5 December 2008

Out of Obscurity

Published in Time Out Delhi, 2008. 

Trisha Gupta shows you around four alternatives to the big Delhi tourist staples.

Begampur Masjid

If you’re curious about the masjid-i-jamis that preceded Shahjahan’s glorious Jama Masjid, this is a wonderful surprise. This massive fourteenth-century stone mosque may be bare of ornamentation – characteristic of the Tughlaq era in which it was built – but it is magnificent. Now somewhat hemmed in by the urban villages of Begumpur and Kalu Sarai (themselves circumscribed by Sarvodaya Enclave and Sarvapriya Vihar), this was once the centre of the Tughlaq city of Jahanpanah. Look for one of the staircases that still lead all the way up to the roof. Even on a pleasant day, you’ll only have a couple of kite flyers for company.

From Aurobindo Marg, take the left turn towards Sarvodaya Enclave. Keep going until you reach Begumpur Village. Park your car before you enter the village. The masjid is a two-minute walk away. Visit before sunset. Free.

Zafar Mahal

A getaway for the bored residents of the Red Fort, the pretty Zafar Mahal was the part-time residence of the late Mughals. Many of these rulers were great believers in the powers of the Sufi saint Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, and so they built this little palace next to his dargah in Mehrauli. Go through the lovely arched gateway and seat yourself in the pillared dalan upstairs to play at being emperor. Also visit the charming Moti Masjid and the now sadly derelict-looking graves. Those buried here include Bahadur Shah I, the luckless Shah Alam II (who was blinded by the Rohillas), his son Akbar Shah and prince Mirza Fakhru (son of Bahadur Shah II, better known as Zafar). Zafar, who had once reconstructed the mahal to allow elephants to enter, could never be buried in his intended grave (the empty one here), because he died in exile in Burma.

Starting at Adham Khan’s tomb (next to Mehrauli bus stand), walk down the main street towards Bakhtiyar Kaki’s dargah. Remove your shoes and carry them with you through the dargah. Open sunrise to sunset. If closed, ask around for the gatekeeper: he’s usually nearby, “just getting a cup of tea”. Free.

Teen Murti House

Visitors to Delhi are usually taken off to see the Rashtrapati Bhavan, only to be left standing admiringly outside the beautiful wrought iron gates. (Unless, of course, you’ve had the foresight to book ahead. To arrange a tour, call 2301-5321.) Console yourself (and your deprived guests) by going off to see Teen Murti House, where you can happily traipse through the lovely lawns and wander through most of the interior. Originally called Flagstaff House, this rather grand 1930s building was designed to serve as the residence of the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces by Robert Tor Russell, then head of the PWD’s architects department. Nehru moved in in 1948, and it remained his home until his death in 1964. The building now serves as a museum to Nehru. As official residences go, we’d choose to live there over Rashtrapati Bhavan any day.
Teen Murti. Tue-Sun, 10am-5pm. Free.

Mutiny Memorial

We like India Gate, really, but it’s more for the atmosphere of revelry – the unselfconscious takeover of this imposing imperial monument by picnicking families and shutterbug tourists. The fact that this 138ft high War Memorial Arch was meant to honour Indian soldiers who died in the First World War seems to barely register.

For a more sombre taste of Raj-style commemoration, visit the Mutiny Memorial up on Rani Jhansi Road, just west of Delhi University. This 1863 structure is now endowed with a small plaque (to inform you that these guys were fighting on the “wrong side”, so to speak, during 1857). The Mutiny Memorial is a great example of “High Victorian Gothic” – the nineteenth-century revival of a medieval architectural style that emphasised heavy detailing, strong vertical lines, and pointed arches to give a sense of height. Climb up the steps for a great view of the city.

Rani Jhansi Road, south of Hindu Rao Hospital. Open sunrise to sunset. Free.

Time Out Delhi Vol 2 Issue 16 (October 31 - November 13, 2008)

(Reproduced in Mint, Dec 5, 2008.)

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