Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Talaqi Darwaza

This is the Talaqi Darwaza, "forbidden gate".  It's the northern gate of the Purana Qila

It's been unopened for a long time.  And there's a story that goes along with why the gate is kept closed.
They say that the king went out to battle through this gate and said to his subjects not to re-open it until he returned victorious.
Sadly he never returned alive and so the gate was kept closed to mourn his death. 
Good story.

The problem is that it's historically implausible.

The only kings ruling from this fort were Sher Shah and his son.  Neither of them went out to battle and died.
And Humayan, well, his death was a different story all together.

Qila-i-Kohna Masjid

During his short five year rule of Delhi, this mosque is one of the projects that hisotry is sure Sher Shah built.  It's inside the Purana Qila and is the most substantial building left.

I read a scintillating description of the architectural detail of the mosque, including information on its squinches, turrets, ceiling treatments and facade.

But I will skip those details and say to you instead:

Just look at that beautiful detail.  It's got to be one of the most best masjids in Delhi.

"Most best"?  Is that a typo?
No, it is not.  It's a very fitting phrase.
Why's that?
Because Sher Shah was from Afghanistan.  This mosque has Afghan influence embedded all over the place in its design.

And because my Afghan friend uses effusive phrases like that frequently:
"I have the most best friends in all the world."
"This ice cream is the most best I have eaten today."
"My friends are the most best good friends."
"This is the most best meal I have had with you."
Admittedly my experience is limited, but that means that I think saying "most best" is the correct way to describe it.

So yes, when it comes to design, the Qila-i-Kohna is one of the most best masjids in Delhi.

Sher Mandal

We've been over the tragic story of Humayan's death.
How he fell down the stairs and succumbed to his injuries a few days later.

Poor Humayan.

His officials waited to tell the people that the emperor was dead until Akbar could reach Delhi from Agra.  He was already dead for 17 days when it was announced.

So it seems that I may have told this story a few too many times. 
Because at the last visit to his tomb, I said to myself, "Hey, Humayan died just up the road a ways--I should go see where."

The Sher Mandal is inside the Purana Qila.  It was built by Sher Shah as a part of his palace, but Humayan liked the building and when he returned to Delhi, he turned it into a library and an observatory.
And he spent a lot of time there.
Well, as much time as there was in the year he had in Delhi before his accident.
The Sher Mandal is also where the infamous stairs down which he fell--and died--are.

Poor Humayan.

Purana Qila's baoli

I am on the lookout for stepwells, and, of course, there would be one at the Purana Qila, too.  All the important Delhi places must have one, right?  It only makes sense.
Okay, so the baoli at Purana Qila isn't especially exciting.  It's a stepwell and nothing fancy.  There are the steps, the walls, and, well, no water--but at some point there must have been.

When you're on a baoli hunt, though, each and every one counts.  And this makes number seven in Delhi for me. 

Purana Qila

The Purana Qila, old fort, is the Din-panah--refuge of the heart--that Humayan started to build before he was defeated by Sher Shah and fled India.
Sher Shah added to it and Humayan moved back in when he returned to Delhi. 
There's not much left of it but the impressive gates and walls.
Every day there is a light show projected on to the northern gate of the fort.  It is called Ishq ki Dilli, meaning "Love Delhi".
While it has little to do with Humayan or the fort, it's still an appropriate presentation because Humayan was one of the lovers of Delhi.
And that made for two good reasons why I needed to see Purana Qila.

1. It was time to see where Humayan died.
2.  I, too, am a lover of Delhi.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Mihr Banu's market and gate

At one time--amazingly--the area of Humayan's tomb was undeveloped forest, well outside the gates of Delhi's sultanate.  You'd never imagine that now, with the bustling Nizammudin neighborhood and the railway around it.

But yes, once upon a time there was nothing there.

Yet, it was on the route between two important places, Agra and Afghanistan.
And someone decided that it was a good place for a way station.
And thus the Arab Serai was built up and extended into Mihr Banu's market place.

A place for travelers to rest.  A market place to resupply.  A water source to refresh.  It would have been a busy place, full of people of all kinds.
Today the impressive gateway to Mihr Banu's market is at the far southern end of the complex of Humayan's tomb.
And it's empty.  Few remember or visit. Travelers have other places to stay, and not many are on their way to Afghanistan.

Because it was near the holy place of Nizamuddin's dargah, Akbar and Hamida Begum decided to put the tomb of Humayan here.  So the market area is where the hundreds of workmen would have lived for eight years during the construction of the building.
It wasn't until about 45 years after the tomb was completed that a person named Mihr Banu built the gate and enclosed the market place.

It makes me wonder:  where did the market go?  In the history of Delhi and Nizamuddin village, 1612 isn't all that long ago.  Why did it move away?  There are still thousands of people in this area.  When did their market place disappear to spread out in other places of the neighborhood?
Sometimes it's just as fascinating to me which things of history disappear as which things are still remaining.

L-shaped baoli

How many times have I been to Humayan's tomb and I didn't even know this stepwell was there!
But now that I've found it, I'll add this L-shaped baoli located within the complex of Humayan's tomb to my treasure hunt collection.
There's really not much to it, except for dangerous holes to fall into and some rancid water.
It's falling apart and it looks like from time to time, kids get in and throw rocks down the stairs and into the water below.
The stepwell is in a very out of the way place at the edge of the complex.  Very few visit it.  We were the only ones wandering around in this area.

I suppose that's because unlike me, most people come to see Humayan's tomb, not the baoli.

They don't know what they're missing.

Bu Halima's tomb and garden

Every time I go to Humayan's tomb, I mean to look for Bu Halima's tomb in the complex.  Somehow I always miss it.

So this time I was more intentional.  I made a point of searching it out.
And when I found it, I realized why I'd missed it time after time.  Because it looks like something that's not finished.  Where's the top of it?  Where's the dome?  Where are the arches?  What about the marble work?  What are the stairs for?

But, you know, since it was on my list of destinations, I went to take a closer look. 
This is it.
A slightly raised bump in the platform.  Bu Halima's tomb.
Okay.  I've seen it.  Check.

Who was Bu Halima, anyway?
The walls of the surrounding garden and the chatris are more fun to climb on.
You can get away with climbing on a lot of things in India that they would not let you in other places.
But then, there's a whole lot more stuff to climb on, too.
I like that.

Unkempt gardens

What happened to the little old lady who was so carefully gardening around the walk ways of Humayan's tomb?
Perhaps they are doing some restoration work in this area, but, still, they need to let her back in; these flowers are out of control.

Charming unknown tomb

On my latest visit to Humayan's tomb, I didn't enter by the usual route.  I walked around the outside walls instead. 
And that lead me to this place:  an unknown tomb from the 16th or 17th century.

"Charming" is the only description I can find of it.
I agree.

But again, it shows that if history doesn't care to remember you, it won't.

Nila Gumbad

The blue dome thing is something I've seen over the walls of Humayan's tomb numerous times.  I have wanted to go see it, but it falls outside of the walled complex of the tomb.

So I went searching.
For the blue dome thing.  And really, that's what it is.  Nila Gumbad means blue dome.  A conveniently easy name to remember.
It was built about 75 years after Humayan's tomb by Abdul Rahim Khan-I-Khana (another guy whose tomb I have to go search out), one of Akbar's courtiers.  Abdul built it for his servant Miyan Fahim who grew up with his sons and later died in battle with them. 
Abdul thought Miyan's tomb was important, but the world now doesn't seem to care.
The tomb sits near the railroad tracks and is surrounded by a wasteland of railroad ties and other trash.

Humayan's tomb and all it's well-kept glory is just right there nearby.  But the blue dome thing is outside it all.

Maybe something will be done about it.  Yet, history, it seems, doesn't care to preserve every story, even when we build giant tombs to remember them.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Masala dosa

The dosa is a huge plate of food, ya?
Sometimes we like to order it for new comers to India--just to shock them when it arrives at the table.
"What?  I have to eat all this?!"  
It's delicious, though.
And inside, there's not so much, see?  Just some potato and spiciness.