of this enigmatic city called Delhi”

The video that I had been working on, had a roller-coaster of a journey and after almost a whole year, I am relieved to say that I’ve finally managed to complete it! The video has been uploaded to youtube:

Photograph by R. Karthik