Red Fort

“Lal Quila” means Red Fort, because of the magnificent red sandstone walls. When it was constructed in the early 17th Century, it was known as the “Lal Mubarak”, or Blessed Fort. The Moghuls ruled their diminishing Indian Empire from the Fort for two hundred years before the disaster of the Mutiny in 1857 (known here as the Second War of Independence).

It is a marvel of Moghul architecture. Sadly, when the British troops took over the fort following the siege of Delhi, it was ransacked. Semi-precious stones were prised from their marble settings. Beautiful buildings were torn down to make way for army barracks.

Parts of the Fort are in a sorry state of disrepair. But the quality of the workmanship in the carving of windows and walls of red sandstone is superb.

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During May and June, temperatures soar in Delhi. The Moghuls used water and white marble to stay cool. This is a beautiful pavilion with a water feature on the back wall, channelling the flow to the edge of the plinth and into a shallow canal. Lighted candles would have been placed in the alcoves behind the flow of water after dark.

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The inlay work (pietra dura) depicting flowers is wonderful. Much of this has been renovated sensitively. The third image below is the underside of an arch. It probably has not been touched for 200 years so it looks a bit forlorn. The cornflower blue still stands out.

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The barracks are ugly, but still in use during special occasions when the military presence in the capital is beefed up, at Independence Day, for example. Families must have been billeted here because there are the remains of a school. The walls of the classroom still have remnants of nursery rhymes and the alphabet.

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The Lahori Gate leads onto a covered bazaar, where one can buy trinkets, slippers and “antiques”. When British troops entered the fort at the end of September 1857, some mutineers took pot shots at them from balconies above the shops. The British dealt harshly with rebel sepoys who had “taken the salt” (pledged loyalty to the East India Company). On the spot where the mutineers had hacked to death European women and children who had been imprisoned in the fort, Moghul princes were hanged in reprisal.

The Fort originally had a moat, with water diverted from the River Yamuna. There is even a small “river gate” which now opens onto a garden as the course of the river has changed. There is a step well or baoli to provide water for the defenders of the Fort during a siege. There is also a lovely classical bungalow (similar to the Lutyens buildings in New Delhi).

The walls of the Fort have had some tasteful renovation. The crenellations have loopholes allowing defenders to shoot down on attackers at different angles. Some loopholes are covered by a stone cap, presumably to provide additional protection. The merlons are scalloped more for decoration than to protect the defenders.

The neighbouring Salimbagh Fort (which is actually a hundred years older than the Red Fort) has more solid walls. It is a huge mound of earth (which used to be on an island in the Yamuna), clad with stone. It was a high security prison during the Second World War, housing captured commanders of the Indian National Army.

After the Mutiny, the British built a railway into Old Delhi from the east, passing Salimbagh and cutting a corner off the Red Fort. A footbridge over the tracks has crenellated walls of iron plate. It needs to be painted regularly. I wonder if this man is slapping on “red lead” paint (lead tetroxide and calcium plumbate) to protect the steelwork from corrosion.

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Chhatarpur Temple Complex

Almost at the southern end of the Yellow Line on the Delhi Metro at Chhatarpur, there is a temple with a gigantic monkey god statue. I had to visit. Hanuman is one of my favourite gods.

There are half a dozen different temples on the estate, covering 60 acres. Each temple has a different style. The main temple is dedicated to Katyayini, who is an avatar of Parvati, the consort of Siva. She is one of the nine forms of Durga. Young women worship her, fasting for a month, in order to get the husband of their dreams. Katyayini is also related to Kanya Kumari, the goddess at Cape Cormorin, the southernmost tip of India. Confused? So am I.

I didn’t visit at peak pilgrim time, during Navratri, so it was quiet. There was a holding pen for devotees to queue up in the shade while waiting to perform puja. I took off my shoes and stepped onto the cool black and white tiled floor of the temple courtyard. By the entrance, there was a sacred tree, adorned with swatches of red material, red being the colour associated with the goddess.

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The temple is only 40 years old. It isn’t as massive as Akshardham, across the Yamuna.  The marble walls have fancy lattice work (called jaali) to allow light and air to circulate. Instead of having stained glass tell the story (as in European cathedrals), there are dioramas depicting scenes. All the signage was in Hindi, so I didn’t have a clue what was going on.

One interesting part of the temple was what looked like rooms from a private house. There was a dining room and a bedroom, with a silver dressing table and leopard crawling past the bed.

Baba Sant Nagpal founded the temple. I think this is his portrait.

I walked through smaller shrines, dedicated to other gods, Radha/Krishna, Ganesh, Siva and Rama. Photography was not permitted, but I was given some sweets and had an orange dot applied to my forehead by one of the priests, perhaps as compensation.

I crossed the main Chhatarpur Road and visited the Shiva Mandir and Baba Nagpal temple. The latter was extraordinary, with a garish colour scheme of cream and rose pink. Around the walls were images of Katyayini/Kali with progressively more arms. She starts off with two in the first image and as you walk clockwise around the upper floor, the images sprout more limbs, ending up with twenty arms. The more arms, the more weapons and severed, bloody heads. No photography was allowed, probably just as well.

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At the Shiva Mandir there was a preposterous set of blue doors, bigger than any I have ever seen. I couldn’t open it because it was locked by a massive padlock. But it didn’t seem to lead anywhere.

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I walked through the complex to the Hanuman Statue, what had attracted me to the temple in the first place. It is a colossus in orange, on a plinth, with pigeons trying to fly up under his loin cloth to roost.

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Across the road is a South Indian temple, the Laskhmi Vinayak Mandir. This was closed so I could only take pictures through the wrought iron gates.

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Close by the temple complex there were ashrams, schools of meditation, yoga and a hospital. It reminded me of London teaching hospitals – St Thomas’s or St Bartholomew’s, connecting medicine with religion. There’s a bit of hocus pocus going on, too.

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Jain Festival

There are about seven million followers of the Jain Dharma (religion) in India. It has been in decline since the 6th century AD. The central tenets are non-violence and respect for all creatures. To avoid stepping on ants, Jain monks and nuns sweep the street with fallen peacock feathers; to avoid inadvertently killing or eating bugs, they don’t eat root vegetables or cauliflower; to avoid inhaling flies, they wear a white mask over their nose and mouth.

Last September, the Jain community celebrated paryushana which consists of ten days of fasting and meditation. There was a loud parade on the main road, outside our apartment, so naturally, I took some photographs. Half a dozen bands from different areas of Delhi paraded in front of the vehicle carrying the idol. Jains use the swastika as an emblem of non-violence. An open hand with a wheel on the palm symbolises the relentless pursuit of truth which will end the cycle of reincarnation.

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Jains sometimes carry out ritual fasting. Last October, a 13 year old girl from Hyderabad starved for 68 days during chaumasa. After successfully completing the fast, there was a parna ceremony, where the girl rode triumphantly in a chariot, dressed as a goddess. The family took out quarter page adverts in the local newspaper to publicise her achievement. Tragically, two days later, she collapsed and died of a cardiac dysrhythmia (which is a risk for anorexic patients).

Perhaps she had achieved moksha, being released from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Or maybe she was just an impressionable young girl who felt obliged to fast for some greater good.

 

Thursday Doors

Here are some fine doors from the Red Fort or Lal Quila, in Delhi, about which I must blog when I get time. The fort was designed by the same architect who built the Taj Mahal. It took 10 years to construct and the Moghul Emperor Shah Jahan moved his court there from Agra in 1648. It was originally called Lal Mubarak, meaning “blessed” or “auspicious”. But it wasn’t really. Several kings were bumped off in the fort. Most of the treasures of the empire were looted from the fort by the Persian Emperor, Nadir Shah, in 1739, including the Peacock Throne with the Koh-i-Noor diamond. In 1760, the Marathas took down the silver ceiling of the Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audiences) and melted it into ingots. During the Indian Mutiny, Delhi was besieged by the British. When the sepoys were driven out of Delhi, the Red Fort was abandoned. The Brits plundered the fort and destroyed some beautiful gardens and buildings. In their place, the Public Works Department erected a dull set of Victorian barracks to house the occupying troops.

There are two doors (ok, they are really gates) to the fort in current use. This is the Delhi Gate. The doors are massive, over six metres high. The spikes have been removed below two metres to prevent tourists from impaling themselves.

In the words of my grandfather, “How the hell did they hang them doors?” Not surprisingly, they don’t move now.

The road to the bastion gate is parallel to the fort’s southern wall, exposing an invading force to fire from above. Beyond this gate there is a courtyard, which would have been a death trap for invaders. Then the road turns through 90 degrees to pass through the fort walls. This would have made it difficult for soldiers with a battering ram (or an elephant) to get up momentum to bash in the gate.

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This is Delhi Gate from inside the Red Fort.

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This is the other main gateway, the Lahori Gate. It leads to a covered market, hence the “Subhash gift corner” sign. The towering red sandstone walls are almost 400 years old.

It gets really hot in Delhi in summer, so most of the palaces within the fort are pavilions, without doors. This is the door to the Moti Masjid, one of the mosques. I like the way the marble has worn away on the right side of the doorstep. And there is a gap in the doorstep to allow water to run away.

It is disappointing to see the way the door has been secured, with a naff chain and cheap padlock. Surely the Archeological Survey of India (AIS), which is responsible for all the ancient monuments in India, could have come up with something more appropriate for this wonderful door?

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This is a carved marble screen, in the Diwan-i-Khas, where the Mughal Emperor would give judgement under the scales of justice. Well, it is almost a doorway…

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This impressive set of doors leads to the zenana or women’s quarters. I am taken with the elephant & mahout door knobs, but it is sad that the metal covering has been prised away by souvenir hunters. Neither do I like the bits of paper stuck to the door. This is a Wonder of the World, yet many areas are in a sad state of disrepair.

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This is almost a cheat. The white marble throne of the Moghul Emperor has been protected from the public by a glass wall, presumably to stop the inlaid semi-precious stones from being gouged out. But the photograph does have a door beneath the wonderfully carved window.

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Two more doors, one just an opening, with a sleeping dog guarding the entrance.

Finally, the Red Fort was used as a prison for the leaders of the Indian National Army, who fought with the Japanese during the Second World War. These are the doors of their prison block, in Salimgarh Fort. This was built on an island in the Yamuna River, but it is now connected to the Red Fort by a bridge.

Palate Fest 2017

Over the weekend, dozens of fancy restaurants in Delhi set out their stalls at this annual festival in Nehru Park. I was impressed with the variety and quality of the food. It was rather pricey compared to my local South Indian restaurant, where I can get a masala dosa with all the trimmings for 65 pence. This is a tenth of the price of some of the dishes from top quality, fashionable establishments at the Fest.

I was tempted by the genuine Japanese sushi/sashimi, which looked fresh and interesting. The Persian cuisine was even more exciting, with some great ingredients.

There were a few Mexican restaurants, such as Twisted Tacos, and a Turkish place, which weren’t doing a roaring trade when I passed by. But the dried fruit stall was busy.

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The children were enjoying the pirate-themed “Captain Grub”, serving burgers and fries. I liked the Punjabi fast food outlet called “Burger Singh”.

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Lots of shops selling gateaux, cup cakes, brownies, buns, banana bread and exotic desserts. I was assured that all the bits on this multi-tiered wonder were edible. Elsewhere, I have heard that the bottom bits are made of polystyrene, decorated with cream. This was the genuine article.

The Ethiopian restaurant didn’t seem to be selling much injeera, but I saw several people drinking their excellent coffee. The best stall selling Indian tea gave me a tasting of each of their speciality brews. They asked me if high quality tea would have a market in UK, so I talked to them about Waitrose. I am a bit of a philistine when it comes to tea; I prefer builders’.

There are lots of television cookery programmes on Indian television so we were encouraged to find a celebrity chef, snap a selfie with them and upload the photo to the Fest website. The most wacky images would win a prize. Food probably. Jamie was not on the premises.

 

I watched a demonstration of a chef who managed to burn the olive tapenade and undercook the chick pea masala. We were being filmed as we shovelled the free food into our mouths. The chef said that those displaying the most ecstatic expressions might feature in an advertising campaign. But they didn’t ask me to sign the model release form.

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The man making cotton candy/candy floss didn’t seem to know how to do it, and was applying additional wisps of floss with his hands. The Indian equivalent of Ronald McDonald, who looked more like Timmy Mallett, seemed rather sad as no children would go anywhere near him.

There was a competition – whoever could hold the most packets of popcorn would win a trip to Dubai. The queue to join in was rather long, so I gave it a miss.

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Quite a few of the entrepreneurs promoting their new restaurants had been to UK, studying marketing at university. I chatted to a chap who did a degree in Lancaster. He gave me a fizzy mango drink which was flavoured with sugar and salt, in the Indian fashion. It tasted marvellous.

There were two music stages. One had Indian drummers performing, but spectators crowded in front of the old folks who were hoping to watch whilst sitting down. The other, larger stage had an Indian rock band doing sound level checks. Every five minutes the compere assured us that Virender Sehwag, the former opening batsman, was about to arrive. I waited for half an hour, but when the street theatre started, I gave up and went home, replete with food samples and gassy fruit drinks.

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Breakfast at Karim’s

Just off the Urdu Bazar Road, on the south side of Delhi’s largest mosque, the Jama Masjid, the Matia Mahal Road runs south towards Daryaganj. On the left after 50 metres, there is a nondescript small lane which leads to Karim’s Restaurant. We had been cycling through the backstreets and galis of Old Delhi for three hours since 7am, so we all had a good appetite.

The full menu was not available as it was before noon. We had to settle for Karim’s speciality – Khameeri rotis with mutton curry (and potato curry for the vegetarians). For dessert, we had a sweet bread which looked like a thick pancake, called sheermal. But my fingers were covered in curry so I couldn’t operate the camera to take a photo of it before it had all been consumed.

The small lemons help to counter the fierce heat of the chilli. The vegetarian dish was quite oily, as you can see. The wheat rotis (leavened with yeast)  were superb and the mutton curry was devine. The meat was delicious, soft, no bones, just a few sinews which had held it to the sheep’s lower leg. And the rich brown gravy was delicious.

I took these pictures using my camera phone, so the quality isn’t brilliant. But the food was.

Grand Trunk Road

The Grand Trunk Road connects Chittagong in Bangladesh with Kabul in Afghanistan. I never cease to be amazed at the antics of the traffic on this route which runs past the front of our clinic.

Moving long loads by bicycle can be tricky. This man is shifting metal across two lanes of dual carriageway (each lane usually has two vehicles abreast).

While he is negotiating this, another cyclist comes into view carrying long wooden planks. Trying to manoeuvre so each can pass is not easy. Especially when the lumberjack is intending to take the bike against the flow of traffic on the wrong side of the road.

This blocks the road for both vehicles and pedestrians. Not to be deterred, this chap vaults over the timber to cross the road.

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#incredible india