Winter mornings in Delhi are good for a variety of reasons – you can sleep in, you can eat whatever you want while sitting in a café outdoors, you can go walk around the city, explore architecture or ruins, take a hop-on hop-off (very weirdly called HoHo ) bus and be a tourist. Especially, if you are new to the city, and haven’t quite settled in.
One such Sunday morning in January, I was invited by Yes Bank to join a group for a heritage walk to Old Fort or Purana Qila – one of the oldest forts in Delhi (and sadly, a picnic spot now). Built on what was formerly known as the city of Indraprastha (named by the Pandava brothers as described in the Indian epic – Mahabharata), the fort was the brain child of Mughal emperor Humayun. He wanted to call it Dinpanah (the refuge of the faith) but unfortunately lost his throne to Sher Shah Suri (from the Sur dynasty) before he could see the work getting finished. So while Dinpanah was started by Humayun, archeologists and historians are divided on who actually should get credit for the fort being as majestic and beautiful as it is. (The Mughal emperor did reclaim his throne later, but died soon after. Following him, his son Akbar took over the kingdom and ruled till his death in Fatehpur Sikri).
Our walk started with this bit of information about the Fort by those wonderful people at Intach. We were greeted by the Bada Darwaza (or the large gate) – the only functional entry to the fort now. The gate also had jharokas, and there were impressions of muslim architecture in such minute details, that it was quite mesmerizing.
Speaking of Gateways, the more interesting one came up a few minutes after our walk. The Talaaqi Darwaza – magnificent, but with most parts of its amphitheatre either broken, or covered in pieces of cloth and rubbish. The Talaaqi Darwaza (loosely translated to the Door of Divorce? Since Talaaq is the custom of separating a couple after marriage in Islam) got its name because when war broke out, men used to leave from that door to fight the enemy. Wives would bid them farewell while standing inside the gate, hoping they come back – but often getting disappointed.
What I found especially curious was how in places the stone archway remained standing while the structure around it had crumbled. Our guide and host explained that the stones used for the arches were some of the strongest and were therefore also used while constructing relatively modern forts in other parts of Delhi.
There was also the Sher Mandal – an octagonal tower where Humayun had built his library (yeaay!). However, the two-storeyed building was also the reason for his death, when he tripped and fell off the stairs.
We also looked at the Hammam, or bathhouse. In the yesteryears, earthenwear pipes were used to carry the bath water into the Hammam (the pipes can still be seen if you know where to look). By the way, the only functional hammam in India is the one in Bhopal. It is 300 years old and there is always a queue. Maybe I will get to go there someday too.
The Humayun Darwaza (Humayun Gate) with its double storey gateway (lower level leading to the mote, and upper level to the drawbridge) greeted us as we stepped ahead. The gate with its ornamental chattris actually give you a good view of Humayun’s tomb.
Then there was the Qila e Kohna Masjid – which has 5 arches. Fun fact: the arches at the extreme ends are duplicates of each other and are often called Sawaal-Jawaab (one being the sawaal, or the question, and the other being its jawaab or the answer). The masjid has marbe art work, verses from the Quran and a sign towards the Mihrab, or the indication to which is West (the direction of prayer).
The walk hardly lasted for an hour and half, but I somehow felt like I was so far away from the city (while in reality, I could have just walked out and landed right at the centre of it). Sometimes I feel it is quite a thing of good luck to be here right now, at this moment. Where else would I walk around and be witness to a history which changed how our country existed.
Note: The Purana Qila is in Mathura Road, right next to the Delhi Zoo. There is a museum inside which can catch your fancy. The sound and light show at the Humayun Darwaza happens everyday (except Fridays) in Hindi and in English (7pm and 8.30pm, respectively). Tickets for the show : Rs 50 (child) and Rs 100 (adult). Entry tickets Rs 5 (Indian) Rs 100 (foreigners).