Tag Archives: Delhi walks

River crossing

Five Yamuna walks ♦

Cities usually consider a river to be a blessing, but us Dilliwalas tend to turn our backs to ours. We hold our breath while driving across the Yamuna, thoughtlessly discharge our waste into it, pour concrete over its banks and, during the occasional festival, dump statues, diyas and other religious paraphernalia into its choked waters. In this Time Out Delhi cover story from January 2012, walk to the water with a series of guided strolls over and around five of the city’s road bridges, from Wazirabad to Okhla. Delhi does its best to kill the Yamuna, but take a closer look – our riverbanks are surprisingly alive.

Read the full story below, download it as a prettier PDF here, or find it online at Time Out Delhi.

Published: January 4, 2013

Walk the chawk with Sam Miller

Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity ♦

Adventures in megacityJournalist Sam Miller’s new book Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity describes the British expat’s walks around town, which followed the same spiral route he’d laid out for himself. We phoned him as he was commuting, by foot, from his office in Hauz Khas to his home in Panchsheel. “I’ll call you back,” he said. “If you walk and talk you can get run over quite easily.” After he was home, we chatted with Miller about his urban walking tour.

You lived in Delhi in the early 1990s when you were with the BBC’s World Service and returned (also with the BBC) in 2002. What do you see as the biggest difference between then and now?
Delhi has become a kind of international city. In the ’90s it felt small, it had a village-y feel, but that’s no longer the case – it’s a megacity, as I have called it in the book. Then there’s the incredible growth of suburbs. On a more personal level, there are nice restaurants that aren’t in hotels, and it’s a much better place to walk around, partly because of the maps that are now available. There are more foreigners walking around. I don’t stick out in the way I used to.

How did you decide to write a book on the city?
I began walking before I knew it was going to be a book. I decided on the spiral shape because it would force me to get to new places. I had written a very different piece about walking in Delhi for a magazine that spurred me on to write. This is my first book, and I began it without thinking of publishers or anything, but I became addicted to doing it. Sometimes I’d wonder if there would be anything to write about, but I would always come back with too much to write about, too many stories.

Sam Miller

Sam Miller

Did you ever feel you wanted to dwell on certain experiences more than you could in your book?
I felt at times that I wanted to linger longer in certain places – even my walk from work to home, my neighbourhood: I didn’t end up covering much. But part of the message of the book is to try and get people out into their own neighbourhoods, to explore them. There are things I just mentioned in passing – the Christian, Jewish and Parsi cemeteries. I didn’t write about them as I was very keen on the book being about the living and not about the past. I left out the monuments. This is a resolute attempt to see Delhi as it is now and how it will be in the future.

Did any area have a bigger impact on you than the others?
Ghazipur, next to the main fish and chicken market. It’s next to this huge mountain, which is a rubbish dump. Visually, that’s the most memorable – if not entirely salubrious – experience. Then there are the areas of green. The fields of the Yamuna are amazing. You can see the buildings [of Delhi], but where you are, there are just seasonal huts and fields with cauliflowers and aubergines and sugarcane.

Your book is covered with accolades from William Dalrymple, Khushwant Singh, Mark Tully… Have you been inspired by any particular writing on Delhi?
I’ve read a lot, but the one thing that’s really inspired me is Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s The Householder. Obviously, you can’t write on Delhi without reading Khushwant Singh, William Dalrymple, Ahmed Ali and Anita Desai: to say that Delhi has not been written about is just not true. But I would argue that their writing is, for better or worse, about a city that is largely gone. The city of the past is always there. You can’t really avoid it, but even William’s book was written in ’92- ’93, so it’s still a very different Delhi from today.

Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity, Viking, ₹499.

Originally published in Time Out Delhi, February 2009.

Published: February 6, 2009

Ten spiritual trails

Exploring Delhi’s religious landmarks ♦

Excerpt from a Time Out Delhi cover package from October 2008. Read the excerpt below, download it as a PDF, or read text of the individual stories on Old Delhi walks or Delhi’s cemeteries.

Published: October 13, 2008

Graveyard shift

Exploring Delhi’s burial grounds ♦

spiritual trails

Part of a few stories for a Time Out Delhi’s “Ten spiritual trails” cover. Click to read with pictures.








Delhi War Cemetery

Headstones in neat lines mark the graves of mostly Christian soldiers (though we did find a Jewish doctor) who died during World War II, with the soldier’s number, rank and regimental seal engraved on it. A tall, colonnaded entrance plaza has, on one side, a book with the names of 25,000 Hindu and Sikh soldiers and airmen who died in WWII. The other end contains an engraved plaque with the names of soldiers, buried in Meerut, who died in WWI. The graveyard is maintained by the army and managed by the Commonwealth Graves Association, and is a peaceful, tidy place with trellises and benches to sit on. Behind this is the in-use, hodgepodge Cantonment Cemetery, under the Delhi Cemeteries Committee. Just ahead of Brar Square, to the right, Cantonment, Dhaula Kuan.

Rajpura (Mutiny) Cemetery

This early nineteenth-century cemetery was on the original ASI list of protected sites, but only one of the old gateways remains and the graves are much newer. Encroached upon and poorly maintained. Across from Maurice Nagar/Vijaynagar Bus stand, near Miranda House, Delhi University. Metro Vishwavidyalaya.

Nicholson’s Cemetery

Though this British cemetery from 1857 was cleaned up in 2006 with considerable fanfare, it is in less than perfect shape today. Washing hangs on the railings surrounding John Nicholson’s grave. The monument to the Corcoran family (which helped finance St Mary’s Church) is falling apart. A pile of tombstones lies heaped near the entrance. What the graveyard is wonderful for, though, is browsing through Delhi’s who’s who of 150 years ago. Boulevard Road, near ISBT. Metro Kashmere Gate.

Skinner Family Cemetery

This small plot within the compound of St James Church holds the remains of James “Sikandar” Skinner, who built the church, as well as the graves of several of his family members. Well-maintained, but small. William Fraser and Thomas Metcalfe are buried nearby. St James Church, Kashmere Gate. Metro Kashmere Gate.

Lothian Road Cemetery

According to INTACH, this 1806 cemetery is the first British one in Delhi. In a pocket of raised land next to Kashmere Gate, this graveyard – though gated – is not locked, and has not aged gracefully. There are constructions inside and the ground is filthy. The most notable grave is the tomb of one Thomas Dunnes, constructed by Skinner. Lothian Road, Kashmere Gate (next to the Post Office). Metro Kashmere Gate.

New Delhi Cemetery

This Mansingh Road cemetery dating from 1920 is a landmark, mostly because of the convenient flower sellers outside. The entry gate has recently broken down. The cemetery contains some interesting graves from the mid- 1900s, but is mostly full of more recent burials. Behind this, the Parsi Cemetery and Jewish Cemetery are better maintained and the strongest visual presence of these small communities in Delhi. Corner of Shahjahan Road and Humayun Road, off the Taj Mahal Hotel roundabout.

Indian Christian Cemetery

This serene cemetery is a bit of calm in Paharganj. It is a modern cemetery and is quite well maintained and in use. Nehru Bazar, Paharganj. Metro New Delhi Railway Station.

Karbala Aliganj

This area around Lodhi Colony and Jorbagh, originally known as Aliganj, has several Shi’a sites. The Karbala graveyard is largely swallowed up by the Rajdhani Nursery, and the remainder is overgrown with tall weeds. However, Tazia processions from Shahjahanabad, Nizamuddin and Mehrauli still visit here during Muharram. The wall was built in the late eighteenth century. When we visited, the gate just before Rajdhani was overgrown and recent rain made walking through the nursery towards the mosque within difficult. The eastern gate, through which lies the tomb of Mah Khanam, seems to be sheltering some furniture makers. Off Jorbagh Road, near the Aurobindo Marg intersection.

Cryptic clues

D’Eremao Armenian Cemetery, Kishanganj

A visit to Kishanganj unearthed quite a cryptful of worms, though we found only the ruins of what may be Delhi’s earliest Christian cemetery. Referred to as the “D’Eremao cemetery” by the ASI, this site is documented as having several Armenian Christian graves from the 1700s.

Mesrovb Jacob Seth, who visited Kishanganj in 1919, described it thus in his 1937 book Armenians in India: From the Earliest Times to the Present Day: “deserted and snake-infested cemetery… in a jungle about 15 minutes drive from the Ganesh Flour Mills in Subzimundi.” He goes on to say that “after a long and tedious drive, over trackless fields, in a bone-shaking country carriage… we were determined to see the place with the sole object of rescuing from oblivion the landmarks of the Armenians at Delhi… There are in all 24 graves, with tombstones… the oldest bearing the date 1782. In that isolated cemetery lies interred the Carmelite monk, Father Gregorio… who baptised the famous Begum Samru of Sardhana on the 7th May 1781, at Agra.”

We arrived in Kishanganj over crowded Old Rohtak Road rather than trackless fields. The wide dome (topped by a square cross and four minarets) of the Armenian Chapel peeps out of a well-established basti called the Kishanganj Christian Complex. A sign above the door reads “Armenian Chapel” and lists worship timings. In another wall is a stone, which reads “Armenian Cemetry, Rama Park, Kishanganj Delhi-6, Trustee: Armenian Association, 5 Outram Road, Calcutta- 16”. We didn’t see any graves though.

The minute we started taking pictures, the sleepy basti erupted. Eventually we were shepherded to the house of one Vinod Dayal, from one of the families who live here. Dayal told us that both he and this compound had been here for a long time – the latter perhaps since before 1947. According to Delhi High Court records, the chapel at Partition was under the aegis of the Armenian Association, whose representative allegedly allowed uprooted Delhi Christians to stay in the compound. Though in 2007 the High Court ruled in favour of a government order issued by the ASI to vacate the premises, the community seems to be thriving.

According to Dayal, the Armenian church in Kolkata used to take care of the property until the 1960s, but now the community holds Sunday services for “Methodists, Catholics and all Christians”. Interestingly, the website of the Armenian Holy Church of Nazareth in Kolkata makes mention of the chapel, saying that it “will soon have work commence on it”.

As we walked back to the main road from the other side of the chapel, we suddenly came upon a few extremely weathered graves, some of them piled with bricks, boxes and other junk. Dayal was emphatic that the Christian Complex was in no way related to the D’Eremao cemetery, but – no matter how long ago – it certainly was.

Metro Sabzimandi or Kishanganj Ring Railroad station. Ask for Christian Complex.

Part of a few stories for a Time Out Delhi‘s “Ten spiritual trails” cover. Read more here.

Originally published in Time Out Delhi, October 2008.


Published: October 6, 2008

Age and beauty

The walled city oozes so much spiritual history, every gali could turn into a trail. Here are four roads less travelled ♦

spiritual trails

Part of a few stories for a Time Out Delhi’s “Ten spiritual trails” cover. Click to read with pictures.








Older Delhi

The pre-Shahjahanabad tour.

The walled city hides several sacred sites that predate Shahjahan’s imperial city. Four major ones are relatively close together and can be visited in one go.

The Turkman Gate area gets its name from the Shah Turkman Dargah, but locals know the grave complex of this Sufi saint – Shamsul- Arifin, also called Biyaban – as “Dada Pir”. Start at Turkman Gate and take the Bazaar Sitaram lane to the left of it. Ask for Basti Dada Pir and Mohalla Qabristan. The complex is tucked away to the right of the main road. The graveyard is on two levels: an upper concrete-covered level with half-sunken graves (including a sinking, inscribed marble tomb and an elevated grave) and a little mosque and adjacent dargah down a flight of stairs. According to Lucy Peck (in Delhi: A Thousand Years of Building, Roli, 2005), the different levels might be due to burials taking place one on top of the other over the years.

A gentleman we met there, who said his family had been taking care of the place for generations, told us that Shah Turkman (who he referred to as “aap”) came from Turkmenistan and is still commemorated during his urs, when people come from as far as Pakistan to venerate him (he died in 1240). Certainly the dargah was nicely decked up with tinsel and petals, the newer little mosque next door is studded with broken tiles, and the courtyard – though home to a family of cats, quite a bit of rubbish, and the caretaking family’s side business in machine parts – is a peaceful final resting place for “the dada of all pirs”.

Return to and continue up Bazaar Sitaram until you see the glimpse of a mosque to your left. Up a steep flight of stairs is the Kalan Masjid or “Big Mosque”, built by Feroze Shah Tughlaq’s prime minister Khan-i-Jehan Junan Shah in 1387. One of seven mosques built by Khan-i-Jehan (and his mother, according to a signboard inside), this one was repaired 12 years ago and is in good condition, rather gaudily painted in bright blue, purple, turquoise and green. There’s a marble courtyard fountain with goldfish swimming in the placid green water. When we visited, there were a few kids playing and a friendly mullah, who took us up to the fourth-floor roof, which is studded with the 30 wide gumbads – quite a surreal setting. The view from this tall mosque is breathtaking; we could see Rashtrapati Bhavan from one side and several interesting mosques poking through the spread of Turkman Gate on the other.

Continue up the main road, taking the second right to “Bulbul-i-khana”, where – at the very end of the gali – you’ll find Razia Sultan’s tomb, or “Rani-Saji ki dargah”. Razia Sultan was a follower of Shah Turkman, and her burial site is allegedly the place where he used to sit – though conflicting reports saythat she is buried in Haryana, where she died in 1240.There are two worn away graves in the centre of a courtyard; the one nearer the little modern masjid is supposedly Razia’s, and the one beside that, her sister’s. The gate to the small complex is locked except during namaaz times, but ask at the Farsi printing shop next door and someone will open it.

Go back to the main road, take a rickshaw up to Hauz Qazi and Lal Kuan, and ask for “Gali Batashan” in the Naya Bans paan market. Up this colourful street brimming with toffees, batasha, mishri and other sweets is the Hauzwali Masjid or “Masjid-i-Khari Baoli”, which was built around 1540-50. This smallish mosque has wide, low-sprung arches and gets its name from a tank within the complex. The sky-blue building looks a bit like a sarai; indeed, there was a man sleeping inside. In the courtyard, a couple of labourers, taking advantage of the quiet spot, told us that the mosque is mostly frequented by Bengalis working in the area.

The masjids the queens built

Not all the religious sites here were endowed by men.

We did a quick roundup of several Shahjahanabad mosques that were built by women. It’s possible to visit all of them in one, only slightly hectic trip.

Starting at the south end of Ansari Road, take an auto to Zinat-ul-Masjid (Khairati Ghat, Daryaganj), which abuts the city wall (and is just visible from the Ring Road). This serene mosque has rather tall minarets and is also referred to as the Ghata (cloud) Masjid, according to an INTACH board outside. The mosque was built in 1707 by Zinat-al-Nisa, Aurangzeb’s daughter, and is supposed to have been the Emperor’s final resting place until 1857, when his remains were moved and the mosque was appropriated for military purposes. The mosque is in good condition and, as a bonus, has its original sandstone exposed. The red stone is beautifully juxtaposed with striped black-and-white gumbads and, despite a rubbish-filled tank and several little buildings nestling up to its sides, the building is very striking.

From here, take an auto or a rickshaw to the Lal Qila parking lot, next to which is the petite Sunehri Masjid (next to Delhi gate of Red Fort). There are other Sunehri Masjids in Delhi, but this one was built in 1751 by Qudsia Begum, a former dancing girl who married Mohammad Shah Rangila and was the mother of Ahmad Shah. This diminutive mosque – which survived 1857 while the larger Akbarabadi Masjid (built next to Jama Masjid by one of Shahjahan’s wives) did not – has elegant details, like an entry gateway that is reminiscent of a miniaturised version of the Red Fort’s main ramparts, and has its warm yellow stone exposed. It’s in far better condition than the ruins in Qudsia Bagh in Civil Lines, also built by “Sunehri Begum” (as the mullah we spoke to called Qudsia Begum). Despite the masjid’s small size, we were informed that on Fridays and around festivals, the crowd spills onto the street outside and loudspeakers broadcast sermons. According to the mullah, a small mazhar behind the mosque marks Qudsia Begum’s grave. The domes were originally plated with copper, which was replaced with sandstone by Bahadur Shah II.

Take a rickshaw from across the street, past Jama Masjid and Hauz Qazi, alighting just after the Chawri Bazaar Metro station on the Lal Kuan road. On your left is Masjid Mubarak Begum (Bazaar Hauz Qazi, Sirkiwalan; on the first floor above some shops). Mubarak Begum, who built this mosque in 1823, was the wife of Sir David Ochterlony,the first British resident of Delhi. The board outside doesn’t say much about her except that she loved music, but according to some sources, she was a Brahmin dancing girl who converted to Islam. Apparently, this mosque, which was either built by Mubarak Begum or for her, was sometimes locally called “Randi Ki Masjid”. Now under the Waqf Board, the mosque, which has an inscription in Farsi over its entrance, is painted over in a red terracotta colour (with green trim) that attempts to approximate the sandstone beneath. You can make out scallops on the inside of the gumbads, as well as carved niches, but any painting that might have been on the walls is painted over. One of the turrets is missing a miniature gumbad. The mullah there enthusiastically told us the mosque’s committee wants to replace this and make other repairs but doesn’t have the funds. When we visited, he was cheerfully overseeing the mounting of two large rotating fans on either side of the entrance. He explained that this mosque is especially popular as an all-night hangout during Ramzaan.

From here, take a rickshaw to the Fatehpuri Masjid at the western end of Chandni Chowk. Built in 1650 by Fatehpuri Begum, another one of Shahjahan’s wives, this large mosque and madrasa complex has a wide courtyard and is partially exposed, partially painted. When we visited there was a minor commotion caused by a gaggle of schoolboys, who had made a game of harassing a stick-wielding, green-capped caretaker – the object of the game seemed to be to get as close to the mosque as possible before being chased away. Shouts of “Hari topi! Hari topi!” enlivened the otherwise relaxed atmosphere at the central tank. Though this mosque was once considered a place of debate and learning, clearly the school kids think of the courtyard as more of a maidan.

Take another rickshaw-ride to Lahori Gate at the end of Khari Baoli. To the right of the Walled City Museum, several large white gumbads are visible behind some shops. This is the Sarhindi Masjid built by Sarhindi Begum, yet another of Shahjahan’s wives, also in 1650. The sandstone mosque painted in bluish white has wide gates, but is sunken and slightly dingy. There’s a madrasa and rooms here where children are supposedly sent from Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh to study. The roof affords an excellent view of the railyard stretching to Connaught Place on one side and busy Khari Baoli on the other.

Sainted footsteps

Jain temples in Dharampura.

The Lal Masjid Jain temple at the entrance of Chandni Chowk is famous for its location, age (its original structure is from the early eighteenth century) and bird hospital, but the area south of Chandni Chowk, between Dariba Kalan and Nai Sarak, is dotted with Jain temples. Start at Dariba and walk down, past the right turn to Kinari Bazaar, until you see a turn with an arch marked Kucha Seth to the right. Down this gali, you’ll find yourself surrounded by marble. The Shri Digambar Jain Chhota Mandir (1541 Kucha-i-Seth, Dariba Kalan) built by the Digambar Jain Panchayat in 1840 is on your right and the double-storeyed Shri Digambar Jain Bada Mandir (1513 Kucha-i-Seth, Dariba Kalan), built in 1828-1834 by one Indraraj Ji is just ahead on the left. Both of these have rich, gold-embellished paintings of the Jain Tirthankaras; the former is open in the morning and has a Jain Dharamshala next to it, and the latter, which is on the first floor and has a larger hall, is open in the evening.

At the end of the road, turn left and continue walking towards Chel Puri. You’ll come to the large Shri Digambar Jain Naya Mandir complex (opposite 2318 Dharampura), built in 1807 by Raja Harsukh Rai, a treasurer in Shah Alam II’s court. There are several buildings clustered around the temple, including a school. This temple is open in the morning.

Continue straight to reach the Shri Agarwal Digambar Jain Panchayati Mandir (2175 Gali Hanuman Prasad, Masjid Khajoor, Dharampura), which dates from 1705 and is open in the evenings. This large temple was rebuilt about a hundred years ago and is in very good condition, with colourful frescoes, a collection of antique manuscripts and a unique brown idol of Adinatha, which is made from something that looks like sandstone.

Turn back and left, walking north. On your right is the Shri Digambar Jain Mehru Mandir (3018 Gali Hanuman Prashad, Masjid Khajoor, Dharampura), which has a very intricately carved gateway between its distinctive marble walls. According to Delhi: A Built Heritage (INTACH, 1999), the temple dates from 1745. However, it may have been rebuilt, as the Archaeological Survey of India board outside states that it was built in 1845 by Lala Mehar Chand Jain. The inside is unusual and beautiful, with rows of small, chhattri-topped pillars. Across the street is the Shri Padmavati Puraval Digambar Jain Panchayati Masjid.

From here, walk north towards Chandni Chowk and you’ll emerge at Kinari Bazaar. Turn left and then right – just before Parathewali Gali is the little enclosed street called Naugharana, a favourite on tourist walks because of its well-preserved and painted havelis. This entire walk will take you past some beautiful carved doorways, but this street, and the Jauhri Temple in it, is the most accessible. The two-level temple, which was built in the late eighteenth century and renovated later, has very interesting paintings that seem to be influenced by a synthesis of various traditions, including Mughal miniature painting.

Dark lord

The Shivalaya trail in Katra Nil

Katra Nil, the area to the left of the Town Hall, is the traditional area for scores of Shiv temples and little Shivalayas, many of them originally courtyard shrines within havelis. The havelis are gone, but there are still several of these Mughal-era shrines in use today. They consist mainly of a raised marble or sandstone pedestal with the lingam in the centre, surmounted by a sandstone chattri. A walk down Katra Nil starting at Chandni Chowk will reveal glimpses of these shrines through doorways, in alleys and on raised courtyards. Several Shivalayas that have not been enclosed by temples are still in open courtyards, which are inhabited by families who perform puja everyday. Needless to say, there’s a heavy scent of ghee and attar in the air.

515 Krishna Gali to the left of Katra Nil. A lime-green enclosed Shivalaya.

793 Katra Nil Shivalaya Kunniji Maharaj. In a pleasant raised courtyard with a bright purple wall and deities.

556 Katra Nil Babu Lal temple. Through a red gate on the left.

598 Ghanteshwar Mahadev A large white temple in a gali to the left of Katra Nil. Said to be the oldest in the area, with a metal-clad Shivalaya with colourful paintings inside its dome, and mirrors on its walls.

602 Ghanteshwar Mahadev Dhumimal Shivalaya. In a courtyard with a large peepul tree; locally known as “Peepul Mahadev”.

701 Katra Nil Bada Shivalaya. Right side on Katra Nil, through a red archway. In an almost-closed courtyard.

689 Katra Nil Pandit Hari Ranji Ka Shivalaya, apparently named for a pandit of the same name.

Part of a few stories for a Time Out Delhi‘s “Ten spiritual trails” cover. Read more here.

Originally published in Time Out Delhi, October 2008.

Published: October 3, 2008