Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Trip through Old Delhi

This most recent weekend was spent visiting parts of Old Delhi, specifically the Red Fort & the shopping district.

The Red Fort is a 17th century fort complex constructed by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. It served as the capital of the Mughals until 1857. The British used it as a military camp until India became independent in 1947. It was then used by the Indian military until 2003.

You come into the complex walking through a series of covered shops selling all sorts of nik-naks (including fridge magnets). You the enter through the Naqqar Khana into the royal pavilions.

There are a number of buildings in this part of the complex: Diwan-i-Aam The large pavilion used for public imperial audiences. It has an ornate throne-balcony for use by the emperor & prime minister. The columns were painted in gold and there was a gold and silver railing separating the throne from the public.

This was also the place where the Peacock throne was to be found. The following is taken from Wikipedia:

The name comes from the shape of a throne, having the figures of two peacocks standing behind it, their tails being expanded and the whole so inlaid with sapphires, rubies, emeralds, pearls and other precious stones of appropriate colors as to represent life, created for the Mughal Badshah Shah Jahan of India in the 17th century. Shah Jahan had the famous Koh-i-noor diamond placed in this throne. The French jeweler Tavernier, who saw Delhi in 1665, described the throne as of the shape of a bed (a "takhteh" or platform), 6 ft. by 4 ft., supported by four golden feet, 20 to 25 in. high, from the bars above which rose twelve columns to support the canopy; the bars were decorated with crosses of rubies and emeralds, and also with diamonds and pearls. In all there were 108 large rubies on the throne, and 116 emeralds, but many of the latter had flaws. The twelve columns supporting the canopy were decorated with rows of splendid pearls, and Tavernier considered these to be the most valuable part of the throne. Estimates of its value varied between Rs. 40 million (Bernier) and Rs. 100 million (Tavernier).

The throne disappeared in 1739 when the Persians invaded.

Behind the Diwan-i-Aam, you come into another courtyard area containing the following buildings from left to right: The Diwan-i-Khas is a pavilion clad completely in marble. The pillars are decorated with floral carvings and inlay work with many semi-precious stones (long since looted). The floral carvings are pretty amazing though.

The Mumtaz Mahal (now a museum – that didn’t seem to be open)

The Rang Mahal – the Harem quarters. This area had an amazing collection of water channels that (unfortunately) didn’t have any water running through them. That was a bit a shame really because this complex is all about highlighting the mix of Persian & Mughal styles & water was a big part of that.

Beside the Diwan-i-Khas is the Moti Masjid, otherwise known as the Pearl Mosque. It was the private mosque for Aurangzeb.

Lunch at Moti Mahal

We got a rickshaw to take us to this quite famous Indian restaurant. Can I just say that Tania & I could barely fit into the rickshaw.

Moti Mahal restaurant is supposedly where butter chicken was created & it featured in a recent Channel 4 television series with Gordon Ramsey.

We just had to try the butter chicken: it was great with a tangy sweet taste we think was mango. With our bellies full, it was then time to head into the heart of old Delhi: the narrow, crowded streets. As an aside, we asked the folks at Moti Mahal about Gordon Ramsey. Without really saying anything, the implication was that he couldn’t make a descent Butter Chicken. We all had a good laugh.

The Spice Markets of old Delhi

Our friendly rickshaw riders delivered us into the heart of the spice markets. We found ourselves being led down narrow & crowded streets of shop after shop selling spices. He then led us into this back alleyway which was a bustling hive of activity.

The place was full of sacks of spices (mainly chillies). The air was so thick with the scent of chillies & garman marsala that you were struggling to breathe at times. The fact that all the guys there were coughing up their lungs didn’t instil you with confidence.

As we were being led up a darkened staircase, we all joked about visions of being led into a trap where we’d be knocked unconscious & either sold into the slave trade or our organs harvested. As it turns out, we were just a tad paranoid: it became very apparent that our rickshaw driver was simply taking yet another group of tourists on his little “guided tour” of the district.

So...did we actually buy any spices ?? You bet !! Chris wanted some saffron so we popped into this one particular place (randomly chosen). Well......thirty minutes & about $AUD200.00 later, both groups walk out with enough packages spices to last a lifetime. We bought . The guy was a very slick salesman who knew how to put on the charms.

The Jewellery sector of old Delhi

Our next (& final stop) was to the jewellery quarter. We suddenly found ourselves off the main road & cycling up these even narrower alleys (they weren’t roads) where you had the mass of humanity, motorbikes, vespers & other rickshaws all struggling to make their way to wherever it was they were going.

The sight of this chaos was mind-boggling, yet it seemed to flow fairly relatively smoothly (for the most part).

We were in search of this one particular shop which turned out to be in this side street called the “nine houses” because there are nine houses/shops in this oasis of tranquillity from the madness of the alleys. We’d come to get Tania’s engagement ring fixed (the stone had popped out). We saw some beautiful things there & I bought Tania a lovely “Star of India” brooch & necklace.

With this done, it was time to call it a day & make our way home. We’d been out most of the day; it had been a hot day; we were tired & sore; we were covered in dust so we decided to head to the “Imperial” hotel (via a tuk-tuk) for a refreshing (& as it turns out....expensive) drink in the air-conditioned comfort of one of the grandest hotels in New Delhi. It was a very civilised way to end a chaotic & mad day.

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