About Kaushal Mathpal
Kaushal Mathpal is an Advocate practicing in Delhi Courts in India but also has a flair for travelling. When he's not in a courtroom, he enjoys exploring various parts of India and the surrounding region. He also writes on his blog http://rediscoveryourdreams.wordpress.com/ and you can follow him on Twitter @KaushalMathpal.
Latest Posts by Kaushal Mathpal
The walled city of Shahjahanabad (famously known as Chandni Chowk) is a perpetual jewel box of enigmatic facts and history. The more I explore the old city, it throws out more on me. There is ‘so much’ hidden in cluttering lanes of old Delhi, that one can never be sure whether they have covered all.
The picture of the old Delhi which I carried for long time in my mind was- overcrowded street, garbage dumps, sewerage water flowing across the roads and streets, some unhygienic food stalls etc., however, it got a major revamp ever since I started exploring it deeper and deeper… The clogged streets now appear a vibrant cultural mixture and the unhygienic food stalls make me go gaga over their sumptuous taste and ground cheap prices.
The revamped picture with newly developed interest into travel writing has compelled me to saunter into the old walled city again and again in search of new stories. Recently on one of my outing to explore our very own “Saddii Dilli”, I became aware of the some old “Havelis” (mansions) in the maze of old Delhi. I browsed for more info and zeroed down a few before finally meandering through the ‘perpetual jewel box’ to locate them. To be honest, I was completely unaware of their existence or their present conditions and in a manner it was good as I did not had any preconceived notions of these “Havelis”. Below are the Havelis I explored during my walk:
My first stop on the jaunt was the residence of a famous Urdu and Persian poet who needs no recognition. The haveli was used as heater manufacturing shop until 1999, when government took over a small portion of it and converted it into a museum in 2000.
Entrance to Ghalib’s Haveli
The “haveli” is no easy task to locate until one is meticulously aware of the twists and turns of the old city. In spite of being visitor to Chandni Chowk couple of time now, I still get lost in the web of streets. I knew it was somewhere tucked in the ‘Ballimaran’ locality but I kept on rambling through the vicious circle of wedding card market and the ‘chasma’ market until one shopkeeper told me look for ‘Gali Qasimjaan’ in specific. A few more navigational chats and finally I was standing before the arched façade of the famous poet’s residence. Ghalib though born in Agra had spent considerable time in Delhi. He breath his last in the same haveli. The doors are old fashioned made from wood and much bigger than the present ones.
Sculpture of Ghalib
Courtyard of Ghalib’s Haveli
I stepped inside to discover it more but was constrained as only limited portion was turned into the memorial. The major portion was still occupied by the families which resided in there from time immemorial. The original structure must have been capacious to fit in the terminology of haveli. There was a small courtyard which displayed some old poetry books by the Ghalib, and some replicas of the utensils used by him. The walls were camouflaged by big posters exhibiting some important events, verses of poetry and pictures from life of the Ghalib. In one corner was the sculpture of the poet gleaming with halogen lights and some old torn out antique texts purportedly written by the poet.
Antique text books written by Ghalib
Clothes used by Ghalib
I then sat with the guard for couples of minutes inquiring about the memorial and he told the place is almost forgotten and only few people (around 50 daily and 100 on weekends) visit the place.
I left Ghalib’s haveli for my next destination on the list. I stopped at an shop for seeking directions and it ended into a bit longer discussion. The shopkeeper was an old man who had spent all his life in the maze of old Delhi. While I sought direction for Chunamal’s Kothi, he apprised me some other old mansions including Zeenat Mahal, the residence of most favoured wife last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. I was little excited by the suffix ‘Mahal’ and dearly desired to see although I was warned that there was nothing to see.
The Only left out ruins of Zeenat Mahal
I walked towards it and almost landed on the mosque under the impression. Later, I crossed it without even noticing it. When I returned on the same street, I found the similar old fashioned doors like the one in Ghalib’s haveli (but bigger than that) covered in dust. There was old dust clad board with the “Zeenat Mahal” written on it which was also fading away.
Tattered entrance to Zeenat Mahal
I went inside, there were few shops and I moved further to hunt for something that matched its name but only disappointment welcomed me. While my eyes still looked for some hope, a local Sikh shopkeeper greeted me. I inquired about the ‘Mahal’ and he amusingly told me that I am standing in the ‘Mahal’. He told me nothing remains of the medieval opulence except for a small tattered structure just above the main gate. The front of the tattered section which faced the main road had some derelict medieval pavilions covered in dust as if it had been deserted for years. Major portion of it was running a girls schools and the remaining had been encroached upon by the shopkeepers’ long back.
The only old structure left from Zeenat Mahal (Inside View)
A part of Zeenat Mahal
The residents are not even bothered to mend the broken portion and I feel the structure is still standing only on god’s grace and nothing else. While I was taking some photographs, I was interrupted by one of the shopkeepers inquiring my intentions behind the same. I explained to him that I write articles to which he gave a squinted look towards me. Later, he showed me some portions of the façade from where one of the stone fell off. He aggressively told me to write about its dilapidated condition to bring government attention towards it and I nodded in affirmative.
CHUNNAMAL KI HAVELI
With a saddened feeling in my heart seeing the ruined condition of Zeenat Mahal, I moved towards Chunnamal ki haveli with hope. This is the biggest haveli of the area spread across the area of around an acre with 128 rooms. This massive haveli belonged to Rai Lala Chunnamal who once was the richest merchant of the city and also the first municipal commissioner of Delhi. He was also the first one in Delhi to own a telephone and a car. There is much…..much…..much more to the credits of Rai Lala Chunnamal but I’ll confine to the residence.
The Building is part of Rai Lala Chunamal’s havelli
The haveli is located on the street literally known as Chandni Chowk. As I walked towards Red Fort from Fatehpuri Masjid, I saw long stretch of green railing with red painted windows on first floor of the building with shops on the ground floor – i.e. Lala Chunnamal’s haveli. The present condition nowhere reflects the grandiosity and opulence of the residence of a richest man of Delhi. All have disappeared in the viscous circle of time.
I walked in slender lanes flurrying with garments shops (it is also the part of the mansion) to look out for entrance to the residence, but, could not figure out the same in the labyrinth. Later, when I googled the same, I found some remaining pictures of grandiosity preserved by the 10th generation of Lala Chunnamal who resides there. I hope to figure out the entrance next time and if possible meet them too.
There are many other small and big havelis in the walled city, but almost all of them have been modified (I would say ‘destroyed’) to convert them into commercial hubs and nothing remains to speak of old lavishness except their names remains which will also fade in time.
Did it ever strike your mind that a place which relieves you of your tensions every morning by generously allowing you to place your bums to ease over it has a long drawn history behind it? or Have it ever crossed your mind who invented toilet flush which dissipates your waste with a gentle push? Do not feel guilty; it’s my strong belief that no one has ever wondered about these bizarre questions before the opening of “Sulabh International Museum of Toilets”, one of its kind, officially opened to public in 1994.
Some ancient pictures
Among the world top 10 “Weird and Unusual Museums”, the museum proudly exhibits the gradual evolution of toilets from squat type to present day fancy lavatories. It is an initiative promoted by Sulabh International Social Service Organization, a pioneer social group working in the areas of sanitation and hygiene in India.
History of toilets
As I entered the museum, I was greeted by the guide Mr Varun, who in a short and musical manner (his voice sounded rather musical) hurriedly covered the wide span of thousands of years in couple of minutes. During this short tour, most of the information passed much above my “dome” and I was left on myself to explore the history of toilets.
Some ‘toiletry facts’
On my exploration of the museum, I discovered that Indian Harappan Civilization were the pioneers in the creation of toilets contrary to my earlier view which credited the Europeans for it. It is also believed that pathetic sanitary conditions were mainly responsible for one of biggest epidemics of all time i.e. “Black Death” in Europe which wiped out nearly half of its population. I also became aware of the fact, that the inventor of flush John Harrington ended his career with this invention, because he was ridiculed among its peers for this absurd device. All the above interesting facts are displayed on walls of the museum along with many more quick snippets of “toiletry” facts, Aryan Code of Toilets, funny anecdotes, humorous quotes and pictures relating to toilets spanning across different eras. One can spends hours in this museum edifying himself with the history of toilets.
The Royal Fancy- Throne Shaped Toilet
The museum also showcases the replicas of different type of lavatories used across the globe in different times. The gem of all the replicas is the commode shaped in form of a throne purported to be used by French King Louis XIII who as per a hilarious anecdote is believed to defecate while holding court proceedings to save time (Quite a workaholic!!!).
Two Level Toilets from USA- Upper one for management and lower one for employees
Apart from these, one can find numerous others interesting and amusing replicas including a two level toilets used in USA with upper ones for management and lower one for employees, bookcase toilets (commode in shape of bookcase) spitefully named after famous English writers and poets, table tops toilets (lift the top to ease yourself and drop down to use as normal tables), beautifully decorated porcelain toilets etc.
It’s not only sofa, it’s a toilet
A table top toilet-put in down to enjoy a cup of coffee
The modern ones include solar toilets, Potta Potti toilets (Portable ones for picnics), electric toilets, biodegradable toilets used in expedition and trekking and the vacuum one used by NASA in space flights (Only photo available- most expensive toilet at whooping 19 million)
Latest in the line of toilets
Albeit, two decades have passed since the formal inaugural of the museum, it still remains unplumbed among the citizens and does not have much visitors to appreciate its existence. The guide (Varun) apprised me that the museum caters to a maximum of 10-12 visitors per day approximately and if a day is lucky, they might expect some school trips and college groups.
WHERE IT IS- SULABH BHAWAN, PALAM DABRI MARG, MAHAVIR ENCLAVE, PALAM, NEW DELHI, INDIA- PHONE -011-2503 1518
HOW TO REACH: It is located on Western part of New Delhi, India. If you are coming from Airport, it is feasible to hire a taxi for Sulabh Complex, Palam otherwise get down at Uttam Nagar East Metro Station and board a metro feeder bus service for Sulabh Complex.
Delhi’s eternal treasure of architectural prodigy leaves me speechless every time I leave my dwelling to wander around the city. I find myself on self-declared mission of discovering the state capital beyond the realm of so called “tourist attractions/spots”. On my mission, I come across many city dwellers who share similar love and passion for exploring the city and sharing the same with others. This time I was in the expert company of Delhi Heritage Walks, a group of young history students, who helps wanderers like me to discover the unplumbed corners of the city.
My incessant urge to travel guided me to the southern part of Delhi at Mehrauli Archaeological Park. Whenever, I hear the name “Mehrauli”, a picture of giant five storied monument which also is a UNESCO heritage site i.e. Qutub Minar grabs my thoughts. But the today’s post does not pertain to this already “celebrity status” monument, rather it will focus on the coal mine of architectural bravura located just 200 m from Qutub Minar yet it remains overlooked and ignored. That’s why it is often referred to as “poor cousins of a rich monument”.
Mehrauli Archaeological Park was never originally a park. It was huge piece of land with dense vegetation in proximity to the Mehrauli village with hefty number of monuments in a ruined state and a splendid history in the past. In 1997, the area was redeveloped into a park and proper documentation of the monuments started. The park is now spread over 200 acres with 100+ monuments out of which around 70 are given “protected monument” status by the ASI.
The park encompasses architectural relics from almost all periods of Indian history, however, it was inconceivable to cover all the delights in one walk but I managed to get some of the highlights.
The walk kicked off from the crumbled and ramshackle remains of the tomb of the last ruler of Mamluk dynasty, (often known as Slave Dynasty) Balban. He is believed to start the custom of bending before the emperors.
Entrance to Balban’s Tomb
The tomb constructed during the 13th century is among the initial buildings of medieval times. As I proceeded towards the Balban’s tomb from the ancient gateway, I was stumped by some of its remarkable features. The entrance depicted a unique fusion of Indo-Islamic architectural skills as some of features such as conical roofs, a slightly pointed arch etc. are the constituents of a Hindu architecture.
Inner view of Balban’s Tomb
The rough paths through the unmaintained turf with some more unrecognized architectural ruins on both the sides lead to the main tomb of Balban. The tomb managed to raise inquisitiveness in me and the fellow wanderers in spite of being in a derelict state. The tomb is accredited for bringing the concept of the semi-circular “squinch arch” and the dome in India. Although, the dome hasn’t survived but structure strongly proposes its existence in the past.
Balban Son’s Tomb
While the tombstone of Balban is missing for reasons unknown, a tombstone of his son with some fading yet beautiful floral design and inscription can be found in the vicinity. The locals can often be seen lighting incense sticks, putting flowers etc. due to their ignorance of its history.
JAMALI KAMALI MOSQUE
The group then sauntered through the ups and down of the park and reached “Jamali Kamali” mosque. In fact, the area is better known among the locals by this name rather than the park’s name.
Jamali Kamali mosque
“Jamali” was a Sufi Saint and a famous poet who lived during the reign of two dynasties- Lodhi’s and Mughals. His real name was Shaikh Fazulullah also known as Jalal Khan & Jamali. Although, it’s no more an active mosque, still it is one of the most elegant and well preserved structures of the park.
Inner view of Jamali Kamali mosque
The main attraction of the mosque is the front façade with a mix of white and red stone, carved bands and medallions and the lotus bud on both sides below the parapet give an astonishing view. The small “jharokha” on the façade multiplies its beauty further. The inner walls also have striking design around the spandrels and on the prayer wall also known as mihirab.
Adjacent to the mosque, there is a big courtyard leading to the exquisite tomb of Jamali and one of his close followers Kamali. The doors of the tomb are usually closed but the group leader managed to arrange the key from the ASI officials for the walk. Heartiest thanks to them for their effort…
Inner view of Jamli’s Tomb
Jamali Kamali grave
The tomb of Jamali is so pretty and charming that it felt like we all stepped into some medieval jewel box. The ceilings are intensively decorated with design in blue, red and brown. The extreme detailing with which these design are carved out are truly commendable. The walls also have similar design along with inscriptions from Quran verses and some of his poems. The latticed opening opposite to prayer walls makes way for sunrays to sprinkle the graves with its light.
I was recently invited by Gaurav, an active volunteer of the Delhi Photography Club and I was invited by him for a weekend photo walk with the group members at Lodhi Garden and these photos reflect that historical and cultural walk.
Lodhi Garden as the name suggests is a famous park spread over 90 acres and embraces the architectural bravura of 14th and 15th century’s dynasties of Sayyids and Lodhis. The garden proudly exhibits the Mohammad Shah’s Tomb, Sikandar Lodhi’s Tomb, Bara Gumbad, and Sheesh Gumbad.
Three domed mosque adjacent to Bara Gumbad
Our photo walk began with “Bara Gumbad” (Big Dome) and the adjacent three domed mosque. It is accompanied by a wide platform outside in front and one can view pigeons all over area especially the small edges of dome being their favorite and listen to their continuous gurgling.
The architecture is in good conditions, however, it is crumbled at some ends. As per the information board, the purpose of constructing the dome along with the mosque is widely disputed among the historians. I did not bothered for the disputed history of the dome and quickly armed myself with my DSLR for few shots.
While everyone else was looking for perfect angle and pose for a perfect shot, I was still struggling with the complex functions of the camera. With little guidance from Gaurav, I was actually shooting with my new weapon.
From “Bara Gumbad”, the photo walk moved towards to the “Sheesh Gumbad” situated directly opposite to “Bara Gumbad”. There is not much architectural difference between the “Bara Gumbad” and the “Sheesh Gumbad” except for the fact glazed tiles were used in the construction of the latter.
The beautiful floral design and Islamic inscription on the ceiling deserves some true appreciation.
The walk then progressed to Sikander Lodhi’s tomb through lush green bedewed meadows. Due to winters, the flowers had not blossomed and I missed their mild sweet fragrance in the air. While ambling through the lush meadows, I saw many health conscious practicing yoga and other exercises to keep themselves fit. The fresh and nippy early morning breeze was perfect for inspiring the health enthusiasts.
Entrance of Sikandar Lodhi TOmb
Sikander Lodhi tomb
Finally, the walk reached outside the walled enclosure of Sikandar Lodhi’s Tomb. By this time, everybody felt the need of a hot cup of tea and was finally saved by the Chaiwallah. The hot cup of tea made everyone so busy in gossips and showcasing their honed photography skills so far, that most of the members skipped to have an interior look to great emperor’s tomb. I too missed it and really regret the same.
Muhammad Shah’s Tomb
At last the photo walk marched towards the last mausoleum of Lodhi Garden i.e. Mohammad Shah’s Tomb. The tomb is architecturally quite different and alluring from the other mausoleums. The dome of the tomb is surrounded by number of smaller domes or chattris giving a completely different look from others. The tomb has eight sides each coupled with three arched openings.
The plan to visit the Queen of Hills-Shimla was a spontaneous one and as consequence there was only one volunteer. We boarded a semi deluxe bus for Shimla at 7 in evening after attending a friend’s sister engagement. Since, I had been travelling for a week, soon I felt asleep and was woke up by the cold waves which lashed my face as we moved higher into the mountains.
Night View of Shimla
I peeked outside the window with laziness and was left awestruck with countless glittering light illuminating from the mountain dwellings. It appeared that the twinkling stars had deserted the blues in the honour of Queen of Hills and it compelled my semi opened eyes to widen in delight. Soon, we reached the town and as soon as I and stepped down, we were greeted with couple of touts trying to woo us with their hospitality and smiles. I tried to resist them initially but they were so consistent in their efforts that we were persuaded by one of them to show us a budget accommodation. After walking on a steep path from the road, we finally reached our accommodation.
The hotel staff and the tout both tried to paste us with the combo packages (room+ sightseeing) and I constantly tried to put them away. But my other friend, who was wheezing for gathering some fresh air due to steep climb surrendered. I was really annoyed at his decision but had to agree as I did not wanted to spoil the charm of tour. With a useless combo packages pasted on our forehead, we went to a sound sleep.
The next morning, we left for Kufri located at around 20 km from Shimla on our taxi which came as a part of the useless combo package which we subscribed a day before. Now here comes the explanation for the addressing the combo package as “useless”. Out of the five or six sites mentioned in the combo package, 3-4 such as Green Valley, White Flower Valley etc. were visible only from the road. The driver of the taxi politely showed us the same while on our way to Kufri and I literally felt ensnared. Gradually as we moved closer to Kufri we spotted some snow along the road which helped me overcome the ensnaring feeling.
Ride of Mountains
Since, it was February, the region expects less snowfall and one has to trek a bit higher till “Mahasu Peak” to surge their chances of spectating the white flurry balls from the sky. Our ride dropped us at the parking from where we had to take another ride (a pony) to cover the stretch of around 4 km. With the memories of ‘useless’combo package in my mind, I decided not to take the ride and trek the stretch on foot in spite of being warned by the locals. My friend who took the ride also tried to persuade me, not because he was aware of the situation ahead but he had realized his stamina last night. I disregarded every advice given to me at that time.
My friend enjoying the ride…I was a gladiator at this point
As I strolled further on the route, I heard many voices from the fellow tourist as well as the locals advising me to take the ride, but I snubbed each of them. But I was about to realized the consequence of being a gladiator soon. I had ambled only 100 m on the route and before I could notice I had stepped into the sludge formed by melting ice and mud. My whole foot till ankle was totally immersed in sludge. The gladiator in me had now suffered but still had not died.
I choose to continue the walk and tactfully tried to place my feet into the sludge without losing balance. A few more steps and I was down with my beloved smartphone of which some installments are still due. The advice which I snubbed earlier had now started to haunt my thoughts now. The gladiator in me silently passed away the moment my smartphone touched the base and got coated with the sludge. I had realized my mistake but it was too late. With all the charm flooded in the sludge, I quietly cleaned up the phone and slid it inside in the pocket of mud covered jeans.
I looked no further and hopped over a pony to prevent any other mishap. The ride up to the peak was full of ups and down. My ride was a bit naughty one, he passed so close from the trench that it scared a hell out of me and on other occasion he bumped into his colleagues who I guess were strictly following their encoded protocol for such voyages. But he knew his job and dropped me at the Mashau Peak safely.
View before snowfall
I gazed at the riveting uneven surface of the peak decorated with snow at some places. The view was magical which I had been waiting to watch for a long time. I along with my friend started rambled over the peak to explore more pleasant sights. It had not been more than 10 minutes of our arrival; we were surprised by the nature. Guess what…!!! the white flurry balls descended from heaven to greet us. Even though I hail from the hilly state of Uttarakhand, I had never been fortunate to witness a live snowfall. We were told that many tourists wait for couple of days to witness the snowfall and sometimes still they leave empty hands but I guess the almighty was benevolent on us.
View of the peak after snowfall
Soon all the backdrops of the trip (combo package, gladiator part) vanished in the mystical charm of white flurry balls. The frequency of their fall also had increased at a tremendous rate by now. I looked up in the white sky and saw an unending trail of tiny snow balls and some of them kissed my cheek, forehead, lips and left me contended thoroughly. I even opened my mouth and tasted a few of them.
Within no time, the whole mountain range was covered with the blanket of snow and it appeared stunningly elegant. Our trip was a success with just a sight of it. The coldness in the atmosphere inspired the young couples to come closer and share each other warmness. They clicked one after other to preserve their memories and even I and my friend turned out to be the spot photographer for few of them. Some of them also posed over the shy and calm yaks in ‘cowboy’ style and in the traditional outfits too. There were photographers pestering the young couples for clicks and even succeeded on several occasions.
Fresh snow seated on chairs..
I covered all the attractions such as Nag temple, telescope point etc. which offered a serene view of snow-capped mountain ranges with full satisfaction. We spent a lot of time wandering over the peak, embracing the warmth of angeethi (traditional brazier) with locals with regular breaks of Maggi and tea at the food joints.
At last, we decided to bid goodbye to the pacific view and I called up my ride. Riding down was much creepier than the coming up but as I said earlier my ride knew his job well.
Delhi is turning out to be a coalmine of wonders to me bestowing with an enriching travel experience every time. The more I explore this wonderful state capital, it makes me feel that I have completely wasted my last 2.5 years of stay in the capital.
Narow Street of Nizamuddin Basti
This time my passion took me to the slender lanes of Nizamuddin Basti in South Delhi. Previously, whenever my ears heard the word “Nizamuddin”, the only place I could associate it with was the Nizamuddin Railway Station.
In order to know more about the place, while browsing the several website and books, I came across the website of The Hope Project, NGO based in Nizamuddin, which runs Shan-E-Nizam tour of the area (popularly known as “Nizamuddin Basti”) along with its detailed history for uninformed masses like me on a very nominal fee. The tour is guided by a local resident of the Basti who are also the volunteers of the NGO.
I was very delighted while leaving my home for the tour as this was my second encounter with the Islamic community (first was the visit at Matka Peer orThe Saint of Earthen Pot- For more information read). I prepared myself for having a pleasant interaction with the community and left all my preconceived notions and misconceptions behind. It was kind on the part of NGO to arrange for the tour at such a short notice. Luckily, I was the only one for the tour at that moment and that helped me in getting personal attention from the guide.
My guide or you can aptly call mentor for the jaunt was Daanish, a young guy in his early twenties with an average height and a slightly chubby cheeks. He has been living in Basti since birth and had inherited all his lessons of Nizamuddin’s history coupled with anecdotes from his grandfather since childhood and was taking the same ahead through these tours.
THE HOPE PROJECT (FOR MORE DETAILS VISIT HERE)
The tour started with a brief history lesson on Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan the founder of The Hope Project and also the descendant of Sufi Saint Hazrat Inayat Khan. Danish revealed that in 1980’s, Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan was touched by the poverty of the people of Nizamuddin Basti. Therefore, he followed the footsteps of his father Hazrat Inayat Khan and initially helped the people by distributing milk by placing a table at the famous Alvi Chowk (Presently the office of The Hope Project is situated at same place) in Nizamuddin Area. Soon he was joined by couple of more murids (Arabic meaning “committed one” or simply disciples) who took the movement forward. Gradually with time their work was recognized by some international dignitaries who supported the cause by funding and sending their volunteers. Today, the NGO runs a medical camp, free tuitions classes, a computer centre and many other vocational courses for the poor women and children of the Basti in order to improve their life. The founder of the movement passed away in 2004 but movement still continues to serve its purpose.
Daanish then elaborated the demography of area in brief and informed that the area is inhabited by 90% Muslims and 5% each Hindu and Christian family.
After a brief lesson on Hope Project, Danish and I strolled through the narrow lanes passing through the Christian Street (5% Christain of the Basti live here) and finally reached an old but vast medieval structure as compared to the size of houses in the locality. While my eyes were on the structure trying to figure out what it was and before I could look to Danish for the answer, Daanish asked “What do you think this structure is ?” a question which he asks every visitor. After pausing for few seconds, I replied “To me its looks similar to some sort of an old fort as the design of its outer walls resembled to Red Fort”. He gave a witty smile and replied “This is the Kalan mosque, the largest one in Basti and has three entrances”. He later explained that Kalan is a Persian word meaning “large” and was built by Ferozshah Tuglaq in 13thcentury. As per Daanish, Delhi Quarter Stone was used to build the mosque.
Outer wall of Kalan Mosque
He then took me to the back side of the mosque and showed me a semi-circular niche in wall of mosque known as “Mihirab”. On seeing a baffled look on my face, he explained “Mihirab” indicates the direction in which Muslims should face while praying. Mihirab is constructed in the direction of Kabba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia and also known as Qibla wall.
One of the entrance of Kalan Mosque
He then narrated an interesting anecdote relating to the mosque which his grandfather had narrated to him. The anecdote dates back in 1947 when the country was plagued by communal riots, the government decided to shut down the mosque in order to avoid any riots in the neighbourhood. This caused a lot of difficulties for the Muslims as at that time it was the only mosque in the area and as per their religions men cannot recite namaz (prayer) in their homes if there is a mosque nearby. The local Muslims requested to open the mosque and was supported by the Hindu community of the neighbourhood considering which government reopened it. It was surprising to know that 5% of Hindu community resides next to the boundaries of the mosque. Further, Daanish also showed small Hindu temples right in the front of mosque’s gate and also apprised me that no communal riots have occurred in the area ever. It was somewhat soothing and pacifying to become aware of the fact that two religions which are criticised for their long communal history share a bond of love and coexistence in Nizamuddin Basti.
Daanish then took me through the numerous twist and turns of the Nizamuddin Basti which he had mastered all these years and we finally reached the “Attar”(Perfume) Street. For one moment, I felt Daanish pronounced the word incorrectly and I interrupted and said “It’s “Ittar”. He objected and replied that it’s a spoiled name which now is being widely used and reaffirmed the correct version as “Attar” while pointing towards the banner of shop which confirmed his version. I finally surrendered the argument in his favour. He told that “Attar” is a 100% natural product extracted from flower and trees and there are countless varieties of “Attar”. People also have the option to customize the fragrance of different “Attar” to have unique one for themselves. I could also sight some hawkers sitting on the street make the narrow lanes narrower selling nicely cleaned twigs of Meswak used for keeping teeth healthy. He also told that Meswak itself is an Arabic means “tooth-cleaning twig”.
The next stop of our voyage was the building known as Markaj located on street moving straight to the mausoleum of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. Daanish explained that Markaj is an Arabic word meaning “Center” and the same is the world largest Center for spreading Islam in the world. Scholars from all over the world come here to learn basic tenets of Islam and ancillary activities such as learning Urdu, training of Urdu translators etc.
Every year it hosts many congregational summits for spreading Islam which are attended by the scholars and followers of Islam from all over across the globe.
After a little bit of strolling from Markaj towards Hazrat Nizamuddin Shrine, on a right hand side you will notice an arched structure with a wooden door having a small opening with a passage similar to the prison gates in Bollywood flicks.
Entrance of Urs Mahal
Daanish took me through the passage and it was a big courtyard where few local boys were playing cricket. By the time Daanish could tell me its name, I already read it on the yellow board inside the courtyard, it was Urs Mahal and was built under the patronage of Hazrat Pir Khawaja Ahmed Nizami Sajjada in 1962.
Urs Mahal Courtyard
Daanish then explained that it’s mainly a place for congressional gathering during festivals, anniversaries of Sufi Saints, organizing cultural events like Qawalli sessions etc. Unfortunately, I did not had the chance to hear any of the Qawallis but I promised myself to take out some time for it in future.
CHAUSATH KHAMBA (64 PILLARS)
While Daanish was informing me about the Urs Mahal, my eyes were struck on the structure right opposite to the courtyard of Urs Mahal. Before Daanish could complete about Urs Mahal, I interrupted in between to inquire about the same, and he politely replied “It is Chausath Khamba” or commonly known as 64 Pillars, a name which doesn’t require further explanation. However, I was informed by Daanish that the same is closed due to renovation which was a bit disappointing. But he still gave me a history lesson on the 64 pillars.
64 Pillars – Courtesy- http://www.thedelhiwalla.com
The structure dates back in 1623 during reign of Emperor Jahangir and is the mausoleum of Mirza Aziz Koka who served as Governor of Gujrat during Jahangir’s reign. Later on it is believed that his family members were also buried there. Daanish and I then rushed to the mausoleum of famous poet Mirza Ghalib from where I could had a closer look of 64 pillars but unfortunately it had also closed by that time.
Daanish then took me to our last destination on the list i.e. shrine of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya (I will write in detail about it in other post) where I bowed my head for some blessings and moved out. Daanish and I then dispersed to our respective dwellings with some pleasant memories and the face which guided me through the narrow lanes of the Nizamuddin and unwrapped its hidden treasures for me was lost in one of those lane in no time.
Delhi has no dearth of surprises for its admirers and its keeps on presenting with new ones every time. It has so much to offer with so much diversity that the “bucket list” of its admirers continues to get stretched with each visit.
This time, I had a chance to visit the massive temple complex of the famous Shri Adhya Katyani Shakti Peeth Mandir. Most of us would get puzzled by the name as it might be unheard but I am very confident that everyone must have heard of “Chattarpur Mandir” (also a metro station on the yellow line).
I have seen the temple complex countless times while going towards Gurgaon from metro and also bowed my head before the almighty from the metro itself (most of the Indians do the same while passing by any holy place).
Outer view of Katyani Temple
Goddess Katyani Temple
However, for a change this time, I moved out of the metro to visit this temple complex in reality and get acquainted with its history. I am well aware that everything pertaining to Chattarpur Mandur is readily available on the internet but I strongly believe that going to a place and having the first-hand experience is all together a different feeling which is incomparable.
Laxmi Vinayak Mandir
The temple complex is spread across an area of 80 acres and often frequented by number of visitors including foreign tourist every day. The temple was established in 1974 by Shri Durga-Charana-Uragi Baba Nagpal Ji who was a famous saint and worked for various social causes throughout his life. Initially, the temple of goddess Katyani who is among the nine avatars of Durga was built and later on temples of other deities were added at different intervals.
A sculpture depicting one of the characters of Ramayana
The temple and its complex offers a unique amalgamation of structural design of temples from all corners of India and witness a sea of devotees during festivals especially during the Navratras. The main attractions of complex apart from temple of goddess Katyani are Laxmi Vinayak Mandir (famous for its elegant structural design which is also visible from metro), 101 feet giant Hanuman Statue, a tall Lord Shiva’s trident (Trishul), and the mausoleum of Baba Sant Nagapal.
Chariot on which goddess is taken during festivals and Navratras
Lord Shiva’s Trident (Trishul)
The complex also has a museum dedicated to Baba Sant Nagpal who died in 1988. It has a hyper realistic sculpture of Baba Nagpal which is simply awesome and make everybody feel as if Baba is sitting right in front of us. The museum mainly encompasses all the itinerary from clothes to medical equipment (even his hairs) used by him during his lifetime.
A Hyper Realistic Sculpture of Baba Nagal
Museum displaying Baba’s cloth
Another interesting fact about the temples complex is that it has a fully fledged rain water harvesting system in its complex area to store the rain water and contribute towards the sustainable development environment.
Baba Nagpal Samadhi
I really had a good time wandering in the large temple complex from one point to another and truly enjoyed it ambiance.
Welcome to land of beautiful turbans, phulkari, bhangra, giddha, bullet (Royal Enfield Bike), Patiala peg, Butter Chicken and Jassi, Honey te Tony (most common nicknames among Punjabi’s)”.
I have spent almost 9 years in Punjab (all my education from 10th onwards was in Punjab) and truly imbibed so much from the Punjabi culture and lifestyle that I really wished to cover it on my blog ever since I started penning down my travelogues. And guess what- my wish came true!!! and I was on my way to spectate the one of the quirkiest sport festival in the world-78th RURAL OLYMPICS at Kila Raipur near Ludhiana, Punjab.
The legacy started way back in 1933, when a philanthropist Inder Singh Grewal envisioned the notion to organize a yearly recreational meet for nearby farmers to showcase their physical endurance and talent. The idea has now travelled for almost seven decades and has matured into a major international event attracting participants from abroad too. This year the sport saga continued for three days from 31st January – 2nd February, 2014.
Now coming back from the history lecture, I reached Ludhiana on the early morning of 1st February, took a few hours rest and left for Kila Raipur to witness the sports extravaganza. Since, I was on a tight budget, I boarded the local city bus to reach the venue and it turned out to be the right choice. The local city bus echoing with the contemporary Punjabi songs snaked through the narrow roads between the lush green fields swaying with crops.
The aura and freshness in the air was something that could only be felt. There was no traffic, noise, pollution and the sheer feeling of being in “real India” where majority population of country resides emerged in my core. Our ride dropped us in the mid of Kila Raipur village which added more spice to our visit, as I was able to see the charm of a Punjabi “pind” (village).
Being a metro city dweller, the site was extremely exquisite, calm and soothing and I feel relieved to escape from the city’s hustle-bustle. After rambling for about 30 minutes seeking directions from the locals and enjoying the charm of the “pind”, I finally reached the arena hosting the Olympics.
With every step closer to the venue, the voice of the commentator and the clamouring of spectators emanating from the stadium became stronger and it raised goose bumps of excitement in me.
At last, I finally reached the stadium and was completely overwhelmed by the sight. The venue was jam packed with the spectators soaring high with their spirit for the event. The love for the sports in this small village of Punjab could be very well seen in the hearts of the audiences as they occupied the terraces, parapets, turrets and even nearby trees to have a glimpse of the event.
There were multiple events going on simultaneously and the commentator was trying to cope with all of them without missing any. With a meagre budget of Rs. 35 lac, of which around Rs. 12 lac to be spent of prizes, one could not expect state of art of technology in the event but it was the enthusiasm and zeal of the participants and crowd which stole the show.
When I reached the venue, the track event for senior citizens was taking place. I hurriedly rushed to the tracks to have a gaze at these so called “senior citizen” while their hearts were much younger than mine. They vanished to the end point within a wink of the eye and finished the race without even an iota of tiredness on their face. I looked much “senior” in term of fitness as compared to these so called “senior citizen” athletes.
Then I moved to other events and witnessed some daring and colossal display of strength and endurance. These included some ultimate wacky events such as dragging car by ear, teeth, hair, lifting bicycles tied to 10 foot pole from mouth, pulling a tractor and lifting it from one side by legs, lying under a moving tractor….the unending crazy list goes on.
But among all these worth mentioning display of courage and strength, few which needs notable attention was the dragging the car by teeth and a handstand and couple of other stunts over bottle tips by the handicapped participants.
The photographers which included many foreigners also gathered around the participants as they performed the stunt with audacity. Some of them also interviewed them once they finished the stunts and they really seemed to enjoy these moments of fame and attention.
Most of the participants were not professionals; they were farmers, students, teachers, workers etc. in their daily life tied only with the bond of fervour and passion towards sports and their culture. Some of the contestants were a regular a participants in the event every year for the last couple of decades. Hats off to their spirit!!!!
Later during the day, the crowd was fortunate to see some young “nihangs” (warrior Sikhs) dressed in gleaming royal blue turbans exhibiting their war skills (“gatka”) while some other participants performed local folklore such as “bhangra” and “giddha”. There were some other entertaining events such as beautiful decorated camels and horses dancing to the tunes of “dhol”, tug of war, horse racing etc.
Various events continued uninterrupted throughout the day and it was evening time, sun too was playing hide and seek with us, but down at the venue, the stage was all set, ground and tracks were cleared for the most famed and legendary event of the Olympics- Bullock Cart Racing. The spectators had now even occupied the rarest corners of the ground. The bullock cart with their “jockeys” leaned on their carts had lined up on one end with countless cameras posed at them.
The race started with super extra dose of adrenaline pumping through the veins of “jockeys” and within moments they blazed towards the other end of the stadium. Since, it was impossible to stop the bulls immediately at the finish line; the other end was kept open and the bulls blazed into the field. There were several doses of such adrenaline pumping races and the crowd whined louder than the last one each time.
As the daylight faded, the venue turned into musical concert stage with presence from some of the eminent Punjabi singers and cultural performances, however, I missed it as I had to rush to the hotel.
Photo Credits: Shweta Berry