Sunday, March 21, 2010

Exploring Nizamuddin - Thanks to Intach

Well, this one is people who combine being history buffs and have no problems getting up really early on Sunday morning. Well I am neither and getting up at 6.30 am after sleeping at 12 am after driving to Agra and back on the same day was a teenie-weenie bit of a strain. But Dad was in town so off I had to go.

My sister is a whiz on finding out stuff to do via the Internet and she sent me a link for an article detailing INTACH and the walks the Delhi Chapter holds every Sunday morning. First a little bit about INTACH, in their own words - "The Indian National Trust For Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) is a nationwide, non-profit membership organization. INTACH was set up in 1984 to protect and conserve India’s vast natural and cultural heritage. INTACH has made significant contribution over the years in conservation and protection of our natural and cultural heritage."

I went on the Intach Delhi Chapter site and was happy to see that there was a walk on Sunday the 8th of March. The fee seemed nominal too - Rs 50/- but like I said earlier, timing was the issue. There was link on the page for registering and I left my phone number as they had written about a callback. Suddenly, on Friday evening 4.49 pm, I realised that they hadn't called me and in all probability the office would shut at 5.00 pm. I frantically placed a call and got through to someone who gave me the name and number of the co-ordinater. She confirmed that the walk was very much on and to meet outside the Nizamuddin police station at 8.00 am sharp.

Dad and me reached before time and parked the car in the lane next door. We even found a newspaper vendor on the opposite side who sold Malayalam Manorama (that's me, a mine of info). We met our guide Sapna outside the police station and chatted for a few minutes while a couple and a group of three joined us. Sapna informed us that the purpose of these walks was not to visit well documented sites such as Humayuns Tomb, Red Fort etc but to show people who had a greater interest in history lesser known monuments. She was a volunteer and belonged to a group of people who were passionate about these monuments and their preservation. She informed us that we were going to walk into the Nizamuddin Basti and see the shrines of Nizamuddin and Amir Khusrow. She gave us a brief introduction on Nizamuddin and then the area that we were going to see. The basti is a bit rundown and there were lots of Muslim men who had gathered at the various shops or drinking tea. We entered the shrine through some winding alleys lined with lots of shops selling religious books, CDs and roses to put on the grave. As we entered the shrine, we were asked to remove our shoes. We first saw the shrine of Amir Khusrow and then on to the shrine of Nizamuddin. The good part of all this was that Sapna really knew her stuff. The fear I have of taking guides at historical places is a) do they really know their stuff b) they seem to be in a bit of a hurry and wont let you wander off but with Sapna there was no such problem. She calmly took us through the many people thronging around and answered all questions with facts or possible explanations. There were a few other graves next to these shrines of prominent people such as Jahanara Begum as this was considered holy ground to buried in.

After this we moved on to Nizamuddins Baoli or water tank, which the saint is said to have blessed. We also saw the tomb of Akbars wet nurse, Ji Ji Anga and her family. It was in such a dilapidated condition with walls all peeling off and kids playing cricket outside. On our way out, Sapna also led us to the tomb of Mirza Ghalib which is not normally open to public viewing but she resourcefully managed to get an entry. All this took us nearly two hours. I had enough by the end of it as my feet were feeling very dirty and we were standing for all this time but Dad was very satisfied. He had answers to a few questions that were puzzling him and he was impressed with Sapnas knowledge. So if you are interested in history and would love to walk around these grand old buildings steeped in lore, do head out. You'll have a good time, I promise.

p.s. - Check this link for more information

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Wah Taj - Our Trip To Agra

Like I said, last weekend was heritage weekend. My last post was on our Friday night visit to Red Fort. The next morning we got up ambitiously at 6.00 am thinking we will leave by 7.00 am but alas we could leave only by 8.00 am. Now everyone will tell you that Agra is about 200 kms away (true) and the drive takes four hours (false). This seems possible only if you leave the city (probably) before 7.00 or maybe on a Sunday. Since it was a Saturday, we caught the morning work traffic as well as the jams at Badarpur and Ballabgadh and hence took 5 hours. The route we took was Ring Road towards Ashram, right under the Nafed House flyover and then straight down the NH2.

The roads were pretty good once we cleared Faridabad. The drive, while peaceful, is not very scenic. It reminded me of the Bangalore - Chennai route via Hosur Road. The traffic was fairly disciplined and we didn't have any close calls. We were carrying enough snacks / juice / sandwiches so we didn't make any stops save one at the McDonald's before Agra. My suggestion would be to stop here and finish lunch as once you enter Agra city, it becomes quite congested and difficult to spot a hotel. We just had a coffee here which was a mistake as it was very sweet. Since we reached Agra by around 1.00 pm, we decided to have lunch first. We spotted signboards of ITC, Trident and Oberoi which seemed to be in the same direction as the Taj Mahal so we stopped at the first one we came across - ITC The Mughal. The buffet was priced at Rs 850 a head and was quite good with Chinese and Indian Cuisine.

After lunch, we took directions from the hotel staff and were on our way. As you reach the Taj, you will be forced to park your car and take a battery operated 10 seater buggy/ auto / horse carriage. The buggy is the cheapest option at Rs 10 and is very convenient. Dont forget to buy the entry tickets next to the parking lot at Rs 100 a pop. Well, we entered through the West Gate and took a few pics of the main gateway - Darwaza-i-Rauza and then entered through to see the Taj Mahal. Man, was I blown away!!! I didn't go with great expectations as I was like - Yeah ok, how great can it be? This was amazing though. From far it looks very pretty and as you come closer, it becomes exquisite. From every angle, it looks great and I kept stopping every few minutes and admiring it. Once we took a circuit of the Taj, we entered in to see the tombs. The inside was extremely crowded and noisy. Also it is very gloomy inside so we didn't spend too much time but quickly exited. There are two buildings flanking the Taj which are also quite nice.

By the time we were done seeing the Taj Mahal, it was around 3.30 pm so we decided to chuck going to Fatehpur Sikri as it is around 40 kms and proceeded to Agra Fort. At the Taj, I did not feel the need for a guide but here I certainly felt that a guide would have helped. Though there were plenty touting themselves, we did not take one and did the tour ourselves. Luckily, there were notices at the important spots. Lot of interesting spots here so we had a good time. We finished in an hour or so and headed back to Delhi after a cup of chai outside the Fort. The return journey took us about four hours so it was not too bad. The few key things I would change on my next trip would be that I would definitely do an overnighter. Probably leave in the afternoon and check in to a resort for the night. Start with Taj Mahal, then Agra Fort, lunch and on to Fatehpur Sikri. Then head back home. Also, I'd do some research on a guide for Agra Fort and maybe Fatehpur Sikri. The other thought that kept playing in my mind was the legend that Shah Jahan was to have built a black marble Taj Mahal on the opposite banks of the Yamuna. That would have been truly awesome!!!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sound And Light Show - Red Fort

This weekend was heritage weekend as my Dad is in town. On Thursday and Friday, he went by himself to the usual tourist attractions - Red Fort, Humayuns Tomb, Qutub Minar and the likes. Since I was eager to join him, I suggested that we hit the Red Fort for the sound and light show. I did a dip check with my colleagues. They said that it had been a long time since they had seen it, however it was pretty good. I also called the number provided on the Delhi Tourism website and they told me the timings were 7 - 8 pm for the Hindi show and 8.30 - 9.30 pm for the English show (which was the one we went for).

First of all, I was surprised to know that it was fairly centrally located. If you are coming from CP, then you head to Barakhamba Road, go past the first rountana - gol chakkar, take a left at the first signal and go straight down. It is about 2-3 kilometers down that road. At Dhariyagung, the road becomes narrow and crowded and there is quite a bit of traffic. You will find two ould guard posts on the way, made of stones (like they have in fortresses). This means you are on the right track. The chaos continues till suddenly Red Fort looms on your right. Now the question comes - where do I find parking? I was hoping against hope that there would be parking outside the Red Fort for visitors with big signs pointing the way but no such luck. When I crossed the first signal after seeing the Red Fort, I suddenly spotted an MCD authorised parking on the left and swung in. There was plenty of space and I easily found a spot bit there was no attendant and not much lighting so I fear for the safety of car parked there. After all, Delhi is supposed to have the highest number of car thefts. The parking is about 5 minutes walk from the entry point so it was quite convenient.

On nearing the entry point, I was mighty impressed by the Red Fort. It looks long and massive and hulking in the night lights, just like a fort should be. I wouldn't have been surprised if some sentries in old armor stopped me with the cry 'Halt! Who goes there, friend or foe?'(just kidding, probably would have tucked tail and run away crying ghosts). Instead, there were quite a few armed soldiers on duty, looking very bored. The show is hosted in an open area which has the Moti Mahal on the left and the Diwan-I-Khas and three other buildings in front. The walk from the entry point to here is about 5 minutes and is a nice buildup to the show. The show started before time with how Shah Jahan built the Red Fort. Then it goes on to describe how it passed through the times into the hands of various rulers, the British and the freedom struggle. It is a dramatised version with lots of dialogues and songs and hence is a little short on the information. To sum up,

Setting - benches with backrest, pleasant at this time, some mosquitoes, no water or food is sold
Sound part - good quality, well enunciated, painfully loud at times
Light part - the buildings described above are lit up at various times, initially eye-catching but gets repetitive

Overall, my recommendation is that one should go for the show to see the Red Fort by night. Let your imagination run wild a bit when you are in. Don't expect too much of the show itself but you might enjoy the lighting effect of the buildings. Lastly, if you are able to make it early, do check out the Hindi show as I think the dialogues will have much better flow and impact. Do let me know how it turned out.