13 September 2013

Delhi Heritage Walks with Sohail Hashmi - Published in Good Housekeeping September 2013 (North Edition)

Walking down the steps of the baoli in the now dried up mausoleum of Ghyas ud din Tughlak, Sohail Hashmi pauses. As do the dozen odd people in the motley group accompanying him. Sohail starts talking about the taste of the sweet water from this well – which he has himself tasted as a teen – and everyone listens in rapt attention to the real life history lesson taking place. The well at one time used to be located inside the lake that surrounded the mausoleum and was the only sweet water well for miles.

Welcome to Delhi Heritage Walks with Sohail Hashmi, a weekend activity that has become a must for all those in love with Delhi, its past and its present. Started in 2004, these heritage walks are the result of Sohail’s irrepressible love for his Delhi which was nurtured by his father. Sohail’s father dabbled in archeology and showed him the seven different Delhis in chronological order when he was still a child. He would explain how the architecture of the Arch, the Dome and the Minaret had evolved over several centuries, from the 12th century onward.

Needless to say Sohail was hooked. In 1968 Sohail ran away from school with five of his class mates to spend an entire day at Tughlaqabad. The place has had a magical hold on him since then. He grew up to document these fascinating bits of history in stone in films that he scripted. It was indeed a pleasure for him that the discovery of the kitchen area, and a stepwell by archaeologists, in Tughlaqabad, was made while he was shooting for a documentary inside the fort. These structures had been buried under rubble and silt for hundreds of years and were revealed when archeologists began clearing up the rubble of collapsed walls. 

He read about Delhi through a number of authors like Syed Ahmad Khan, Bashir-ud-Din Ahmad, Maulvi Zafar Hasan, and Lucy Peck. College professors like Prof. Percival Spear and Professor Narayani Gupta also influenced him. He always loved to walk and with a college friend he explored the many lanes and by lanes of Shahjahanabad and gradually picked up tidbits of information that were enriched later through the reading of some of the books by authors mentioned above and other sources, both written and oral.

In 2004 Sohail was running a creative activity centre for children called "Leap Years", started by Rahul Bhandare, an entrepreneur, who wanted to create spaces for children where they could engage in extra-curricular activities to help them explore their creative talents. Sohail realised that these children, given the kind of emphasis that is placed on rote learning, were growing up in this city ignorant of its shared heritage and history. So he started fortnightly excursions for them called “Discover Delhi". Very soon, he started receiving requests from parents who wanted to join in these walks. Time Out magazine carried a story on the walks, NDTV used one of his walks to hang some stories for a breakfast show and the word spread and soon the walks developed into what they are today.

A typical walk with Sohail takes about two hours and covers an area of about 2km. The pace is leisurely and allows you to imbibe the historical surroundings, as Sohail brings alive the old building with stories from the past. There are close to16 walks to choose from, including old Delhi, Kashmiri Gate, Mehrauli, Hauz Khas, and Lodi Garden to mention a few.

Did you know that the current New Delhi sits on the ancient ruins of at least 7 older cities? The oldest is referred to in the ancient Hindu text of the Mahabharata as Indraprastha. This was the city was said to have been constructed by the Pandava brothers, but there is little archeological evidence to support this theory.

Others which are better documented include -
Quila Rai Pithora (Prithivi Raj Chauhan)
Mehrauli (Qutubuddin Aibak)
Siri (Alauddin Khalji)
Tughlakabad (Ghiyasuddin Tugluq)
Firozabad (Firuz Shah Tugluk)
Shergarh (Sher Shah Suri)
Shahjehabanad (Shah Jahan)

Shahjahanabad including Lal Qila and Chandini Chowk was built in the 16th century by the Mughal ruler Shah Jahan. This is referred to as old Delhi today, while Lutyen’s Delhi built by the British is called New Delhi and includes gems such as Rashtrapati Bhawan, North Block and South Block.
Contact Sohail Hashmi through his Facebook Page

Besides Sohail, there are others who offer heritage walks. These include the Salaam Baalak Trust (Salaam Baalak Trust website), Masterji Kee Haveli (Masterji Kee Haveli website), Delhi Food Adventure in Chandini Chowk (Delhi Food Adventure website), Old Delhi Bazaar Walk (Delhi Magic website), Delhi Heritage Walks (Delhi Heritage Walks website), The Trail of Nizam Piya (1100 Walks website.) The cost usually depends on the walk and the company organizing the walk. The cost ranges between Rs.300 for a regular walk, to over Rs.3000 for a customized one.

Read the complete interview here.

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