They say, you learn more about a city by walking around. You walk around Florence, Paris, Munich, Edinburgh and even New York! Delhi, a city I call home and one that is 100 years old this year, is another such city that can be appreciated on walks. ‘Delhi – 14 historic walks’ is a delightful guide book that helps you to accomplish that.
Frankly, this book does not need a book review to extol its virtues. Its back cover lists its merits in simple no-nonsense words in the back cover. However, to do the book and Blogadda’s book program justice, I will first air my views for the record.
I jumped to have this book since I have been on Delhi walks (and none by INTACH to which Swapna Liddle belongs to but that I will come to later). Delhi has a fantastic cultural heritage, but most of us even while living in the city sleep-walk through it. I did.
I think I re-visited even the popular monuments Red Fort, Qutab Minar when I was studying at a college in Delhi, at least a decade after when I first visited those in childhood. That too because I had to take an NRI friend of mine around the city. I haven’t forgotten my ignorance and the embarrassing fact that I was enormously proud that I have never cared enough for these ‘cliche’ places to visit myself. And even if we deign to visit these places, we hardly see/know things. We fail to appreciate the beauty and wonder of it.
I felt enormous shame when I read William Dalrymple’s ‘City of Djinns’ – and I thought why did this expat find these amazing bits of history. He knows more about Shalimar Bag/Old Delhi and its history than I do even though this place is so close to my house! That’s when I joined the walks in Delhi – just to learn more about not-so-discussed tid-bits and knowledge to appreciate the intricacies of what I was visiting/looking. These walks help – this is exactly what Swapna Liddle’s book ’14 Historic Walks’ does. It provides you a guided tour of 14 places interspersed with historic anecdotes, details about architecture/monuments that will help you appreciate the wonders you watch and tips that allow you to navigate around the routes effortlessly.
The 14 walks covered in the book are – Qutub Minar complex, Tuglaqabad, Satpula and Khirki, Hauz Khas, Lodhi Garden and Safdarjung’s tomb, Purana Qila, Nizammuddin, Humanyun’s Tomb Complex, Red Fort, Shahjahanabad, Mehrauli Village, Mehrauli Archaeological park, Kashmiri Gate and Central Vista.
Format of the book is pretty simple – a double centrespread that has complete map of the walk in which ‘points’ to watched and numbered and circled in red. The second part has a rating system – informs you of difficulty level, highlights, costs that include as entrance fee, nearest metro points and other amenities available. And then begins the guided tour of those places circled in red – history, story, architectural features and so on. These details are more than often interesting, precise and very readable.
My favourite walk in the book is the one in Shahjahanabad with its rich offerings – the rich Jama Masjid, Jain temples, Paranthe wali gali, Sheesh Mahal, market, gurudwara and home of one of world’s greatest poets – Ghalib. (Btw, Ghalib was living here during the days of 1857 uprising and published his memoirs in a not-so-well-known book called Dastambu, which means, bouquet of flowers in Persian. Though critics disapprove the ‘cowardly’ ideas expressed on the book.) It is also, therefore, no surprise, the writer Swapna Liddle’s sister Madhulika Liddle has also written books set in Shahajahanabad with a 17th century fictional detective Muzaffar Jung. The first book in this series is ‘The Englishman’s Detective’. (Yours truly is intrigued enough to pick it up soon!) Madhulika Liddle has also taken the beautiful black-and-white photographs in the book that accompany the text.
Swapna Liddle has recently conducted Muzaffar Jung walks in December 2011 in Shahjahanabad. Swapna has a PhD on 19th century, Delhi and has been conducting heritage walks in Delhi for more than a decade. This book seems to be output of that rich experience. She is co-convenor of INTACH’s Delhi chapter that aims to have Delhi inscribed in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Cities. INTACH focuses on protecting monuments and some on their achievements can be read on their web site here.
With such credentials and easy reading experience, I vouch that this book is a collector’s item. Next time you decide to walk around the city, carry Swapna Liddle’s ’14 Historic Walks’ with you to take the delightful expert along!