Thursday 30 April 2015

Places to visit in Delhi: Ugrasen ki Baoli

Baoli (a stepwell) were a very common feature as a means of water harvesting and conservation system in north India in the earlier times as the rains are seasonal and therefore storage of water for leaner periods were essential.

Ugrasen ki Baoli with modern buildings of central Delhi in the background

Even in Delhi there used to be several stepwells and but most of them have either vanished are or in utter state of disrepair. However, the Ugrasen ki Baoli (also pronounced sometimes as Agrasen ki Baoli) has survived and is maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) right in the central Delhi very close to the Connaught Place.

The arches of Agrasen ki Baoli

I have been to the Max Mueller Bhavan several times but was not aware that from there this stepwell is less than five minute walk away! It is kind of hidden as it is on a side road on the Hailey Road with tall multi-storied buildings of Central Delhi forming a backdrop. The entrance is very ordinary but the moment you step in the place really amazes you with its beauty.

The reflection of author, Baoli & the modern buildings

This 60 meter long and 15 meter wide stepwell is said to have been built by King Ugrasen who was an Agarwal leader. The architecture is late Tughlak and Lodhi period. It has very thick side walls and has arched corridors. There is an ancient mosque on the same premises but I could not go in as it was undergoing maintenance at the time I had visited it. Even the stepwell was under maintenance due to which I could not go down and had to content myself with seeing it from top.

The mosque at the Agrasen Stepwell complex

Now stepwells are not made as with technology people have other means of storage and supply of water. But I have had the opportunity to visit a modern stepwell in Jodhpur made recently. It is very beautiful and is able to supply all the water required the year round to the beautifully maintained gardens.

The baoli has very thick side walls

Also Read:
Ali Gosh Khan Baoli in Farrukhnagar
Umaid Heritage:Water Conservation with Beauty

Friday 24 April 2015

Places to visit in Mumbai: The Haji Ali Dargah

Some of you who are not from Mumbai (or Bombay) may have read about the Haji Ali Dargah (tomb) being cited as a meeting point in the famous novel Shantaram written by Gregory David Roberts.

The view of Bombay including the Haji Ali Dargah from my hotel during dusk

I was staying at the Palladium Hotel and from here the Haji Ali Dargah was clearly visible so I decided to visit it despite my tight schedule. I took a taxi which took the fare by the meter. Now as a Delhiite this always surprises me about Bombay because first of all you can’t hail a taxi in Delhi from the street as they are available only from stands; secondly they may refuse to go to a particular place; thirdly they may not go by the meter and fourthly the meters mostly seem tempered.

Haji Ali Dargah & the causeway at low tide

The Haji Ali Dargah was constructed in 1431 in Indo-Islamic style of architecture in memory of Syyed Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari. It is located on a small island off the coast in Worli.

Shops selling Chadar, flowers etc near the Haji Ali Dargah

The believers and the tourists access the Haji Ali Dargah by a km long causeway which gets submerged during high tide and one can go only during low tide. In case you are there during the high tide, you will have to wait till low tide to return to the mainland. The walk to Haji Ali is a bit dirty though the premises are neat and clean.

At the Haji Ali Dargah

Men are allowed to enter the sanctum sanctorum with the tomb though the ladies can only see it through a mesh. Women are generally allowed inside a Dargah but their entry to this particular Dargah was stopped in 2012. It is odd that a Sufi Dargah should ban women’s entry.

The sanctum Sanctorum of Haji Ali Dargah

Photography inside is not allowed though you can take the pictures from the outside. Behind the mosque people sit on the rocks and enjoy a picnic with the cool sea breeze.

People come to Haji Ali Dargah not only to visit but also as a picnic as well

I had gone in the morning so there was not too much rush though I have heard that on Fridays there is a huge rush. The shops along the causeway sell things like flowers, chadar etc and the causeway is also full of beggars but they do not harass the visitors as in Ajmer Sharif.

The Haji Ali Dargah shot from another angle

This post is part of Skywatch Friday.

Also Read:
Discover Thainess - The Charms of Thailand

Thursday 16 April 2015

This is also Gurgaon: The Sultanpur National Park

Gurgaon, the ‘Millennium City’, is known for its ugly multi-storied glass buildings, multinational companies, lack of basic infrastructure, potholed roads (in some places only potholes and no road!), fancy sounding British and American names of housing societies etc, basically a concrete jungle.

The vibrant colours of a Peacock in flight 

But few know that tucked away in a corner of the Gurgaon district is a paradise for local and migratory birds called the Sultanpur National Park (earlier it was known as Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary). It is just 15 km away from the Gurgaon city on the Gurgaon-Farrukhnagar road.

Spot Billed Ducks

I was a little late in visiting the sanctuary (March end) but this year the weather has been pleasant even in March, so I was still able to see lot of birds. There were few visitors and I was able to enjoy the place in its serenity.

White Breasted Kingfisher

I had reached there at 9 AM as per the timings on the website, but on reaching there I was told that it now opens at 7 AM. The government website requires some updating.

Black Winged Stilt

Visitors should not confuse this Sultanpur with another Sultanpur located in South Delhi. Two American ladies visiting the place were taken by their taxi to Sultanpur in Delhi wasting half of their day.


The birds I could recognise with my limited knowledge of birding were Black Drongo, Cormorant, Egret, Green Bee Eater, Indian Magpie Robin, Indian Pond Heron, Peacock, Purple Heron, Red Wattled Lapwing, Purple Swamphen, Spot Billed Duck, and White Breasted Kingfisher among others.


In fact I could count more than 30 Kingfishers during my visit. The best was when I got this Peacock in flight captured in its vibrant colours.

Green Bee Eater

There are several watchtowers inside the sanctuary. All but one is closed. I was able to climb up this one and get a bird's eye-view of the whole Bird Sanctuary.

Indian Magpie Robin

Also half the sanctuary is not accessible to the public. When I asked an official he gave me a strange logic that boys and girls come and do ‘mischief’ here.

Look what I got for breakfast: Indian Pond Heron with fish

Now this is not a way to manage things. They should in fact think of ways to improve the facility so that more birds make this their winter destination.

Purple Heron & Red Wattled Lapwing

I was also able to see several turtles (probably nesting) and a group of Nilgai (Asian Antelope) at the site.

Purple Heron

The best time to visit the Sanctuary is in the winters as migratory birds from Siberia and Europe come here.

Purple Swamphen

Do keep up to three hours for the walk in the sanctuary. Of course for the birdies even full day also won’t suffice!

Monday 6 April 2015

Places to Visit in Delhi: Humayun Tomb

It is well-known that Taj Mahal borrowed its design to a large extent from the Humayun Tomb in Delhi. What differentiates the two is the pristine white marble of Taj Mahal.

The Humayun Tomb, Delhi

Another important but little-known difference is that Taj Mahal was made by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his beloved wife whereas Humayun Tomb was built during 1565 to 1572 AD in memory of Emperor Humayun by his widow Hamida Bano Begum.

The main tomb is that of Humayun

This 47 meter high mausoleum structure was built on a 12000 square meter platform and has over 100 graves including, of course, that of Humayun. The mausoleum is surrounded by Char Bagh (four geometrical gardens in Persian style).

The Humayun Tomb has well maintained gardens on all sides

The structures and the gardens have been painstakingly restored by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and Agha Khan Trust and they seem to have done a good job. Some of the restoration work is still going on. This is an UNESCO World Heritage site.

One of the magnificent arches of Humayun Tomb

During and immediately after partition the complex was used as a camp for refugees. During that time the complex suffered lot of damage which took the ASI quite some time to restore.

Humayun Tomb is a World Heritage Site 

Just behind the grand structure is a historical Gurudwara, Gurudwara Dam Dama Sahib whose onion-style dome is visible from the complex.

Carvings on the interior-side of the dome of Humayun Tomb

Inside the structure there are several sandstone screens which look beautiful, provide light and cool air and during summers it is a relief to be inside this building from the outside soaring temperatures.

A sandstome screen

There is a separate structure called Nai-ka-Gumbad for the royal barber. A person who is allowed to touch and cut the Emperor’s precious hair, has to be, by definition, immensely trustworthy. He probably passed on the palace gossip to the Emperor while massaging his scalp. No wonder he gets an exclusive resting place close to that of his master!

Nai ka Gumbad

Humayun Tomb was built by artisans brought all the way from Persia (today Iran). They knew their trade except that the stairs are as treacherous as ever. I wonder if it was deliberate!

The stairs at the Humayun Tomb are very steep

These artisans lived in the complex in what is today called Arab-ki-Sarai.

Arab-ki-Sarai Gateway

There are Gateways which are 48 foot high. A major portion of the Arab-ki-Sarai is either in ruins or has been taken over by an Industrial Training Institute. Though I could see conservation work on its Southern Gateway but on the main premises not much has been done. In this premises there is a well and a stepwell though both are not in good condition and the water collected there was green due to algae formation.

Arab-ki-Sarai where the artisans from Persia lived

Why is there no cafeteria and no souvenir shop in this important place visited by so many foreign and local tourists?