It was already a bit of a late evening when I started off from my abode near the Delhi gate, and inside the now broken down walls of Purani Dilli ( old Delhi ). Traffic was heavy, waiting for the metro line to get ready, as it crawled from one inch to another. Vehicles jostling for space among parked ones by the side of the road; small time shopkeepers spreading their wares on the very ‘foot’path itself; the market overwhelms you as you enter Daryaganj, even as you see swanky Volvo buses making way for cycle-rickshaws to go past. I was in one such rickshaw, enjoying my ride as you hardly get to these days in Bangalore. Delhi was the place that I had longed to visit, and here I was, living my dream for the moment !
My ride soon took a left-turn on to a side street ( not as comfortable ; a bit of a bumpy ride ). Little had I expected that this would be one of the prime roads of Delhi back then, upon whose soil would have ridden soldiers and nobles alike. A king’s procession perhaps, as also hordes of plundering armies during the gloomy days of the empire ( Nadir Shah and the Afghans after him ).
Bustling just as it may have been then ( and of course much more now ), the view soon gave way to that towering edifice of red sandstone and white marble; the chief mosque of Shahjahanabad ever after it’s construction in 1650s; commissioned by one of the chief connoisseurs of architecture that the Mughal rule ever produced. This mosque was then christened ‘Masjid-e-Jahan-numa’, being one of the tall structures inside the walled city, from where you could see the entire world ( quite exaggeratedly ! ). It’s chief ( eastern ) gate opens up to a view of the red fort beyond, a towering sandstone structure in it’s own right. The eastern gate is also the largest among all other gates, and through which the emperor would enter to offer his prayers.
Even as my eye was transfixed on to the mosque, the road became narrower, and a traffic jam ensued. I got down from my ride and entered the mosque through it’s southern gate ( gate no. 1 as it is called now ). I climbed the flight of steps and noticed a menagerie of people sitting on it. Some tourists yes, foreigners and natives, but mostly locals out for their evening prayers.
With my shoes in hand, I entered the large rectangular courtyard of the mosque. Sun was setting now behind it’s imposing prayer hall on the west. The silhouette view of the same, what with magnificent domes on it’s top, was akin to a picture postcard; I got so engrossed that I didn’t wanna click it anymore but enjoy it for the moment ! The sun was going low each minute, and I also tried to get up on the top level to capture old Delhi amidst the warm glow of the setting sun. We are not allowed to go up I learned, except on one of the ‘minars’ ( towers ), and that’s before 6:30 PM; the deadline that I had already missed. What best than to just stroll around the courtyard and take in the scene around me !
It was getting darker now with the faint light of the setting sun still lighting up the majestic eastern gate. It was crowded indeed with whole families turning up for something that looked nothing less than a celebration to begin with. The courtyard was filled with people strolling about; while some could be see sitting around the rectangular marble pool in the center, chatting up close with their loved ones. Children, as usual, looked pretty active in their play, even as elders were keeping a close watch. It may be chaotic for some, and yet ‘tranquil’ can be the only word to sum up the beauty of the scene in front of me !
And all of sudden, it was tranquil literally, when the muezzin proclaimed his ‘azan’ ( call to prayer ), and people started scrambling in their respective directions after washing their hands from taps fitted all around the pool; men towards the prayer hall on the west, and women towards the colonnaded veranda which surrounded the courtyard on the remaining 3 sides. I went inside the prayer hall too, to observe such a large congregation of people sitting and bowing their heads in prayer. It was a nice sight, what with the previously elusive peace adding to it’s magic for me. The silence was almost pin-drop !
It did not take very long for people to get up from their respective positions and mingle back with their families. The deed of the evening was over, and people started trickling out with their groups. I hung on for a few more moments, and then did the same after being asked to do so politely. It was time now for the mosque to be closed for the night, before activity would start again early next morning.
Even as I left, a group of men could be seen observing that raised marble platform near the pool; a pulpit of sorts built during the reign of Muhammad Shah. A similar pulpit could be seen near the central entrance to the prayer hall, perhaps the first that was built during the same time as the mosque. I could only guess that these platforms were not being used any more.
Even as I walked down the steps of the mosque ( gate no. 1 again ), the all-too-familiar chaos of the street in front engulfed me, but so did the aromas wafting out from that famous kitchen of yore; none other than Karim’s ! It was time for dinner indeed !!!
Said to be managed by descendants of the very ‘Khansamas’ of the Mughal household, this place deserves a visit when you’re here. Forget any culinary disappointments even as the succulent chicken and tender naan ( bread ) pieces glide through your anatomy; the taste will linger on in your senses for a while ! An apt way to end my day, I walked rather satisfied to my abode for the night. I would come again to observe the next morning !
Morning started at the right time for me as I arrived when the mosque gates were just opening up ( It must have been a little past 6AM ). Today, it was all calm and serene in the courtyard, with only a few people hanging about, and some seen lounging out in the mosque premises. Pigeons were being fed as well; they would swoop down in groups, picking a grain or few, when eager children running towards them would force them into their flight once again. And then comes the swoop again … and so the cycle continues. To picture their flight with the mosque in background, must be a beautiful image I thought, and attempted a few of those !
I was walking aimlessly taking in the scene around me when the sun rose a bit higher, the light on the mosque got a little better, and the eastern gates opened up at the same time. The sunlight trickling in and people walking inside at the same time gave me a nice image too. Carpets were being laid from all gates towards the pool in the middle; and also all around the courtyard’s perimeter. The stones were going to get pretty hot as the day progresses.
The mosque was getting a bit crowded now. A few tourists; families again with all their paraphernalia; people engaged in mild talk as well as in a bit of heated up discussions; the cleaners with their big cloth brooms ( yes it’s a huge complex, and requires a special device to clean it up ; I’m sure they’ve been using it from times long past ); the day’s activities were indeed gaining pace now !
After taking a few shots out in the courtyard, I now went inside the main prayer hall again, which was being bathed in so much of golden light from the rising sun, trickling from within the arches, and between columns. A very good photographic opportunity this, I was not going to miss any of it. Right from the rows of sculpted arches and columns, to people kneeling down in prayer, everything presented a very serene picture, and I was all set to capture the same.
My engagement went on for quite some time inside the prayer hall, after which I now turned my attention to climbing up one of those towers which flanked it on both sides. Quite like a look-out tower, it would have afforded a panoramic view of the ‘old’ city ever since the mosque was built, and may be beyond the fort walls too when the city had not extended outside. That means it may have been used during the 1857 mutiny and other tumultuous moments in the city’s history when it was attacked from forces outside. And well, the mosque was also used to station soldiers for some time after the British occupied it in 1857.
Notwithstanding the city having grown so much since those times, I was still expecting a ‘panoramic’ of the same even as I started ascending that flight of stairs which goes in circles inside the tower. Of course it’s a bit cramped inside and 2 people coming in opposite directions need to make way for each other. However, it’s still worth the effort if you’re here. It’s not a very lengthy climb anyway.
Once you reach the top, it’s a bit of a larger space and a narrow platform of sorts. It can hold 4 to 5 people at a time, who can then gaze around to see house clusters in all directions, and the fort in one. It looked like mid-day already when I made my climb all the way up, and the sun was beating hard on the scene in front of me. Nothing like a picture postcard that I had imagined, but if you know or have read about the city well, you may be able to identify some of the landmarks therein. My optimistic self still tells me that sunset may be a beautiful affair here. The tower, however, closes by 6:30 pm as I have mentioned before. Nevertheless, it can be an interesting picture one of these days, so make sure you make your climb !
I got down from the tower after a while, and made my way to the red fort from outside the mosque’s eastern gate, treading for a while on the street just in front of it. This street is a bit wider as compared to others near the mosque, and it would herald the emperor’s approach back in those days, while shops on both sides would make up the chief market in the area. Rightly so, this market was called the Khas Bazaar.
Sun was beating down hard upon me now. And yet I continued my short walk till the fort …. for the love of Delhi !
And the love continues, whence Part 2 shall begin shortly !!
The usual stuff:
Where I stayed: Stops Hostel ( http://www.stopshostels.com/ ). Very neat and comfy dorms and bathrooms. Hearty breakfast and a good lunch option too. Just beside the Delhi gate of the old city, so a very convenient location as well. They do walks in the old city and around, so if you have nothing specific on your agenda and want to explore, hop on ! Not to mention, social evenings 🙂 !
Where to eat ( outside the hostel ! ): Of course, as I have mentioned above, a meal or two at Karim’s is an absolute must. It’s in a lane bang opposite from the southern gate of the mosque.
Another place worth mentioning is the Moti Mahal restaurant; walk-able from the hostel. This is one of the oldest restaurants in this newer part of ‘Old Delhi’, and is known best as the inventor of Butter Chicken. An expensive fare for sure, but worth a try for it’s delectable dishes.
And well, for a lighter meal/snack, a McDonald’s outlet is walk-able from the hostel again.
Commuting: Your foot, autos ( tuktuks ), and cycle rickshaws.
So long !