Friday, March 30, 2012

Classic fountains

There are fountains in the Haus Khaz lake.
Or the remains of fountains.

"Look," I said to my friend, "It looks like a sunken boat."
"With water shooting out of it?" she queried.
It was odd, I admit.

As we walked all the way around the lake, we came across several that had been pulled out of the water. The remains of something called "classic fountains". And they did resemble boats.

There were others that were still afloat in the water, too, though not working.

The whole lake, it seems, is kind of a mess, as if no one has cared about it for a long while.
It has potential, but it's a long ways from its heyday at the time of Firoz Shah.

Hauz Khas

So there are a lot of tombs around Delhi.
But the ones here in Hauz Khas are in a location I would consider unusual. I guess that's because I wouldn't consider a college campus the best place to build a tomb.
But that's exactly what Firoz Shah Tuglaq did.

He liked the water tank that Alauddin built here years before--Haus Khaz means 'royal tank', so he had the tank repaired and built up a madrasa around it.
Then before he died, at 80-something, he built his tomb here, too.

The tomb is one of many in the area, but Firoz Shah's is typical of other buildings from his time.
They were strong, sloping, and square--kind of like a fortress. Maybe the architects had fortresses on the brain because during this time period their empire was threatened by invaders.
Instead of using sandstone, the buildings were covered with plaster. And maybe that's because the money was being used for defenses instead of building projects. Or maybe all the skilled stonemasons were moved away in one of the population comings and goings of war time.
It was Tamerlane (Timur the Lame) who eventually invaded the city, and the madrasa, water tank and many other places were destroyed.

The unique thing about the tomb is the stone fence around it. No other tomb in Delhi has such a feature.

Then there's the madrasa.
These days young people like to hang out on the walls and watch the sunset over the water.
But back in its heyday, the madrasa at Hauz Khas was the place for studying Arabic and the Quran. Students came from all over to study here on the upper floors, and to stay in the dormitory cells beneath. I wonder if the view of the lake and garden distracted their attention from the lectures.

The tank is now less than a quarter of what it used to be, and it still seems fairly large.
In the 1300s, it must have been nice to take a stroll along a lake on the far outskirts of Delhi. Now it sits squished into one of the busiest areas and it's hard to imagine it as the quiet place it once was.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Grafittied truck

This truck was not so colorfully painted when I first saw it in January. Then it was just a normal yellow, broken-down truck.

I would guess that with tires so flat and with the dirt built up around it, that the truck has been here for awhile.
So someone decided that if it's gonna stay around and be a permanent landmark to make it a better looking part of the landscape.

Iltutmish's tomb

Shams-ud-din Iltutmish was a guy who went from being a slave to being king.

Good looking, talented, a promising future: as a young man, he was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. But his work was impeccable and as he was promoted from one position to another, no one could find fault with him. He made it all the way to lieutenant of the king and even married his daughter. When that king,Qtab-ud-din Aybak's, successor proved to be no good at the job, the nobles offered the throne to Iltutmish. He accepted.
Slave to king.

His tomb is at the Qutub Minar complex and, unlike most other tombs, it has no dome.
Maybe it collapsed and was never repaired. But none of the rest of the tomb is damaged, so over the years, people have developed other theories.
Some say that he had a fear of being buried and wanted the tomb left open.
Others say that due to his years as a slave, he was fond of sleeping under the stars and wanted to rest that way in his grave.

Eight hundred years later, I guess we'll never know the real reason.
But we can speculate along with everyone else and marvel at how a man can be freed from chains to sit on a throne, and be free from ceilings at one of the most visited places in India.

Out of place stones

There are stones from Hindu temples at the masjid of Qutab Minar.
I find this fascinating.
Islamic architecture has the reputation of being so strict about showing any earthly forms, that much of the time, only geometric designs are portrayed. Sometimes not even animals or plants are allowed.

What is here at the Qutab goes way beyond plant, animal or even human form. These are images of Hindu gods carved into the pillars and walls around the mosque.
I can't even fathom how that was permitted.

Some of them are defaced, and the features of the idol chipped away. But they are still obviously Hindu gods.

And even all these years later, they are still there.
I mean, maybe it's conceivable that the first Muslim ruler, Qutab-ud-din Aibak, didn't have time to quarry new stones and just used what was lying around from the 300 some temples that were destroyed. Conquerors around the world have done that--like the Medusa heads used in the basilica of Istanbul. Or the stones Seljuk architects took from St. John's Basilica in Ephesus for their own construction projects--those same stones were first pillaged from the site of Artemis' temple by Christian builders.
I understand the idea of using what's available.

What's amazing to me, though, is that the construction at the Qutab comlex went on for several hundred years, and some of the rulers from those times were devout, but still they allowed the stones to remain.
None of the other empires that followed had the stones removed or replaced, either.

And so, they are still there. Hundreds of years later.
I think that's remarkable, and uniquely India.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Rashtrapati Bhavan

Rashtrapati Bhavan is fun to say.
And fun to see.

It has a beautiful gate, which stops you from getting any closer to the presidential residence, but you can stand there and admire it for as long as you like.

Standing here beside the gate, you can also see the Jaipur column, which was a gift from the Maharajah of Jaipur to the British when they were constructing Luyten's Delhi. It has an inscription on it which reads:
In thought faith,
In word wisdom,
In deed courage,
In life service,
So may India be great.
Rashtrapati Bhavan stands at one end of Rajpath and can be seen from India Gate.

I wouldn't recommend walking that distance, though.
Or walking from the back side, where the entrance to the Mughal Gardens is.
Both are farther than you imagine. Especially when it's hot and there are not enough ice cream sellers around.
When those auto drivers go past asking whether you want a ride, don't shoo them away. This is good advice--I know because I ignored it twice.

This last picture shows what is known as Lutyen's Waterloo.
Sir Edwin Lutyen, in his design, wanted there to be a perfect eye line from India Gate to the residence on Raisina Hill. The original site of the building was pushed back by several hundred meters, which meant that the hill blocked the view and made the building look small.
Lutyen fought to have the road leveled to a long, inclined grade so the view would be unobscured. He was convinced the overall architectural design would be ruined.
He never won this battle, though, and his defeat was compared to Napoleon's at Waterloo. It would cost too much money at a time when the British were not looking to invest in building projects in India.

I have to agree with him. It's a shame that you can't see the full extent of what an imposing and immense structure lies at the end of Rajpath. It would be a sight worth seeing.


Rajpath is the boulevard that runs from Rashtrapati Bhavan, through India Gate to the National Stadium.

It's a historic place. Designed by Edwin Lutyens and built by the British, it's still where the seat of the Indian government is, ceremonially speaking, and where several administrative offices are located.
The panoramic view is almost unparalleled anywhere else within India.

And so, considering how important it is, I think that some of the sights along Rajpath are rather amusing.

It's also a popular spot for Indian tourists and picnickers. Therefore, it's also full of hawkers and snack sellers.

Some find it to be a good place for an afternoon nap.
For both people and street dogs.

And, oddly, it seems to be a good place to take a bath and do some laundry.

I think that's incredible.

It's the equivalent of bathing and washing clothes in the National Mall of Washington D.C. Would anyone do that?

But this is India, and so it seems to be a naturally accepted part of the scenery.
How could Rajpath ever expect to fit into India if it didn't have the hawkers, the nappers, the bathers and the masses of varied humanity swarming around it?
It just wouldn't.
It all all belongs there, right down to the very last street dog sleeping beside the tree-lined pools.

The squeaking rat dog of India Gate

Each time I visit India Gate I see the hawkers trying to sell this squeaky treasure.
Well, actually, I hear it long before I see it.
A high pitched, repetitive squeaking that makes me want to find the parents of the obnoxious child I believe to be making this sound and give them a stern glance.

But no, it is not a child causing the racket, it's a hawker trying to attract the attention of some child who will then beg his parents to buy his noise-maker.

It's an small, odd, red and black thing that seems to me like a little rat dog. A squeaking little rat dog.

I have two suggestions for those thinking to buy one of these gems:
1. Stop. Don't do it. Walk away and leave the squeak behind.
2. Please. Buy the squeaking rat dog. Buy ALL the squeaking rat dogs. Every single last one. And let there be peace again at India Gate.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The barber's reward

Here's the other new thing I found when I visited Humayan's tomb: the barber's tomb.

Apparently, Humayan had found a really good shave and cut with this barber. So the barber got something special just for him right next to the emperor.

Royal family members only get a slab on the platform of the tomb.
But a good barber? He gets his own mausoleum.

Who was Humayan?

If I'm visiting an already-been-there place, I like to be sure to still see something and learn something new--or to help someone else to.
To see the place through a new view.

This time around, I read up on who Humayan was.
The son of Babur of the Timurid dynasty, he was a slight disappointment as a warrior. He preferred books, poetry and art (and opium).
It was probably these preferences that caused him to loose his empire and flee to Persia when one of his rivals defeated him in battle.
In Persia, though, he made friends and gained a whole new appreciation for design and gardening.
After fifteen years, he returned to Delhi and took back his empire.
For a while anyway, 'cause it's rather anti-climactic that he died within a year. There are several versions of how he died; here are three:

1. Humayan was standing on the roof of the library at his palace when he heard the call to prayer.
He rushed down the stairs to pray.
And died.

2. He was reading a book as he descended the steep stairs of his library.
And died.

3. His habit of using opium did not help his balance on the steep stairs.
So he fell.
And died.

Take your pick.

So Akhbar and Haji Begum built the magnificent tomb.
It was the first of it's kind, heavily influenced by Persian architects.
It was the first use of marble combined with red sandstone (meaning very expensive). No cost was spared, as the statement made was meant to be: this is the tomb of not just any man, but an emperor.
And it was the first tomb to be built on a raised platform--which was later perfected in the design of the Taj Mahal.

Design was an integral part of what the Mughals left behind in India. They especially had a thing for symmetry.
As I learned this time around,
the back of the tomb is pretty similar to the front. Symmetry at work.

So there's your history lesson for Humayan, who he was, and why his tomb is so grand.