Exploring Delhi: Humayun’s Tomb

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Those walls
Resting on symmetry
Climb up to a bulbous head
And finials reaching out
To a clear firmament.
Those walls
With holes and crevices
Let light in
And shine it out
Out of those rooms
Full of stories and sounds.
Those walls
Of rust red tombs
With six-pointed stars set in sandstone
Chipping away
Living on.

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Humayun’s Tomb was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1993, and has undergone extensive restoration work since.

One fine day, a friend and I were idle, magically, at the same time, and we decided to head to Humayun’s Tomb, the mausoleum of the Mughal emperor Humayun built in the 16th century in Delhi. What ensued was a realisation about how we often overlook the beauty of our own city while hankering for escapes to outstation destinations. A wondrous escape was right here, under our proverbial noses!

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We reached the main tomb enclosure after passing several smaller monuments that adorn the path leading up to it. It was more than 400 years ago that Humayun’s first wife, Haji Begum, commissioned the tomb near the banks of river Yamuna.

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The site was chosen because of its proximity to Nizamuddin Dargah, which is the mausoleum of the Nizamuddin Auliya, a celebrated Sufi saint and a favourite among Delhi rulers.

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Designed by a Persian architect, Mirak Mirza Giyath, it was the first garden-tomb to grace the Indian subcontinent with its ‘Charbagh’ gardens. The structure portrayed a leap in the design of Mughal royal mausolea, which reached the apogee with the Taj Mahal at Agra.

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Naturally, it is one of the top tourist attractions in Delhi, being a monument that gives a peek into history together with art and architecture. As for us, this small trip was also a fresh change from the long hours spent amid papers and books and electronic devices.

IMG_20170322_112134_270As much as I wish that we had chosen a breezier day and time, the sight of lush green fluff shining bright under the buttery noon more than made up for the mid-March heat.

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Even more memorable was that this mini-exploration culminated under the cool shade of a tree overlooking the six-pointed stars set in red sandstone, in the good company of an old friend and alloo paranthas packed in a steel lunch-box.

Featured image clicked by Ishan Sharma.

Travel Diaries: Laxmi Ashram, Kausani

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Dharti hai ek,
Aasmaan ek hai.
Phool hain anek,
Baghbaan ek hai.

All the squeaky voices, hushed conversations, and noisy banters were replaced by a mellifluous chorus as I sat down in the back of the classroom. Morning prayers at Laxmi Ashram, as I found out, are always unifying affairs, and down-the-line cheerful and cathartic.

Forty five minutes previous I was tossing Imli toffees in my mouth to prepare myself for the ensuing altitude sickness. I was going to hike to a seven-decade-old, all-girls residential school run on the principles of Gandhi’s Nai Taleem. Established in 1946 by Catherine Mary Beilman or Sarla Behn to empower rural girls and women through education and holistic skill-based learning.

When I reached the Ashram, there were two smiling faces, waiting. Waiting to open me up to a world of simplicity and unity. To show me how empowered and independent young girls go on to become pillars of strength for the rural community.

I was a bit late, thanks to the multiple stops I’d made during the hike. Some girl students were collecting their books while others had already started ascending the stairs to their classroom. I entered the room from the back, and quietly sat on the floor like everybody else. I was soon going to hear them sing a prayer song that would footprint my heart.

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I left the place humming a tune of togetherness, and optimism. Of a song that distilled in a few words this beautiful message:
There is one Earth. And it is but one sky that canopies the flowers on its face. The flowers may look different, still there’s but one Gardner who looks after all of them.

Travel Tale: Floating in the Poetic Dusk

A big ring adorned Mamta’s nose, silhouetting half her face as we huddled around a bonfire for warmth. And sitting there with the glorious Kumaon hills girdling us and Mamta reading one of her poems for me, I learned how nature and words soothe a crumbly spirit.

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It was only a day before that I had met Mamta for the first time when the hosts of my retreat centre introduced us. Our small chat had concluded with her beaming at me and exclaiming in broken Hindi, “Didi, I will come and see you at the inn tomorrow!” She wanted to know what a bunch of college girls from Delhi were doing in Kausani!

Which brings me to: What could I do here? In 3 days?

For starters, I could sit on these porches that always welcomed us with tea and viands. I could talk to these people who always regaled us with colourful stories. With them, I could drink these buttery noons and tangerine sunsets. Maybe along the way, I could pick up a few Kumaoni words, understand a new culture, unspool its richness and authenticity. But, who could’ve imagined that I would do just that and more, and that Mamta would help me with most of it!

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She joined our group for tea just like she had promised. A few moments later, we were scribbling Aipan designs on random scraps of paper—and in the next few—up on our feet, matching folk tunes with our own versions of Chholiya as the sun dived between the hills. Here, in an Indian village in the quiet vicinity of the Himalayas, the Italian saying of il piccolo mondo got a whole new meaning!

Within hours, I was sitting under the pin-pricked night sky, listening to Mamta’s voice as she read a poem from her notebook. And while her words warmed the December air, I took a closer look at the poetry of the land I was in. I could see and feel it in the Buransh (Rhododendron), in the chartreuse farmlands, and in this amazing rendezvous of nature, people, and history.  

That’s how I was always going to remember this village cradled in these verdant hills. As a place where I felt freer, happier, lighter—all at the same time. My souvenir: A friendship that began with a Kausani local asking me, “Tumar naam ki cha?”

Travel Archives: Almora

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Yesterday, while scrolling through some old photographs on my laptop, I found this one of me and Munni Devi. It was clicked in December 2015 when I took a sort of cultural to Almora, Uttarakhand.

I met Munni Devi at Nanda Devi Handloom and Heritage Centre that sits peacefully amid the Himalayas, supporting and empowering rural women. She showed us around the museum―a recent addition to the place―and took us to the workshop to meet the women artisans. Some of them had been working there for more than a decade!

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Scarves and shawls knitted with the indigenous nettle grass, hand-woven carpets, and an argosy of trinkets were put out on display. What stood out to me more than the material objects, though, was the affection that was raffled off to us.

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An Aipan artist at Nanda Devi Handloom and Heritage Centre

It was so easy for them to trust a stranger. To happily take a break from their intricate work and strike a conversation with some curious students who’d come from a gummy city to know more about their art.
But, did these students know the story behind the wedding ritual of a traditional pichhauda? And that they shouldn’t go home without tasting the signature Bal Mithai! Had they tried the folk dance of Jhoda?
They didn’t. And no, they hadn’t. But suffice it to say that they left the Himalayan peaks of Nanda Devi much more enlightened about Kumaoni culture, and a lot more in awe of this land’s warmth.

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Also, Munni Devi gave me the biggest hug as I said goodbye! Recalling that feeling twists my tear ducts even today.

The Street

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The dawn rose and my eyes adjusted to the view, from bokeh to bright, as the sun sprinkled a golden filter across the street. Who were these people, so immersed in their preoccupations, chasing life, their hopes and anxieties all closed to me?
Do they have a special pocket in their briefcases, one in which they ensconce their dreams? Do they ever think about home, or are they happy to get by just like me, meeting new people, gleaning stories?
Who live in the thatched cottages on the mountaintop? Do they savour the sunrise and sunset as much as the tourists? Do they ever look out their windows and watch me on this bench where I sleep?
Who is the owner of the antique trinket shop? Does he know who carved the wooden camel so painstakingly?
What is the tale of this bustling anecdotal street?

I started from home with little more than an intrepid spirit and a guitar. Today, I have a bag full of memories; they can’t be distilled into a single photograph or diary entry. 

Between Daybreak and Sunset

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No day passed when she wouldn’t be

In the field, working

Without a care for a morning tea

Tilling and tending and reaping

Her hands moving with mastery.

 

Of eating and laughing with him, hummed she

Thinking of the pink aurora tapping

On the window for her to see

Rays flickering and soothing

Before they grew harsh quickly.

 

Dappled sunlight under the tree

Sitting across the patch, silencing

Occasionally her drudgery.

The tree was old, and it was green, holding

The promise of a reverie.

 

And so at dusk,

She knew not distress but she did know glee

When the sky was painted a blazing sea.

 

This piece is inspired by a trip to Kausani that I took last year, and dedicated to Mamta didi and her husband. Image is courtesy of unsplash.com

The Horegallu

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Photo courtesy of flickr.com

 The blisters on his hands were beginning to smart; his appearance bedraggled from the day’s hard labour. It was getting harder to continue by the minute. Then he saw it. A canopied Horegallu in the middle of the road, an earthen pot kept beside it. He hoped that a kind soul would have filled it with water, for he had waited long enough to slake his thirst. He sat down, glad that the pot wasn’t empty. The water was like a balm for his parched lips and a panacea for his sore throat. He exchanged hackneyed concerns about the weather with a fellow sojourner. The sun glistened the trail with a golden filter.  The same sun had been pouring fire a while ago.  He was going to embark upon the same path, with renewed strength and hope. He had decided to halt before the last straw could break the proverbial camel’s back. He was happy that he did.

A Horegallu is a stone-bench in villages, which tired travelers often use for resting. Inspired by an anecdote in the book The Old Man and His God by Sudha Murty.

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The Sakura

The beauty enraptured him, distracted him, and injected a new energy in his days. A sweet smell rode the air again. The newness had brought with it the curiosity, and a hundred different ways to unravel it. The raconteur in him yearned to chart the course, to peel off the silken layers and imbibe the splendour. He liked how he had woken up one day to find all the trees effloresced. He liked how it all happened without any warning. The wind carried contours of a melody. Sometimes the moonlight set the red trees on fire.

But the moon soon began to wane. The trees soon began to shed the frills. His interest soon began to fade and his mood plummeted. Had he anticipated this to be as graceful and fleeting as the fall? Had he only admired the exquisiteness, knowing that it was ephemeral?

The beauty enraptured him, distracted him, and injected a new energy in his days. That sweet smell rode the air again. The Sakura had bloomed again.

The Sakura or the cherry blossom flower is a celebrated feature of Japan’s spring. It is revered as a symbol of exquisiteness and transience. The bloom of Sakura is associated with the traditional custom of Hanami, or flower watching.

Photo courtesy of Timothy Ries via unsplash.com