A.J. Walker


A Monumental Last Day in Delhi

It’s midday but, with the winter solstice just a couple of days away, the warm watery sun is casting evening long shadows across the well kept lawns of Safdarjang Tomb.  It sits serenely in the square grounds and is said to be the last of the great Mughal buildings. The large off white dome, home to sprouting grasses and a multitude of pigeons, sits atop of the square and beautifully proportioned red and white sandstone building.

For just a few rupees I seem to have found the quietest place in Delhi, with barely sixty people in the grounds. A few foreign tourists walk around the building with their cameras slung around their necks, clasping their guide books. The majority of the elite band of visitors are young local couples sheltering from prying eyes at the furthest points from the entrance gate, beneath the trees, which are evenly spaced out across the spotless lawns.

Lying on the grass, watching the black kites swirl over head in the deep blue cloudless sky and listening to the bird song and the chirping sound of the playful chipmunks I feel completely relaxed. The noise of the roads, and the dust and chaos of Delhi, lies just a few hundred metres away, but like any good garden you quickly forget where you are.

This last day in Delhi has been blessed by beautiful weather - like the best of June in England - calm, warm and cloudless. Lying back with my head on my rucksack, looking at my ‘not-to-scale’ map, I make a decision to miss out on the railway museum far to the west and instead head east for the less geeky Purana Qila fortress. Hoping to see if I can find another beautiful building.

The walk from the tomb takes me across a wide but surprisingly manageable junction to the suburbs of Lodi Road, where I dive through the hedges into Lodi Gardens. Screaming school children, shouting picnickers and the sound of tennis balls on plastic cricket bats are in sharp contrast to the tranquility of Sadfarjang’s Tomb. These free gardens are very much a family place to congregate . A grand patchwork of colourful blankets are spread out across the grass demarcating each groups space, dotted with bright cushions and heavy bags of food and drink. While fathers, brothers and sisters all play cricket games the stout mothers and the grandparents keep guard on the blankets protecting both their space and the mountains of food.

Lodi park is home to the several ancient tombs and mosques, but unlike the paid for sights these ‘protected’ monuments are crumbling and far from looked after. While young children run around playing roughy and noisily through the tombs, older children clamber up the sides to sit on the roofs.  Around one of the tombs lies a couple of condoms. Seemingly the only protection around these monuments.

After walking around the lively park I head off toward the massive Purana Qila fortress in need of some quiet beauty. The walk takes me back into the busier part of the city negotiating chaotic roads, the clunky curbs and busy pavements. Feeling the dust and diesel filling my eyes and choking my lungs I suddenly forget the gentle morning I’ve had and then I’m faced with the defensive red behemoth of the fort towering above the Delhi streets. It’s architecture of a different meaning than the tomb and it’s not subtle.

Outside the fortress the lake beneath the wall is carpeted with brashly coloured pedalos and row boats looking like a wet bumper car ride. Barely protected from the adjacent main road by a thin screen of trees it’s doing a noisy and roaring trade. Young men and women side saddling on their Hero Honda bikes zig zag ungainly through the paths giving me further thought to my own safety.

Now I’m a few hours from my flight home and a text comes through from mum to warn me that it’s snowing at home. As the large blood orange sun sets over the redundant fortress I muse about a wonderful Indian experience; the food, the people, the beauty, the ugliness and the madness. It was great.