20 Heritage Walks is an assemblage of twenty booklets and eighteen maps which like an equiangular spiral covers myriad of places which are important in cultural, historical and architectural senses. While leaving no part of Delhi untouched, the authors and their team of experts of sketches, maps, line drawings and photography have maintained an immaculate balance between esoteric architectural debates and a proletarian understanding of landscapes and their history. There is dexterous relating of people with things that went into the making of structures and superstructures. It is well conveyed that evolution of architecture is not an adventitious upshot. There are socio-political and economic factors which work towards its progression.
The booklets have a precise and meticulous description of the following places: Chirag Dilli and Khirki, Hauz Khas and its surroundings, Qutub complex and its surroundings, Siri and its surroundings, Tughlaqabad, Mehrauli village, Mehrauli Archaeological Park and its surroundings, Kotla Firoz Shah and its surroundings, Lodi Garden and the Golf Club, Purana Qila and its surroundings, Humayuns Tomb and its surroundings, Jahanpanah, South Shahjahanabad, North Shahjahanabad, the Red Fort and its surroundings, Coronation Park and Mughal Gardens in North Delhi, Sardarjung’s Tomb and its surroundings, Rashtrapati Bhavan and the Central Vista, Connaught place and its surroundings and Civil Lines and the Northern Ridge. Despite the fact that under the heading of above listed places, multitudinous locations of interest are covered; an insistence on minuteness of description remains the strength of this presentation.
20 Heritage Walks provides interesting insights into Indian history specially, across medieval and modern times. Reading it is like listening to Delhi’s story through monuments like Lai Kot of Tomars, Siri of Alauddin Khalji, Tughlaqabad of Tughlaqs, Firozshah Kotla of Firozshah, Shahjahanabad of Shahjahan and many buildings of the British times. The text unravels a unique configuration of eco-political networks which went into the designing and re-designing of landscapes. A word on local beliefs and cultural practices finds a place in the text, but as far as the factual compilation of historical events is concerned there is no discrepancy in the accounts. A pellucid style of narration, vividness and detailing, sketch such an eidetic picture that words are trans-formed into steps and the reader liter-ally walks through unfolding of historical events. A diacritical feature of the style employed by the authors is that it magnetizes their subject. Description of buildings and landscapes is set like a conversation unpretentious and heart searching. Supposedly mute structures are converted into communicators, not ordinary, but powerfully effective communicators.
Description of monuments is set against a backdrop of political and military events which were unfolding around them; making way for patrons to build structures with which posterity identifies them. A construct of history runs parallel with architectural details and cultural nuances. For an example, itutmish had instituted a strongly centralized system of polity in the Sultanate with a lot of deliberation and effort. He was successful in averting Mongol intervention by ignoring Sultan Jalaluddin Mangbarnis request for help. Officialdom was somewhat typecast in his times with the allocation of highest posts to the Turks. He wanted to create a circle of nobles, homogeneous in ethnicity and bound to him by ties of obligation and loyalty. His military campaigns and reclamation of lost provinces were steady and sagacious affairs. He had eliminated his enemies with such shrewd and calculated pro-traction that even though he was responsible for the assassination of a considerable number of Muizzi and Qutbi nobles, his image in public opinion was never maligned. He established a rap-port with the sufis and the ulama and enthusiastically patronized institutions of learning so that his image of being a benevolent king could be formalized. In fact the sufis were often given favors and unsolicited grants by the sultans to enhance their own popularity among subjects; a large mass of whom were in regular contact with saints. Alauddin Khalji held Sheikh Nizamuddin Auliya in great reverence despite the fact that he said that he did not care about the sharia and did what he deemed best for the sultanate. It is no wonder that a large number of monuments and shrines related with sufis like Baba Haji Rozbin,
Qutubuddin Bhakhtiyar Kaki; Qutub Sahib, Maulana Jamali, Sheikh Nizamuddin Auliya, Nasiruddin Chiragh Dilli, Yusuf Qattal and Shaikh Salahuddin Darwesh etc. feature in the heritage walk sites. The fact that authors have given a compact outline of the life of some prominent sufis adds value to the account of buildings related to them and completes the picture. The description of the village of Chirag Dilli and the Satpula of Muhammad bin Tughlaq touches upon the popularity of the Chishti Silsilah in Delhi. The write up on the water systems of Delhi makes an interesting reading. Significance of establishments like mosques, madrasas and baolis etc. has been explained.
Locations of heritage walk often allude to the political turbulence and unpredictability which marked those times. In the buildings of the Qutub Minar Complex one can observe important changes in the political scenario and the subsequent shifts in architectural patterns are well emphasized. Movement from floral designs and temple bells to typically Islamic straight lined geometric forms, with intricate carving of verses from the Quran has been highlighted by the authors. The text tells exactly where and how to locate the evolution of Indo-Islamic architecture, in which Hindu elements like lotus, kalash and bandhanwars were used as motifs by Muslims and were combined with true arches and geometrical patterns. The Mongol invasions which vexed the sultans of Delhi for very many years find mention time and again. In fact focus on military excellence comes as a top point in the booklet on Tughlaqabad. The Tughlaq Sultans’ insistence on practicality rather than beauty is underlined. Their buildings were marked by the use of stone, tapered walls, grey quartzite and inclusion of central Asian architectural features. The authors don’t forget to mention that somehow the fort earned a reputation of being cursed.
The account of architectural development is complimented by a statement on the evolution of names that buildings were given or they acquired over a period of time. For example, the Hauz-e-Alai of Alauddin became Hauz Khas in Firozshah Tughlaqs times, the Munda Gumbad (bald dome) facing Firozshahs tomb is so called because it looks beheaded, Kali Gumti is named after the traditional organic mortar that has been used for its construction, and Kabuli Darwazas name got changed to Khuni Darwaza after two sons and a grandson of Bahadur Shah Zafar were killed there. Many monuments that the text covers are named after persons whose identities are little known, for example Bijri Khans tomb, Bara Lao ka Gumbad and Maluk Chand ka Gum- bad etc.
One of the most significant inputs of the text is the narrative of gradual defacing of heritage sites by urban invasion. It is pointed out that the dargah of Chirag- e-Dilli has undergone many renovations and additions, in the early 19th century the tomb of Adham Khan was converted by a British officer Blake of Bengal Civil Service into his residence after removing the graves of Adham Khan and Maham Anga from there and a tomb of the Lodi period was modified by Metcalf and included in the estate of ‘Dilkusha’; and so on. It will be in place to state here that the changes ushered by the craft of colonialism are well high-lighted. Rise of colonial power and its shadowgraph on Indian landscape has been very well captured by the authors.
In this work, English equivalents of Persian words follow them in brackets. Teams and individuals who have worked towards making of sketches, maps, line drawings and photographs have done their job par excellence and have successfully generated a sense of absolute clarity for the readers. Ground plans help in visualizing monuments in the way they were originally meant to be. Little details about bus routes and ticket costs etc. seem to simplify things further. Inclusion of local theories about djinns or places bringing luck or misfortune, enrich the account tremendously and give a close feel of inherited beliefs. While there may be abundant views to support or subvert assumptions about polity, culture, society, history or heritage of any given place, the impact of landscapes on the mind of an onlooker is universally impressive. This work transmutes silent messages of landscapes into words that common people can understand and relate with. A must read for everyone who is interested in observing the unstoppable un-folding of life and times.