Centrale Montemartini

I must have read about the Centrale Montemartini some time. When The Blessed told me about a museum where Roman statues stand majestically poised against electrical generators from the thirties, it rang a bell. An added attraction was that it was not in the usual touristy regions of Rome, but in the grungy Ostiense Marconi district near the Tiber. So I accompanied my Rich Friend and The Blessed to the museum.

The 3rd level of Centrale Montemartini
Entering the Boiler Room
For us the easiest way to get to the museum was to take Metro B, get off at Garbatella station and walk the short distance to the museum. It does not look very special as you walk in.

The power station was opened in 1912, and initially produced 7 MegaWatts of electricity. A decade later another 9 MegaWatt capacity was added. In 1933 Benito Mussolini inaugurated the two diesel generators from Franco Tosi, which together produced 12 MegaWatts of electrical power. When the plant was decommissioned in 1963, it would have been producing significantly more power with the added diesel equipment from Brown Boveri. The building with its mosaic floor is an example of the transitional industrial architecture of the early twentieth century. Its conversion to a museum space was the first time such a transition was made.

An exhibit in the 2nd level of Centrale Montemartini

The top level of the museum, called the Boiler Room, contains some of the art which I liked most. These included two mosaics: a huge hunting scene with deer, rabbits, a boar, dogs and human figures from the 4th century CE was found in 1904, and another which portrays the changing seasons. In one corner of this hall I found a emotional sculpture of the flayed Marsyas. He was a faun who challenged Apollo to a musical contest, lost, and was flayed as a lesson to others. This level is full of smaller sculptures which I found very moving.

Head in the 2nd level of Centrale Montemartini

The main Hall of Machines (featured image) is dominated by the two diesel generators. Here I saw two female figures in a dark igneous stone; they are called the Celian Hill figures, and date perhaps from the 1st century AD. One of them is named the Victory of Simmaci. The head shown above is a copy of the head of Agrippina the Younger, more easily identified today as the mother of Nero. The 3rd century marble head in the previous photo is unidentified, and was found in 1933 in Rome.

The entrance level of the museum is called the Hall of Columns, and contained some of the exhibits which surprised me the most. One was a statue of a person wearing a toga and carrying two busts in his hand. Apparently in the 1st century CE, middle class families appeared in public with busts of parents and grandparents, in order to emphasize their lineage.Frutti di mare in the 1st level of Centrale Montemartini I could begin to understand why at this time the story of Marsyas would have been popular.

This level contains household and funerary objects. The slave-holding structure of the Roman empire becomes visible in the exhibits. The distinction between portraits of Romans and defeated barbarians is interesting to see. The marble sculptures are punctuated by beautiful mosaics.centralemontemartini6 I was charmed by two marine mosaics from the 1st century BCE. Both of them were discovered in 1888 in Rome near Via Panisperma. The beautifully detailed execution allows you to identify the species. The subtle variations in colour needed for such detail requires immense amount of work to source and shape the tesserae required to execute these pieces. The cost would have been immense. The merchants who could afford to have such work installed in their homes would have been the Roman equivalent of today’s top industrialists.

We walked out into the bleak streets of Ostiense Marconi. The project to turn this into a district of arts and sciences has been stalled by global economics, and the huge contraction in Italy’s GDP.

The university of Coimbra

I’d booked our flat in Coimbra by the map: it was close to the railway station and very close to the university and the cathedral. What I hadn’t realized that the distance was mostly steep uphill.

Eaination hall in the university of CoimbraThe other thing that we realized only after reaching Coimbra is that the most important thing in the town is the university. It stands much higher up the hill even than the cathedral! The featured image in the post is a panorama taken from the top level of the university building, not the tower. And you can clearly see that the cathedral is far below.

Ceiling of the hall of exaination in the university of CoimbraThe hierarchy is clear even inside. The Great Hall of Acts in the university (photo above) is where important oral examinations are taken, for example the examination for a doctoral degree. It is lined with portraits of the kings, and details of who made the paintings, who did the woodwork, etc, are all recorded. The great importance given to learning is even visible in the coat of arms which is in the thumbnail picture above.

Chapel in the  university of CoimbraWe had to decide on what tour to take inside the university, and opted to go everywhere in the main building except climb the tower. It is also possible to take a longer tour which includes the Royal Palace, the Natural History Museum and the Old Physics Laboratories. These are supposed to be worth seeing, but we were a little short of time. After the hall we visited the chapel of St. Michael. This bright and very ornate room comes with azelujos, of course. The large organ is decorated in what is called the "Chinese style". This turned out to be largely because scenes from China are painted in gold on it.

The library of the university of CoimbraThe high point of this tour is supposed to be the Baroque Library. Since the number of people in the library is strictly controlled, you are given an entry time when you buy the ticket. We queued up to enter the grand room. We thought it was baroque, but not very large. It would be right at home in a movie with a teenaged magician looking for old spells. The press of people included a guided tour which took up the center of the small room, leaving the rest of us quite constrained. We walked around as best as we could, but it was not really possible to figure out which books were on the shelf. It was not the sort of place where I could have done much reading: it was too dark and ornate.

Don Quixoite, early edition, university of CoimbraWe escaped to the middle level, which had the hushed and clean book-lined atmosphere of a modern library. It seems that most books were actually stored here, and were taken upstairs only on request. This is what we call "closed shelf" today. Some of their more remarkable holdings were on display. In honour of Cervantes, who died exactly 400 years ago, several copies of his books were on display. I saw a book by Cervantes published in 1617, but it was not a book I knew. The oldest edition of Don Quixote which I spotted is from 1744 (see photo) . It is interesting that this edition was published 139 years after the first edition. Don Quixote still has a score of 3.8/5 on Goodreads. That is something!

A cademic prison, university of CoimbraAnother level down a little gift shop softens your entry to the only university dungeon in the world. Unseemly behaviour in the library, or disrespect shown to teachers and learning could land you here once upon a time. I’m sure the place was damp, cold, and dark. There was little you could have done in there except to jangle your chains or meditate upon ways of making sure that you were not incarcerated again. I wonder why they gave up the practice. Like much that is modern in Portugal, I’m sure that an answer would lead back to the late 18th century and Marquez de Pombal.

The face of Lisbon

A building being renovated in LisbonLisbon seems to be in the middle of a slow renewal. Every cab driver we talked to told us the story of how Marquez de Pombal rebuilt Lisbon after the disastrous earthquake of 1755. He has a huge Praça named after him, with a statue atop a gigantic pillar. I wonder who will be deemed responsible for the ongoing renovations.

The metro nearest my hotel in Lisbon was named after Marquez de Pombal. pasteleriaBefore rushing off to work in the morning, I would sometimes have a quick breakfast at a pastelaria (bakery) on the way. I liked the busy atmosphere of the bakery. The coffee was good, and I liked the array of cakes to choose from. I was fascinated by the fact that the pavement in front of the bakery had its name done in mosaic tiles (see the photo alongside). Clearly the city had torn up the pavement to install these tiles, or allowed the bakery to do it. I thought this was pretty cool.

As I had my breakfast, I watched the empty facade of the building opposite me being worked on. The rest of the building was gone,Facade of another bullding in Lisbon and one wall was held up by an ingenious scaffolding. I suppose that eventually a whole new building will come up behind this facade. Later, as I walked along the street, I wondered how many of these beautiful facades hide completely modern houses behind them.

Facade of a building in LisbonProbably it is only the shapes of the windows and doors which are old. The beautiful tiles and plaster mouldings must have been added after the rebuilding, if one believes that the building under reconstruction is typical. I wonder how little authenticity this leaves to the very beautiful looking buildings.

First impressions of Lisbon

Wall near Baiza-Chiado metro station in LisbonThere wasn’t much time to prepare for the trip to Portugal. I read during my layover in Munich. The historical entry point to Lisbon was the Praça do Comércio. We arrived on a brilliant Sunday afternoon and decided to go off to this square after a quick shower at the hotel. The Metro in Lisbon covers downtown pretty well. We got off at the station called Baixa-Chiado and walked.

Cfe near Cais de Sodre in LisbonPast Praça Luis de Camoes we turned into the steep Rua Alecim, and walked down its length. The interesting building whose photo you can see above is just opposite a cafe. We were a little tired, and thought that some caffeine would do us good. The cafe was such a beautiful hodge-podge of couches, tables, and odd decorations that it could well have featured in a movie (see photo alongside).

Approaching Placa de Commerce in LisbonWe walked out fortified, and found ourselves in Cais do Sodré after a short walk. This was interesting, but not where we wanted to go. So we backtracked, and found ourselves walking along Rua do Arsenal. The evening sunlight made even blank walls look beautiful. The long street eventually brought us to the Praça do Comércio.

Placa de Comerce in LisbonThere was a violent pillow-fight going on in front of the statue of King José crushing stone snakes. We sneaked past the skirmish and crossed the road to the Tagus river. The crowd here was a mixture of locals and tourists.

Washing in Alfama in LisbonAfter a brief halt at the river-front, and admiring the far-away Bridge of 8 May (named after the day of the revolt against the dictator Salazar), we walked to Terreiro do Paço. A little further on we could see the old cathedral, so we moved in towards the district of Alfama. We passed the Jose Saramago Foundation, and climbed up along a series of very picturesque streets. There was washing hanging from windows every now and then.

Lisbon's cathedralWe climbed up a steep road and found ourselves right outside the Igreja Santo Antonio de Lisboa. We stopped for a quick look at the church, and then went on to the cathedral a few steps away. A picturesque tram thundered past us. We could walk past the church on a downward sloping road to reach the local Fado bars. We were too tired for this, so we took the other road at the fork. A few steps up and we saw a nice fish restaurant: one could see that it was nice by the number of people inside. We joined them and ended the first of our epic walks across the town.

What not to do in Munnar

Shankumar, who drove us around Munnar, had good advise on what not to do. Twice he suggested that we skip something we had planned to do. Both times we over-ruled him, and then found that he was correct. The first was not a big disaster. We decided to stop at a place called the Hydel Park close to Munnar, although he told us that there was little to see there. He was correct, we stopped briefly and continued on our way.

The second cost us a few hours. Every guide to Munnar talks of Top Station, where once in a dozen years the neelakurinji blooms. Now this was not such a year, but we decided to take the two-hour drive to Top Station. The drive is nice, through a dense forest. We could stop now and then to admire the view through the woods to one of the three rivers which come into Munnar. Eventually we left the river behind and climbed a winding road for another hour.

When we crossed the state border into Tamil Nadu and reached Top Station it was clear that we had made a mistake in coming here. The little village was crowded. As we walked towards the view-point the crowds increased. On both sides of the road the view was blocked by stalls of food. Plastic garbage was everywhere. At some point on the road there was a state government tourist booth where we had to pay a nominal sum. We asked why the place could not be cleaned, and we were told that it is cleaned every day after the tourists have left.

This was patently false, since plastic garbage cascaded down the hillsides as far down as we could see. We paid and walked the rest of the way. There were no food stalls here, but the heaps of garbage continued. If there is any Strobilanthes here, it is already buried in the plastic. It will not bloom again in two years. It may be better to look for it in the meadows we passed on the way, or to go to Erivakulam National Park, where the bush certainly grows.

Whenever a nice viewpoint is declared to be a "spot" tour operators bring bus-loads of people there. An industry springs up to feed them. Garbage accumulates to destroy the very beauty that originally attracted people there. Eventually fun fairs, restaurants and other noisy entertainment is set up to justify bringing tourists to this place. We have seen this repeatedly in hills across India. If you want to save Top Station refuse to go there.

Prehistoric Kerala

After our chance encounter with the Kudakkallu, the megalithic umbrella stone, I surfed the web for information on prehistoric Kerala. The first place to visit was the informative website of the Archaeological Society of India. The pictures of Kudakkallu I found here and through an image search were quite different from what we had seen: the tallest which the ASI talks about is less than 3 meters high, whereas what we’d seen was about 10 meters in height.

Eventually, we had to fall back on professional journals. An article from 1976 in the Bulletin of the Deccan College Research Institute explained that after sporadic discoveries through the 19th century, systematic studies of the stone age in Kerala date only from the 1970s. A reference in a more recent book also explained that we saw a menhir, whereas the ASI records dolmens. There seem to be sites from the Mesolithic, Neolithic and later Megalithic times. One of the articles we found drew our attention to Marayoor as a place rich in prehistoric remains.

Dolmens at Muniyara near Marayoor and Kovilkadavu

Marayoor is about two hours from Munnar. The route winds through protected sandalwood forests. It is this that makes it so difficult to visit some of these rock paintings and dolmens. We reached the village a little before noon. Right in the center of the village, in front of the large Panchayat office is a big signboard listing all of the prehistoric remains one can see in the neighbourhood. Unfortunately there are no directions. The auto drivers have no idea where any of these things are. We got some information from a few very helpful people we met at the offices of the forest department, which stands nearby in a little lane next to the Panchayat office. It turned out that of the four main sites for rock paintings: Attala, Ezhuthala, Kovilkadavu and Manala, the first two are probably inside sandalwood forests, and therefore inaccessible without prior permission. We’d read that both these sites had been vandalized and damaged, so perhaps it wasn’t a big miss.

A dolmen in Muniyara near Kovilkadavu and MarayoorWe were directed to dolmens (called Muniyara locally). These are perhaps 3000 years old, and protected by the ASI. Later we found that these are very close to the Thenkasinath temple in Kovilkadavu village. Perched on top a huge rock (see photo above), they are fenced off from casual vandalism. We climbed up to them. They are burial chambers. A photo of the least well-preserved one is shown here: you can see the upright stones with a horizontal roof laid across it. The chamber is less than a man’s height. The stone is cut into large sheets. Apparently iron tools are needed to do this, and that’s part of the reason for the dating.

A rock painting in Madathala in Chinnar wildlife sanctuary

To get to the dolmens we’d driven on State Highway 17 past Marayoor town until a petrol pump, and then turned right. Now we backtracked to the petrol pump, and proceeded further along State Highway 17 into Chinnar wildlife sanctuary. We got off at Alampetty Eco-camp and asked about a walk through the forest to see rock paintings. This was possible for a small fee. We had two forest guides with us. We walked past a dolmen. A further half hour’s walk brought us to a rock face protected by an overhang. On the rock face there was the red ochre painting which you see in the photo above. This is part of the Madathala complex of sites.

Rock painting in Madthala inside Chinnar WLSThe two deer were painted a little above my height, and were in good condition. This area has both the chital (spotted deer) and the bigger sambar. I thought the painting looked like chital. A photo of another painting at my eye level is shown alongside. This is not very clearly visible; has it been painted over? Probably one can see the rump of a wild pig here. We are not experts in ancient art. The Family and I have seen paintings like this before only in Bhimbetka. The painting on a rock face, the use of red ochre, painting over an older painting, and the lack of physical context in the painting, probably means that they are not as old as the paleolithic and the ice age, nor as recent as the neolithic with its discovery of more colours. These are probably mesolithic, which in India could mean about 12,000 years old.

General view of the Madathala rock painting regionThere was a signboard here which said a little about this area called Madathala. One of our guides could speak a little English; he pointed out caves in the far cliff you can see in the photo here. He said that there are paintings in some of those caves, although they are hard to reach unless you are equipped for a climb. He also told us that there are more easily accessible rock paintings in the area, but they would take longer to get to. Unfortunately we had little time. We decided to come back again.

The day had been hot, and I could feel a mild sunburn. Although we had spent a large part of the day tracking down the sites of the dolmens and paintings, we had eventually spent quite a while walking in the sun. The next time we come here we will have to arrange for the permits in advance so that we get to see the places we missed this time around.

Birds and beasts around Munnar

The Nilgiris are wonderful for dedicated bird watchers. We do not count ourselves in this tribe, although The Family always carries a pair of binoculars with her on these trips, and we carry Grimmett’s Guide to Indian Birds to refer to at nights. We also make bird lists, but cannot agree whether to add crows and sparrows to the list. After long arguments, we have come to the considered agreement that we will separate our bird list into two parts:

The usual suspects

  1. Red-vented Bulbul
  2. Red-whiskered Bulbul
  3. Common Myna
  4. Jungle Myna
  5. Hill Myna
  6. Indian Robin
  7. Oriental Magpie Robin
  8. Black Drongo
  9. Blue Rock Pigeon
  10. Oriental Turtle Dove
  11. Common sparrow
  12. Common crow (not so common here)
  13. Indian pond heron
  14. Little egret
  15. Cattle egret
A pair of Black and Orange Flycatcher. Photo by Antony Grossy, Wikimedia Commons

Less common

  1. Pied Bushchat (in Erivakulam NP)
  2. Black and Orange Flycatcher (on SH 17, south of Erivakulam)
  3. Blue Robin (on SH 17, south of Erivakulam)
  4. Yellow-crowned Woodpecker (in Chinnar WLS)
  5. Kerala Laughing Thrush (on SH 17, south of Erivakulam)
  6. Yellow-crowned woodpecker Leiopicus mahrattensis

  7. Black Bulbul
  8. Yellow Bulbul
  9. Raquet-tailed Drongo
  10. Long-tailed Shrike *
  11. Brown Shrike
  12. Small Minivet
  13. Scarlet Minivet *
  14. Jungle Babbler
  15. Scimitar Babbler *
  16. Malabar Parakeet *
  17. Purple Sunbird
  18. Gray Jungle Fowl
  19. Greater Coucal
  20. Pied bushchat Saxicol caprata

  21. Rufous Treepie
  22. Indian Cormorant
  23. Hoopoe
  24. Common Teal
  25. Brown-headed Barbet
  26. Chestnut-headed Bee-eater *
  27. Malabar Whistling Thrush *
  28. Velvet-fronted Nuthatch
  29. Eurasian Blackbird

We’ve moved more birds into the list of common birds. The ones in bold are lifers: our first sightings of these birds. The birds which are starred are ones we had also seen in Valparai. There are surprisingly few in common. In Valparai we went out early every morning, and again in the evening, with a local expert, to look for birds. In Munnar we did nothing of the sort. Our walks through Erivakulam NP and Chinnar WLS were in the middle of the day. In spite of this, we have a longer bird list from Munnar. The difference is just that Valparai is almost entirely tea plantations, whereas there are large forested areas around Munnar. This is an object lesson in how monoculture destroys ecology.

2016-05-04 15.28.30Spotting mammals requires time and tenacity. We were not in Munnar for the wild life. However, some wild life came to us. I’ve already talked of the Nilgiri Tahr in Erivakulam NP. Apart from multiple sightings of this rather endangered animal we saw two grizzled giant squirrels during our walk through Chinnar WLS. These are rare animals, confined to a few forests, but easily visible in their habitats. We came across a few Gaur, but nothing else. An elephant had passed across the path we took through Chinnar WLS, as we could see from the pug mark pointed out by our guides. One of the oddest things we saw were the humerus of a Gaur laid out next to the same path (see the photo here).

Fog and Rain

Tea gardens in MunnarPeople say that Munnar is pretty. When I saw the rolling hills covered with tea bushes, mist drifting in the valleys, I thought to myself this indeed looks pretty. It is the kind of place where you could walk easily across two hills. Even a movie camera can roam between those lush green bushes. You could have a whole chorus line of pretty women and handsome young men dancing right there. Didn’t they do it already in Chennai Express and Life of Pi?

But the really beautiful part of Munnar is harder to see. It was raining one day as we were coming back from a trip to Marayoor. Shankumar pointed out a waterfall in the distance. We stopped and admired the wilderness that you can still see in parts of the Nilgiris. We could hear nothing but the sound of rain. In the distance, and at an immense height above the road, water tumbled down a bare rock face. The fog was lit up by the setting sun. Everywhere below us was a dense forest. The water tumbled through rocky channels and emerged as a stream, parts of which we could see. this is a fragile ecosystem which is disappearing fast. For a brief time we had a glimpse of the Nilgiris as it might have seemed to people a few centuries ago: a wild and frightening beauty. You could send a movie crew in there and they might never come back!

Once in a blue bloom

Neelakurinji plant: the flowers bloom next in 2018The highest parts of the Nilgiris are home to the Neelakurinji, which blooms once in twelve years. This simple looking blue flower apparently give the Nilgiris its name. The western ghats are full of Strobilanthes which bloom after many years. The neelakurinji is the Strobilanthes kunthiana, and is expected to flower again in 2018. I may not have seen the flower, but I did see the plant (photo above).Unknown flower on Anamudi

In spite of this, the Eravikulam national park near Munnar is a big draw. We learnt that you are bussed up to a trail where you walk through the forest; no cars are allowed. You park your car in a huge parking lot 14 Kms from Munnar along State Highway 17, and stand in queue for tickets. Alternately, you could pay in town for an option to buy a ticket the next day, and bypass the queue. We did this, and then took the bus up.

We did not expect the treeless open meadow and a climb along the steep metalled road along the flank of Anamudi. It was hot and I was soaked immediately. Fortunately we had enough water to last the 2 Km trek up.Two unknown wildflowers on Anamudi But the wonder was the cars and autos which came down the path. Apparently the road is open to locals, and the Tatas, who own a part of the land above the Sanctuary. The Family couldn’t be bothered at 9 in the morning. Let’s walk, she said.

Unknown flower on Anamudi The path was fenced to prevent walkers from trampling the flowers which grew alongside. Someone had started labelling the plants without much enthusiasm. A patch of neelakurinji was labelled, as was a patch of the white kurinji a few paces on. But a couple of hundred meters on the labels straggled to an end. We were on our own. Although the weather was so warm and humid, technically it is spring, and therefore the flowering season.

Unknown wildflower in AnamudiIt was too warm to bend down to take photos of the really small flowers among the grass. I concentrated on those at roughly eye level. The sanctuary is supposed to have many species of butterflies, some special to the area. I did not see any; perhaps they were all in the bushes we were fenced away from.

We heard many birds in the shrubs behind the fences.Unidentified wildflower on Anamudi I stopped at a particularly tuneful song. Peering through the growth we saw something which I did not recognize. Further on we saw a pied bushchat fly above us and sit on an electric wire. Yes, there were electric wires in this protected forest. Soon after I took the photo above, I saw what the hordes had come here for.

A Nilgiri tahr with paparazziOne of the rarer sights in nearby Valparai was the Nilgiri Tahr. The Eravikulam NP apparently has the largest population of this highly threatened species of mountain sheep. A young one was grazing by the path. As various people tried to take selfies with it in the background it came on to the path. The paparazzi now mobbed the poor kid. As word spread, families ran to take photos. One set of children ran up to touch it. Although the parent didn’t say anything, there was a murmur of disapproval from the crowd.afartahr Those of us who have spent some years doing trips to the wilds, birding, watching wildlife and walking in mountains have learnt from each other how fragile the mountain ecosystems have become. The behaviour of the crowd here showed us that the message about conserving endangered wildlife seems to be slowly sinking into the average Indian tourist as well. There is hope then that the fragile mountain ecosystems may last for our grandchildren to experience.

Whiich is this flower, growing in AnamudiI did not realize that we were almost at the end of our walk. I paused to take a photo of some flowers. The Family was bored with my pace and walked ahead. Without her pacing, I slowed down even more, so that when the next few Tahr appeared near the fence I was the first to see them. I moved away again as the paparazzi gathered.

One more turn, in the road and I came to an open gate.eravikulamflower7 A forest guard was standing nearby warning people that this was the end of the walk. The land beyond it apparently belongs to the Tatas. I wondered whether Tata, or any other company which owns forest land nearby can decide to convert it to plantations. When I asked someone later, I was told that this is not easy any more.

The rolling hills covered with tea plantations are a mockery of the shola forests which once covered these slopes. Even in these little remaining patches, the immense biodiversity is visible to any person who cares to look a little close. I just wish I had some way to find the names of these flowers.

Chandni Chowk

Sunehri masjid is linked to Nadir Shah's sack of Delhi

Chandni Chowk was the centre of Delhi after Shah Jahan moved his capital to the walled city in 1639, and before Imperial Britain built a new capital a few miles to the west in the early 20th century. This is the area west of the Lahori gate of the red fort and north of the Jama Masjid. A walking tour of Chandni Chowk naturally starts from the Sunehri Masjid: a beautifully proportioned mosque with golden domes in old paintings, now fallen on hard times. If the story of Nadir Shah standing next to the domes on the roof of the mosque to survey the massacre of a panicked Delhi which he had commanded is true, then at one time it would have dominated the area. Now, as I emerged from the exit lane of the Chandi Chowk metro and looked at the mosque this was no longer the case. Mughal architecture blended use with aesthetics; when the mosque was built the space was surely sufficient for the devout. That aesthetics is completely lost in the extensions made to the mosque in order to cater to the increased population.

Sisganj gurudwara is a major landmark

More striking today is the Sis Ganj gurudwara which stands next to it. It must have been a special day; the gurudwara was decorated with balloons and buntings. I realized that a large part of the crowd in the Metro was headed here when a young mother of two finely dressed children asked me which exit led to the gurudwara. I’d just read the directions, so I was able to tell her to take exit 5, as I did. A gurudwara was first built here in 1783 CE, in memory of the ninth Sikh guru, Teg Bahadur, who was beheaded here on the orders of Aurangzeb. The present structure was built in 1930. I discovered the news, known to all Delhiwalas, that the gurudwara has become a bit controversial recently by building unauthorised extensions.

Street scene: sardarji and rickshaw

Traffic barely moves in this crowded road, there’s such a muddle of bicycles, cars, rickshaws, carts, three-wheelers and pedestrians. Notions of lanes and priority perhaps never arose in the days when this area was less densely populated, and were never internalised later. The chaos and cacophony gave me ample opportunity to do surreptitious people watching. I liked this forbidding old Sikh gentleman in white striding down the road, ignoring the traffic. Even the young rickshaw-wala in the photo seems to be a little wary of him.

Kinari bazaar: bling market

Instead of walking on to the Red Fort, I turned right on Dariba Kalan. It is not hard to find: the lane runs between a lovely but crumbling red building with a post-office, and the area’s most famous jalebiwala. I’ve already written about this little eatery. I walked through this narrow lane and turned into the longest bling market in Delhi: the Kinari bazaar. Tourist agencies try to push this as a market destination. In fact, only a movie or wedding set decorator would shop here. It is interesting to walk through this crowded bazaar just looking at people and their lives. I’d chosen a time when the sky was beginning to get dark, and the lights in the shops were coming on. Crowds were at their lowest; it was getting close to the time for an evening snack.

Kachoriwala corner

Every few steps there was a little shop selling kachoris and samosas. Judging by the crowds, it doesn’t look like any shop is particularly better than another. Each seems to have a few regular customers and a few walk-ins. The shops don’t seem to innovate either: they concentrate on getting the kachoris just so, for their loyal followers. There are probably neighbourhood rivalries about which shop has better food. As far as I could tell, it would need a lifetime of training your palate to tell the difference between them. This is a world so far removed from that of malls and food courts, that it is a wonder that the two exist in the same city at the same time.

Door in a haveli off Kinari bazaar Beautiful arches in a dilapidated building

If you are a student of architecture, then there are gems hidden away inside these narrow and smelly lanes. I peered past a gate which led off to a side lane and discovered a beautiful building with a blue door (photo above). Elsewhere a grand building with lovely arched verandas (above) was partitioned into tiny apartments. Stylistic differences which are visible even to an untrained eyes like mine would probably enable a knowledgeable person to peel away the centuries and imagine the area as it evolved over time. If someone offers a walk through this area to show such visions, I will queue up to take it. In its absence I go back every decade, after a little more reading.