Monday, June 13, 2016

Book Review: Delhi: 14 Historical Walks by Swapna Liddle

Picture Credit HERE
On December 11, 1911, Emperor George V of Britain announced the change of the capital of India, from Calcutta to Delhi. Immediately, architect Edwin Luytens, who had designed Hamstead Garden Suburb in London was called upon to build the new city. Luytens along with his associate, Herbert Baker did what he could best do, taking inspiration from the garden city of Hamstead Garden Suberb,  they sat to design the new city, which was already a collection of smaller cities in villages made through a period that started from Chandragupta II to 1803, when the British East India Company occupied Delhi. What he had on hand is a number of structures already built, which he would have to build around, leaving everything as it is, and yet, introducing the distinctive style of architecture borrowed from Europe and Britain.

Dr Swapna Liddle, author of Delhi: 14 Historical Walks, tells the full story, covering the entire period from 375 to 1803, and thereafter, in the most fascinating manner, taking the reader through 14 walks, that not only detail in brief the history of Delhi, during that time, but urge the reader to walk with her, through the famous monuments of that time, the gardens, cities, baulis (water storage tanks), memorable architectural buildings made during that period, mosques and much more. Yet, the book is not a history book, but one that brings alive the history of that time, as if the walker were to be actually passing through that time period, as h/she takes the enchanting walk. No speed, no hurry, just leisurely passing through time and reliving the past, as it were. If you already loved to walk, you will be excited, if you were not a walker, then, be sure you will become one. Although, I must say, for the extremely lazy, the graphic description of each walk is good enough to ‘walk the words’ with Liddle.
Each walk is drawn out and detailed carefully. As the chapter begins, there is a picture followed by a map of all the important points, leading up to the timings, tickets, facilities available on the spot, closest Metro Station, Parking etc, before the walk to each one begins. Relax! You might be holding the book in your hand, but the author does not leave you stumbling back and forth, trying to find, this highlighted point or that on that particular walk. The magic is, she walks with you and guides you through each one, hand-holding you to explore with her, the fine details of each walk. Absorb the easy to read historical background and the periods, emperors under which these structures were made.

My own experience of the book in Shahjahanabad – Oh did you say, you didn’t know what i was talking about? – for the uninitiated, it is Chandni Chawk, as it is called now, I had missed the Jain temples which are believed to have existed from the days of the Mahabharata, the name being derived from the rich Jains who live around the temples, dealing in silver and gold. I was amazed to see the beautiful temples, for, to me, it was always, Chandni Chawk for Parathawali gali, or Jama Masjid, and Kharim’s right opposite Gate # 1 as you descend from the Jama Masjid, the foundation of which was laid in 1605, and took 6 years to complete, and cost Rs 10,00,000 (Rupees Ten Lakh/ $ 1 million).

The romance with the much written about period of Delhi, The Mughal Period (1526 – 1803) almost 3 centuries add a lot to the architectural splendour of Delhi, the most beloved, to me is of course, Humayun’s Tomb.

“As you pass through the gate, you get your first glimpse of the magnificent Humayun’s Tomb...The entrance set into them lead into a total of 124 chambers. In one of them is the grave of Humayun and others house the many graves of family members...”

Awesome! Come let’s discover this and many more, with book in hand. Let’s walk Delhi: 14 Historical Walks by Swapna Liddle


When you are visiting a mosque on this walk, please cover your head with a scarf and leave your leather shoes outside the mosque. In case, you wish to carry them with you, inside, please place the soles together, facing inward and not outward.

About the Author: Dr Swapna Liddle studies history and got her doctorate in 19th Century Delhi, Her interest in Delhi’s monuments started in a casual manner, but have now become a very strong passion to protect these architectural buildings in Delhi. For some time now, she has been leading Heritage Walks arranged by India Habitat Centre and INTACH.

Click here to follow her on Facebook Or follow INTACH Delhi Chapter Walks on Twitter

Publisher: Westland Ltd
Venkat Towers, 165, P.H. Road, Maduravoyal, Chennai 600 095
No. 38/ 10 (New No. 5), Raghava Nagar, New Timber Yard Layout, Bangalore 560 026
Survey No. A - 9, II Floor, Moula Ali Industrial Area, Moula Ali, Hyderabad 500 040
23/ 181, Anand Nagar, Nehru Road, Santacruz East, Mumbai 400 055
4322/ 3 Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi 110 002

Also read about Sufi Sarmad Shaheed HERE

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