Delhi Monuments – Ambling Through Hauz Khas – Firoz Shah Tughlaq Tomb Complex – 1


I am rather late in writing about this. Health and other anxiety related issues have kept me away from most work but today let me share the first part of the Hauz Khas monument complex. The next post will cover the Madarsa and some other aspects related to this marvelous site and surrounding areas.

Hauz Khas complex has been one of my favorite places to go to when in search of solitude irrespective of the fact that it is always crowded with couples and people looking for a place to rest/eat or just linger around. In a good move ASI has put an entry ticket since April and I see the effectiveness of it. So, a few days back I went to explore the ruins and sit under the grand old tamarind tree.

This post is just my personal account of what holds me captive and pulls me to this place and not really a historical or architectural commentary. The most interesting aspect of these ruins and the Hauz e alai near by is the influence of three great rulers who ruled over Delhi.  Allauddin Khilji’s construction of the second city of Delhi, the city of Siri (1296–1316} and Hauz e alai the grand reservoir that provided for the water requirements of the city. Once Khilji died and his empire faded away the reservoir got neglected and perished.

Then as a mark of respect another great ruler of Delhi Firoz/Firuz Shah Tughlaq restored and got the silted Hauz cleaned during his reign (1351–88). He also commissioned a magnificent double storied Madrasa-i-Feroz Shahi (seminary), a mosque, few pavilions, chatris overlooking the restored lake. It is among these he built his own humble tomb where the great Sultan rests now. 

Later in the year 1507-08 yet another great sultan of Delhi Sikander Lodhi added the striking embellishments inside the tomb.

So when I walk through the 13th century ruins the stones whisper stories of many eras of sultans and their immense love for art, architecture and intellect. Firoz Shah Tughlaq was the third ruler of Tughlaq dynasty that ruled over Delhi. A man with a mission he loved to build things be it fortresses, canals, schools, cities, mosques, hunting lodges, sarais (rest houses), hospitals etc. He also commissioned repairs of old buildings, mosques etc. including Qutub Minar to which he added two floors after it was damaged by an earthquake.

Coming back to the Hauz Khas Complex one enters through a modest stone gateway into a the landscape of ruins set in the midst of manicured grassy patches. It is a world very different from the so called urban village you leave behind on the other side. Immediately a calm descends on you as you glance around at the ancient structures, the domed tomb of Tughlaq soaring above the rest of the buildings, old wise trees with birds merrily chirping in their lush branches and a little further and beyond the lake with its deep green waters. These are the secret keepers and the story tellers of ancient Delhi. 

Each ruler from the Tughlaq dynasty added their own architectural creativity to whatever they build. In Firoz Shah’s time these architectural achievements reached their zenith. The new architectural trend is visible in all the buildings erected during his reign.

The 5-6 pavilions with domes in different shapes (hexagonal, rectangular, octagonal) and sizes are the first thing you notice on entering the complex. Some of these structures were tombs and one can see a few graves. The roof and domes of these simplistic tombs is decorated with kanguras. You can see the small chatri in the foreground.

The pavilions and the ruins of the court yard are conjectured to have been used as part of the madrasa in the past. On the inside all the pavilion domes have lost the ornamentation but one can still see the exquisite foliated motifs on the drums and the kalsa motifs on  top of the domes. Most of the structures are falling apart and the bands of calligraphy are discontinuous or fading. I notices a few pigeons nestled in the holes inside.

The cylindrical pavilions don’t have any graves and perhaps they were part of a bigger structure as one can see stone beams projecting from the base of their dome drums.

I moved on from there to the hundred year old Tamarind tree which I will cover in next post. Next to the tree are Three domed colonnaded pavilions and the Mosque.

These interlinked pavilions make a T shape and again have broken bands of calligraphy inside the dome. The building is made of hard quartzite which is tough to carve. One can still see finials, kanguras and calligraphy in incised plaster in the plastered tombs. The long colonnaded halls stretch from north to south.

There are also signs of ornamentation of some sort which has vanished now leaving just dark holes and broken patches. The whole structure stands on a solid stone platform. It is amazing how these strong square pillars have supported the structure for last almost 650 plus years. Yet one sees the cracks that have developed over the period of time. Some restoration was done by ASI in 2012 I think. These structures were perhaps used as seminar rooms for the students of the Madarsa.

One can also see a ruined remain of a staircase with large windows and perhaps one can descend to the lower floor of the madarsa from there but I did not disturb the couple sitting there and moved on to the Mosque.

The small Mosque with overhanging jharokhas stands under an ancient Tamarind tree at the northern end of the Madarsa. The quibla wall of the mosque projects towards the water reservoir. If you see it from the lake side you can clearly see the five mehrabs.

The central mehrab with a domed chatri and open sides is like a pavilion and projects towards the reservoir. I have heard that the qibla wall has rich ornamentation but I couldn’t see it. Perhaps next time. The mosque was closed for public entry although the door was open. There’s a crumbling staircase next to it which leads down but I left it for another day of exploration.

I headed to the Tomb of Firoz Shah but then I spotted the two buildings flanking the original entrance not in use opposite Firoz Shah’s Tomb. One is closed to public and the other is ASI’s local office.  One of them seemed to be a guard house but not sure of the purpose of other one. 

The sun was getting to me now so I sat on some ruined steps and watched the common myna quench her thirst from the water pipe in the garden. A young girl sat reading on yet another set of steps shaded by the laburnum.

Firoz Shah’s Tomb looks very simple from outside. It is a square building with battered walls and an old surviving jali (stone lattice work) with calligraphic details and medallions above the entrance door that is set in a larger niche. During the reign of Firoz Shah the tombs were devoid of ornamentation and were very simple structures. Inexpensive material like rubble, lime and plaster were used for construction. Lack of skilled craftsmen and poor economic conditions were the prime reason for this. Constructed in 1388 AD Firoz Shah’s tomb is totally in line with the structures of Tughlaq era, made with quartzite rubble finished with plaster with slightly sloppy fortified walls and battlement ornamentation.

Situated at the pivot point of the two perpendicular wings of the madarsa it is the largest building now in the complex. It doesn’t have the defensive architecture pattern but has some simple ornamentation around the entrance. The walls are decorated with merlons on the two tiers. One above the cube and other above the octagonal square. The outer wall has a slight projection towards the center emphasizing the entrance door which depicts a blend of Indian and Islamic architecture.

The top of the tomb has a slightly pointed dome set on plastered squinches and corbelled beams making it an octagonal drum and then a sixteen sided drum before the actual dome.

There is a low platform in a courtyard on the southern side with horizontal and vertical stone railings and ledges similar to the ones found in Buddhist Viharas and stupas of that era. It is believed that that these were inspired from the Sanchi Stupa.

Somehow the tomb seems very impressive even in its plainness. Three steps lead inside to a beautiful interior with Firoz Shah’s grave in the center and the graves of his son and grandson to one side of it. The eight sided polygon roof is very different from the other Tughlaq era structures.

The squinch arches were a thing of past but are used in here. There is a band of calligraphy and a band of geometrical designs on which the dome rests. There are beautiful medallions of different shapes and sizes with Hadiths and Quranic inscriptions in narqsh characters. These medallions are arranged between two concentric stars and a large medallion in the center. It is believed that Sultan Sikander Lodhi who took up the repair work of many tombs commissioned these ornamentation during his reign (AD 1489-1517). They are typical of the architecture of his time. In Tughlaq’s buildings one doesn’t find such embellishments.

Next to the tomb there are two other domed entrances leading towards the madarsa. One was barred by iron door but  could see the steps leading down.

The structures are in dire need of restoration but I feel scared of the way current restorations are going on in Delhi. Ruins must look like ruins and all this whitewashing just spoils the original aura of the place. I sat on the stairs leading to nothingness and wondered how it must have looked when the place was in its prime glory.

The pillared halls, the crumbling walls, the musty dark corridors, the collapsed buildings, the  lake waters down below and the greenery around taking away all the worries and tiredness I felt. There is a certain energy that runs through the ruins stitching everything. Lean against a crumbling walls or just run your fingers gently over them and you’ll feel its presence.

The relationship of modern Delhi and its ancient architecture is complex and especially in this case you see how rapid unrestrained urbanization has marred the face of these ruins. The original spirit of Hauz Khas Village is long lost to the passages of time. As per my knowledge, Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) regulations prohibit construction of structures within 100 metres of protected monuments but here in the haphazardly expanding Hauz Khas ‘village’ no one seems to bother about any laws either MCD’s or the ASI’s. The sleepy green waters of the lake, the old wise trees and the ancient ruins watch the complete collapse of the cultural fabric as the metamorphosis continues to change the original landscape. The bubble is ready to explode any time soon. Meanwhile life continues to struggle to find breathing spaces between the ancient and the modern. In the end it is all about money and here there is no dearth of it.

We will cover the other areas of the complex in the next post. I am not keeping too well to explore right now but the truth is I am a nomad by and these ruins will pull me to their embrace sooner than I think. I am posting this with the current pictures I have but I will soon update with a few fresh ones. I realized that some photographs don’t do justice to the buildings or embellishments. I will upload rest of the photographs for this post on my Instagram account. Do visit.

Till then do go and enjoy the serenity that  surrounds this complex.

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Delhi Monuments – Safdarjung’s Tomb Complex


Safdar Jung’s Tomb complex or Mansur ka Maqbara, as locals call it, holds a special place in my heart. I think the tomb was never meant to rival Humayun’s Tomb as sighted everywhere but to solely honor Mirza Muqin Abul Mansur Khan, viceroy of Awadh and later the chief minister known by his title, Safdar Jung.  He was a powerful governor and the state of Awadh or oudh virtually became independent of the Mughal empire under Safdar Jung and his successors till it was annexed by the British in 1857. It rivaled Delhi in literature, architecture, art.  Satyajit Ray’s classic movie, Shatranj Ke Khiladi (The Chess Players) was set in the backdrop of Awadh.

This garden tomb was the last architectural project of Mughal era in Delhi.

There is an undisturbed calm that fills the tomb complex as it is not crowded with tourists like the other tombs. A sereneness that draws you in. It may be “imperfect” architecturally but as a whole the entire complex is awe inspiring.

Remember what Sheldon’s mother says in Big Bang Theory? “Sometimes it’s the imperfect stuff that makes things perfect.”

Keep in mind that this artistically magnificent tomb is that of a prime minister in the Mughal Empire, “Wazir-ul-Mamlikat-i-Hindustan” and not that of an emperor or a Mughal royal. Even his master Muhammad Shah Rangila doesn’t enjoy the luxury of such a splendid spacious resting place. Though he may have that fine ornate carvings, characteristic of  mid 18th century Mughal era, inside his tomb.

As for the marble being stolen from Rahim Khan e Khana’s tomb there are two theories on this. One is the popular one floating everywhere and mentioned by historians too that some of the exterior stone (marble) was plundered from Rahim’s tomb while constructing Safdarjung’s tomb.

The second theory I read refutes the first. As per Aga Khan Trust ( who are restoring Rahim’s Tomb) no material from there was used in Safdar Jung’s Tomb. The analyzed stone cladding is totally different. I am no historian or expert to give my views on it but I still feel that wherever the stones came from should not belittle the efforts of creating this grand mausoleum. Sir Syed Ahmed wrote about that in his book too.

 

The triple storied heavily ornamented gateway of the tomb complex is a photographers’ delight. The splendid floral and geometrical patterns that adorns the facade symmetrically around the jharokha of the arched entrance are stunningly done in orange, green and purple. One of the prettiest gateways in Delhi especially in comparison to the much touted Humayun’s Tomb. Only a few of the buildings by later Mughals have this Bangla jharokha style incorporated with the inverted arches in their buildings as per my knowledge. Correct me if I’m wrong.

One can barely see one of the fading fish motifs, the royal insignia of Awadh, on the left side under the base of the arch. The other is not visible at all. It reminds one of  Safdar Jung’ glorious connection with Awadh. The arched walls of the gate frame the tomb perfectly and trust me it is a very surreal experience to stand there and watch the grand mausoleum. There is a lot of work in incised plaster in the interior of the gate.

The Arabic inscription over the main entry gate to the central chamber of the tomb reads, “When the hero of plain bravery departs from the transitory, may he become a resident of god’s paradise”.

A gate on the right side leads to the three domed mosque.  most of the chambers of the madarsa and the mosque is not accessible to the pubic which is the case in many of the monuments in Delhi. A very frustrating rule. I was not permitted to step in the courtyard or into the mosque to see the Ablution or the Waju Khana with a fountain that is a rare occurrence in such mosques.

The gardens are filled with bird calls and it is soothing to see such a treasure of unique trees and shrubs. I was able to see the gorgeous Sita Ashok, mango and the Indian Gooseberry (Awla) in bloom, the kadamb fruiting in full glory with squirrels and birds feasting on the ripe fruits, the beautiful shrubs of Red Kund / Red Jasmine lining the main pathway to the tomb.

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The manicured lawns, the swaying palms, the gardeners at work, the entire tranquility just lift  your tired spirits. You must look up the gardens whenever visiting any of the monuments.  The waterways are always dry but the well had a motor attached for watering the garden which was a welcome sight as earlier I remember seeing it all neglected and was cordoned off with the stone lattice work fence.

Don’t know how deep it is. Was it used to quench the thirst of weary travelers or those staying in the pavilions in the complex apart from being the prime water source to the gardens? Perhaps a Persian water wheel was used for garden irrigation or water was even hand drawn too for drinking. I’m trying yo picture the scene. Nothing online about the well perhaps because these wells are poor cousins of the mighty step-wells..lol …I’ve seen a beautiful working well in khair ul manazil mosque. There’s one in Nili masjid too but closed and not in use.

Built in 1753-54 AD, Safdar Jung’s tomb is set on a high plinth containing series of recessed arches. It is surrounded by a 300-sq-meter garden in typical Mughal style charbagh pattern where the garden is divided in four squares by walking paths and canals leading to the three pavilions that are, as expected of ASI, out of bound for public. The tomb is in the center. There are four two storied minarets in the four corners of the square structure.

The onion shaped dome, made of white marble and pink stone, rising above a 16 sided sandstone drum stands out uniquely amidst the other tombs and monuments of that period. Designed and built by Abyssinian architect Shaidi Bilal Mohammad Khan the tomb is a fine example of Persian and Indian architecture. The bulbous shape derives from Persian Timurid domes and the elegant lotus finial with a marble pinnacle derives from the Hindu temples.

(I lost a few pictures so sorry for this shoddy one. Will change when I visit the tomb next.)

The interior of the dome has beautiful work in molded limestone plaster or stucco as we know it. The medallions with looped floral designs are surrounded by radiating petals and carried on honeycomb pendents that rise in multilayered formations. The dome consists of eight chambers, the central one housing the pristine white marble cenotaph of Safdar Jung. One of the most ornate and beautiful ones in Delhi.

The actual graves or burial chambers of Safadrjung and his wife Amat Jahan Begum are placed in an underground chamber of the monument.

The central chamber has four entrances and the play of light and shadow in the chamber is stunning.

Hidden staircase in the plinth leads to the tomb level and the tomb interior can be accessed via flight of stairs on the two sides. Each of the side room is decorated with rococo plaster work. Each designs different from the other. The minaret in the four corners are lined with thin marble strips and have a chatri on top.  

The Mughal Empire by the mid 1700s and there may have been several factors and not just short funds leading to the hurried patchwork in the making of this tomb. I wish someone researches this a bit more.

There is a certain grace about this tomb made of red sandstone and marble. I hope the monument gets its due and people stop quoting it as resembling an “elderly courtesan”..  (highly exaggerated), “last flicker…” and “poor copy” of Humayun’s Tomb etc. The mausoleum is perfect in its so called imperfection. 

Look beyond what is served to you on platter and visit the tomb with no preconceived notions. Its quiescence will draw you in like nothing else.

 

Delhi Monuments – Ambling Through Hauz Khas – Nili Masjid And Idgah Of Kharera


I’ve been missing in action here since a long time and that is because my laptop is giving issues and I have not been able to sort it so far. This Delhi monument post is part of my wanderings in Hauz Khas area. There are still a few more I will cover including those in adjacent Green Park.

Nili /Neeli Masjid 

Since so many years I passed the Nili Masjid of the Blue Mosque but never really went in there to explore. Located in A block the the tree bayed mosque is on the side of the road connecting August Kranti Marg and Aurobindo Marg. Sandwiched between posh houses  sometimes misses the eye unless of course it is prayer time or Friday when one can see a lot of devotees heading there for prayers. It is one of the few working mosques of Delhi which are under ASI protection.

An inscription over its central arch says that it  built in A.H. 911 (A.D. 1505-06) during the reign of Sikandar Lodi, by Kasumbhil, nurse of Fath Khan, son of Khan-i-Azam Masnad Ali Khawas Khan, then governor of Delhi. She is one of the few women who commissioned some beautiful structures in Delhi. Others include Hamida Bano Begum, Maham Anga, Roshanara Begum and Qudsia Begum.

Made from rubble stone and plaster Nili Masjid has rather masculine looking massive bastions and conical supporting towers along its western wall. No other major archaeological features are visible to make it different from other mosques or other medieval structures. This low fortification was suppose to protect them from any invasion but here it doesn’t serve the purpose. It is mainly for beautification it seems.

The mosque has slender turrets at the corners of the octagonal drum (base) on which a single dome sits pretty. There are three arched entrances to the masjid.

An intricate line of kanguras (battlement-like ornamentation) inset with vibrant blue tile work run along the roof of the mosque giving the mosque its name – Nili Masjid or Blue Mosque, however the ornamentation is only limited to the portion above the central facade.  A wide “chajja” (overhanging eave) supported on thick carved bracket runs on the rest of the front face.
Under the blue tiled Kanguras one can see elegant calligraphy and art work. The mosque is beautiful in its simplicity. There is no grandeur to it an yet it is striking to the eyes. Some areas inside the chamber have been recently plastered as part of the conservation program I think.
Within the boundary there is also a well that is covered and no longer in use. One can see loudspeakers etc places in the corners of the roof. One can see prayer mats, racks to keep things etc inside the chamber which is fitted with modern amenities like tube lights, fans and coolers. I wonder what are the rules for the monuments protected under ASI and why encroachments and making alteration is not stopped.
The grass covered front yard is nice and clean with some potted flowering plants and a few lush big trees that line the fence.
While I was wandering in the area I thought of going to Idgah too as it is a stone’s throw away from my son’s home.
Idgah of Kharera 
The 600 year old Idgah of kharera in Hauz Khas (near to Chor Minar in Padmini Enclave)  was used only for congregational Eid prayers unlike the other mosques. The structure represents the West wall around which people gathered for Id prayers. There is a mimbar or pulpit next to the central mehrab for the Imam to deliver his message. Usually a town or city will have one idgah but as Delhi was made of many cities there are four medieval Idgahs here.
Built of rubble masonry, this structure has 11 mehrabs and a turret at the end of one side with the inscription written on a red sandstone slab fixed on the south bastion towards east. It tells that this most famous and renowned mosque was built by Iqbal Khan who was popularly known as Mallu Khan, a powerful noble and virtually the ruler during Muhammad Tughluq’s reign who commissioned this structure. The inscription also tells about the volatile period in which it was built.
It is stated to have been built A.H. 807 (A.D. 1404-05) in the typical Tughlak style. I read somewhere that it was here Timur had set up his camp to offer ‘aman’ or ‘peace’ to the people after he invaded Delhi but unfortunately it didn’t go the way he had thought. Some incidents made him unleash unimaginable horrors on the citizens of Delhi.
The big trees in the fenced enclosure are home to many birds like barbets, peacoks, bulbuls etc. Local residents often come here for picnics and children can be seen playing there under the watchful eyes of the guard. Thankfully there are no encroachments and the monument is in good condition.
The stone slab that tells about the monument needs some attention and the writing is faded and hardly visible at many places.
I remember reading about mosque of Darwesh Shah in nearby Gautam Nagar and it is on my ‘to visit’ list. So are some of the lesser known small monuments around this area.
I am reading up about my city and will post again ina few days. Meanwhile I visited Sunder Nursery and was enchanted with it. Will do a post soon. You can still look up my Instagram account for some pictures from there.
Spring in Delhi is always beautiful so leaving you with some gorgeous flowers I saw there.

Travel Tales – Of Wild fruits and Pink Lotuses


Recently I took a short weekend trip to the mountains. The idea was to simply get away from the scorching heat and the pressures of city life. After a lot of research we settled for Bhimtal, Uttarakhand and we took off early morning in a friend’s car. Summer is a bad time to visit any of these tourist destinations and I would have preferred a quieter offbeat place at this time but the time constraint and other factors made it impossible. So, as it is with every road trip there were old songs and conversations, reminiscence of  good ol’ days and dhaba food as we drove to our destination.

We made our first stop at Gajraula for a late breakfast or rather brunch of Hot aalu parathas, curd, pickle and kulhar tea. The place had good washrooms as the huge signboard declared. You can read about the entire route in my previous post HERE . We again stopped for tea at New Amritsariyan Da Dhaba just for sentimental reasons. The place isn’t the same since the old sardar ji passed away. One can see the next generation halfheartedly carrying out their duty. Though the food is still better than many places. The dhaba is very close to Rudrapur.

We reached Bhintal late in the afternoon but the Airbnb homestay we had booked took away all our tiredness.

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This property owned by Sanjay and Ekta is nestled among the Pine, Oak and a few fruit trees very close to the lake. They started this venture for the love of travel and food last year.  I had booked The Woods on a recommendation from a FB friend Kalyani Mirajkar who runs a beautiful eco-friendly Bhimtal Birdsong Cafe just a little further away down the road.

The two member staff was exceptionally helpful and immediately arranged for some lip smacking homely food for us even though we had reached past the lunch time. Good food always wins my heart.  Himanshu needs special mention for this and for guiding us about local places. Despite heavy rain and other demands we always found him smiling and eager to help. The property had all the amenities and the beautiful deck overlooked the lake. It was raining and I found the setting extremely beautiful as we sipped our excellent chai and munched on hot bhajias. We could see the lake from our room window too. 

The rain drenched Bhimtal lake

The approach road is slightly steep but in good condition. We were given clear directions by the owner who was very gracious and helpful at all times.

I also visited Kalyani’s Birdsong cafe but unfortunately could not eat the fantastic Kumaoni thali the cafe offers among other things. The little cafe is tastefully done and is surrounded by pear trees. She also grows some vegetables and one can always see the place full of seasonal flowers. I recommend both these places to everyone travelling to Bhimtal. 

Another gorgeous property is The Retreat owned by Paddy Smetacek. It was booked when we contacted Paddy but she was extremely helpful and I totally love the work she and her family are doing there for local women and environment apart from running such a lovely place.

Let me completely the food story before coming to the two lovely surprises that awaited me.

On our way to Sattal we stopped at I Heart Cafe Himalayas. It was wonderful to meet Liz again and savor the delicacies she and her team makes. I will do a separate post on it in a few days. Don’t miss the place in Mehra Estate on Bhowali Road if you are in that area. The cafe is what I would have loved to owned in a quaint hill station.

You can read about the three lakes of this area in my post HERE. Not much had changed since we came here two years ago except that the otherwise quiet Naukuchiatal had a lot of water activities going on this time. It was a real heartbreak to see these beautiful places slowly losing their natural charm to these touristy activities. Sattal had already succumb to huge crowds, noise and eateries that have mushroomed at the lakeside.

 

What caught my eyes were local vendors selling the summer fruits. I was elated to see kafal, hisalu, small local yellow and orange apricots, the tiny babbugoshas (a pear variety), peaches and the deliciously juicy plums. Some other wild fruits that I remember from the past are bedu, ghigharu, kirmoli etc. but one doesn’t see much of them these days.

While the others enjoyed the scenic view of the lake waters I decided to gorge on these.

The Kumaon and Garhwal region of  Uttarakhand are known for these awesome local wild fruits. Many of them have medicinal values too.

The sweet and sour Kafal or Kaafal is called Bayberry in English and is a drupe. Considered as the king of wild fruits in Uttaranchal it matures in month of April to June. Kafal resembles the raspberry but has a big seed and thin layer of flesh. Mostly its eaten with rock salt and red chilly. We also make sharbat from them just like the phalsa sharbat. Slightly acidic in taste it has a high amount of Vitamin C. Mostly the fruit is grown between the altitude of 100-2000 meters above the sea level  in the foothills of Himalayas and has a very short shelf life. It also indicates the change of season. In local kumaoni language this fruit is called kaafo and is celebrated with beautiful songs and stories unlike any other in the region. The vendor was selling 10/- a cone and I saw many kids happily sucking on them near the lake. I ate them after a gap of many years so it was a real treat. I came to know that it is also found in Nepal. A poet friend from Shillong told me it’s called Soh phi in the Khasi Hills.

I was telling the couple friend we had gone with about these fruits and wondered if we would be lucky enough to savor the other fruits too and we were. At Sattal I saw some vendors selling Hisalu. I had not seen them since so long. At first I couldn’t believe my eyes as the season for these berries was about to end. I bought a few cones to relive the memories of those simple pleasures of my youth.

 

Soft and tangy Hisalu is also known as the Golden Himalayan raspberry or the yellow Himalayan Raspberry. These are the actual “Organic” fruits. Straight from the trees. These little berries used to be the source of energy to the travelers going uphill in olden days. The fruit is juicy and very flavorful. It is difficult to describe its taste as it unique to the berry. People make jam from it just like the raspberries. It usually ripens from in March-April and perishes very quickly after being plucked. An old friend from Rawalpindi told me that he found some of these fruits during an off track hike on Margallah hills a few years ago. So many stories came up when I shared the pix earlier on FB and Instagram.

I also happily snacked on the locally grown small and juicy plums, apricots and peaches. I saw a few fruit laden trees in the villages but we were on the move so couldn’t take photographs.

The Woods, where we were staying, had pear trees but the fruits were yet to ripen.

A monkey brigade one day decided to indulge themselves on the deck facing the lake and the staff had to drive them off with sticks. Unafraid these moneys have become a menace since the langoor money population has dwindled. The two don’t see eye to eye.

There was a Timla (Ficus auriculata) also called Elephant fig or wild fig tree right opposite the property but the fruit was unripe too. Timla produces a unique fruit which is actually an inverted flower. It is an important fruit in the hills and has medicinal benefits too.

The I Heart Cafe had a Lychee trees along with pomegranate, figs, pear, guava, apples etc.

I

I saw some unripe lychees on the magnificent that looking tree in one corner and couldn’t resist to click a photograph. There were also some gorgeous Hydrangeas spreading a riot of colors in their soothing green back garden. Here’s a favorite

The other juicy treat were the tiny babbugosha pears we picked from the local hawkers. Absolutely divine in taste. One can never eat enough of these luscious fruits.

A friend who was visiting Sattal at the same time managed to get hold of these very rare berries. I asked around for some information about them but couldn’t find any.

I had eaten these way back and never bothered to ask the name. Paddy Smetacek told me that these are quite rare Gyuwaaien which used to grow in her forest but disappeared from there. She is trying to grow them again. I have used this photograph with permission from Nandini Rathore. Both the photographs ( one here and the other in the link) are credited rightfully to her.

After a long research via FB, Google search and WhatsApp to experts I found that this particular berry is indeed Giwain in local vernacular. It’s botanical name is Elaeagnus angustifolia Linn. The berry has many medicinal benefits and the carotenoid, lycopene content in these is sometimes seven to seventeen times higher than that of tomatoes. It is known for its anti inflammatory, analgesic,antimutagenic and antioxidant properties.

It is also known as Russian olive or Japanese Olive as someone mentioned. It is a shrub found in mid hills. The fruit is eaten raw or ripe.

As if the joy of relishing these fruits wasn’t enough. To my surprise Kamal Tal or the Lotus Pond was flooded with pink water lilies or gulabi kamal. The sight was breathtaking.

On our last visit the taal was in bad condition but this time it looked clean and well maintained. The boat we saw last time had sunk in the midst of lily pads. You can see its edges in the photograph.

Kamal taal is located in one corner of the Naukuchiatal. Enjoy some of the photographs from there. Some people compare them to the lotuses that bloom in Mansarovar lake. It seemed like Monet’s painting The Lily Pad. The photographs don’t really do justice as I have a not so good phone camera.

We had a plan to visit some other places beyond these lakes but due to heavy tourist inflow, traffic snarls, rain and a fair at the Kainchi Dham we decided to return early.

As we still had a whole day to us we decided to take the longer yet scenic route via Corbett National Park ( Corbett Tiger Reserve). We stopped at the Corbett Museum and spent some time remembering the childhood favorite, the legendary hunter turned environmentalist Jim Corbett. The museum was one of his homes. The other one is in Nainital. Beautifully located in Kaladungi, Choti Haldwani it is surrounded by a lush green compound that has a souvenir shop in one corner near the entrance. I will do a separate post about this place.

The heat of summer was catching up as we hit the plains so after lingering for a while we headed back to Delhi via Bazpur, Kasipur – Moradabad route. We stopped at Bazpur, Udhampur for a delicious meal at  Gill Brother Dhaba. This is a longer route but has less traffic and is scenic too.

There were some things that got left undone. Perhaps I may plan to trip again when the trees get laden with apples and the sunsets become more breathtaking over the snow clad mountains. Some time needs to be spent with a few friends who live in this region and in the next trip I just night do it

For now I am back in Delhi and the grind of daily life in the city where summer has taken a permanent refuge. My eyes are glued to the skies for the monsoon rains.

Meanwhile I am painting with water colors and other stuff to add some color to the mundane gray that is lingering like mist somewhere between the seen and unseen.

I have some poetry news and other things to share too. Stay tuned.

 

 

Delhi Monuments : The Khair-ul-Manazil Mosque


In 1450 the Mughals began their reign starting with Babur, the Mughal empire flourished and reached its pinnacle during Akbar’s reign. He was an ideal king and is considered one of the best rulers among all the Mughals.

Emperor Akbar is usually associated with Fatehpur Sikri, the capital is founded in Agra but I wanted to explore the bits of his story that lives through the ruins in Delhi. I went to the two places in Mehrauli, the tombs of Muhammad Quli Khan and Adam Khan, sons of Maham Anga and Akbar’s foster brothers. I think her remains too are buried along with Adam Khan here but I am not sure. Maham Anga was Akbar’s chief wet curse and held an important place as an adviser to the teenage Emperor. Shrewd and ambitious she was in-charge of the empire and acted as the de-facto regent of the Mughal Empire from 1560 to 1562. The worse kind of petticoat government that ever was.

Khair ul Minazil was commissioned by her during Akbar’s reign and the complex has a mosque and a madarsa (Islamic seminary). The name means ‘ the most auspicious of houses’.  This is an important structure because there aren’t many instances of  surviving  architecture which have the patronage of a woman.  It was perhaps the first Mughal Mosque in Delhi.

This serene mosque is located on Mathura Road, opposite the Old Fort  or Purana Qila. Driving down the busy road in the front of the mosque I had always wanted to stop by and spend some time there. This time I especially made a plan to do so. One can see hundreds of pigeons flying around the structure and for once I didn’t despise the sight.

It all blended in so well. Perhaps in olden times this complex was part of the Old Fort complex. Not many people actually venture into this beautiful structure and that is a pity for one can sense the grandeur of the place by just standing inside the complex. History tells that an assassination attempt was made on Akbar’s life from the first floor of this mosque in 1564.

The double storied gateway of the mosque is made of quartzite and red stone but the mosque and the madarsa are made of rubble. If you look from inside the magnificent gate has medallions and intricate stucco patterns etched on it.

On both the sides of the mosque stands the two storied madarsa in dilapidated state. The larger rooms are on the ground floor and a narrow passage leads to the smaller ones on the first floor. Most of the walls are crumbling and no doors or windows are left if there were any.

The vast rectangular courtyard has a waju hauz which is not working hence not in use. The old well, on the other hand, is working and people draw the water for waju (ablution).

One can see water pitchers near the hauz that are filled everyday for the residing pigeons.

 

The mosque is better preserved than the madarsa. Earlier there were five arched bays leading to the mosque but now only three are visible. There is a dome at the central bay of the prayer hall while the other bays have been roofed with vaults. The mehrabs, curves and Qur’an scripts are on the verge of decay due to the neglect of the structure.

 

The Persian inscription  set above the central entrance that tells us that this was built by Maham Anga with the assistance of shihabuddin Ahmed Khan. We also see two more names apart from Akbar that of Niyaz Baqsh who constructed Khairul Manazil and Darvesh Hussain who supervised the construction. The name ‘Khair-ul-Manazil’, when written in Persian, yields the number 969 Hijri (AD 1561-62), the year of its construction, and thus is a Chronogram. A very interesting and unique feature of this structure.

The inside floor of the mosque is still in a fairly good condition because people offer Namaz but the outer floor is in very bad state.

One can see copies of Quran sharif kept in one of the brackets in the wall.

The Mecca facing western mehrab still has some remnants of the exquisitely vibrant blue, red, violet green and yellow enamel tile work, a testimonial to its glorious past.

Most of the awe inspiring artwork is now lost to the years of neglect and the gorgeous facade bears a blackened appearance and yet it stands tall as a witness to the beauty and grace this place has managed to keep even now leaving behind the rectangular protruding projections. One can imagine how grand this mosque would have looked in its prime days. Maham Anga was resourceful, rich and very confident woman and left no stone upturned to make this a work of art. No tow tiles of the facade are of the same design. The geometrical and floral patterns are different in each tile. There are some verses from the Holy Quran inscribed on the walls.

On the outer wall of the mosque one can see the brackets that once supported the chajjas or the wide eaves that were meant to keep the sun away.

It is hard to believe that the mosque is erected without any foundation.

The iron gate and the boundaries restrict the movements if you wish to photograph the complex from various angles.

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I wanted to take some pictures from the expansive lawns of Sher Shah Gate or Lal Darwaza complex but it is under restoration and public is not allowed at the moment.

I hope more people visit this stunningly beautiful mosque but I also feel that the lack of interest in this has also preserved it from the onslaught of those ‘tourists’ who harm the monuments by engraving their names or drawing cupid hearts etc on the walls.

I also hope Archaeological Survey Of India considers some restoration work here before we completely lose whatever artwork is remaining now. Do visit this place whenever you are on Old Fort side.