Saturday, 2 July 2011

Two sides of Delhi: Humayun's tomb and Nizamuddin

True to my word, I did touristy things for the first time today. After a few days of cooler weather the thermometer had bounced back up again, so it took me a while to get going. But gosh, I'm glad I did.

So first up: Humayun's tomb. It dates from the mid-16th century and sits in a frankly gorgeous setting, surrounded by parkland in an area that appears to be one vast Mughal mausoleum, so many beautiful tombs and monuments are dotted around the landscape. It's very central in the city but the peace in the gardens is just lovely. And very welcome for those of us who occasionally feel a little worn down by Delhi's urban clamour.

Before I got there, though, I experienced my first serious brush with Delhi's monsoon rains. I'd walked to the tomb from the metro and was feeling hot, sweaty and a bit headachy, so a ferocious downpour was in theory highly welcome. Unfortunately I also had my Kindle, mobile phone and camera in my bag, whose waterproofness I decidedly do not trust.

Happily the rains came just as I got to the ticket booth. This was not particularly effective as a shelter however, as the rains were more or less horizontal, and the ticket booth was not exactly designed to be waterproof either:

So there I was, stuck under a corrugated iron roof between two concrete walls open on three sides, with the Delhi monsoon unleashing its full rage upon me. Admittedly the views were lovely:

...or at least they were until a whole load of other visitors to the tomb showed up, and the views were replaced with a nose-to-armpit acquaintanceship with some very damp Delhiwallas:

Others, though, thought the rains were the best thing that had happened to them. Ever!

I defy you not to smile at these pictures.

Anyway, eventually the rains wore off and we squelched out to carry on into the tomb complex. I won't bore you with tons of photos of the tomb, but suffice to say that when I emerged from the West gate and saw it for the first time, I was so stunned I nearly walked straight into this:

Which would, I am sure, have been highly amusing for my fellow visitors but made relatively little difference to my already soggy state.

Anyway, back to the tomb. This is quite simply one of the most perfectly beautiful buildings I've ever seen. It's known as a precursor to the Taj Mahal, which I've yet to go to, and all I can say is if this is the rehearsal I can't wait to see the show. My photos don't to it justice, but I have to post at least one:

I spent a very happy couple of hours mooching around the building and admiring the gorgeous layout of the grounds, the wonderful use of sunlight in the interior, the patterning of the walls...and of course the peace! I have to admit that my expectations were not all that high, having been very disappointed by my visit to the Red Fort on my first visit to India back in January (it just felt a bit depressing, mainly thanks to the "improvements" imposed upon it by, yup, the British) but Humayun's tomb blew me away. My first real taste of the richness of India's architectural heritage.

A very different side to India lies across the road from the tomb. Searching vaguely for something to eat, I found myself in Nizamuddin - a district that exists because of the community of the faithful that grew up around the tomb of the Sufi saint who gave the area its name. This is Delhi at its most confusing, fascinating and intimidating, and I have to admit I was a bit overwhelmed - though not as much as the two Belgian girls hovering near the entrance from the main road who at first asked me to escort them in and then three minutes later, having decided I wasn't sufficient protection, chickened out and scurried back the way they had come.

The reason for this nervousness? There was not a single woman in sight: dozens of muslim men, a sea of white skullcaps, taqiyah skullcaps, milling through a warren of densely packed streets through fruit stands, butchers, rubbish heaps, random goats, flower stalls and incense-stick-choppers. And more flies than I have ever seen anywhere. I didn't take many photos, feeling a bit apprehensive about how it would be received, so this one doesn't really convey the atmosphere all that well. But it's the best I've got:

As far as I could see there was absolutely no hostility towards us, but I could understand the girls' nervousness (especially since they were not exactly dressed in burkas). But I ploughed on into the melee.

I am at a loss as to how to describe Nizamuddin. Suffice to say I am resolved to go back one day when I'm less hot, tired and sweaty and take my time over it a bit more. Today it was just sensory overload - so many sights, smells, sounds and sensations that my brain couldn't take it all in. India feels very foreign to me, of course, but never so much as here. Just the idea of the place - a suburb of a capital city that does not only originate in a religious movement, but that continues to revolve around it nearly 2000 years later - I find extraordinary.

I drifted through the alleyways - at one point almost managing to blunder my way into a shrine without removing my shoes, though in my defence it looked pretty much like an arcade of shops from the entrance - and let it all wash over me. I'm normally painfully shy around street traders but I managed to buy some tomatoes from this chap (though I think he probably ripped me off):

I didn't feel unsafe - just very, very foreign. When I emerged onto the main road again, it was 4.30 pm and I was feeling a little bit peaky (overdoing it in the sun, Chris - you know you shouldn't do this) so I hopped in a tuk tuk back home. And got under a long, long, cold, cold shower.

So, two places visited, two places marked down for return visits: not bad going. And there is so much more to see here in a city that has been built, lost and reincarnated around a dozen times. I can't wait.

1 comment:

Helen Gray said...

Lovely photos of the children! You're absolutely right too - it's impossible to see that kind of innocent, infectious fun without wanting to laugh and join in! - Helen G.