Serendipity, my old friend: Author Janice Pariat on walking in Delhi
Author Janice Pariat writes about her experience of walking in Delhi and how it is this imperfect, exasperating, unpredictable, replete with unexpected beauty.Updated: Oct 04, 2019 17:06 IST
On a Delhi day in December, a friend and I decide over lunch to take a walk in the city. The wine might have had something to do with it, but it is also the particular slant of sunlight, the crispness of the day, and the general sense of well-being that winter bestows upon the capital. We are at Khan Market, and at first we think to stroll through nearby Lodhi Gardens – where we shall wander poetically around the tombs of Mohammed Shah and Sikander Lodhi, and stand atop Akbar’s Athpula bridge admiring the light glinting on water. We get to Lodhi and swiftly change our minds; it’s the weekend and the park is happily crowded with picnicking families and agile, extreme frisbee enthusiasts.
“What about Sunder Nursery?” I suggest, and off we go, heading back up Rajesh Pilot Marg – past 50-year-old Kamal Nursery, the Ambassador Hotel – which suddenly turns into Subramaniam Bharti Marg, and leads to a junction where we argue for a bit over the best route to take. My friend, who lived in Delhi a decade ago, insists there’s one quickest way, and he’s written a walking guide to the city so I resist the urge to bring up Google Maps and follow him, turning right and walking down Dr Zakir Hussain Marg, where the pavement will disappear at one point to remind us why we must never flaneur around Delhi without keeping our eyes peeled to the ground. There’s no going back now, though, and we plod on, trying to keep the conversation light by pointing to the parakeets flitting about the trees, and mentioning at least half a dozen times how Delhi is so lovely in the winter.
But winter also means dust, lots of dust, and another little verbal tussle ensues over why our route involves walking down this dusty main road—to which exhaust from heavy traffic is added to the mix. “I told you we should’ve taken Mathura Road instead,” I say, and in silence we avoid some abandoned construction material that will lie on the pavement forever. For the sake of our friendship, we walk faster, now nearing the Sabz Burj Circle, with the wonderful blue dome, and our moods lighten.
Somehow, despite the clog of cars, all honking madly, we make it alive to the nursery — via a road that I find is called (only when writing this piece) Bharat Scouts and Guides Marg. We enter through the gate, nondescript as it is, and suddenly Delhi is left behind, and before us is laid out a symmetrical pathway that centres Sunderwala Burj, towards which we walk, as a flock of crows suddenly takes flight.
Our spirits are restored standing inside the Burj, beneath a ceiling of stars. There is no set route to wandering a garden, of course, and so we map ours by the many monuments that litter the grounds – first ahead and to the left, Lakkar Wala Gumbad, set neatly on its high platform. We hadn’t planned it but our timing is perfect, and we are wandering about just when the sun is somewhere setting, and the light gently fading across the sky.
Next we walk around the water features, square and symmetrical, overhung with trees, and fountains spouting intermittently. The flower beds that edge the path are in full bloom – honey-scented Alyssum, a spread of colourful pansies.
Next, we find the hidden 17th-century Mughal garden pavilion, once derelict but restored now to charming glory. Sunderwala Mahal, to the far right of Sunderwala Burj, is set back in the garden, surrounded by dramatically bare trees. Around this rectangular structure is a verandah of five arches on all its sides, and as we circumambulate, we find an entrance to a vaulted chamber with a staircase leading to the roof. There’s no guard in sight, so we leap swiftly up, and catch the sun just as its disappearing into a line of distant trees.
It is moments like these which make it difficult to not love this city. We stay long enough on the roof to make our evening feel complete and head back down, where we wander a while longer– there’s a bonsai house we’ve heard, and a splendid rose garden, but instead we come across an unknown structure that’s been reduced to a blunt ruin, the evening darkening the stone, and the unroofed chambers lying open to the sky. A walk in Delhi is this, imperfect, exasperating, unpredictable, replete with unexpected beauty.
(Janice Pariat is the author of Boats On Land, Seahorse and The Nine-Chambered Heart)
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First Published: Oct 04, 2019 16:15 IST