Town Trot: Pre Durga Puja Walk

When the soil is still moist from the monsoon rains, there is a buzz in the air of the Bengali CR Park in Delhi. The most eagerly awaited festival of the community, the extravaganza that is the Durga Puja, is almost here: tents are being set up, clay idols are shaped, handicraft markets are installed.

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Mango Orchards of Rataul

iced mangoes

As Summer is in Delhi full force, one could be really frustrated… if it weren’t for the mangoes! Everybody loves mangoes, and the best part is that Indians not only know one type of mango, but an infinite number.

There are Safeda from South India, Dussehri from Uttar Pradesh, Malda from Bengal, Sindoori from Kerala, Totapuri from Bihar, and so on, and so forth.

mango varieties

And Indians can tell you which one has season at which week, and, best of all, if they are eaten like they are, or squeezed and sucked, transformed into jams or purees, used for ice creams or smoothies, chutneys and curries, or even pickles, salads and salsas.

So when the cultural heritage tour guy Sohail announced that he planned to visit the mango orchards of Rataul in UP, we happily hopped onto the bus. The journey over the 50 kilometers to the village took us three hours, and often resembled more a joy ride in a rollercoaster than a trip on a street.

mango orchard

When we finally stepped out of the bus, we immediately wanted to get back in, even with the swinging and rocking and hopping, as it was 20 degrees hotter outside than inside. Where was the monsoon, which should be here already?

While sweating, we learnt that one ancestor of the current planter cataloguized more than 500 types of mangoes, and that most of the lovely fruits from Rataul don’t make it to the markets in Delhi. So we did what we had to do and buried our teeth in as much yellow and orange flesh as possible.

eating mangoes

After lunch we hoped for some climbing on the trees and plucking the “king of fruits” for ourselves while balancing on the brunches, but the main orchard was under water, and in the smaller one we only visited the tress where the mangoes weren’t ripe yet. So we just strolled around, until the heat drove us back to the farm.

There we collected five kilogram each in a plastic bag (I guess a more appropriate way for the Delhiites than dangling in trees for getting them) and then headed home. The sugar shock from the mangoes made us fall into some sort of slumber in the bus, and I guess many dreamt of the Khas ul Khas, Makhsoos, Zardaalu, Doodhiya Hakim-ud-Din, Anfas, Husnara, Himsagar, … .

mango dream

Ah, the smell of Coffee….

On sunday we set out to walk to different coffee places in the city to indulge and celebrates this extraodinary stimulator.

We started the session with a terrace breakfast at India Coffee House (there since the 1950s) in Connaught Place, a fragile stalwart of the city. Then we went over to the more moderate Saravana Bhawan for their South Indian filter coffee, before we ended up being in the plush counterpart, the United Coffee House (around since 1940s). We skipped the chains Costa Coffee and Cafe Coffee Day and ended our walk with a Turkish coffee at Kunafa, Meharchand Market.

Himanshu, the guide, made positively clear that India was more than a tea country. And he cited  Cassandra Clare in City of Ashes: “As long as there was coffee in the world, how bad could things be?”

The Making of Raavan

During the festival of Dussehra, huge effigies of Raavas,n symbolising evil, are burnt in dozens or even hundreds of places in the city and in towns all over North India.

But where do they come from? Most of them are made in Titarpur in West Delhi, where the sidewalks and traffic islands as well as the space underneath the flyovers and metro stations are turned into seasonal open air workshops.

Here the men (and, sadly, children) chop the bamboo for the frames, cover them with old saris, affix layers and layers of colourful paper, use tar to paint the mustaches black, apply light bulbs to make the eyes glow green – and then load the parts onto trucks, to somewhere put them together to from the 20 meters high figures. Which then go up in flames in a matter of minutes.

Jaipur & Amer @TheMonsoonFestival

On the second day of our “Monsoon Festival”-Trip, the early hours of saturday belonged to the morning darshans at the Vaishnava temples: Govind Dev ji, Radha Damodar, Vinodilal and Gopinath ji, where we saw countless devotees who offered marigolds and roses, sang devotional songs, threw themselves on the floor, got Prasad from the priest and passed it on to others. (for a veeeery colourful online pooja at Govind Dev ji, click here).

Then we further explored the city, went shopping in a lane full of metal work and another one full of bangles, where I had a paper egg exploding on my head so that green powder dusted me – festival of Holi all over again.

In the afternoon light we saw the beautifully restored Jal Mahal, a pleasure palace in the serene artificial Mansagar Lake, built around a rocky island. A few years back, the lake was a waste dump and the palace neglected, with crumbling walls and a jungle growing on top of it. Now the light yellow walls and chhatris are shining again, the hallways are beautifully decorated, and the huge rooftop has been re-transformed in an impressive marble garden with carved niches, trees and scented flowers.

Built 300 years ago by Jaipur’s founder, Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II. as a festive gathering place for the royal family, it is now supposed to be open to the public for the first time. But it still wasn’t in August when we came, as some infighting is going on and the permission hasn’t been granted. But we, thanks to our guide Himanshu, could already ferry across in one of the animal barges and get a glimpse.

Amer, the capital of the Kachwahas until Jaipur was built in 1727, was the last stop on our tour. We gave the impressive fort a miss and explored the impressive temples and old royal houses. My favourite: a baoli or stepwell still in use, with monsoon water naturally flowing into it and young people bathing in the water as their ancestors might have done it hundreds of years ago.

What one can do before breakfast

Morning walks are hugely popular in Delhi. Droves of people from the neighbouring houses assemble in the undersized neighbourhood parks in the early hours of the day and shuffle, scamper, hobble, float or stalk their rounds. Some walk the dog, others their reluctant kids or elders, and sometimes even the youth is on their feet already.

Mehrauli ParkThis morning I opted for a special park, the Mehrauli Archaeological Park, better known as Jamali Kamali. We assembled at 7:30am to follow a girl from Delhi Heritage Walks who showed us around the ruins from the 11th to the 19th century – more than 100 historically significant buildings are left.

Some of the walls and roofs had collapsed or the stones were looted, others by contrast had been beautifully restored after their re-discovery in the 90s, and some have weird stories to tell, for example the tomb of Adham Khan. He was the son of Maham Anga, a wet nurse of the Mughal Emperor Akbar (1542 – 1605). Not minding the historic importance, a Britisth official later used the structure as a residence – apparently also oblicvious to the dead under his feet.

Mehrauli Forest

One party, three locations

Exploring one more of Delhi’s cities

Lucky me, I found another organisation that leads tours through Delhi. (Looks like I should start to maintain a list… oh wait, there is one, assembled by the guys from Little Black Book) This time I joined Delhi Heritage Walks, on their tour Jahanpanah & Begumpur.

Jahanpanah – refuge of the world – nowadays is only some walls and a few structures, situated directly behind the Hauz Khas Metro Station, but once it was one of the capital cities of Delhi. Which one exactly I forgot, as I keep loosing track of the count – there were at least eight of them, or even nine, if one adds the new sprawlings.

Begumpur Masjid

But Jahanpanah definitely was built in the 14th century by Mohammad Tughluq, who is known as the mad genius, as he, on the one hand, apparently found pleasure in executions, which he more often than not ruthlessly ordered, and on the other hand, was well ahead of his time when it came to the administration of his sultanate.

For example did he attempt to exert greater power in the southern part of India by transferring the capital from Delhi to Deogir (a move which eventually failed). Whoever stayed behind inside the old city walls had to fear the worst, the knowledgable tour guide explained to us.

The story goes that two men were found in the abandoned city, an old man and a blind man. The blind fellow was then tied to a cart and dragged all the way to Deogir – where only one of his limps arrived.

Bijay Mandal

Seeing Dal Lake from a Shikara

Rafting from Chilling to Sangam

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