A Tale of Three Cities

Early last year I visited Stockholm, a picture perfect city with its numerous cafes and cobbled streets, museums and memorials. The many frozen waterways around the archipelago had just started to melt and people had started to come out of their homes more often to catch some sun. I loved how so many of its archaic structures are in use even today. The Gamla Stan, or Old Town, dating back to the 13th century still exists complete with many age-old structures like the Royal Palace, completed around the 18th century, the Den Glydene Freden, a 1722 restaurant that is still in business with unaltered interiors, and the Riddarholmen Church, parts of which date back to the late 13th century. I was enthralled how so many of the old buildings have been so well-preserved and are being used for various modern purposes, either as museums or renovated office spaces or refurbished restaurants. There is this old world charm about this city which makes one lose track of time, go wandering into a fantasy world of kings and princesses and Vikings…

I returned to Delhi in early summer and almost immediately was drawn into a sight-seeing spree by a friend, but this wasn’t your regular sight-seeing. I found myself in places I never knew existed. We went to Agrasen ki Baoli, a step-well believed to be built during the days of the Mahabharata, right in the heart of Connaught Place, surrounded by modern-day apartment buildings and visited by hundreds of cooing pigeons. My friend took me to the Khirki Masjid, this beautifully symmetric mosque from the 14th century Tughlaq Dynasty, that stands across the Saket Mall, amidst a bustling colony of private dwellings. She also took me to the dilapidated 14th century Tughlaqabad Fort, from where one can get a 360 degree view of the landscape that makes Delhi look like a far-off reality. The more famous stopovers, like the 13th century Hauz Khas complex, Humayun’s Tomb (1562), and Safdarjung’s Tomb (1754, about which we’ve written here), were pleasant surprises as well. Although some of the places that we visited were in dire need of repair, I was glad to see that some others were going through different stages restoration and conservation. What amazed me most during these outings was that in the heart of one of the busiest and fastest growing cities in the world, one can still find a ruin, a run-down wall, a deserted lake, where one can sit down for a minute, take a deep breath, forget that one exists and simply be.

Then by the latter half of the year, I found myself in Melbourne. For me the southern summer was ideal for long walks around the city, discovering its by-lines on foot. Recently rated the “Most Liveable City in the world”, the city has charming Victorian buildings alongside some extremely modern and jazzy high-rises. The beautiful Flinders Street Station built in French Renaissance style in the early 1900s, the Young and Jackson’s hotel serving patrons since 1861, and the 1880 St.Paul’s Cathedral stand at the cross-section across from the brand new Federation Square which houses several galleries and exhibitions and is dubbed Melbourne’s cultural meeting place. I visited the ANZ Gothic Bank, a Gothic-Revival building completed in 1887, maintained and fully functional even today, and was amazed at its splendid interiors featuring gold-leaf ornamentation, graceful arches and pillars. A foyer leads one into the modern extension of the bank so that one is transported between ages in the matter of a few steps. Unlike Stockholm and Delhi, Melbourne did not send me floating into a time-warp; in Melbourne it always felt like being in the present. Yet, Melbourne impressed me by the fact that even though the city itself does not have a history as old as many others in the world, it has an acute sensitivity which enables it to preserve its fascinating old buildings, while at the same time, it is a remarkable example of style and modernization.

When I come to think of it, the most striking common thread through all three cities of my travels last year was the juxtaposition of the old alongside the new. I guess that’s how it’s always supposed to be. The old and the new are meant to live together. A continuous cycle. One gives way to the other, and, in due time, the other becomes the one…

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Rupa says:

    Amazing comparision…

    1. twobitwo says:

      Thank you Rupa!

  2. Shweta says:

    Very nicely concluded..

    1. wanderfool says:

      Thanks Shweta, and I agree!
      Thanks to twobitwo for this post!

  3. twobitwo says:

    glad you like it 🙂

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