April 30, 2012

Daryaganj Sunday Book Market, New Delhi

It is not unusual to see school/college students early morning moving around with bags full of books, despite the December chill & foggy conditions. But if you see the same on a Sunday morning, rest assured you have reached the right place for book shopping – The Daryaganj Sunday Book Bazaar. No, the bazaar does not have this grand name, it is just an assortment of traders from many different places in Delhi, getting together on the footpaths of Daryaganj every Sunday, to showcase their wares – predominantly books, but also stamps, coins, amulets, cheap clothes, mechanical & kitchen accessories & stationery. Why were we there, for the books of course.

I want a throne like that!!

Every Sunday the mile-long footpath gets covered with books – thousands of them, millions of them, there are so many books that many a times not getting the space to walk, people walk over them, which is actually quite a pity. & then there are the traders themselves who sit on top of the book piles, handing the customer what s/he needs by picking it out & replacing at the right place.

But not a floor like this!!

There are all types of books available – novels (Chetan Bhagat, Arundhati Roy, J.K. Rowling, V.S. Naipaul, Dostoyevsky, Tagore, Premchand, William Dalrymple - you name it, you get it), memoirs, biographies, quiz books, coffee table books, encyclopaedias, magazines, school & college course books & even entrance exam preparation material – be it IIT, AIEEE, CA, UPSC, Bank or any other of the numerous exams. There are possibilities of one finding books that may not be available in regular book stalls due to them being difficult to order or find.

Since not many people read books these days, & not even half of them know about the market, we, i.e me & my school friend Piyush, were pretty pleased with ourselves for going there one fine Sunday morning. Since it was our first time to the market we decided to reach there by 8am (it opens from 6am-9pm), we were in for quite a shock. The market was filled with people – men, women & children of almost all ages, thronging to the sellers, bargaining like anything. How did they reach there so early?? Shit!! We had to jostle in the crowd to move our way through. & since it was our first time there, we were not even sure how to bargain. The first book-pile we saw, we bought the same set of books – the only difference being that while I bought them for Rs 300, Piyush bought them off for Rs 200. Disappointing!! But it left us all the more cleverer as we went to the next pile. Sadly we did not get to try our newly learnt bargaining skills, since even the thickest & glossiest books were priced at Rs 20-30. Even though most of the books here are either second-hand or pirated editions or second-hand pirated editions, yet the place is a heaven for those who are tired of having to buy overly priced books. . Given the correct skills & practice, a person can bring down the price of a book to as low as 10% of its original price – I was able to buy Amish’s "Secret of the Nagas", available for Rs 300 elsewhere for Rs 20 (yes yes I helped promote piracy, so what?? They should be happy I am reading the book). Although these days most books can be downloaded free of cost from various internet sites, yet it can never match the pleasures of the printed word, & what better place to buy all the bestsellers at throwaway prices. The simple fact is the readership is not going to increase unless book prices are brought down, if piracy helps, then why not?? One does not face issues like missing pages or typographical errors in the book itself – although as it happened to me, the cover stitched to a book may not actually be its own, it may be an altogether different book on the inside – hence, don’t judge a book by its cover!! Two shops later, we had our hands full with books, so heavy that we just wanted to keep them somewhere & sit, but we did not, because the lure of more books kept pulling us to the next pile. Also we had to buy some study material too, you can get college books at dirt cheap prices, though you might have to put in some extra effort to find the latest editions & the correct authors among the bulk of books available. I even bought some stamps off a dealer selling whole stamp books & stamps from countries like the US, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Canada, Brazil, Nepal, China, Nigeria etc. I was not sure how many of those were real, but since each individual stamp was only Rs 1-2, & a whole book was for Rs 50/100, it seemed a sell-out.

Buy some stamps..

Coin sellers too peddle their ware here, so do several cloth-traders & traders of a number of paraphernalia, like screwdrivers, hammers, knives, pans, amulets & even photo albums. The mass of humanity swelled as the day got longer, & at 11 am we had to step down from the footpaths in order to avoid the milling crowds.

Or would you like some coins??

There are more than 150 book sellers here who sell their books on the pavement. They have their fixed spot and they can be seen here every Sunday outside the closed shutter of the shops. You can not only buy second hand books here but can also sell them to the vendors or get them exchanged for other books. Some of the book sellers sell specialized books while many others can be found selling all types of books. The traders, even though they had their hands full, were helpful & guided you to the right shop if you asked or tried to help you find the right book, no matter how long it took. Well, at least most of them, a guy selling IAS study material from Vajiram-Ravi, was quarrelsome with almost all the customers, I still don’t know what got into him. Moreover most of the people involved in this big Indian bazaar – from the customers & traders to the tea-seller manning the corner shop – would pose for you at a single request, which definitely made my day.

Does he know how to read??

Finishing our quota of shopping, we headed to the nearest bus stop, just down the road, right next to the Delhi Gate, one of the surviving gates of the erstwhile Shahjanabad (refer Pixelated Memories - Delhi Gate). It was difficult to pull oneself away from all those books & move on, more so because one knows that so many of those hold the keys to strange worlds & distant lands, a welcome relief from the monotony at the end of the day (or at the beginning or the middle if you are just like me). A date with books on another Sunday then..

Location: Near Delhi Gate of Old Delhi
Nearest Metro Station: Chandni Chowk
How to reach: Once you deboard at Chandni Chowk Metro Station, ask for the Red Fort, you would be guided to a narrow lane that opens straight to Chandni Chowk Road, take a rickshaw to Delhi Gate & walk from there on. (Don’t ask the rickshaw-wallahs to take you to the book market because they would drop you off at a place called Nai Sarak, where permanent book shops are located)
6am – 9pm
Photography/Video Charges: Nil
Precautions: It gets pretty crowded so take care of your belongings, Beware of thieves & pickpockets. 
Relevant Links - 

April 28, 2012

Bhole Baba's Prashad & My Experiences

I don’t know how or when or why I got the idea of writing this post. But now that I have written it despite braving threats from some of my dear friends & took a day to decide whether to post or not, I would go with the affirmative. Else I would have to spend a day, again, trying to think what to write.

For the past few days, I have been trying to modify the contents of this blog – I was bored with the travel stories. So I decided to write about something that relates to my social life out here in College hostel. This is the (perhaps undesired) outcome…

For the past one week, I was involved in a very serious project. Totally scientific!!!
I wanted to experience the effects of Marijuana. & not just the easy ones!!

Call it pot, weed, grass, ganja or any one of the nearly 200 names, it is by far the world’s most commonly used illicit drug. Ganja has been around for a long time now, its source, the Hemp plant, Cannabis sativa, was being cultivated for its psychoactive properties more than thousands of years ago – the Hindu god of destruction Shiva is said to have a penchant for it. The scriptures detail about him consuming it day after day!!

So after some initial research about its effects, which included reading a few research papers, it was clear that Cannabis use is much less dangerous than tobacco, prescription drugs & alcohol in physical & social harms as well as addiction (UK Govt Report on Cannabis, 2006). Cannabis has extremely low toxicity & the amount that can enter the body through the consumption as smoke poses no threat of death. Fair enough, it does have some side effects - short term memory loss, hallucinations, chronic use can lead to a number of lung diseases, including cancer. However moderate use over a long duration does not impair bodily functions in any manner.

Duh, even it had some serious side effects, I still had to experience it. Despite the hordes of friends who can anytime attest to its psychological & sensational effects, I just had to try it for myself. That’s me, who would jump down the rabbit hole just to see what is on the other side. So I, along with some friends (who do not want to be named, all for good reasons) bought off some “maal” from a local dealer (who definitely would do good not to be named).

Marijuana & other cannabinoids are usually smoked, sometimes in a pipe (chillum), or water pipe (bong), but most often in loosely rolled cigarettes (joints) or sliced open cigars (blunts). Moreover marijuana can also be brewed into tea, or mixed with baked products (cookies!!).

The Chillum

After practising with small amounts for 4 days, I had some of the little pleasures associated with Marijuana consumption – it tends to induce a sense of well-being & a dreamy state of relaxation when taken in moderate doses. Many of my “well-practised” friends informed me that Cannabis increases memory & learning powers by stimulating the brain. This however is disputed by researches which claim Cannabis decreases short term memory & harms the brain. Though I am aware that several of my college toppers take “maal” regularly, I am still not sure as to what to believe, they were already toppers when they came here!! There is no solid evidence that smoking weed creates any greater benefits than medications, & anecdotal assertions of benefits are yet to be ascertained by medical research. So I will stick to the “not sure” position. The only common thing I could till now claim to have experienced was the extreme hunger following ganja (it is a known fact that ganja produces a greater craving as well as enjoyment of food taste & aroma) & the impression of long elapsed time, even though the clock’s arms had only moved a short distance (may be this was because I felt it was taking a long time to process the raw ganja & for me to get a high out of it). 
Back to my experiments, with the help of a buddy who has the gift of mixing potent brews & making deadly joints, I was on my way to get “out” for the first time in my life by the 5th day. & little does the Fly know what lies in store for it before entering the Spider’s lair… A mild hallucinogen, Ganja’s effects are generally felt within a few minutes of consumption & peak in 20-30 minutes, they include dry mouth & throat, increased heart rate, impaired coordination & balance & delayed reaction time. One of my friends crushed the leaves into what looked more like oregano to be sprinkled on pizza, & then even finer still, till it looked much like soil. Mixed with some water & fed into chillums, we were ready for the actual consumption now, which was simply inhaling as much smoke as possible & holding it in the lungs as long as possible. 


Grooving to the beats of Bum Bhole Nath (by Bob Marley – a tribute to Lord Shiva), the first chillum went easy, the second was quick & then a little mischievous joint was on the line. Two puffs & until now normal me was out gasping for air. Coughing soon gave way to blackouts & yours truly was out, totally, literally, & what a painful yet strangely unique experience it was. I could see my concerned friends hovering around me while I lay on a bed, & I could listen to my own heart, beating wild to its own song, like a mad horse running to its own course. Cannabis tends to increase heart rate by 20-50 beats/min, enough to increase heart attack risk by 5 times (the same as vigorous exercise or sexual intercourse, implying I should not be disturbed & yet I was all panicky). The heightened sensations ensured each of my body organs had a mind of their own. My head throbbing as if someone was jerking me violently to-&-fro, & my fingers & toes doing a little kathakali now & then. At lower doses cannabinoids tend to stimulate locomotion, but inhibit it at higher doses. That fateful day I finally experienced the sensation so wonderfully unique to ganja – the Free Fall – where one feels as if falling down from a never ending cliff, made all so real by the feeling that air is blowing violently around one’s ears. Marijuana constricts one’s breathing, which is aggravated by continuously drying throat. After 2 hours of agonizingly strange sensations & ever increasing panic, but mostly a feeling of losing control, I fell asleep, bringing to an end what was a rather colourful night. Come morning, I woke up to remember the previous night when one of my seniors remarked he was not even sure if I would wake up the next day, it was only later on that I read that Marijuana’s short-term effects wear off within 2-3 hours (though the drug itself will show up in urine test 3-4 days later). I still don’t have the words to describe the whole turn of events – disaster/fun/accident/stupid??

Bottom line, my first experience with Ganja was totally awesome, especially thanks to some friends who were in command, But I would definitely advise newbies to practise moderation, have someone to carry you when you pass out & do not get addicted!!! (yes yes marijuana does not cause addiction, but it does cause a psychological dependence, users have a hard time limiting their use, & more of the drug is needed after sometime to get the same effect).

Now it is time to abstain, till the next time!! ;)

WARNING TO THOSE WHO OMITTED CONSIDERING THE ILL EFFECTS, WHILE READING THE ABOVE TEXT: Regular use of Marijuana can decrease sperm count in males, & disrupt menstrual cycle & inhibit ovulation in females. You wouldn’t want that, now would you??

April 21, 2012

Tughlaqabad - Adilabad - Nai-ka-Kot Fortress Complex, New Delhi

Tughlaqabad Fort holds special significance for me since I visited the place with a very good friend, someone I had a crush on then & liked to spend time with. Moreover, it was the trip to Tughlaqabad that made me search for beauty in even the most monotonous of things – it’s amazing how stones & rocks stacked together can look so striking. The fortress’ repute as a secluded lover’s point along with its share of stories & myths about megalomaniac Sultans, conniving princes & sorcerer saints further adds to its charm. There’s not an iota of doubt that a history-buff & a sticker for stories & legends cannot resist falling in love with this magnificent fortress!

Let’s start this post with the very interesting story behind the foundation of this fortress –Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq (ruled AD 1320-25), the builder of this mighty fortress-city started out as a trooper in the powerful army of Sultan Ala-ud-din Khilji (ruled AD 1296-1316). By the dint of his combined qualities of hardwork, determination & humility, Ghiyas-ud-din rose from strength to strength & was finally assigned the governorship of Dipalpur & the position of “Warden of Marches” of the Sultan’s combined armies (Ala-ud-din possessed one of the largest armies in the world at that time – his forces were efficient & combined staggering quickness with amazing ruthlessness). The son of a Hindu lady & a Turkish slave, Ghiyas-ud-din was soon leading campaigns on behalf of the Sultan to Ghazni, Qandhar & Kabul to punish the Mongols for their incessant raids – unable to defend their territories against the lethalness of Ghiyas-ud-din, the Mongols retreated in his face, opening way for plunder & levy of tributes. Ghiyas-ud-din became one of the foremost generals of Ala-ud-din’s armies, a position he retained during the reign of Sultan Qutb-ud-din Mubarak Shah (ruled AD 1316-20), Ala-ud-din’s son & successor. One day, while on a sojourn of Delhi, Mubarak & Ghiyas-ud-din were passing through the area where Tughlaqabad fortress stands today – impressed by the rocky prominence that imparted natural defense to this area, Ghiyas-ud-din suggested to the Sultan that the site was ideal for the construction of a new fortress. The Khilji sultan laughed at his governor and suggested that the latter build his citadel there when he became a sultan.

The massive fortress of Tughlaqabad

All respect for the crown disappeared under Mubarak’s weak reign – he would keep company of women & fools, run naked in the court, indulge in drinking bouts with the commoners – his own cousins & relatives revolted against him, so did his governors & nobles. He raised a shepherd named Hasan to the position of prime minister – ungrateful & treacherous, Hasan disposed & murdered the Sultan who had always favored him & sat on the throne of Delhi with the title of Nasir-ud-din Khusro Shah. Ghiyas-ud-din was opposed to Hasan’s ascension to Delhi’s throne on account of his belief in the supremacy of Turkish Muslims over Indians & the latter’s being a convert from Hinduism – he marched against Delhi with his army combined with those of his son Muhammad Juna Khan, defeated & executed Hasan & proclaimed himself the Sultan of Delhi under the title of Ghazi (“slayer of enemies”). The first order that Ghiyas-ud-din Ghazi Malik Tughlaq, founder of the Tughlaq Dynasty, issued as Sultan of India in 1321 AD was to commission the construction of his fortress at Tughlaqabad – thus came into being Delhi’s most colossal fortress, a citadel that looks supreme even in its present ruined state.

Stretching over 6.5 kilometers in circumference, the fortress is the largest in Delhi – before I started documenting Delhi’s architectural heritage, it was this vast fortress that I would gape at while travelling at the Mehrauli-Badarpur road (aka M.B. road aka Surajkund road) – this is another reason why this fortress is so close to my heart – admiring its massiveness was what cultivated a love for all things monumental in my adolescent mind.

Same fortress, another view

Its saddening that this fort is almost totally ignored by tourists who prefer to flock to the more magnificent Red Fort complex or the more stupefying Qutb complex – given the neglect this fortress faces from locals, tourists & authorities alike, I wasn’t expecting a ticket counter at its premises, but it was right there along with a detachment of several policemen .The fortress stands guard like a sentinel, towering above the children playing cricket in a clearing beside it, the puny ticket counter & the steady stream of traffic passing around it. It took us a long time to reach the fort complex, partly because this was my first time this way, secondly the auto drivers (intent on fleecing us!!) got us confused with the directions when we were standing next to the flyover (and its associated curving roads) at Tughlaqabad metro station – one has to simply take a bus plying along the M.B. Road & it would take you past Batra Hospital, Jamia Hamdard college & Vayusenabad air force quarters to drop you opposite the fortress’ ticket counter. From this point, the fortress looks incredibly imposing – humongous ramparts, huge battlements, curving bastions and mammoth stonework speak of the building might & architectural prowess of Ghiyas-ud-din’s engineers. What is more astounding is that the entire construction process was completed in a mere 4 years (AD 1321-25) – Ghiyas-ud-din definitely knew how to tame his vast workforce of architects, engineers & artists & draw the most effort from them (& here we thought modern-day MNCs make their workers sweat!). Even the staircase with its wide steps leading to the entrance set within the gigantic bastion seems huge. But once you step through the gateway, the picture is quite different – thorny bushes rising from every spot conceivable, ruined structures thrown desolately everyway and buildings overtaken by bushes speak of the gross neglect the fortress faces – till sometime back there was an entire village settlement living inside the fortress, now it would be hours before you spot a single soul who isn’t an Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) guard. Ruined buildings, towering walls extending as far as one could see, wide staircases ending in limbo & tumble-down bastions can be seen in almost every direction along with huge craters where archaeological excavations were conducted in the past. Heaps of rubble from fallen towers & bastions remains strewn around, speaking of the destruction & desolation of this vast fortress that betrays a Sultan’s ambition & capability.

Ever imagined even rubble could be so colorful??

Making our way towards the imposing curtain walls first, we decided to step onto the walkways that lined the sides of these walls – it was definitely a scary experience, most of these walls are 15 meters high & in sharp contrast to his megalomaniac tendencies, Ghiyas-ud-din decided to keep the walkways narrow – a fall down would be a definite way to meet the fortress’ inceptor in person!! Some of the large sandstone blocks (quarried locally) that layered the rubble wall face still remain projecting outwards & one can pull oneself up these square ledges with ease & look at the continuous traffic encircling the fortress – Ghiyas-ud-din’s soldiers would have appreciated even these hard seats, they had to stand on duty all day here looking over the artificial lake that existed next to the fortress back then, the little islands in the middle of the lake & the territory beyond. From several vantage points along these walkways you can even spot Ghiyas-ud-din’s red tomb & the bastions around it (more on that later) across the road. Visible at several points are broken walls, crumbling chambers, arched gateways fit for giants (both true & trabeate arches can be seen here, often in combination complementing each other) – most of the structures here are simplistic in nature & unadorned – true to Tughlaq aesthetics, these were built for function rather than form. One can see the slits in the bastion walls that allowed archers to shoot through to counter an enemy attack. The monotony of the glowing red & orange rubble ruins is broken only by the monotonous grey quartzite bastion walls – Timur, when he invaded India in 1398 AD & decimated the last of the Tughlaqs, noted in his journal that the fortress walls glittered as if they were made of solid gold – in all probability he saw the fortress in scorching summers; we, on the other hand, visited the place on chilly Christmas morning when the stones took on multi-colored hues & the bastions appeared as cold as they felt to the touch – there was blue everywhere, no gold, very little green & an all-encompassing blanket of fog that made the winter even melancholy.

Third view

Enormous blocks of stone were used to build the stronghold’s colossal bastions (some of which are as high as 15-30 meters) and walls (10 meters thick in places) – it does not look as if this fortress is a handiwork of mere mortals. Situated on a high, rocky ground that acted as a natural vantage against enemy hordes, the fortress’ massive walls seem to be reaching out to the sky with their battlement fingers – these walls are not the type that an invading army would hope to scale in a hurry. The fortress was an ideal defensive structure & encapsulated within its octagonal periphery both Ghiyas-ud-din’s royal palace & some of the local population – part of Delhi’s population continued to live in older fortresses such as Siri & villages like Ghiyaspur (modern-day Nizamuddin area) even after Ghiyas-ud-din shifted with his court & retinue to this imposing citadel. The double-storied bastions & gigantic towers were built to scare away marauders, especially Mongols, whom Ghiyas-ud-din defeated several times & wished to protect his subjects from. Except for the side adjacent to the lake, all other sides of the fortress featured deep trenches along their outer face; the fortress also boasts of huge grain silos to survive an extended siege.

Perhaps the most interesting legend associated with the fortress’ construction is the one pertaining to Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya – a contemporary of Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq & one of the foremost Sufi saints in Delhi’s history. Hazrat Nizamuddin was well-renowned for his spiritual prowess & mystic tendencies, his hermitage (refer Pixelated Memories - Chilla-Khanqah Nizamuddin) was a meeting point for the city’s poor & starving & the rich & influential – he would feed the poor, look after the sick & bless the others for fulfillment of their wishes. But one man’s saint is another man’s villain – Ghiyas-ud-din was pissed at Hazrat Nizamuddin since the latter refused to return the one lakh (100,000) tankas (gold coins) that Nasir-ud-din Hasan Khusro had given him in order to win him over to his side – on assumption of power, Ghiyas-ud-din was cracking down on all the associates of Hasan & demanded that all the religious grants & land titles to nobles be returned to the state on account of their being illegal. Hazrat Nizamuddin had already donated his one lakh tankas in charity; he had nothing to give to the Sultan except his blessings – thus began the long feud that claimed as its cost not only the Sultan’s life but also Tughlaqabad’s fortunes!!

Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq's tomb, as seen from Tughlaqabad's walls (Photo courtesy - Wikipedia.org

At the same time when Ghiyas-ud-din was building his capital, Hazrat Nizamuddin had employed laborers to help build a baoli (step well) close to his residence – Ghiyas-ud-din decreed that all capable men in the city should work on the new fortress or else face severe punishment. Fearing the emperor’s wrath, the workers had no option but to shift to the under-construction citadel; however, out of respect & adoration for the saint, they continued working at his baoli in their off hours. Ghiyas-ud-din reiterated his hatred for Hazrat Nizamuddin by raising the price of oil to keep workers from toiling in the night; the saint reciprocated with a prophecy directed at the fortress –

“Ya rahe usar, ya base Gujjar” 
(“Either it remains barren or be inhabited by nomads”)

Ghiyas-ud-din was then on a military campaign in Bengal; so enraged was he at hearing the Sufi’s words that he decided to punish him when he returned to Delhi. When word of it reached Hazrat Nizamuddin’s ears, he issued another prophecy, this one pertaining to the Sultan himself –

"Hunuz Dilli dur ast” 
(“Delhi is yet far away”)

Both these prophecies proved true – on his way back from Bengal, Ghiyas-ud-din was killed at Kara (Uttar Pradesh) when a wooden canopy collapsed over him during the reception arranged by his son Muhammad Juna Khan. (Much to the chagrin of his father) Muhammad Tughlaq was a follower of Hazrat Nizamuddin & it is generally assumed that he had a hand in the death of his father – the canopy was built to fail, moreover the prince delayed help from reaching the buried people. On succeeding to the throne, Muhammad Tughlaq decided to abandon Tughlaqabad on account of it being cursed & chose to build his own citadel opposite it – he christened it Muhammadabad initially, but later changed the name to Adilabad (“Abode of the just”) – the new fortress follows Tughlaqabad in its aesthetics & construction, but is comparatively much smaller. Despite its unassailable defensive features, Tughlaqabad never saw much warfare; it was soon deserted & only Gujjars came here to herd their cattle there. The fort is still believed to be cursed by many & wears a deserted look at night with only the ongoing traffic for company. This does not prevent the lovers who have turned this military outpost into a rendezvous point from coming here.

Bird's eye view (Photo courtesy - Sahapedia.wordpress.com)

The fortress was constructed with traditional stones & hence has been able to survive (almost) intact despite being abandoned for so long. The whole settlement area was divided into three parts – the palace, citadel and the residential quarters. Each area had its own baolis & water supply along with thoroughfares & buildings – the palace & city are almost in ruins now & very few complete structures survive intact. 13 of the original 52 gateways still exist – around these are located remains of the entire city which we could not explore properly because of the predominantly thorny vegetation that has overtaken these ruins. Nearby is a deep baoli too with long stone beams sticking out from its steep walls like ledges (giving the appearance of planks on a pirate ship) – perhaps these beams once formed part of a pavilion which was lost with time; there certainly is a great amount of rubble & fallen stone lining the bottom of the (now dry) baoli. The baoli is dry & filled in with thorny scrubs – one wonders what happened to all the water of the area, where did it disappear?! For baolis to function there ought to have been an adequate water level with replenishable or perennial sources – oh development, what hast thou done!! Remnants of the walkways & tunnels that once connected different parts of the fortress can also be seen.

Two of Delhi's sultans rest here!

Next we proceeded towards the elegant and well-maintained red tomb of Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq that I earlier mentioned seeing from the fortress ramparts. Ghiyas-ud-din had commissioned this mausoleum himself on an island in the lake next to the fortress – the structure was enclosed within fortified walls complete with massive bastions & a huge red sandstone gateway. It was connected to the fortress by means of a wide causeway – the lake dried out but the causeway still exists, though a portion of it was demolished to make way for the M.B. Road to pass through – even the causeway is oversized, its stones almost reach my waist – Ghiyas-ud-din had a penchant for doing things on a grand scale. The rectangular, red sandstone gateway leading within the tomb complex is reached by a flight of steps & is largely unornamented except for white marble inlay, medallions, carved red sandstone pillars & thick trabeate arches.

Conveying strength & grandeur

Sitting surrounded by monotonous grey walls on a bed of lush green grass, the bleak exteriors of the vibrant red mausoleum are in stark contrast to its surroundings. The square tomb was built in the Tughlaq style of architecture – the thick walls slope outwards & bear very little ornamentation in the form of white marble & grey quartzite inlay – a row of kanguras (battlement like ornamentation) adorn the roof while the arched entrances on three sides are lined with crenellated arches & jaalis (latticework) in marble. The fourth side is filled in & acts as a mihrab (western wall of a structure that indicates the direction of Mecca, faced by Muslims while offering Namaz). The massive dome, topped by a unique lotus finial, rests on an octagonal drum (base) & is blanketed by sparkling white marble slabs. The overall aesthetic effect is outstanding, conveying a sense of strength & subdued grandeur. The interiors are also remarkably plain – white marble shrouds most of the lower level as well as the entire portion above the entrances including the dome; strips of slate relieve the monotony by appearing in the mihrab – again the most appealing features are the thin carved pillars & the crenellated arches. Of the three graves, the central one belongs to Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq, another is of Muhammad Tughlaq & the last houses Ghiyas-ud-din’s wife. It is but natural to be overawed by the massive interior space; the silence is deafening & one instinctively begins to whisper in here lest one’s voice disturb the dead.

Graves - Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq (center), his wife (left) & son Muhammad Tughlaq (right)

Close to Ghiyas-ud-din’s tomb & built into the fortification walls of the tomb complex is another tomb, octagonal but similar in design & much smaller in proportions, that belongs to Zafar Khan, a pretty successful General in Ghiyas-ud-din’s army. It is said that Ghiyas-ud-din first built his general’s tomb here & its location gave him the idea of constructing his own tomb – he integrated the tomb into his own larger tomb complex & went on to christen the island Dar-ul-Aman (“Abode of peace”). Zafar Khan’s tomb is small, dark & considerably smaller – of the two graves inside, the central one belongs to Zafar Khan & is in a much better preserved condition compared to the one that lies crumbling next to it & belongs to his wife in all probability. Due to its merger with the fortification walls, the tomb appears entirely hemmed in, almost subterranean due to the darkness & confinement; light enters from the various small windows to create a play with darkness to illuminate the central grave while the smooth round dome overhead remains bathed in darkness; calligraphic inscriptions mark the arched entrances & lend an air of subtle subdued grace to the unornamented tomb.

Inside Zafar Khan's dark tomb 

There are colonnaded walkways built into the walls next to Zafar Khan’s tomb – the simplistic carved pillars & jaalis (stone filigree screens) lend the appearance of strength & dignity to the dark passages, although the place could certainly do with occasional cleaning (anyone heeding?? ASI?)

Parallel to Tughlaqabad’s great walls stretches the fortress of Adilabad that almost appears to be a copy of the former. This later fortress also incorporated within itself the sluice gates that controlled the level of the artificial lake along with several defensive structures. Close to Adilabad is a third fortress referred to as "Nai ka Kot" ("Barber's fort") - barring the name, the fortress has no connection to barbers - it was used as a private residence by Muhammad Tughlaq while Adilabad was under construction. One day is less than sufficient if one wishes to explore all threee fortresses in detail; we decided to leave after paying only a cursory visit to Adilabad.

Colonnaded walkways surrounding Zafar Khan's tomb

After a day spent at the place, the fortress feels like a friend & both Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq & Hazrat Nizamuddin seem to be known to us – not as sultans and saints, or heroes and villains, but more like characters out of a seemingly impossible fairy tale. Leaving the fortress behind feels strange, sad actually; going back to humanity, the noise and the population after the silent sojourn amongst these ruins feels bitter. The traffic around the fortress continued to move in a state of trance, ignoring the fortress as if it was not even there. Maybe these people have become used to seeing the fortress daily, or maybe they are afraid that unlike the Sultan, they would not be leaving behind a formidable reminder with through the world would know them. I sure was!

Suggestion: There are no public facilities (food court, toilets or drinking water) at Tughlaqabad-Adilabad. It is advised to carry adequate amount of drinking water as well as eatables with you. Kind request to not litter the place with bottles/food packets after you are done. One can avail public conveniences at the malls at Saket (20 min by bus – buses can be availed from outside the fortress; any bus going towards Mehrauli/Lado Serai will drop you at Saket)

Location: Along Mehrauli-Badarpur Road (M.B. Road)
Nearest Metro Station: Tughlaqabad
How to reach: Buses ply from different parts of the city for Badarpur/M.B. Road. One can hop on any bus going towards Mehrauli & get down at Tughlaqabad. Same after deboarding at Tughlaqabad metro station.
Entrance fees: Rs 5 (Citizens of India, SAARC countries, Thailand & Myanmar), Rs 100 (others)
Photography/Video Charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 1 day
Relevant Links - 
  1. Pixelated Memories - Chilla-Khanqah Nizamuddin
Suggested Reading -
  1. Hindustantimes.com - Article "Tughlaqabad Fort lacks even basic facilities" (dated January 06, 2014) by Nivedita Khandekar
  2. Jacob's Delhi - Tughlaqabad and Surroundings
  3. Sahapedia.wordpress.com - Tughlaqabad Fort by S. Gopalakrishnan
  4. Thehindu.com - Article "ASI plans to promote Adilabad Fort for tourism" (dated May 7, 2011) by Neha Alawadhi
  5. Timesofindia.indiatimes.com - Article "Adilabad, Tughlaq's forgotten fort" (dated Sep 2, 2008) by Richi Verma
  6. Timesofindia.indiatimes.com - Article "Containers threaten Tughlaqabad Fort" (dated May 6, 2005) by Megha Suri
  7. Timesofindia.indiatimes.com - Article "Facelift for forgotten fort" (dated Mar 18, 2011) by Shreya Roy Chowdhury
  8. Timesofindia.indiatimes.com - Article "Historic secrets hidden in Tuglaqabad Fort" (dated Jun 15, 2004) by Arundhati Basu
  9. Timesofindia.indiatimes.com - Article "Slabs from past shed new light on Tughlaq era" (dated Apr 22, 2008) by Richi Verma

April 05, 2012

Victoria Memorial, Kolkata

"In Calcutta – a city of European origin and construction — where all the main buildings had been erected in a quasi-classical or Palladian style, and which possessed no indigenous architectural type of its own – it was impossible to erect a building in any native style" 
– Lord Curzon, regarding Victoria Memorial’s design 

Unarguably the first location on every tourist’s itinerary when visiting Calcutta, the massive Victoria Memorial complex, one of the finest structures ever built in the country, has become an icon for the beautiful city that Calcutta is and also for the prominent architectural and artistic heritage left behind by the British in the city when they reigned supreme over the vast country. As the name suggests, the colossal memorial is dedicated to Queen Victoria, the British monarch under whose reign the Indian territories of the British East India “trading” company had lapsed into the hands of the British government and who had notably prefixed in her name the title “Empress of India”. This foremost of landmarks in Calcutta, designed in the budding Indo-Saracenic architectural style (combining Indian architectural practices that were a fusion of Hindu and Islamic designs with Victorian,Venetian and Egyptian influences and layouts) by Sir William Emerson, the president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, with inputs from the supervising architect Vincent Esch (especially responsible for laying the foundation of the gigantic memorial after taking into learned consideration the soil and ground conditions of the location), was a brainchild of Lord Curzon, the then Viceroy of India (in reality, it was his secretary who came up with the idea but Curzon got the credit), and is best summed in Curzon's own words –

"Let us, therefore, have a building, stately, spacious, monumental and grand, to which every newcomer in Calcutta will turn, to which all the resident population, European and Native, will flock, where all classes will learn the lessons of history, and see revived before their eyes the marvels of the past." 

A majestic memorial to a powerful queen 

Curzon had intended the memorial to be a tribute to the recently deceased matriarchal monarch in the capital of the country that was considered by many to be one of her crown jewels, but though the Queen passed away in 1901, the actual plans for the design could only be formalized by 1905 and the groundwork began in 1906 with most of the funds coming from native states and princes as a show of adoration towards the Queen (and of course to derive favors from the British administration of the country). The enthusiasm for the magnificent edifice had waned after Curzon’s departure from the country following the much opposed and devastating partition of Bengal in 1905 (though most people never remember his contribution to the conservation and restoration of the country’s architectural heritage and the protection he extended to the same from vandals and encroachments); the construction proceeded at a sluggish pace and when the memorial, set in extensive lush, manicured lawns and surrounded by large pools that reflect a surreal image, was finally thrown open in 1921, it had already been ten years since the capital shifted from Calcutta to Delhi – Curzon’s masterpiece, supposed to be the centerpiece of the country’s administrative capital, was thus relegated to a provincial capital. 

Queen Victoria's life-like statue seated on an ornamental bridge in front of the memorial hall 

Stepping into the beautiful, well-maintained grounds of the memorial through a gateway flanked by large realistic marble lions, one notices an abundance of statues in every direction – there is a large bronze statue of Queen Victoria seated on her throne in the foreground leading to the memorial structure; atop the gigantic front facade are statues of Motherhood, Learning and Prudence while the massive well-proportioned dome is surrounded by allegorical statues of Art, Architecture, Justice and Charity besides being topped by a 16-feet high statue of the Angel of Victory that in itself weighs about 4.5 tons! The Angel of Victory, with its slender figure, large wings and blowing a bugle, was made in Rome and stands on a mercury ball that allows it to rotate on its axis when the wind speed is high (and given that the ball is 184-feet above ground, the wind is considerable there) – however, the ball has stopped rotating in the past few years despite the use of grease to facilitate the rotation and experts fear that this unequal weight distribution would put unnecessary load on some parts of the memorial’s dome and is likely to harm it in the long run. There are bronze panels too (though not as delicate a work of art as that of the Queen or the marble statues around the dome) embedded in the walls that display processions of the viceroys and governor generals with full regalia and military bands.

Allegorical statues of Motherhood, Learning and Prudence above the front facade. Also notice the royal coat of arms set above the arched entrance

The memorial was to house an inspiring museum dedicated to the Queen and the colonial history and the interiors cater to just the same – but before heading within, one cannot but roam around the central structure taking in the splendid architecture made more captivating by the white marble slabs stacked one over the other to complete the striking edifice as well as the exquisite patterns carved skillfully in the marble – the majestic royal coat of arms competes with realistic lions, intricate floral and geometrical patterns and uniform arches and brackets for visitors’ attention and there is a slender little cannon placed in front of the entrance to the memorial. Of course another thing every visitor will notice is the presence of couples under every tree and next to every statue – public display of affection is more apparent in Bengal, especially glaring if one heads to public parks – despite the honorable Calcutta High Court’s directive to the police and the authorities to clamp down on such instances, there is no stopping the young lovers who come here and can frequently be seen hugging, petting and smooching – I personally do not have anything against such activities and even support the coming out of couples and the LGBT community, nonetheless at times one feels if national monuments like these could have been spared. But then that’s only my view; Victoria Memorial would not have been reputed as Calcutta’s lover’s point if not for these couples. Moreover the first time I was in the memorial, I was so fascinated by the memorial’s appearance, mesmerized by the statues and bronze panels that I did not even notice the couples – it was only on my second visit that one of my friends pointed it out! 

A towering personality and a couple in search of solace 

Within the marvelous memorial, a museum is housed that displays, spread over several galleries, reminders of the colonial rule, statues and memorabilia of the Viceroys and Governor-Generals who administered the Indian subcontinent, a large collection of oil paintings and watercolors pertaining to British India executed by various European artists – the most famed of these being the Daniells from 18th century – paintings by the famed artist Thomas Daniell and his nephew William Daniell. Besides these, there is a dagger that once belonged to Tipu Sultan, the legendary Emperor of Mysore and foremost of freedom fighters who was killed in a battle against the British forces. The official dresses of the administrative officers are a big draw – done in gold thread on black cloth, Lord Curzon’s jacket looks impressive beyond measure. Standing within the vast interiors of the memorial is an experience in itself, even though the display and the artifacts might appear dry and mundane – looking up at the high ceiling, one wonders at the limit of British expansionist policies and territorial ambitions. Standing in the galleries on the upper floor and gazing out at the sprawling lawns sprinkled with marble and bronze statues, one is tempted to flash out the camera and quickly snap a few photographs! Ionic pillars lining the circular hall support the weight of the extraordinary dome, while passageways run along the length of the dome’s interiors and are flanked with large semi-circular alcoves set with paintings displaying scenes from Queen Victoria’s life (the passageways can be accessed from the first floor by interested visitors). The royal coat of arms is perennial company throughout the memorial interiors too, appearing on walls, arches and doorways – were it not for the large, thick net covering the dome’s concave surface to prevent pigeons and birds flying in from spoiling the specimens on display, I would have had a good photograph of the entire gallery clicked from the upper floor. 

One of the bronze panels executed by Sir Goscombe John and donated to the memorial by the dowager Countess of Minto  

Stepping out, it is only natural to head towards the back of the memorial where more statues and life-like replicas await the visitors – a well-sculpted marble statue of Lord Curzon stands guard right outside the memorial while on its periphery is a marble archway with exquisite sculptures on its two walls and topped by a bronze sculpture of Edwards VII seated on a horse; besides these, there statues of other eminent personalities like George Robinson (Governor-General of India), Sir Andrew Fraser (Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal) standing on their high stone plinths to be clicked, but given the abundance of statues in the vast complex, I cannot put a finger on the exact number of statues and sculptures there, the place is evidently dotted with them everywhere one looks. 

Splendid, isn't it?

The beautiful lawns with their delicate brilliant pink, red and orange dahlias and vibrant green shrubbery contrast with the glistening white of the marble, so does the blue of the deep ponds, yet the overall picture is one of peaceful serenity, of silent coexistence and intermingling despite the differences, much like the Indo-Saracenic architecture that fuses influences drawn from various cultures and artistic evolutions to create a striking edifice. Evenings at the memorial complex are even more touching – the orange-red sun setting behind the tall minarets of the memorial and covering the sky with a blanket of darkness, the cacophony raised by the chirps and caws of birds returning to their nests, the red-blue of the sky emphasizing the silhouette of the precisely conceived and executed structure – it is truly a scene that makes the beholder feel breathless! 


The memorial has often been compared with the ethereal Taj Mahal of Agra, many writers going to the extent of stating that had it been erected for some native queen or princess instead of the colonial monarch, the memorial would have been deemed the greatest architectural building in the subcontinent, surpassing even the Taj itself. While it is true that Lord Curzon insisted on using white marble from the mines of Makrana (Rajasthan) that also supplied marble for the Taj, and William Emerson drew from several Mughal and Hindu architectural practices such as the massive central dome surrounded by chattris (kiosks/umbrella domes mounted on slender pillars) and minarets, the memorial doesn’t hold a candle to the Taj (which I’d like to clarify, for the sake of disclosure, I haven’t yet been to, but the photographs speak for themselves). Of all the resemblances, perhaps the one that neither the Viceroy nor Emerson would have anticipated or preferred was the 15-year long time span it took to complete the memorial’s construction! 

A thing of beauty..

The memorial is also the venue for important exhibitions and hosting visiting dignitaries; the 2013 Kolkata Literary Festival was also held here and saw the presence of some of the most remarkable writers of the Indian diaspora like Vikram Seth and Arundhati Roy, besides several notable foreign authors. The memorial complex receives an average footfall of 35,000 visitors daily (in my opinion, most of them are the couples who never venture within the museum but stay to the grounds), often rising to 100,000 visitors on special occasions and exhibitions. Thankfully, the security arrangements and the maintenance of the complex is noteworthy and except for a few trees and sculpture plinths disfigured by the etchings and scribbling left behind by idiotic lovers, most of the complex is relatively such nuisance and eyesore free (unlike most monuments throughout the country). 

Such grace - The Angel of Victory (Photo courtesy - Timesofindiatravel.com)

Plans are in the pipeline to transform the memorial’s museum and convert it into an excellent source of knowledge about the British rule over the country as well as the people associated with the administration – these include shifting the museum offices from within the memorial hall to the gardens outside, building new galleries to display the large collection of historic artifacts and possessions (many of which rarely see the light), opening the entire first floor (and not just the passageways along the semicircular paintings) for visitor entry and making the memorial more visitor and environment friendly. It is quite another matter that recent reports by environmental and health agencies demonstrate through scientific findings and observations that the memorial structure is deteriorating and steadily turning pale yellow because of the overwhelming presence of pollutants in the air and the health of the regular visitors and morning/evening walkers to the extensive lawns also suffers because of the toxic nature of the air as a result of the passage of thousands of vehicles everyday on the major arterial roads that run in the vicinity of the memorial complex.

More sculptures

One can purchase souvenirs from the publication sales counter (in reality, the small cupboard-like room underneath the stairs that lead to the first floor) – postcards, small replicas, books and key rings are available – the postcard sets are really excellent and of very good quality. One can also buy cheap postcard books from outside the memorial where numerous memorabilia sellers converge and run from visitor to visitor in the hope of finding an occasional patron. Vendors set up their small stalls and trolleys to offer Bengali street fare like jhal muri (rice flakes mixed with mustard oil, spices and onions) and papdi chaat (). Interested visitors can avail rides on silver and gold painted horse carriages that make rounds of the area stretching from the memorial to the nearby “Maidaan” (a vast open stretch of ground); in fact there are tides of these carriages coming and going at irregular intervals, some with patrons, other looking for them – the horses, with their manes close cropped, look starved with their rib cages peeping out from under the coarse, thin skin, but then the men manning the carriages are not very much different either! 

If statues could speak - The massive lions at the memorial entrance

The picturesque monument, a tribute both to the skill of the architects who worked on its construction and to the ingenuity with which they drew from several architectural and artistic techniques, a reminder of the parasitic rule of one country and its people over another to drain out the wealth accumulated over centuries in the name of reformation and education to build such staggering structures while millions perished under the yoke of inhumane taxes, inconceivable slavery and induced droughts and famines, has both been praised and derided for what it represents – British supremacy over Indian subcontinent by means of modern warfare techniques and weapon technologies as well as ruthless diplomacy and diabolical greed. Curzon wanted a memorial to remind the generations to come of the monarch who controlled their destiny and was integral to their history – irrespective of his intentions, good or bad, the memorial is dedicated to the matriarchal personality who never once deemed it fit to visit the territory that supplied her with the revenue and treasure to keep her her country adrift. Nonetheless, despite all the criticism, the inspiring memorial is bound to leave an indelible mark on the minds of visitors – both with its controversial history as well with the fine sculptures and tasteful artwork. Drawing from the words of the correspondent of “The Times” who reported about the memorial’s founding in the Dec 25, 1905 issue – 

"(Victoria Memorial is) a magnificent public monument which, it is hoped, will serve for all time to remind India of the great Empress whose name is so inseparably bound up with the most important events of her modern history" 

Open: Tuesday-Sunday
Timings: November-February: 10am – 4:30pm; March-October: 10am – 3:30pm.
Nearest Metro and bus station: Esplanade
How to reach: One can walk/take a bus or taxi from Esplanade.
Entrance fees: Rs 10 for Indian citizens; Rs 150 for foreigners
Photography/Video Charges: Nil. Photography strictly prohibited inside the memorial hall.
Time required for sightseeing: 1.5hrs
Nearby attractions - 

April 02, 2012

New Market (S.S. Hogg Market), Calcutta

“There was something about Calcutta in the 1960s and 1970s – a once-glorious city found itself torn by the Naxalite movement. Revolution and history were being staged at every street corner. But nothing had shaken the historic New Market since its illustrious beginnings in 1874, not the World Wars, not the struggle for Independence; the market thrived no matter who was in power.”
– Jayant Kripalani, “New Market Tales” 

According to my friend Kshitish, who claims to be in love with the city of Calcutta and is a self-proclaimed, considerably knowledgeable authority on having good times in the city, New Market is one of the best shopping centers in the city. Contrary to its popular nomenclature, the market, built originally to cater to the needs of the resident British colonial population, is amongst the oldest shopping complexes in the city. Opened in 1874 and otherwise known as S.S. Hogg Market (though very few people call it by this name), it was designed in a prominently Gothic style by architect R.R. Bayne and christened after Sir Stuart Hogg, the Municipal Chairman of Calcutta at the time of its construction. The colossal, sprawling maze-like interiors provide an incredible shopping experience offering for purchase almost everything imaginable – jewelry, clothes, traditional attires, antiques, curios, footwear, groceries, flower bouquets, electrical appliances, meat, poultry, daily-use electronics and toys. Moreover, not unlike a typical Indian bazaar, here too one can bargain with the shopkeepers for the best price, sometimes even less than half of the original quoted, especially when shopping for textiles!

Hemmed in by unique spires - A sliver of sky spotted from the alley running between the two wings of the market complex

In keeping with its distinctive Gothic architectural features, the extensive complex is layered with red and yellow bricks and boasts of a corner clock tower, ornamental facades, shuttered arched windows, sloping tiled roofs, pillared walkways, wide eaves supported on stepped brackets and tall spires surmounted by pointed finials and multi-pointed stars. With over 2000 stalls under a single roof, the interiors house outlets of big brands as well as small vendors and hawkers with makeshift shops – the massiveness of the entire complex necessitates grouping of stalls/vendors in clusters according to what they merchandise, nonetheless finding your way around can still be a navigational nightmare. Also the enclosed area tends to get extremely crowded and chaotic, particularly during the evening hours – in the shadows surrounding the glow of incandescent lamps with the whiff of leather and sweat mingling with the scent of perfumes, cakes and farm produce, one feels transported to an altogether different world which seems to promise dark bazaars, exotic coffee houses, bustling opium dens, and vast quantities of unusual street food and sumptuous delights. 

Like nearly every street and every structure in Calcutta, the almost 140-years old market too bears testimony to an interesting and tempestuous, or at the least combative, history – it was established as Calcutta’s first municipal market offering food, clothing, hardware and manufactured goods under a single roof as a response to the numerous native bazaars that stocked individual items and were often considered unsuitable, inferior, under-ventilated and disease and pest-infested by European merchants, army officers and administrative servants who shared an undisguised abhorrence to these foul, congested bazaars that were crisscrossed by stinking drains and dingy alleys and populated by piles of rotting garbage and streams of putrid refuse besides uneducated, unclean native Indians.

Once upon a time - New Market during the days of WWII (Photo courtesy - Wikipedia.org)

Indians were opposed to the idea of building a massive marketplace catering only to European tastes and requirements through funds generated by taxes realized from Indians; most European citizens, though enraged at the increasing incidences of diseases caused as a result of purchases from native bazaars, were against the concept of a common market being constructed and managed by municipal authorities. Sir Stuart Hogg nonetheless pushed ahead with the agenda despite the fierce opposition offered against the construction; the structure was designed by R.R. Bayne of East India Railway Company and modeled very much like an English railway platform (more like a smaller, more Gothic version of Howrah railway station, refer Pixelated Memories - Howrah Bridge and Railway station). Many local merchants pressed legal charges, emanating from administrative overreach and misuse of funds, against the municipal authorities since the building’s construction was beyond the latter's purview while newspapers sternly predicted the market’s failure especially while the authorities were attempting to attract Indian customers to patronize it too. But New Market continued to prosper and few years later the municipality, upon failing to wean off traders and grocers from the Dharamtolla market, their chief opposition, purchased the latter to eliminate continuous competitive friction and legal proceedings. Overtime, the hygienic market transformed from one stocking only groceries and food products to one also housing cloth merchants and good dealers and the interiors were organized to designate individualized areas for different goods. A large English garden, complete with benches, fountains and walkways, was created immediately opposite the market complex for shoppers to rest, but at present no signs of it exist and the entire area around the market has been engulfed by modern commercial establishments progressively more intent upon dwarfing the heritage structure. The lofty clock tower looks puny in comparison with most of the buildings that have come up in the rest of the city. In 1903, the market’s name was changed from “New Market” to “Sir Stuart Hogg Market” and even today a brilliant blue municipality board proudly illustrates in white characters this nomenclature. Later Vikam Seth too immortalized Sir Hogg in his remarkable magnum “A Suitable Boy” – 

"Cuddles, Cuddles, gentle dog,
Go and bite Sir Stuart Hogg." 

Stuffed - Sir Hogg Market interiors

However, not all transformations were for the ultimate good. Old photographs reveal the area to be spotlessly tidy, but at present the interiors are exceptionally stuffed and often unhygienic; rats can often be spotted scurrying around and people are still to learn mannerisms including but not limited to throwing waste in designated dustbins. Unlike its initial glorious days, today the market exteriors have been encroached upon by peddlers and makeshift stalls while the congested interiors have their passages and arcades blocked by goods, mannequins and cardboard boxes either spilling out of the shops or simply propped around. Most of the original, renowned shops shut their shutters long ago and the brutalities of the vicious fires that broke out in 1985 and 2011 can still be observed at certain places around the huge complex – 1985’s fierce inferno even necessitated partial rebuilding of the historic complex.

The in-house slaughterhouse – located near the rear of the market complex and accorded an unusually forbidding aura by the numerous rats sauntering around on the floor and the huge crows kawing crassly and flying overhead inside the building – is best avoided by those who have a weak stomach. The terrible darkness and dreadful stench further aggravate the entire creepy setting and, as my friend Aakash discovered to his utter dismay, can lead to horrific nightmares. But for a photographer, the huge cuts of pink and white beef hanging around the dark and congested chamber make for interesting visual compositions. And once you ignore the large blades they wield and the swift movements with which they cleave bones, flesh and muscles, the butchers and fishmongers are very friendly people and would quickly flash jovial smiles and pose for photographs – sadly, Aakash wasn’t there anymore to see this facet of the slaughterhouse, he turned around and ran away as soon as we set eyes upon a large bull skull hanging besides a butcher’s work table.

The slaughterhouse

Both inside and outside the enclosed complex, the market building has numerous restaurant joints, including KFC, Cafe Coffee Day and Dominos, serving Indian and Continental fares, but one cannot resist but dig into a plateful of fuchkas (fried hollows stuffed with flavored water, sweet tamarind paste and mashed potatoes), jhal muri (puffed rice tossed with mustard oil, spices, peanuts and shredded onions) or my favorite, the cheap dal pakoras (deep fried lentil flour balls) sold just outside the market entrance with a serving of chutney (mint sauce). With hunger and shopping urges satiated for a long, long time, we finally agreed that Kshitish was again correct!

Wild Wild East - Had to post this photo!

Open: Monday to Saturday
Timings: Weekdays: 10 am – 8 pm; Saturday: 10 am – 2:30 pm
How to reach: The Market is located on Lindsay Street and one can take a bus/cab to  Esplanade/Dharamtolla and walk from there on.
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for exploring: approx. 2 hours
Facilities available: Parking upon payment of hourly charges.
Nearby attractions - 
Suggested reading -