The Abode of Djinns

Djinns are a part and parcel of Delhi life. They are the spirits tending to the faithful seeking help. On Thursdays, the Djinns are busy when thousands turn up with various concerned letters for them.
Imagine a newly built city, oddly 650 years back on a Friday, bustling with people, arriving from the main western gateway with bastions on either side. Right from there, they would enter one of the two smaller gates into the palace interiors, with the exotic Tas-i-Ghariyal playing in the background to announce the time of the day. From the smaller gates, meandering through the garden of grapes, to Ashokan Pillar on left and the imposing Jami Masjid on the right, the new city used to be a favorite place for pleasure trips for people. With a variety of transport options available, the entrance of the citadels from the western side led to a waiting hall flanked by dual gates. Single storied guard rooms lined at the entrance interiors.
Welcome to the fort city of Feroz Shah Kotla, built by Sultan Feroz Shah Tughlaq in the 14th century which is between a famous cricket stadium and Delhi’s Ring Road. In the stonewalls of the city, believers of 21st century still stick their letters to the Djinns, light candles and diyas and the believers pray.
Every Thursday, people from various corners of Delhi come with their prayers and letters, with a belief that they would be heard and solved by the Djinns. I happened to meet a lady, a mother of five young children, who had come with photocopies of her letters.
The new city complex of 14th century, there were three palaces which were exotically named as The palace of grapes (Mahal-i-angur) for the Maliks and Amirs; Mahal-i-chajja-i-chobin for personal attendants and; Mahal-i-bar-I ‘amm or the palace of public court for the public. Now all these lie in ruins as they indistinguishable from any other ruins. The Jami Masjid had cloisters four in number, in a rectangle, is a small domed roofs which are supported on 260 stone columns which have 16 feet high, having a 25 feet high central octagonal dome, which contained the Emperors ordinances.
The circular Baoli was the king’s personal swimming pool which had considerable ornamentation. The water conveyed from two overhead water tanks were surmounted with chattris. With the ruins of Jama Masjid, the 42 feet and 7 inches high pale pinkish tapering Ashokan Pillar, and the Sultans most ambitious construction project, it is a sight to watch and retell the story with the same vigour.

First shop, then Drop!

Ever thought, if you could shop your heart out, and feast on some delicious food? Here are some places which you can look out for!
The haveli of the maverick Urdu poet is what is popular in Ballimaran. There is a lot of controversy related to the name Ballimaran. While some point out that it refers to the maker’s of balli’s or oars, whereas the later editions refer to the name as ‘Billimaran’ which suggests the killers of cats! Yet another rendition to the name Ballimaran is that it was named after the wooden poles used for anchoring boats in the Yamuna and the canals that ran between Fatehpuri Mosque and Red Fort, which are the opposite directions. The area occupied by Punjabi business community that converted to Hinduism from Islam in their holy dip in the Ganga- following a miracle performed by a Muslim saint. Post-Partition many residents migrated to Karachi which is now in Pakistan. Predominantly a Muslim area, the place is known for footwear, optical frames and a noted family of Hakims who are practitioners of Yunani medicine.

Chitli Qabar Chowk:
What do you expect in a marketplace? Convenience, air conditioned comfort and electronic payments? Probably we all do, but we often forget that these are fairly newer developments and at least in India, the mom and pop stores ruled the roost till the 90s and they still do in smaller towns.
In a metropolis like Delhi, the best way to experience a typical Indian bazaar is to visit Old Delhi which never fails to live up to its legend. Bazaar Chitli Qabar is one of those markets hidden inside the narrow alleys of Old Delhi and which are now somewhat overshadowed by more prominent landmarks.
The market probably derives its name from a small qabar (grave) that is located in the midst of the market. It’s protected by small houses covered with grills and is surrounded by various shops that go about their business nonchalantly.
The entire locality of Bazaar Chitli Qabar is a smaller, more congested and more homely version of the more commercialized Chandni Chowk found nearby. Narrow alleys, even more tightly packed shops selling everything from apparel to metal works to flowers can be seen; there are traditional bakers preparing large round shaped breads which you’re more likely to witness in a Middle Eastern souk and roads choked in perennial traffic jams; everything in this place is as far removed from your typical urban existence as it can be.

A Sunny afternoon date with Old Delhi!

Shahjahanabad in the afternoon, is bustling with people at all corners of the walled city. Whether it’s the shopkeepers shouting at the top of their voices, or the customers looking for their perfect piece of cloth, border that they are looking for, meshed wires, right above, watch your step, don’t stumble on the wires. You are yet to see the beauty and charm that the Walled city is!
If the heat is a spoilsport for you, you should see how the locals find solace in the sturdy roofs of mansions and throng for afternoon prayers under the shady dome of mosques that reflect impeccable imperial architecture. With all this hustle, the walled city of Shahjahanabad still is the go-to place for tourists from all walks of life, where only in the afternoons you will encounter chock-a-block alleys starting from the main street of Chandni Chowk through the narrower alleys like Ballimaran, Kinari Bazaar, and Dariba Kalan. A rickshaw tour around the bustling city of Old delhi will be an experience unforgettable, as you see the bustle on streets but once you hop on the rickshaws, you can indelibly be lazy while taking a leisurely tour with ‘Rickshaw Tours’, a flagship vertical of ‘India City Walks’ that curates offbeat city experiences. A rickshaw is a light two-wheeled passenger vehicle drawn by one or more people. The custom made rickshaws owned by ‘India City Walks’ have been designed keeping in mind the heritage, history and culture that the historic city has to offer as well as the comfort and safety of the travelers who come to explore the city of Old Delhi.
The route and the experiences have been designed as a part of the tour by ‘India City Walks’ to ensure that you spend very little time to get baked in the gorging sun and enjoy a swift, memorable ride around the walled city, the city which was commissioned by the Emperor Shahjahan. The tour starts from Jama Masjid, as we tell you the stories related to the mosque which is one of the largest in Asia. Right from the experience of the cool marble precincts to the elaborate central wall we tell you the story which makes the mosque come alive. After the mosque, we can hop into the royal carriages, which are comfortable and cushy rickshaws, to step away from the Mughal magnificence to the present day bustling city of Old Delhi. ‘India City Walks’ takes you through the main street of Chandni Chowk, literally translated as moonlit square, as the moonlight would reflect over the tank which would provide water through streamlets to the whole city, while you relax and sit in the rickshaw, we do the storytelling for you.
From there, we take a straight route to Asia’s largest spice market which is brimming with the strong smell of spices, there to absolutely mesmerize you and take you for a flavored ride. The whole of Chandni Chowk, is a mixed bag, while the main street of Chandni Chowk, has heritage temples and spiritual places like the Digambar Jain Mandir, Gurudwara Sis Ganj or the Central Baptist Church, all in the same route, the heart of the city has a small shop which has been serving masala Soda’s for 120 years, to beat the heat and give you the lost energy.
India City Walks will titillate your senses when the rickshaws take you around the busiest and the colorful alleys. Be it Ballimaran the one stop lane for footwear, optical and colorful bangles, or the wedding market, Kinari Bazaar which has the best designs for colorful wedding stores. Either sit on the rickshaw, or get down, admire the beauty of the lanes at your own leisure.
An afternoon in the city of Old Delhi lets you experience the quirky delights in a new way. The lazy, sunny streets might be the best time to experience the unique charm that should not be missed out on, especially when it is captured by ‘India City Walks’ rickshaw tour.

The House of Knowledge, a 14th century Complex!

Hauz Khas is probably one of the most elegantly designed structures in Delhi’s architectural history, which nestles amidst a beautiful landscape and calm quiet ambience, with immense greenery and the effervescent beauty of the lake, this is the most popular hangout for the youngsters and photographers. Built in 13th century, it is one of the oldest structures of Delhi, which is still vibrant because of the heart throbbing activities that happen in the place.

Hauz Khas was known as Hauz-e-Illahi when it was constructed by Allauddin Khilji, was further raised by Feroz Shah Tughlaq as a knowledge city and a center of excellence which also served as the city for the servants where refugee intellectuals would take shelter, while fleeing from the onslaught of the Mongols.
The entire beautiful complex of Hauz Khas consists of a madrasa, which is L shaped, three domed structure, conspicuously called as the Assembly Hall for a lack of better understanding of its use, a Mosque which is near the Assembly Hall, all of which is overlooking the Hauz-e-Illahi later, when renovated by Feroz Tughlaq was called as Hauz Khas. The Madrasa built almost 25 years after Tughlaqabad was abandoned.
A unique feature about the complex, is the madrasa has a protruding mihrab wall onto the lake where the scholars can overlook the calm waters.
A poet from the Tughlaq court writes about the madrasa “The moment I entered the blessed building..its fragrance possessed the odour of amber, hyacinths, basils, roses, tulips.” & on the food: “..pheasants,herons, fish.. heaped everywhere & students sat cross-legged on carpets brought from Shiraz & Yemen..”
Jalal Rumi was the first principal of the Madrasa, who had a knowledge of 14 sciences and all 4 Quranic recitals. With some intense academic seminars and discussions happening among the students and the learned professors under the very roof, the place had a lively environment.
Unani medicine is believed to have originated in Ancient Greece but it had been passed on to many universities in Samarkand, Tashkent and brought to India finally by the refugee scholars, who would come to the Madrasa.
A place which would be lively with debates, discussions, Feroz Tughlaq chose this particular place for his final resting in the city of Mehrauli, away from his own city of Ferozabad. The Tomb is the most intricately carved tomb built with a band around of Quranic scriptures and stucco medallions which were later decorated by Ibrahim Lodhi, the dome especially is an exquisite site to watch. The best part about the tomb structure is the courtyard which served not for defense but for a place to sit and relax, unlike his ancestors from Tughlaq kingdom was something which catches the eye of a local.

The Guardians of the Slave dynasty fell apart: Lodhi Garden Walk

The 90 acre Lodhi Garden was initially called as Bagh-i-Jud, which suggests to us that it was a bagh even during the medieval times. But it houses the famous tombs of the Sayyids and the Lodhis, who happened to be the last of the slave dynasty, in the first part of 15th century. The garden which is now a sought after place for walks or yoga sessions, has a historical past to it.
The death of Firoz Shah Tughlaq brought with it hard times as till then, the dynasty was protected from invasions. With the onset of the Sayyid dynasty, who claimed to have an inheritance of Prophet Muhammad, through his daughter Fatima, had been in rule for approximately 37 years had been overthrown by Lodhis, who were Afghan descendants, the most loyal class who were loyal to the thrown and the responsibility which was bestowed on them.
A walk around the beautiful Lodhi Garden exposes us to the architectural intricacies of the Sayyids and the Lodhis, the only architectural contributions they had to make were the tomb structures which were as if to highlight the atmosphere of unrest, after the sudden fall of Sayyid dynasty.
The types of domes which are present in Lodhi garden can be categorized into two: octagonal colonnade tombs surrounded with a dome and square based tombs of two floors, where the window openings decorate the upper floor. The four corners of the square room is with squinches, which gives a 8 sided layout.
The BadaGumbad and the Masjid is termed as the finest gateway of the 15th century. They contain square tombs with turrets at the corners, the two levels giving a false impression of a double stories building is the most striking feature in BadaGumbad. One of the tallest structure in the complex, with the absence of grave inside the tomb suggests that it must have been a gateway to the mosque.
But the most striking architectural piece inside Lodhi Garden is the Sheesh Gumbad. It is a different feeling to see the blue tiles still on it. Originally, the gumbad was decorated with Persian glazed tiles of cobalt-blue and midnight-blue, which led to its name “Glass Dome”. It might be in a sad state, but it’s an architectural marvel left for us by the Lodhis, to admire.

The Story of the Cursed City!

The ruins of Tughlaqabad reflect a history of the ruined city. Abode of the first Tughlaq ruler Ghiyasuddin, who was perceived to be the agent of change from Khilji to the Tughlaqs was the agent of continuity for the Islam rule in delhi. The underlying tale of his change was kept alive by the prominent rulers, and the contemporaries who visited the court of Ghiyasuddin as historian like Barani and Afif had written about thecity as well as Amir Khusrau a poet and the Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta. Above all, the greatest of the sufi saint of Delhi NizamuddinAuliya had a the biggest connection with the fort city right from its flourishing state to the state of ruin and further as being the cursed state.
While we walk through the whole place, the Tughlaq’s were busy erecting the massive fort city around the 14th century, the architects of this ingenious monument, devised a very unique way of perceiving architecture, which had not been experimented earlier. Crudely called as the defense architecture, it consisted of inward sloping double walled Cyclopean fort, which any other contemporary kingdom must have perceived it as tasteless architecture had one aim in mind: to sustain any Mongol invasion, who had paid bloody visits at the door steps of the seat of the power. The fortification highlights how Ghiyasiddin was living in troubled times.

The troubled times were much feared back then, so much so, that the tomb of Ghiyasuddin with its pentagonal fortified raised walls with five towers was a small fortress, including the four tiers of fire in the walls, a stepwell or baoli and a storage place inside the tomb suggests the self-sufficiency of this defense system. The tomb was conceptualized in an artificial lake to make it inaccessible to the enemy.
But one cannot come out of the fact that a Sufi saint’s eternal curse on the emperor and his city had been confined to ghosts.
The fort city is replete with baolis in all parts of the city, huge granaries suggest that the planners were interested in making the city self-sufficient in case of a long drawn scarcity of grains which were associated with seasonal fall in the market. It was rumored that the fort city had a gigantic place containing all the gold of the world.
Ghiyasuddin was obsessed with his new fort city which subsequently was his new capital as well. Trying to maintain his exclusivity, he wanted all his labourers to only work at the fort. The one’s working at NizamuddinAuliya’sKhanqah were even asked to abandon the work of the sufi saint. The workers with on choice left to them, started working at night in the Khanqah. When it reached the Sultan, he stopped the sale and use of oil so that they cannot continue their work. It is a belief amongst the people that NizamuddinAuliya asked his disciple HazratNaseeruddin to light the lamps of the workers with water. As the lamps were lit up miraculously, the step well was constructed in 7 days. Prophetically, NizamuddinAuliya had cursed the Sultan that his new city will either be deserted or occupied by herdmen, which is still the state of the fort city!
Even though the Tughlaqs have left, the ruins of the fort city makes us remember how a curse can desecrate the home of a Sultan, when in contrast Nizamuddin lives on!

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