Delhiwale: When Tintin hung out here
- Mapping the city through the famous globe-trotting reporter’s experience
Delhi has been visited by many celebs. The Beatles bought a sitar in Connaught Place. Gabriel García Márquez browsed for books in Khan Market. Queen Elizabeth II spoke from Ramlila Maidan. Che Guevara stayed at the Ashoka. Ricky Martin performed at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. Margaret Atwood met fans at the Stein Auditorium in India Habitat Centre.
And Tintin… yes! He, too, hung out in our city — his presence lingers across NCR. There’s a Tintin cake shop in Gurugram’s Sector 23A, a Tintin crockery store in Faridabad’s Jawahar Colony, a Tintin cosmetic shop in Ghaziabad’s Indirapuram, and a Tintin food delivery service in Delhi’s Gagan Vihar.
Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi, a.k.a. Hergé’s redheaded, globe-trotting reporter, accompanied by Snowy (his dog), first set foot in India in the days of the Raj, meeting and rescuing the Maharaja of Gaipajama in ‘Cigars of the Pharaoh’, and in its sequel ‘The Blue Lotus’, meeting Chang Chong-Chen.
His first documented sojourn in New Delhi would come while on the way to rescue Chang, in ‘Tintin in Tibet’, when he would spend a full three hours in the company of the pipe-smoking, hard-drinking Captain Haddock. As Tintin celebrates the 92nd year of his debut this week, here’s his Delhi itinerary.
Landing at Palam
Arriving at Palam, Tintin disembarks from a plane bearing the registration number VT DAO. A few years ago, BBC journalist and Tintin fan Soutik Biswas snooped around to discover that “the number belonged to a Seagull II hang glider owned by a sugar factory”. Whatever, Tintin obviously flew on Air India because his plane had our Tricolour painted on it.
Soon after landing, Tintin is informed that the flight to Kathmandu (spelt ‘Katmandu’ in the comic) will take off from Delhi’s other airport — Willingdon. The Viceroy, who reigned from 1931 to 1936, was fond of commemorating his family and himself with a hospital (now ‘Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital’), ‘Lady Willingdon Garden’ (‘Lodi Garden’) and even ‘Rattendon Road’ (now ‘Amrita Shergill Marg’), named after his son. Willingdon ‘aerodrome’ was India’s second and Delhi’s first airport, and was home to the Delhi Flying Club. Sanjay Gandhi took off from there before plunging to his death in a crash in 1980. Closed for all flying activity since 9/11, Willingdon is now known as Safdarjung Airport.
Tintin in Mehrauli
Tintin visits the Qutub Minar in Mehrauli, and says aloud: “It’s 238 feet high.” That’s all!
Tintin in Shahjahanabad
Tintin’s next stop is Red Fort, where he, Haddock and Snowy hobnob with smiling Dilliwalas. Tintin wants to visit Jama Masjid and Rajghat, but with their flight departing in 25 minutes, the group thinks it prudent to head to Willingdon. (21st-century commuters can only sigh wistfully at the thought of streets so uncrowded that one could drive from Lal Qila to Safdarjung in 25 minutes.) They then look for a taxi in a packed bazaar. No name is mentioned, but since they were at Red Fort moments earlier, it’s almost certainly Chandni Chowk. A gateway at the far end supports this premise as it seems to be the entrance to Fatehpuri Masjid.
As any Dilliwala would have told them, it’s insane to look for an airport-bound taxi all the way from Chandni Chowk. Haddock tries to step over a cow blocking the way, and the annoyed bovine then runs off with him on her back. The runaway pair passes through crowded lanes, one of which certainly is Chawri Bazar — the western wall of the great Jama Masjid is easily visible.
Eventually a Sikh cab driver drops them at Willingdon, where they get on the plane to Kathmandu, and via Patna, onwards to Tibet.
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