Tripping over history

The writer takes a languid walk into the past along Lodhi Road, Delhi.

Published - May 17, 2014 04:22 pm IST

Delhi is unlike any other Indian city in the way antiquity waves at you from every corner. The roundabout on your way to work happens to be Sabz Burj tomb on Mathura Road and your jogging path in Panchsheel Enclave will have you panting alongside a 700-year-old fragment of the Siri Fort wall. With the scale of architecture spanning from the Rajputs in the eighth century, the Mughals in between and finally to the British in the 1900s, Delhi’s history is staggering. So forget about spending hours in a car to see the ‘10 best’ with a guide and opt instead for a languid journey through Lodhi Road.

Named after the gardens located next to it, Lodhi Road is built on a 14th century dirt track that connected Nizamuddin (erstwhile Ghiyathpur) with Jor Bagh. It now extends past the India Habitat Centre, the India Islamic Cultural Centre and meets the Mathura Road where you’ll find Humayun’s Tomb. The surrounding area is brimming with tombs, libraries, food and shopping. So grab an umbrella, put on your walking shoes and head to Safdarjung Tomb.

You instinctively grab your camera as you enter the main gateway. Framed by the arch, the mausoleum glints in the sunlight at the end of a long Moorish water body flanked by palm trees that stand like sentinels. The tomb is surrounded by gardens. Once you’re in the enclosure, you find the structure has a sense of incompleteness. Inspired by the Taj Mahal, the tomb — built for Mirza Muqim Abul Mansur Khan, aka Safdarjung, between 1753 and 1754 — was the last monument built in the Mughal tradition. The three smaller pavilions that line the periphery — Jangli Mahal, Moti Mahal, and Badshah Pasand — seem like an afterthought.

What it lacks in symmetry, it makes up for in its quiet elegance by way of its statuesque red and buff stonewalls that support the terrace and the central dome. The walls of the central chamber are threadbare and filled with scratched pronouncements of immortal love — ‘Harshi loves Rinku’. The real gem is the Archaeological Library housed on top of the main gate that is filled with archaeological memoirs and treatises on the Tughlaq Dynasty.

Cross the junction across the tomb and you’ll find yourself in a broad road partitioned by neem trees. Walking away from Safdarjung, you’ll pass the Tomb of Mohammed Shah on your left, and Jor Bagh market on your right. Make your way into the market if you’re a bookworm or are hankering for a snack. The market is renowned for The Bookshop, an independent bookstore dating back to 1970, and the Steakhouse, Delhi’s quintessential cold store. Both are tiny; books and canned goods fight for shelf space; yet, I’ve always found what I’m looking for in an instant. Pack a freshly-made honey baked ham and cheese sandwich with a generous slather of mustard and mayonnaise and walk back and enter Lodhi Gardens.

Built around 500-year-old tombs belonging to the Lodi and Sayyid Sultans, the Lodhi Gardens are Delhi’s botanical heart — 90 acres of landscaped gardens are home to over 7000 trees belonging to over 200 species, 50 varieties of birds from myna-sized woodpeckers to a family of kites that seemed to like the rose garden the day I was there. Find a hillock next to the Tomb of Sikandar Lodi and gaze at the duck and geese swimming under Athpula Bridge — ‘Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Delhi anymore.’

Once you’re done with fairy tales, it’s time to shop. The Mehar Chand Market began as a bazaar where the South Delhi ladies thronged to have their blouses stitched and the Delhi sahibs got their suits altered. It is now the coolest market to hang your signboard and a mere 20-minute walk from the garden.

There’s no denying that the market lacks the heritage of Khan or the boho flair of Hauz Khas but, thanks to rising rents at Khan Market, it is now home to stalwarts like Rajesh Pratap Singh and newcomers like Masaba. There’s Nappa Dori (No. 25), well known for brightly coloured trunks; there’s digitally printed canvas leather bags and designer furniture at Nivasa (No. 27). Almirah (No. 38) is known for soft muslin block prints and provides perfect baby shower gifts. Next door is Taramay (No. 39), purveyors of hand-made leather shoes. Two doors down you’ll find Pia Pauro’s (No. 40), eclectic beaded resort wear.

The market is a treasure trove of home décor, be it indigenous luxury at Artisan Luxe (No. 56), country kitsch at Nur (No. 71 a), or adorable artefacts at The Home of the Traveler (No. 100). Take a pit stop at Elma’s Brasserie and try their refreshing cranberry cooler. If you’re hungry for more, Chez Nini next door serves up some excellent country French fare after which you can finish your jaunt by picking up sumptuous cotton dresses at Shades of India.

The sun is beginning to make its way down as we head towards Humayun’s Tomb. Built by his widow, Haji Begum, between 1565 and 1566, the Emperor’s tomb was the inspiration for the Taj Mahal. Once you buy your ticket, take a quick detour to enter the garden Tomb of Isa Khan, built for a noble man in the court of Sher Shah. It is soothing after the market and prepares you for the throng waiting ahead. As you enter the double-storied gateway leading to the main tomb, head to the bench on your extreme right for the perfect photograph. As the sun sets behind you, imagine the Persian gardens in bloom on all three sides, the Yamuna flowing on your right, the fountains tinkling, and the evening adhan calling to you from the Nizamuddin Dargah.

Heed the call and find your way into the rabbit warren streets of Nizamuddin, especially if it’s a Thursday night. The heavenly smell of kababs heightens the stark contrast to Lutyen’s Lodhi Road. Tuck into s hammi kababs at the 100-year-old Dastarkhwan-e-Karimmake and let the qawwali singers bring your day to a flawless end.

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