Delhi Ghost Trail

A new type of guided tour has come to Delhi: ghost-stalking.

The Delhi-based travel company Lets Get Packing has teamed up with the Paranormal Society to offer “Creatures of the Night”, a tour of haunted parts of the old city, including one of the landmarks of the Mehrauli Archaeological Park in South Delhi. Within the park is a little-visited mosque and tomb known as the Jamali Kamali. Exquisite examples of 16th-century Islamic architecture, they were built in 1528–29 by the poet Sheikh Fazlullah, whose pen-name was Jamali. He was buried in the tomb in 1535. The five-bayed mosque is in good condition, with a delicately carvedmihrab. The tomb is small and square, decorated on its exterior with pretty blue tiles. The interior (ask the caretaker to let you in) is almost perfectly preserved. The detail of the ceiling is of exceptional quality, with ornate plasterwork patterns in red and blue. The walls are decorated with plasterwork inlaid with tiles. There are two graves in the tomb, and for years it was supposed that the second one belonged to someone called Kamali. It is now thought that the name of the mosque-tomb is alliterative, but the mysterious occupant of the second grave has not been identified. Could he be the source of the “shining rectangle”, of which there have been reported sightings?

Courtyard of the Jamali Kamali mosque; photo by Shashwat Nagpal

Also included in the tour is the Nicholson Cemetery in North Delhi, just west of the Qudsia Bagh garden. The cemetery is the resting place of many of the British who died in 1857, in the bloodbath that was known—from a British imperial perspective—as the Mutiny, but which in India is always called the Uprising. Among the graves is that of John Nicholson, an Irish army cadet who rose to become Brigadier-General, a dauntless servant of British interests in India. He died at the age of thirty-four, of wounds sustained during the final, successful British assault on Delhi. He was never decapitated, though for reasons unexplained, his headless form is said to roam the cemetery at night.

For more details, see here ».

Text © Blue Guides, with extracts from Blue Guide India.

381 years ago this June

On June 17th 1631, in the central Indian town of Burhanpur, a royal wife died in childbirth at the age of 38, after delivering her fourteenth child. She was Arjumand Bano, better known as Mumtaz Mahal, one of the many wives of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. Six hundred and fifty kilometres away in Agra, the bereft emperor began the building of a mausoleum to the dead woman’s memory, on the banks of the river Yamuna. Its name, ‘Taj Mahal’ is probably a corruption of Mumtaz’s own, and literally means ‘Palace of the Crown’. It was completed in 1643.

As Sam Miller tells us in Blue Guide India:

“We know that Shah Jahan had a close relationship with Mumtaz, that he favoured her above his other wives, and openly declared the strength of his attachment to her. This was unusual but not unprecedented. She came from a very powerful family, where women played an important role. Her aunt Nur Jahan was married to Shah Jahan’s father, Emperor Jehangir, and in Jehangir’s final years took many key decisions. Mumtaz’s grandfather, Itimad ud-Daula, was, under Jehangir, probably the most influential person in the Mughal Empire. He lies buried in another exquisite tomb in Agra, which in its use of minarets, white marble and stone inlay, prefigures, on a much smaller scale, the Taj Mahal.”

“For the Mughal poet Kalim, the Taj Mahal was a cloud, and for the Nobel Prize-winning polymath Rabindranath Tagore it was ‘a teardrop on the cheek of time’. The Taj Mahal has been admired since it was created, and although it was undoubtedly a memorial to the undying love of Shah Jahan for his wife, it was also a demonstration of the power, wealth and aesthetic values of the Mughal Empire. In the prescient words of Shah Jahan’s court historian, Qazwini, the Taj Mahal would be a masterpiece for ages to come, and provide for ‘the amazement of all humanity’. It was built to be visited. As one of its most recent historians, Ebba Koch, explains, the Taj Mahal was constructed ‘with posterity in mind: we, the viewers, are part of its concept.’”

Text © Blue Guides/Sam Miller

Blue Guide India Delhi Launch

The Delhi launch of Blue Guide India by Sam Miller took place on Thursday 12th January in the grounds of the Lodi restaurant, close to the magnificent medieval tombs of the Lodi Gardens. More than a hundred guests gathered on a bitterly cold Delhi evening for cocktails, and to watch a short video and slideshow presentation by the author, followed by a quiz. The book sold out at the event, as it had at the London launch in November.

Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity

Sam Miller, Vintage 2010

Sam Miller is quick to tell us that he loves walking in strange cities. So do I. And it is this that has always bothered me about Delhi, a city I have never visited but have often longed to see: how will I get around it? I don’t want to hire a car or an autorickshaw. And apparently women shouldn’t travel alone by bus. So can one walk? I know no better means of locomotion, especially if you really want to see and understand things. For all these reasons I was heartened when I picked up Sam Miller’s Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity. And when I saw the following line, which the author delivers to an auto-addict who is offering him a lift: ‘I don’t drive. And, well, I really want to walk,’ I knew I was in the company of a kindred spirit. When he says this kind of thing, Miller tells us, people look at him with pity and disbelief, or with embarrassment, as if he were a bit touched. I’m used to this reaction too. When I go to pick up my son from school, in foul-weather gear and yomping boots, mothers in spiky heels emerging from SUVs look at me with pity and disbelief. My son isn’t yet of an age to be embarrassed. So, safe in the knowledge that Miller and I were on the same wavelength, I set off with him, in search of a vast and unknown city. Everything in the book happens at street level. We don’t (or extremely rarely) go inside people’s apartments or office buildings. We don’t join them at social functions or in restaurants. We never really ‘meet’ anyone, we have brief encounters, the stuff of a vagrant’s life, with prison warders, rag-pickers, funeral directors, pirated computer software vendors, stall-holders, janitors. The encounters may be brief but they are not superficial. They are illuminating, sometimes amusing, often moving. And I learned a lot. Not just about Delhi’s geography, monuments, traffic problems, urban planning, religious groups and politics. But about geocaching and SimCity, about the Brahma Kumaris and what ‘sealing’ a business means. I even have a new verb to add to my vocabulary: to prepone, meaning to do something earlier than you planned. I loved the story of the bulldozed mosque and the incident of the ‘fresh fruit salad’, not to mention the Hotel Alka, which advertises itself as ‘the best alternative to luxury’. The New Statesman reviewer who said that ‘For all its entertaining eccentricities Delhi is careful to maintain a strong sense of the city’s sad heritage of religious factionalism, pollution, rioting, poverty and crime’ completely fails to catch the spirit of this book, making it sound like a worthy, brown-rice sort of endeavour leavened by a few off-the-wall jokes. It is nothing like that. It is true that Miller tells it like it is, but he doesn’t preach, he doesn’t campaign, he doesn’t soap-box. That is not to suggest that we don’t learn about pollution, rioting, poverty and crime. We do. But the overall tenor of the book is one of optimism. And enjoyment at the sheer infiniteness of Delhi. Sam Miller sets out to walk the city not because he is a charmingly batty Englishman, but because there are certain things that he would never see if he didn’t. And those things deserve to be documented. In documenting them,  Miller is even-handed and compassionate. This is a book about a megacity, but what that means is that it is a book about human beings, in all their nutty multifariousness. Sam doesn’t judge, he observes. Above all, he writes with extreme tenderness towards his fellow man (and woman). What adds an extra piquancy is the fact that he has trouble with one of his knees. A fanatical walker with a gammy leg almost seems to stand as a microcosm of Delhi itself: something indomitable, irrepressible, insistent with life, and destined to succeed despite all difficulties. For the last few nights this book was my bedside reading. I enjoyed it hugely.

Reviewed by Annabel Barber.

Sam Miller is the author of Blue Guide India.