Morning at the Masjid

I have always been partial to Delhi during the winter months because I believe that is simply the most enjoyable time to visit there. Ok so our homes might not be the best insulated on the planet and we shudder at the thought of a morning bath. Flights are forever delayed and we all hate the fog. But all of that is more than made up by the feeling one gets every morning in the warm snugness of a razai (quilt) with the sun’s first rays filtering through the window…

…edging us on to make best the hours of sun light that lie ahead. Those lazy afternoons in the garden, enjoying the warmth, sipping on beer and munching on mouth watering ‘mooli’ (raddish / daikon) garnished with lemon and spice..ah, what I’d give to enjoy another spell of the Delhi winter..

It’s in these very winter months where one can do things and explore areas one would never contemplate through the rest of the year. Many such explorations have crossed my mind from time to time but I’ve never really gotten down to doing any – till this winter i.e. The winter chill, early morning light and Delhi’s famed Mughal era monuments are a photographer’s delight (amateur as I may be!). I’ve always dreamt of doing an early morning walk along Lodhi Rd starting on the east side with Humayun’s tomb, going through Lodhi gardens and ending at Safdarjung’s tomb on the west side. Each a spectacle in its own right. However, this winter it wasn’t to be. Instead on the suggestion of my photographer friend and fellow rail buff Dileep we decided to wander through the by lanes of Chawri Bazaar, make our way to the Jama Masjid and end the morning with some well deserved ‘Nihari’ (shin) breakfast at a local eatery.

The Jama Masjid had been visited before on many an occasion if only to sample Karim’s delights during the month of Ramzaan. Those visits however were at night and sadly without a camera in hand. I was going to be seeing the famous Mosque by day for the first time – a shame considering I’ve been in Delhi for so long now but as the saying goes, better late than never.

So there it was in all its morning glory as Mohan and I made our way by cycle rickshaw from Chawri Bazaar’s metro station to the Masjid. ‘Masjid-i-Jahan Numa’ or ‘mosque commanding a view of the world’ is the actual name for this Masjid and it was built during the tenure of Shah Jahan in 1656 AD. Rumoured to hold up to 25,000 worshippers in its courtyard, it is without doubt the largest and best known Mosque in the country.

Closer up and the views are as grand as the sheer mass of the structure itself..

We were eco-friendly (for a change!) as far as transport to and from the Masjid was concerned and Dileep really set the precedent for the rest of us. While Mohan and me made it there by Metro and Rickshaw, Dileep actually cycled all of the 10 kms from his home! Dileep was well familiar with the area having spent his college years there at Delhi University’s north campus. Mohan brought with him a wealth of knowledge he has about that part of Delhi as he does with most parts of India. As for me, I was the novice and outsider gaping in awe and clicking away as only an NRI would. Mind you I take strong offence to that term. NRB (non resident Bombaiya) yes, NRI – no way! 😉

We started our walk around the Masjid from its east facing side and the approach road, I regret to say, is nothing short of a national shame..

Funnily enough the ‘Waqf board’ which runs the Mosque doesn’t have an entry fee but charges a ridiculous 200 rupees for every still camera taken into the Masjid. It is absurd given that all other heritage monuments in the country which are mostly run by the ASI (Archeological Survey of India) allow cameras for a measly 10 or 15 rupees and invariably charge an entry fee. I mean one wouldn’t mind paying 200 if only the money was put to good use – read cleaning up the approach roads for starters!

So while there were at least 7 youths employed by the W board guarding the entrance like hawks and playing a round of cards as they did so, I did manage to steal just this snap of the courtyard..

This is the north gate. Not the most impressive of facades I know but a glimpse of the west facing main one can only be photographed for free (!) from the outside..

The main mosque is west facing and constitutes 3 domes, flanked by 2 minarets. The courtyard and mosque can be accessed through 3 gates on the north, east and south side. Worshippers face the main facade looking west towards Mecca.

Steps made of red sandstone lead up to the 3 entrances and this gives the mosque a commanding elevation over its surroundings – even today!

That’s another view of the east entrance bathed in the early morning light. Wikipedia has it that the entire structure was built by 5000 artisans for a princely sum of 10 lakh rupees. The structure is a mix of white and black marble, red sandstone with the topmost part of the domes covered in gold. Needless to say it is a stunner from any angle and the attention to detail is simply astounding.

Time for some Nihari now and Dileep guides us to a known eatery. It isn’t the same as that from his college days but he hopes the chef won’t disappoint. The tea is at best passable (still suffering from the Darj hangover), the nihari is good but the ‘rotis’ (indian bread) easily steal the show. Turns out that the Nihari was mutton and not beef. Dileep is left disappointed. “Pack mat karana” (don’t pack it) he orders the cook sternly as we make our way out from the shop.

No that’s not the cook and neither is that Nihari. It’s ‘Haleem’ being cooked – a slow and often over night process which mixes wheat, meat, lentils and spices to a rich and thick paste. An inviting thought no doubt but not after all that Nihari – we’d have to leave that for another visit to the area.

There is a lot more to see in these parts of Delhi – besides the Masjid ie – and as we make our way back (on foot this time!) to the metro station, it becomes apparent. The ‘gallees’ (by lanes) surrounding the Mosque are adventures on their own and one can easily spend a day strolling through them. We stuck to the thoroughfare though and even this was an experience by itself..

It is a coincidence no doubt that this colourful store shares its name with me but that’s not why I took this photo. This is part of a long chain of one stop shops that offer all kinds of spare parts to all kinds of cars from all kinds of motoring eras.. the good ‘ol willy’s jeep included!

So much for motoring mania.. Chawri bazaar on the west side of the Mosque is another enthralling adventure. Best known for its countless ‘hole in the wall’ printing shops which satiate the marriage obsessed Indian population’s burgeoning needs.

What caught my attention more than the million odd card shops was the beautifully crafted wrought iron work on some of the older buildings which were juxtaposed with gaudy looking newer structures. I’m pretty certain and sorry to say that this art – or craft as the case may be – has been lost somewhere in time.

The bazaar is home to a rich and varied collection of buildings each with their distinctive architectural house style set amidst a barrage of ungainly electric wires and hoardings. That in a way probably adds to the whole charm and character of the area. An atmosphere that can only be enjoyed and appreciated early mornings, on foot, on a nice winter day.

I could go on and on about the beautiful craftsmanship I saw in those lovely buildings but I’ll leave you today with one last image of the same..

Wake up Delhi! It’s a beautiful morning out there and the winter ain’t here to stay..

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