Why would the ruins of a 700 year old fort on the outskirts of the city generate interest in a corporate firm, planning to organize an outing for its employees, instead of going to a resort or a conventional picnic spot? What makes people prefer a dilapidated monument over a comfortable and accessible relaxing corner in the city? Besides, who would want to play a quiz on a monument within its medieval ruins and enjoy it too!
We were surprised to see the way the day unfolded. Not only did the team from Altios India come prepared for the quiz, they were bubbling over with excitement. During the quiz, the friendly banter over correct answers and the validity of questions called for our mediation. Inspite of the fact that the participants were visiting Tughlaqabad Fort for the first time, they seemed quite familiar with the structure and its stories. They jumped at scoring every point as if paleontologists had just discovered a fossil, booed the opponent team for “historical blunders” and seemed awestruck at some stories we narrated about the monument.
Three of the participants belonged to different countries; the one who was most enthusiastic commented, “Delhiites hardly know anything about their city.” That was a moment of unease for us because, unfortunately, we felt that maybe he wasn’t too far from the truth. But we have hope & so we run Delhi By Foot to motivate people to step out of their homes, ignore malls on weekends and explore this majestic city on foot. Wish history was taught like this in schools, transforming its reputation as a mundane and lifeless subject.
The music of rustling leaves, the chandelier of the sun, the couch of rocks and the thrill of historical tales is the ambience a historical monument offers. Want to explore one? Check out our Corporate Activities options. Send us a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org For event videos, click the links below.
Today on Maha Shashti, we bring to our readers a guest post by fellow walker Samudra Sengupta, who joined our Pre-Durga Pujo Special walk at Chittaranjan Park in early September.
A Biologist by training, writer by profession, photographer by habit, foodie at heart, Samudra says ‘adventure is my sustenance … that is how I like to believe I am’…. His earlier Photo-stories can be found here http://samudrasengupta.wordpress.com/)
Having stayed away from my Bongo roots almost continuously since 2005, the Bengali in me often faces an identity crises. Mostly so during the month leading up to the biggest festival of the Bengali calendar. Durga Pujo.
Though I have long back saved a copy of Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s “Mahalaya” on my laptop, and though having experimented and perfected quite a few bengali dishes, this period is never quite devoid of the ‘Bangaliyana'(OK OK I just coined that term I guess!!), I cannot help the longing for the smell of the ‘shiuli’ flower. Nowhere else can you feel the same festivity in the atmosphere as we prepare for the arrival of Maa Durga and her children.
DelhiByFoot a few months earlier helped me to introduce me to the tradition of breaking fast with friends during the month of Ramadan. On this second walk, the first Sunday of September, with DBF, I found a little bit of the Bengali in me amid the ‘Kumhors’ (Idol Makers) of mini-Bengal, in the heart of Delhi.
An attempt to connect with the roots … an effort to live the pre-durga puja festivities …
After a peek into the essence of Durga Puja through the narratives of Ramit Mitra, the founder of DelhiByFoot,
Jai Maa Durga!!
Wishing all our readers a very happy and wonderful time of festivities!!
Guest post by Seep Gulati, an active DelhiByFoot community member. Pictures with respective credits wherever applicable is given.
Foodie, traveller, adrenaline junkie and life enthusiast, is how Seep describes herself. She believes in the concept of loving, laughing and learning throughout the journey of life. When she isn’t chasing dynamic life, she is fighting ‘world-war’ battles with her niece and nephew or drafting new promotional PR and Marketing strategies for her clients.
A love-struck majnu (Romeo), unable to claim the object of his affection, sacrifices his life on a tilla (hillock) and over time the place gets transformed into a historical or religious edifice and comes to be known as ‘Majnu-ka-Tilla’ or Romeo’s Hillock!
Raised on a steady dose of Bollywood movies, this rather romantic plot was how I imagined Delhi’s mini Tibet or ‘Majnu-ka-Tilla’ to be.
So when I went on a walk in the lanes and bylanes of ‘Majnu-ka-Tilla’ with DelhiByFoot (DBF), I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the place was actually a beautiful Gurudwara immortalizing the memory of a kind hermit who was blessed by Guru Nanak Dev, the first Sikh Guru, for his selfless devotion to mankind.
DBF’s walk leader Jaya explained that the hermit, incidentally a Muslim, was so lost in his search for ‘God’ that he forgot about the world and people started calling him ‘majnu’ (or the crazy one, like being crazy in love as Romeo was for his Juliet).
Majnu used to ferry people across the Yamuna River and instead of charging a fee he would spread the word of the ‘Almighty’ amongst them. On one of his trips, Majnu met Guru Nanak Dev who blessed him and prophesized that history forever shall immortalize his name. So it came to be true when in the 18th century a Sikh shrine was established in this place — Gurudwara Majnu-ka-Tilla.
With this tale from the pages of Delhi’s history began my first walk with DBF, the beginning of my attempt to experience India’s capital – a city I have been born in, but seems have not actually seen!
A few blocks away from the Gurudwara was our destination of the Sunday morning walk, the Tibetan refugee colony, also known as ‘Little Tibet’ of Delhi.
DBF had arranged for us to meet a practicing Buddhist, Gelek, to help us navigate the intricacies of Buddhist spirituality and the lifestyle of the Tibetan community of Delhi.
What struck us we reached the colony were the vibrant prayer flags hanging from every nook and corner of these narrow by-lanes, seemingly inviting us on a mystical journey. Gelek explained that each flag has a different texture and its own story. Five elements of nature – land, water, air, fire and sky merge in these flags. Powered by sacred mantras, they purify the air wherever they are hung as the wind spreads the positive energies in the atmosphere.
Tibetan shops lined on both sides of the streets here sell everything from decorative wall hangings, Tibetan jewellery, music CDs, and T-shirts with Buddhist mantras (chants). There are many guest houses also offering cheap accommodation and obviously Tibetan food!
What struck me the most was the immense amount of colour on the streets and inside the temples we visited. The sight was worth the effort of waking up early morning on a Sunday!
As we walked through the colony and were assaulted by the multiple hoardings of steamed momos, thukpa, shabalay etc, the participants, each an early bird on this 8AM walk, had a sudden urge to satisfy our breakfast cravings!
We decided to sample local Tibetan food and try a delicious snack locally known as ‘Laping’ which the locals almost pronounced as ‘laughing’ or maybe they were just teasing us!
Picture this: Potato starch dried cakes cut into bite-size pieces, enclosed with minced garlic/ garlic -water, vinegar, soya sauce, sesame oil and red chilli sauce creates a spectacular cold snack. Laping can be consumed dry or with cold soup. We tried the dried version as a starter and then ordered for Laping soup along with fluffy Tibetan bread.
Post the food-adventure, we headed towards the two Buddhist temples in the locality, where Gelek answered all our questions regarding rituals, culture, prayer wheels, butter lamps, sculptures and how a Buddhist monk would lead his life.
It was interesting to note that two adjacent Buddhist temples were so different in terms of their decoration, the offerings and how the locals worshipped. While silver lamps with butter were being used in one temple, artificial lights were lit in the other. Similarly offerings at one temple included fruits while at the other temple even a bottle of beer had been put up as an offering for the gods!
Defining the concepts of how Buddhism is practiced around the world, Gelek explained the meaning of ‘Boddhistava’ and ‘Buddha’ and how each of us can also walk on the path to liberation from ‘Samsara’ (cyclic existence of life and birth) to attain ‘Nirvana’ (Enlightenment).
Ironically, Buddhism which was started by Buddha in India and was popularised by Emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BC has flourished in countries such as China, Japan, Thailand, Burma etc before coming back to the country of its origin through Tibetan and Japanese Buddhists.
The Tibetan refugees who in the early 1960s followed His Holiness the Dalai Lama into India, to escape Chinese oppression in Tibet, were a boon for our country as it was largely these people brought back the basic philosophies of Buddhism – to lead a moral life; to be mindful and aware of thoughts and actions; and above all, to develop patience, deeper wisdom and understanding.
We also discussed Tibetan Buddhist practices, including the Honourable Dalai Lama’s personal teachings, the philosophies of Ladakh’s Buddhists and how the Tibetan people are fighting peacefully to free their homeland from China which continues with human rights violations in Tibet.
However, the extremely congested lanes, dearth of civic amenities and lack of employment opportunities for Tibetan refugees in India told us another sad tale of our country’s neglect of these culturally rich and proud people.
Another eye-opener was that the largest teaching centre for Tibetan Buddhism in the world, Namdroling Monastery is actually situated in Karnataka, home to approximately 5,000 Tibetan monks and not in places usually associated with Buddhism like Dharamsala, Sikkim or Ladakh!
This walk not only connected the dots on the heritage front, it also empowered me to engage in enriching conversations with like-minded people on how Delhi is the melting pot of people and cultures from all over the world.
Guest post & photos by Divya Rai, and additional text & photos by Ramit Mitra, founder, DelhiByFoot and organising leader of the two day trip. Additional pictures with respective credits wherever applicable is given.
Divya is a totally footloose and fancy-free soul, who is training to become a photographer. When she is not being trigger-happy, she writes at A Borrowed Backpack. Divya’s backpack is perpetually overflowing with stories from wherever and whenever she has travelled and hopes her journeys never end!
[Author’s Note: This post talks about Kila Raipur Sports Festival, an event that involves quite a few sports where animals are the participants. It is likely to hurt the sensibilities of animal-lovers, which is understandable. But in the same breath, I would like to tell you dear reader, that raising a hue and cry on this post will not help any horse or bullock in Ludhiana. The event draws its influences from rural India and is merely a reflection of how the rural-life in India survives and thrives. Unfortunately, when they started the event in 1933, they simply forgot to ask for our (yours and mine) permission. Let us just deal with it now, eh? ]
Kila Raipur Village Olympics is a sporting event worth visiting, just for the sake of the announcer’s non-stop commentary itself! Sample this:
a) “Tussi side ho jao, baaelaan vich brake-aan nhi hondi” [Translation: Please clear the field. Bullocks do not come with brakes]
Right after this announcement, one bloke ambles into the track-area and manages to get run-over by a speeding horse, thereby getting seriously injured in the process!
b) “Aiy prize-distribution, Shri Harinder Grewal (IAS), Shri Raminder Singh (PCS), Shri Jagjit Singh (Canada), blah blah blah…” [Names are fictional]. [Translation: This prize distribution will be done by Shri Harinder Grewal (Indian Administrative Service), Shri Raminder Singh (Provincial Civil Services), Shri Jagjit Singh (Canada)].
No. Please don’t ask me when and how did ‘Kanedda’ (To the uninitiated it is Canada as pronounced in Punjab!) become a designation with the Indian government. Canada and dollar-dreams are deeply embedded in the DNA of almost the entire of Punjab. Period.
Gradually, I have come to believe that maybe ‘Kanedda’ is the real capital of Punjab. It is just that it happens to lie outside the geographical realms of India!
About Kila Raipur Sports Festival (KRSF) Before going for the event, every time I mentioned it to my friends that I wished to attend the Village Olympics in Punjab, I was invariably asked: “Ohh! So there is a sports festival just for‘gulli-danda’?” [Come to think of the irony, that there is simply no ‘gulli-danda‘ at this event!]
KRSF has been on my travel-radar for quite a while now, but I have always been slightly hesitant in taking up this trip. As a girl I think, I was a little apprehensive that it would be rowdy. But it is not. It is boisterous, an adjective which is inherently ‘Punjab’. More than the destination, it is the journey that matters (at least, to a traveller), and I, purely by luck, bumped into DelhiByFoot and teamed up with them for the journey. I don’t think I have thanked Ajit, my friend, enough for putting me in touch with this awesome bunch of people!
Kila ‘Rapper’, as the locals refer to it, has been celebrating the spirit of rural sports for last 81 years. Grewals, the jat-community of Punjab, that finds its origin in and around the area called Kila Raipur, were the initiators of the event way back in 1933. The body that co-ordinates and manages the event, called Grewal Sporting Association, is extremely proud of its rural heritage.
The venue is a sports stadium in the ‘pind’ (village) of Kila Raipur, with both the ends seamlessly merging into vastness of fields that has wheat and mustard crops sown in. This bit is on purpose, as the various races that have animals as participants, need more area to stop the follow-through of the run. The animals run at great speeds and run much past the finish line, into the fields before finally coming to a halt.
The event, due to its rustic nature, is a crowd-puller for two distinct kinds of people. One – the locals, for whom it is an annual event of great significance. It borders sacrosanctity for the participants and this can be sensed from the way they bend down, touch the ground and then their forehead to pay respect to the ‘start-line’ before the commencement of any race. The other chunk comprises curious artists from various mediums – photographers, videographers, documentary film-makers and bloggers. Kila Raipur Sports Festival encompasses the disparate crowd with surprising ease and effortlessness.
It was refreshing to see a sporting-event which, the likes of Coca-Cola and Pepsi are yet to corrupt. My heart did a little jig out of pure happiness! Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against these companies (except the health factor, maybe). It is just that most of the FMCG sponsors make EVERY event look like a clone of the other, thereby stripping the event of any individuality that it may have once had.
At KRSF, most of the sponsors were Indian companies. A few were, predictably, the ones that manufacture agriculture-related machinery and fertilizer companies. The food-stalls at the venue were totally ‘desi’ fare. Sugar-cane juices, fruit-salads, pocket-kulcha, Kinoo Fruit-juice, chaat, chai and samosas were being sold at the stalls and hand-carts that could be spotted right outside the venue.
Even though these items were being prepared fresh, the hygiene level is slightly ‘iffy’ because of all the dust in the area. I can digest just about anything, so I enjoyed everything. But I suggest, please go ahead with the food-items only if your system is not too sensitive. Or else, peanuts aren’t that bad an alternative!
The Event Every time I tried to gather any information about KRSF, all I could lay my hands on were the images from event. It was not very helpful in communicating about how to go about it- the stay, commute, food etc. Thanks to DelhiByFoot and subsequently my own research I am now in a position to put together some information which will hopefully help people in the future.
KRSF celebrates the regular as well as not-so-regular sports categories with great enthusiasm. The one with the regular races like- 400m race, 200m race, shot-put throw etc for various categories and the others like grey-hound race, bullock-cart race, mule-race and tractor race. The latter is something that draws influence from the rural-lifestyle.
What garners the maximum accolades is the category with individual stunt-like feats of strength by the villagers, for example – lifting a plough with the teeth, a tractor rolling over a man lying on the ground, pulling a car with one’s teeth, lifting a 100kg sack with one’s mouth, motorcycle stunts etc.
KRSF acknowledges and honors the handicapped people with great pride and successfully communicates that a human being can achieve so much if they choose to look beyond their imperfections. Here is an image from one such event.
For me, the most interesting ones were the team-events like : Loading and off-loading of tractor-trolley with gunny-bags full of grains and Kabaddi.
Here is a list of events at KRSF. My highlights of the crowd-pulling events are below.
Bullock Cart Race
The traditional bullock carts are replaced by a smaller and lighter cart attachment called ‘thokar’, to reduce serious injuries to both man and animal due to accidents/collisions of speeding carts.
Tractor Race In a Punjab village how can tractors not be racing each other?! The ultimate salute to male machismo!
Traditional Races and Sports too!
Ludhiana is the city closest to KRSF venue. DelhiByFoot made arrangements for our stay in a hotel called Mahal, on Ferozpur Road. A decent place with delightfully clean washrooms. For me, a clean washroom is more important than the room itself. The other alternative would be a home-stay close to the venue. No options that we came to know of though! It will not only cut down the hassles of commuting, but would also give you a sneak-peek into the rural-life.
The best bet? Pack a tent and pitch it close to the venue. Close by, there is the main village called Kila Raipur. Befriend a local guy for your basic needs. Have fun! (Not recommended for female solo-travellers though!)
KRSF ‘s venue is at a distance of approximately 18 kilometers from Ludhiana. You can, from the main bus-station, take a local bus to Dhellon, which is at a distance of 3 kilometers from the venue. From Dhellon, you can take a shared autorickshaw (or book one for yourself entirely) to Kila Raipur Sports Festival. This drill is effortless while going to the venue, but God save you if you more than two travellers (AND have women in the group), trying to get back to Ludhiana after the day KRSF is over!
The road outside the venue is nothing too amazing to get stranded at. Especially after it is dark. It goes dead, with almost no public transport. Not a soul to spot, for long duration of time. Your best bet would be to book a cab/taxi from Ludhiana for the day. This way, no matter how late you get, you’ll not have to worry about ‘how to-s’ of getting back to the town. DelhiByFoot did the next best thing, they booked autorickshaw for us the whole of 2 days!
Punjab Da Flavour
To Dos for a first-timer to KRSF: 1) While it is important that you click pictures to be uploaded on social media, it is also important that you observe the event with your naked eyes. And soul. ‘Observe’ and not ‘watch’. Yes.
Because‘the want’ to click the perfect picture takes a toll on the way you experience the event. You miss a lot of action. Fixing the ISO, the shutter-speed, the mode and the aperture takes your attention away from the pre-race apprehensions of the participants, the anticipation of winning, the jubilant celebrations once a favorite participant wins, the commentary and much more.
2) Talk to the locals They have so much to tell! Notice how emotions run high (in a positive way) for this event. Also, listen to the murmurs as the participants touch the finish line. It tells so much about how the event is H-U-G-E, for the local people.
3) Sample the local farePunjab is much more than Butter Chicken or Chicken Tandoori! As I have mentioned above, keep your gastronomic explorations within the tolerance capacity you have built up in your travels. It is no fun lying in the hotel room with an upset tummy, especially if you have travelled especially for an event like KRSF.
Please Do Not However: 1) Depend on the venue or its location for food or bottled water. It has, practically nothing to eat if you are even slightly discerning. Carry your own food and water if you plan to be there at the venue for the whole day. DelhiByFoot by virtue of being registered as ‘Photography & Media Partners’ with the KRSF, had access to clean drinking water and a midday snack of ‘Paneer Rolls’ (Imagine eating vegetarian in Punjab!)
2) Think that every day will have the same events. Not even one day is worth missing. Period.
3) Crazily risk your life to get a few good pictures. Photographers, I know, would disagree. But an animal is an animal; and for events like these, often high on drugs! It makes sense to watch out and be careful!
4) Expect this to be a swanky and slickly organised ‘Urban Mela’ event! It is as rustic as it can get.
Lastly, my suggestion to KRSF; how about adding ‘gulli-danda’ as one of the sports, to this event?!!
Hope you as much fun going through this blog post as we had at KRSF and in putting together this photo-story for you!
“Mohay apnay hi rung mein rang ley, Tu toh saaheb mera Mehboob-e-Ilaahi”
The relationship of Hazrat Amir Khusrow, the poet-extraordinaire and musician with his master Mehboob-e-Ilaahi Khwaja Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliais well documented and known by all lovers of Chisti Sufiyana Silsila and Sufi Tasawwuf . Our forum has also dwelled upon it here. Amir Khusrow’s treasure trove of music (Qawwaalis and Poems written in mix of Hindvi, Khari Boli, Urdu and Persian) celebrate his love for the ‘Khwaja’ , his spiritual master and one can experience it through multiple celebrations at the Dargah (Mausoleum) throughout the year.
But the most unique of such celebrations at the Dargah happens every year in Jan/Feb as Northern India marks the onset of Basant Hritu (also pronounced as Vasant Ritu, meaning Spring Season)! Yes, its the Sufi version of the Hindu festival of ‘Basant Panchami’ , an everlasting legacy of Hazrat Amir Khusrow which annually envelopes the Holy Dargah in yellow color and merry music associated with the season of spring!
Legend tells us that Khwaja Nizamuddin Aulia, was so aggrieved by the death of his nephew Taqiuddin Nooh, who had a sudden, untimely death that he withdrew himself from worldly affairs, avoided meeting his followers and spent all of his time at his newphew’s grave or in his ‘Chilla-e-Sharif’ (place of residence). His disciples were worried and tried many a ruse to make their Khwaja talk again, make him happy, just as he was before the tragedy. But alas all failed. Even his most favourite disciple, Amir Khusro tried to reason with him in many ways but failed to cheer him up.
Then one day, Khusrow noticed some young women dressed in yellow clothes, adorned with yellow flowers of ‘Gendaful’ (marigold) who were celebrating Vasant Utsav(Spring Festival) with a lot of singing, fun and gaiety, as they went to their temples to pray. Seeing this an idea struck Khusrow, who immediately donned a yellow Ghaagra (Skirt-style Indian traditional dress), covered his face with a Chunni (scarf), hung garlands of yellow marigold around his neck and with a bunch of sarson flowers (mustard) stuck to his Dhol, he landed at his master’s room and began singing and dancing to a self-composed song “Aaj Basant Manaaley Suhagan…Aaj Basant Manaaley Suhagan”.
Seeing this spectacle and knowing it was Khusrow under the woman’s garb who was singing and dancing with gay abandon, it is said that Hazrat Nizamuddin burst out laughing! The spell of gloom was suddenly lifted and the whole congregation of his followers erupted in joy! Since then, every year for more than seven centuries now, Sufi Basant has became a regular festival in remembrance of the incident, at the same time acting as the harbinger of the proverbial spring’s sunny joys after the gloom of winter, highlighting the cyclical nature of nature, the awakening and rejuvenation of life itself.
What happens today?
What happens today? The Dargah’s senior priests and Qawwaal singers, dress up in yellow and wear Basanti (Yellow-hued) scarves, chaadars and caps, post which they take out a joyous procession around the Nizamuddin Basti, carrying gendaful (marigold) and pots of sarson flowers (Yellow Mustard) through the narrow alleys, which reverberate with the sounds of Qawwaalis and Dhol (Drums).
Offering flowers and prayers on every important grave in the area they finally reach the main Dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and after laying down the offerings of a yellow chaadar and yellow flowers, the Qawwaal singers settle down for a long session of soulful renditions of Hindvi and Persian Qawwalis; Mostly written by Amir Khusrow himself to praise the coming of sunny spring and the disciple’s everlasting love for his master.
The pomp and splendour has dwindled away over the last seven centuries, and we have noticed a gradual decline even in this last decade or so, that we have been visiting the Dragah on Basant. Still a very merry ceremony of sorts continues to happen, making the community come alive in a celebration that’s worth a visit. So go Dilli go…next year in Basant.
Leaving you with a Sufi Basant Song and its words….Wish you all a very Happy Basant and colorful time ahead of you…
Aaj basant manaalay suhaagun,
Aaj basant manaalay;
Anjan manjan kar piya mori,
Lambay neher lagaaye;
Tu kya sovay neend ki maasi,
So jaagay teray bhaag, suhaagun,
Aaj basant manalay…..;
Oonchi naar kay oonchay chitvan,
Ayso diyo hai banaaye;
Shaah-e Amir tohay dekhan ko,
Nainon say naina milaaye,
Suhaagun, aaj basant manaalay.
Rejoice, my love, rejoice,
Its spring here, rejoice.
Bring out your lotions and toiletries,
And decorate your long hair.
Oh, you’re still enjoying your sleep, wake-up.
Even your destiny has woken up,
Its spring here, rejoice.
You snobbish lady with arrogant looks,
The King, Amir Khusrow is here to look at you;
Let your eyes meet his,
Oh my love, rejoice;
Its spring here again.
Kaushal is a practicing lawyer in the Delhi Courts but when he is not pitching his case in front of a Judge of a Court, this wanderer at heart takes his notebook and camera and hits the streets of his adopted city, Delhi. An unfortunate accident last year rendered him immobile but gave him ample time to pursue his long desired dream of penning down his thoughts as a traveller, an explorer and seeker of knowledge. He blogs about his travels and discoveries on Rediscover Your Dreams.
Recently, my appetite for travelling has brought me closer to one of the most intrinsic community of our country i.e. the Muslim or Islamic Community. My earlier post on the Nizamuddin Dargah would reveal how I loved exploring the culture and customs of the people, which unfortunately I had never come in contact earlier so closely. My earlier little encounters with the community had given birth to the inquisitiveness to acquaint myself more with the notions of the community and find answers to certain questions which had been swinging in my mind for a long time.
My quest for fathoming the concepts and beliefs of the community made me sign up for a ‘Sufi Baithak’ (A discussion on Sufism) organized by ‘DelhiByFoot’in association with‘Kunzum’. The ‘Baithak’, first of its kind (Sufi Baithaks were usually held in private family gatherings, festivals and functions), unlocked the heavenly doors of the spiritually rich Sufi culture and traditions to general public and how the customs have evolved over the span of several centuries. The 3-hour chat and musical interactions took place at the ‘Kunzum Cafe‘, aptly situated at the 2nd Sultanate city of Delhi, Hauz Khas.
Ramit Mitra, founder of DelhiByFoot, welcomed the participants with an introduction of the evening programme’s format and the rationale behind the Baithak. He touched upon briefly the similarities of Islamic Sufism and the parallel Hindu Bhakti movement in India and hoped that this humble beginning by DBF, which was but a dip in the vast ocean of Sufi Heritage in Delhi, would reaffirm DBF’s core philosphy to present more and more unique cultural experiences to people of Delhi.
Ramit then handed over the Baithak discussions to Syed Ajmal Nizami, who was to lead the evening’s talk. Ajmal Ji is one of the descendants of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya close family and also the families entrusted with the care of Nizamuddin Auliya’s Dargah (mausoleum) and his spiritual legacy for more than 6 centuries. He was accompanied by Qawwalls trained in Sufi music and who later presented the unadulterated version of Qawaallis in between the interactive sessions.
He thereafter edified the gathering on the basic tenets and concept of Sufism or ‘Tasawwuf’ , before he moved on to the splendid history of Sufism dating back to 1000+ years in time, followed by tales of present-day Baghdad where such Sufi Baithaks were common and organized and the attendees were treated to different levels of teachings, trainings and even sherbets according to their age. However, when Chenghis Khan invaded the region, he destroyed and plundered everything that came in its way and gradually the Indian Sub-Continent region became the epicenter of Sufism. Mr Ajmal then articulated the story of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and how soon he became the face of Sufism in the world.
Syed Ajmal Ji narrated some beautiful anecdotes from the life of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and his favourite disciple Hazrat Amir Khurso, who is attributed for creating thousands of verses, poems, riddles, couplets in Arabic, Persian, Awadhi, Khadiboli and with inventing and improving 2 important musical instruments like Sitar, Tabla and formulating various Taranas (a composition of classical vocal music in which certain words based on Arabic and Persian phonemes are rendered at medium or fast pace). Hazrat Amir Khusro is also accredited for creating countless Qawaallis in the service of ‘The Almighty’ and his Guru Nizamuddin Auliya.
The Baithak then progressed to the concept of Sufism and the genesis of the word “Sufi”. Syed Ajmal enunciated number of origins of the word Sufi among which I absorbed one to my heart. It is said that the word Sufi originated from the Arabic word Safa which means purity and clarity. Thus, Sufi means a person whose heart is pure and clear from all the materialistic adulterations and the one who respects everyone. I strongly believe that the other origins explained by Syed Ajmal also conveyed more or less the same meaning.
Upon hearing the above definition and origin of the word Sufi, it felt that what it aimed to convey, resembled the teachings embodied in the manuscripts of Hindu religion (which I have been following in recent past). The only difference lies in the nomenclature. It made me comprehend that every religion in its original, traditional form is secular and only aims to serve humanity towards the goal of achieving Nirvana. It does not makes any distinction among its beneficiaries and treats every human being equal, irrespective of their religions. It is very clear from life and teaching of Sufi Saints or Hindu Saints who never made distinction among people on the basis of religion. It is only the when the minds get infected with impurities and misguided fundamentalism, a feeling of hatred and intolerance arises among the masses which leads to unfortunate events, which multiplies it further.
In between the discussions swinging from Sufi traditions to anecdotes to Kalaams (verses/couplets) and to Q&A sessions, the evening was bestowed with heart-warming Qawaallis from the Qawwalls (Sufi Singers) who have practiced the Sufi music in its traditional and non-commercial pattern, from a tender age. The small acts of respect for their ancestors by the Qawwalls, who touched their ears whenever the Saint’s name was uttered during Qawallis or discussions, made us realise the importance of such customs.
The Qawaallis filled the venue with an altogether different aura and energy which can only be embraced and understood by the heart and cannot be described in words. The soulful music and the raw energy of the Qawwalls. The cries of ‘Waah, waah’ by all participants rent the air. The fragrance of Incense sticks and ‘Attar’ made the ambience perfect for all of us that evening.
Even though the Qawaallis were in different languages including Arabic, Persian, Punjabi, Urdu and many times I could not understand each word’s meaning, but Syed Ajmal and the accompanying Qawwalls elaborated their essence, meanings and multiple interpretations of the verses to the gathering. The beautiful Qawallis touched the hearts of everyone present proving once again that music has no language and boundaries. Sufi music is no different and the language of music does not lies in its words but it floats in the air through its rhythm which can be imbibed by every listener!
After several rounds of discussion and elegant Qawaallis, the Baithak or Mehfil (as they call in Urdu) finally culminated with the famous Qawalli “Damadam Mastkalander….” and some Kashmiri Kahwa along with another delight- Sheermal (a sort of fluffy mildly sweet bread) which according Syed Ajmal has been an integral part of such Sufi gatherings.
The Baithak was certainly an eye opener for people like me who have very little knowledge about the vibrant Sufi culture and customs and I would definitely like to thank ‘DelhiByFoot’, Syed Ajmal Nizami and the accompanying Qawalls for bringing out such a novel concept to promote our culture and making us part of something which will relish forever in our hearts.
Connaught Place or CP as most refer to it, was recently listed by Forbes magazine to be the 5th most expensive ‘office destination’ in the world! And if the plans formulated by NDMC and Delhi Government are taken to their logical conclusion (albeit at DMRC-speeds!) and notwithstanding the new AAP ki Delhi Government (no pun intended), then the day is not far when probably CP will become the most expensive office address in the world and the biggest open air Mall of India…
NDMC has been at work since early 2010 to carry out necessary beautification, repairs of the facades and pillars of CP, standardizing the billboards/signages of shops and offices and attempting to regulate the unauthorized constructions which have taken place in the past few decades of Delhi’s relentless march towards urbanisation.
But a salient feature of the efforts in beautifying CP forever is another project of the ‘underground’ types. Almost 80 years after Connaught Plaza or Place was completed in 1933 as part of the grand city plan for New Delhi envisaged by Lutyens, EIL or Engineers India Limited and NDMC has succeeded in making the biggest addition to CP. A 7 metres x 7metres utility tunnel has been dug up and constructed under the road which lies between the Outer and Inner Circles of CP, popularly called Middle Circle.
How will the tunnel help in beautifying CP?
The new tunnel is designed to carry all service equipments such as electric and communication cables, water supply and irrigation lines, fire fighting services, water sewers etc. The idea was to remove the ugly eyesores that dotted the famous shopping and commerical hub and also end the need forever to dig-up roads to lay down new cables, water pipes, sewage pipes etc.
Robert Tor Russell, chief architect to the Public Works Department (PWD) in the British Government of India, who designed CP in the 1920s would never have imagined that one day people like you and me would walk along this huge tunnel, which is 1.2 Kms long running in a circle around the circumference of the circle that CP is designed as.
The tunnel has been built at a cost of Rs485Crores. Figures are as per the EIL’s engineer who met us from the invited contingent of Media and Delhi Bloggers.
The NDMC has kept the tunnel open for public viewing from 11:30AM till 4:30PM daily till 4th Jan 2014. If interested to check it out reach Middle Circle on Janpath (R1) Road entering Inner Circle from Outer Circle.
Guest Post and Photographs by Priyanka Bhaskar, a DelhiByFoot community member about our first ‘Out-of-Delhi’ Event of 2013 done earlier in March. Additional pictures by Ramit Mitra, founder of DelhiByFoot and organising leader of this 2-day trip.
Priyanka is a true-blood travel and trekking enthusiast, having completed tough treks like Everest Base Camp (2013), Chadar Trek (Ladkah, 2011) and photo-documenting Alleppey’s famed Snake Boat Race among many regular travels. When she isn’t out exploring India, she sits at her office desk in an IT company in Gurgaon, day-dreaming and planning about the next trip across the length and breadth of India!
Being educated in a Sikh school, I wasn’t a stranger to the Hola Mohalla festival. While studying Sikh history, we had learned that Guru Gobind Singh ji laid the foundation of Khalsa panth to fight Mughals and Rajputs at the same time. In the early years of the 18th century, he started the tradition of Hola Mohalla, a festival to celebrate the warrior-ship of Sikhs. Hola Mohalla is a three-day festival to showcase the bravery and regalia of the religion, which was established with valour as its fundamental principle. It is a practice that has withstood the test of time for over three centuries with all its colors, moods and heroism.
Finding it on the event list of DelhiByFoot’s ‘out-of-Delhi Events’ gave me a chance to experience the enormity of the event in person. Though it meant skipping the festival of Holi with family, for a more masculine Hola festival, it was worth taking the chance!
A day before Holi on 26th March 2013, the team gathered at Patel Chowk metro station in Delhi to board the Tempo Traveller arranged by DBFon way to the small town of Anandpur Sahib, in Punjab near the foothills of Himachal Pradesh. The incoming reports from the town suggested that huge crowds, upwards of 2.5 million people, are expected to visit the place during Hola this year, and finding accommodation in the place had been a real challenge for the organizers. But, we realized that Ramit, the founder of DelhiByFoot had skillfully organized a smooth landing and comfortable stay for all of us in the small town.
Amidst the constant chant of ‘Guru-baani’, the ‘too-much-to-handle-small-town’ traffic and golden lights of beautifully lit Gurudwaras, we reached our destination around 5am in the morning. “Sambhal ke rehna aap log, yahaan rang bhi bohat chaltaa hai aur bhang bhi bohat chaltii hai”, with this (pleasant!) warning from our driver, we got off the bus to a homely, clean and cozy guest house. After a couple of hours rest, we were all set to ‘chase the light’ before it transformed into harsh afternoon light. That was the first photography ‘mantra’ from our Photography coach, professional photo-journalist and documentary maker, Prashanth Vishwanathan.
The ‘mela’ was essentially devoid of ‘shutter bug tourists’ and was mostly flocked by locals of nearby villages and foreign tourists . The lanes and bylanes of the town were marked with arrays of make shift shops selling trinkets, colorful chakriis, dholaks (drums), bubble making loops, children’s plastic toys and other typical ‘Village Mela’ kind of knick-knacks.
After walking around for a couple of hours, it was clear that we were in for a raw, rustic and earthy ‘mela’ experience, which was far removed from the urban fare that we city buffs were used to at the Dilli Haat Melas & Fairs! The constant chant of Shabads, the hustle and bustle of vehicles marking influx of devotees and chaotic Brownian movement of villagers on the narrow streets – it all set the scene for two days of hyper activity. Ramit, in typical ‘DBF-walk style’ kept up a constant stream of stories, anecdotes and historical information flowing about the place, the festival and its passage over time, while Prashanth added his dose of photography tips. And we were loving every moment of it!
We had a quick indoor session to brush up our basics and learn tips-and-tricks from Prashanth. He showcased his shots from that morning to support the theory, and a group member commented, “We too traversed the same streets and roads yet we didn’t see all this that you have captured”. Needless to say, we were in for some good learning, qualifying the trip to be an ‘Outdoor on-ground photo workshop’. We even found many inter-village sports event to practice what we had learnt that morning. Kabaddi and wrestling tournaments were being held in the town, and well, those were some action packed events! We practiced to our hearts’ content, capturing motion and emotion at the same time, ensuring to be on the right side of the light and being cautious at the same time to not fall into the ring!!
Later that afternoon, we witnessed the Gatka (mock warfare encounters) competitions. Even the audience was equipped with assorted varieties of arms, let alone the participants- spears, ‘desi’ guns and swords to name a few. We felt like we had been tele-ported back in time. Ramit had fortunately enough, got us special ‘Press’ access on the stage to witness the event from close quarters. There were numerous such moments when I would miss a beat and forget to click.
The events continued till late evening, giving us a chance to shoot in the changing outdoor’s light. Our mentor, Prashanth continuously reminded us the lesson of using correct white-balance as afternoon gave way to evening which turned to night.
Day2: Lazy start to the day. The grand finale of the event was scheduled for the later half of the day. Ramit had managed to get our group invited to the house of one of the locals of Anandpur Sahib who as a gracious host had invited us for tea and then presented each of us with a traditional ‘saffron’ colored cotton scarf which meant that most of us took advantage of the morning’s free time to get some turban tying done. We were now a team of ‘Rajnikath-for-Bhagat-Singh’, ‘almost-convincing-Sukhdev’ and a ‘genuinely-turbaned-Sikhnee’ in the group.
We ambled at comfortable pace, walking past the campsites of Nihangs, dodging the few rare occasions of Holi colors of ‘Gulaal’ being applied and braving the sudden unexpected rains.
It was time for yet another photography lesson before the mega horse-riding events – the lesson of panning. Panning essentially is an art to make moving objects look static and static background look as if it is zooming past. So there we were, all of us standing in a queue beside the lane, and not just focusing the camera on every passerby but also moving it at the speed they were moving. Well, what we were unable to master with gently moving humans, we were hoping to attempt with lightning speed horses. Pipe dreams!
The procession of participants of the grand finale was to start soon and there was a palpable sense of excited anticipation among the people on the streets. Although spirits were a bit dampened by the unseasonal rain that delayed the whole event by almost an hour, however all gloom was lifted as soon as the procession hit the road! We ran hither and thither to keep pace with the bustling energy of the procession. The mock battles, the warrior dances, the rhythm of the Dhols, the war-cries of ‘Jo bole so nihaal’ and breath-taking stunts – to capture all at once was challenging for the best of us.
Soon the hordes of Nihangs riding on their neighing horses, led by their dera heads arrived at the venue alongwith flashy cars and modified Bullet Bikes. The much awaited equestrian sports began. Crowds lined up on both side of the alley in which the tent pegging event was to happen. And then came the array of mounted horsemen, riding at full gallop, using lances(spears) to scoop up grass bundles from the ground. Even with my camera set in a continuous shooting mode at an interval of 2 seconds, the horse was at the entry point in one shot and out of the frame in the next! Many photo enthusiasts, including myself, were dragged away and saved just in time from being trampled under the furiously driven horses’ hooves as we lost all sense of speed and time behind the cameras! I think I was right in abandoning the dream of panning shots.
Then came the turn for bare back horse riding – one rider and one horse; one rider, two horses and hands up in the air; and finally hold your breath, since it was one rider, three horses and hands up in the air! Although I had seen the photos of this event many times, it was no match for the rush of adrenaline when experienced in person!! After going click-click for a few rounds , and almost getting trampled by the oncoming fast horses, as I kept trying to get good shots, I gave up and decided to give my camera rest and take it all in with my eyes!
A gala finish to a gala event. The event left the whooshing sound in our heads for quite some time afterwards. The small town was enveloped in peace and quiet again, but our memories were well-preserved in our hearts and cameras as we departed for Delhi. Tired but overwhelmed with the experiences, we seemingly returned to present-day reality from a time-travel back into history.
Today is World Photography Day and while looking through my collection of pics clicked by me or collated over the years from various sources, this pic of Delhi from the LIFE Magazine Archives stopped me.
So let me see if I can transport you back in time, to just over a 100 years ago, in the streets of Shajahanabad!
Imagine a ride on the roads of Delhi in an electric, train-like, rickety, single carriage vehicle, which runs so slowly, yet surely on its circuit of iron tracks that you could alight or board the tram at any given point of time, if you had a certain level of minimum fitness! Imagine you gaze at the Red Fort passing by, at horse-drawn carts (Tongas) going their way making the characteristic ‘clip-clop’ noise carrying men and purdah-clad women with their families. The trees lining the central verge of Chandni Chowk pass by your window and Gurudwara Sis Ganj comes into view. The smells and sights of the Jalebis and Kachori-Aloo Sabzee permeates your senses. You are hard-pressed to find any motorised version of transport. And a drop in electricity voltage may just stop the tramcar in its tracks, that important appointment be damned!!! You get down and quickly order a plate of Samosas, and just at that moment the Tramcar Conductor rings the bell to let all know that the electricity is back. You rush to get onboard, the Samosa-vendor trailing you to receive his 1 or 2 Annas for the 2 Samosas and walks along the tram car chatting with you as he brings out the requisite paisas/annas to return back to you…and the Tram rolls on towards the Fatehpuri Masjid and you settle down for the slow-rocking journey to your ultimate destination, the Sadar Bazar.
The year was 1908 and the first Electric Trams were introduced by the English for the population of Chandni Chowk, Jama Masjid, Lal Kuan, Fatehpuri Masjid and Sadar Bazar areas, basically Delhi-6 (Pin Code 110006)
Did you know that Delhi had a robust Electric Tram service in Old Delhi till as late as 1963?
Pic courtesy: Life Magazine Arhives
Kolkata was the first city to get its own Tram Service, as the English were based at Fort Williams and Calcutta was the capital of the Empire. Bombay also had its Tram service before Delhi and both Calcutta and Bombay saw use of Horse-drawn Trams. But Delhi graduated directly to an electric version!!
For almost 55 yrs the trams continued in service of Dilliwallas on 15Kms of track around Delhi6 areas but were ultimately discontinued in the early 1960s due to rising costs of maintenance and to make way for faster means of transportation like motorised vehicles…
I look forward to such a leisurely Tram journey on the streets of Shajahanabad…Do you?