A crooked lane leading through a tiny urban village.
Houses, restaurants, art galleries, boutiques stacked together like matchboxes along a touristy circuit.
Glass windows opening out here, there, everywhere…into a world very different from the dusty one outside. Sometimes into a collector’s delightful world of antiques or old Bollywood posters, sometimes into a fashionista’s dreamhouse of glamorous garments.
Quaint eateries and cafes hidden cozily up dark staircases, around confusing corners, waiting to surprise those who try hard enough for a good meal, and sometimes for a good view.
Village folk, trigger-happy tourists, hip youngsters, all hanging out in the alleyways in an unlikely setting.
There’s even a verdant deer park, full of frisky deer, brilliant peacocks, and happy walkers.
Yet you’ve only just seen a part of the charming Hauz Khas Village in South Delhi. There is so much more to be witnessed here!
Many people I’ve talked to have been to this curious little place to lounge in one of the cafes or look at the boutiques, and happily returned home afterwards (I myself did that once), never knowing that they need to walk to the END of the village to actually witness its charm! It’s only a few steps ahead, but that other world is deceptively hidden from this one. And once you reach it, surprise, surprise!
Just walk across the old gateway and step back in time….by seven hundred years, no less! You will come upon a beautiful lake that was originally a tank dug by the emperor Alauddin Khilji (1296-1316) for supplying water to the residents of his capital city (Siri, in the present Siri Fort area). Within half a century, the reservoir had silted up, so the emperor of the day, Feroze Shah Tughlaq -who had a thing for irrigation works-got it desilted and restored. Today as you look over the peaceful waters you can’t help but imagine all the history that this lake must have witnessed. It is said that even the marauder Timur Lane had camped along this lake after his plunders in India.
A walk all around the lake is one of the most refreshing exercises I’ve had in Delhi, watching water fowl and artificial fountains that spring out of boat-like structures floating in the lake. It’s not too hard to walk around now, given that the lake has really shrunk in size. The Munda Gumbad (or headless/ domeless structure) right across the lake, was actually once a pavilion marking its center.
Feroze Shah also built along the sides of the reservoir a beautiful madrasa or university, which in its hey day was considered the most eminent center of Islamic learning in the world. Everything from astronomy to poetry to medicine was taught here.
As you walk down the corridors and peep into the tiny cells where scholars must have slept, and gaze at the lake from the projecting windows of what were perhaps classrooms, you can’t help but compare that life with that of students today 🙂
Many other small pavilions lie scattered around the lawns, perhaps these were the tombs of some of the important teachers of the day! Or maybe they were simply the spaces where discussions and debates took place, who knows!
At the corner of the lake, bisecting the L-shaped madrasa, is the tomb of the emperor himself. Feroze Shah lies in the central grave of the chamber, while the three other graves belong to his son, a grandson, and an unidentified individual. There is a hallowed feeling inside this domed chamber with beautiful inscriptions carved across the walls.
Completing the picture, as was wont in those days, is a mosque at the northern extremity of the madrasa. Not surprisingly, its mihrab (the alcove marking the direction of prayer, which is roughly west for Indian mosques) points to the direction of the lake….a kind of indication that that’s where lies paradise!