Saturday, December 8, 2018

Delhi - Diwali and qawwali

We have already finished our trip and my first post is finally here! I have so many notes and images, and will slowly get them posted :) See the whole Photo gallery here.

Hauz Khas Village

We fly AirIndia as it is direct to Delhi, and the flight is totally populated by Indian people - we almost feel that we are there already. When we see decorations at the check-in counters we think they are celebrating Diwali, which is tomorrow, but then we see decorations all through the check-in hall, it is for Christmas, almost 2 months early!

Hauz Khas Village (southern Delhi) is a historic village dating back to the C13th next to the old water tank (lake), madrasa (Islamic college) and tomb monuments of a Mughal enclave. In the 80s it was renovated and since then is reputedly transforming into a trendy upmarket area with bars, boutiques and antique shops, and to a degree this seems true. At night the main strip is a dive of bars, fast food and suburban youth looking for fun, In the daytime hip middle class girls come in for some edgy shopping. And there are many fancy wedding-wear shops. But always very close are the slums: we walk in and feel like aliens. Not a tourist, or any middle class person. The old community houses give way to shanties and the crumbling streets to piles of rubble. They wonder what we are doing here, and so do I.

HK Village when we arrive in the evening is reminiscent of Kings Cross, full of bars, clubs and boisterous young men. Not quite the boutique arty haven I anticipated. And Chris has been expecting something more upmarket than our slightly shabby Airbnb apartment. But it's spacious, and right on Hauz Khas park. Trees obscure what would otherwise be a fabulous view from the balcony, but it's very pleasant. We find a ‘south Indian diner’ and eat dosas, very cheap but no beer :(
The 'tank' at Hauz Khas Park
Slum girls - Hauz Khas village


We wake up early to monkeys and squirrels on our balcony, and apparently there are also deer  in the park ... today we head to Qutb Minar complex and Mehrauli Archaeological Park.
Q Minar is already busy, but it's an impressive site, the tower itself surprisingly awe-inspiring, and the mosque facades with red sandstone carving are gorgeous. A lovely thing is the green parrots nesting in crevices (we realise later that these are everywhere). The crowds of Indian visitors who arrive are largely dressed in Diwali finery, so it's all quite colourful.
Walking to Mehrauli Archaeological Park nearby, we encounter a street full of flower sellers with orange and yellow marigold garlands - traditional Diwali decorations. Not everyone gets a day off for Diwali. The large, free public park has no tourists in sight; a few wanderers and some rather bored security guards having to spend their Diwali here. It's the site of one of the ancient settlements in Delhi - monuments are in various states of decay, sometimes charming; sometimes sad, with strewn rubbish.
Back in HKV shops are all closed for Diwali - so we wander around the village, and find local ladies taking Diwali offerings into the surrounding slums. Late afternoon, the local archeological park is buzzing as surrounding houses turn on Diwali lights. The tombs and madrasa are picturesque in the twilight, and so is a multicoloured house alongside the park that looks like a slumdog millionaire movie set.
We're invited to a local guesthouse for drinks and fireworks. They have a view over the park which, like ours, is obscured by trees. A few fireworks are starting - the government has legislated that they will happen between 8-10pm, we shall see. Our host arrives with an esky, turns the light on, and a few guests wander in as we sip generous G&Ts with mint, no ice. But we are feeling Sydney time, past 2 in the morning, so as the fireworks fire up, we head home to bed.
Gorgeous red sandstone carving at Qutb Minar complex
Garland sellers, Mehrauli - "hey! take my photo! with flowers!"
Multicoloured house - Hauz Khas Village

Delhi, after Diwali

We have managed to sleep through the noise, but as predicted the smoke/smog this morning is truly awful, we can barely see the park beyond the trees. Delhi is already one of the most polluted cities in the world, so it is really quite hazardous. We breakfast at L'Opera, a gorgeous French patisserie just around the corner - quiche, croissant, latte - really delicious. Then another walk in the archaeology park, foggy and atmospheric. A last quick walk around HKV, as shops are opening, then off to Nizamuddin East.
GG B&B is a very nice house in a very nice neighbourhood (gated suburb), operated by a long-resident Nagaland family, and the rooms have air purifiers!
After lunch at Turtle Cafe, over the main road to the crazy labyrinth of Nizamuddin West for (hopefully) some qawwali music at the Dargah of Nizamuddin Auliya. Previously we have been so fascinated by the otherness of this place. But wow, the crowds are stupendous - long queues to get into the shrine, nowhere to stand, let alone sit, no sign of qawwali except for one lone random singer in the midst of the crowd. Once again wonder what we are doing here, so we head home early.

Smoggy Hauz Khas park after Diwali
Crazy crowds at Nizamuddin Dargah

Delhi qawwali

Next day we want to try again for Niz Dargah, but in the morning 'pop in' to Humayun's Tomb. Choosing to walk via back streets, rather than the main road, we are followed by a persistent street dog, who spends the walk defending us from all other neighbourhood dogs. It's a noisy walk! Still smoggy today and H. Tomb is very atmospheric. One does not 'pop' here, but wanders slowly through enchanting vistas. The site has been progressively upgraded over the past several years, and is looking lovely, if dusty. If only all the water courses were running ...
As we leave we see signs for a new archaeological park - Sunder Nursery is just over the road, and free entry for now. The main area is very smart, and has a couple of beautifully restored small tombs, with intricate plaster carving. Further out it is still quite wild, with monuments in various stages of restoration. As well as a park, there is a nursery for cultivation of local flora, and habitats for fauna and birdlife, but we are too tired to explore it all.
After midday rest we head off again to Niz West, this time with a Plan B - qawwali at Inayat Khan Dargah*. It's Friday - holy day - and Nizamuddin Dargah again seems very crowded so we don't even try to enter, but head 'straight' to Inayat Khan, which we find after walking in several circles. At 6pm we are beckoned in as qawwali is about to start, and find ourselves the only audience to the four seated musicians. Over the next 10 min or so several other westerners wander in. What a difference to Niz. Dargah just down the road! It feels a little awkward but the music is enchanting. One by one each of us rises to make an offering, and after 40 min it is over and we hurry out to Karim's for a mughal dinner of mutton curry and dal. Finally satisfied with music and food, we head home for an early night.
* INAYAT KHAN was a westernised Sufi saint who lived most of his life in Europe and was responsible for the spread of Sufism internationally. His shrine is in an elegant modern building, a lovely oasis in the chaos of Niz W. No photos allowed :(
Humayun's Tomb in Diwali smog


Women in salwar kameez, taking Diwali offerings to a shrine in the slum - Hauz Khas village
While India is very Westernised in many ways, especially in the city, traditional and indigenous clothing is still quite prevalent, especially for women. At some historic monuments where there are large numbers of Indian tourists it can be very picturesque, with women dressing and adorning themselves as for a special occasion, sometimes in traditional saris, or often the more modern 'salwar kameez' - both beautiful and practical. It's a struggle keeping the dowdy men out of the photographs. Lower-caste women such as sweepers and road-workers are arrayed in startlingly bright traditional saris - pink is especially favoured as being a sacred colour. Such elegant wear among the rubble, dust and rubbish.

No comments: