Monday, February 12, 2018

Irani Chai and Osmania Biscuit

When in Rome, do as......

In Hyderabad, head to the nearest Irani Café and indulge in a cup of Irani chai (tea) with Osmania Biscuit.  Or biskoot if you want to be even more Hyderabadi.

Hyderabad, India and chai from's a long story that goes back to the 1890s when there was a great famine in Persia that caused millions to flee their country.  Their journey on foot lasted over eight months, across the Hindu Kush mountains, crossing two continents before they reached the shores of Mumbai or Bombay as it was then known.  To sustain a living, they served tea from a kettle and later went on to establish little cafes. Some of them moved down south and to the city of Hyderabad and made it their home.  

Irani chai is a sweet concoction of boiled milk and strong brew of tea, both made separately and then mixed just before serving.  Strange, since in Iran, they do not I read, add milk to their cuppa!

The Osmania biscuit has conflicting stories of how it got its name.  Some say, the then erstwhile ruler of Hyderabad, the Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan wanted his biscuits sweet and yet salty and the resultant creation was named after him.  Another story is that the dietitian (dietitians that long ago?) of the Osmania Hospital created the biscuit.  However, that is only of academic interest.

In any case, we were at the Charminar monument on a Sunday morning and stepped into the Irani café a little across the road for a cup of tea.  At 7am, all neighbouring shops still had their shutters down, but the Nimrah Café was abuzz with activity. It was packed, no table was free. No waiting either.  You walked in, order was taken, steaming hot Irani chai and Osmania biscuits appeared in moments.

As you stood and sipped on the sugary sweet tea one wondered why the beverage was served with yet another sweet-salty item.  But again, the thought was momentary.  The tea was nevertheless delicious and the biscuits melted in the mouth.  I was not complaining.  Any thoughts of why I had crept out  of my comfortable bed to go on a guided walk in my own city were dispelled.  I was set to go!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Tiger Trail - Tadoba National Park

This was a holiday of a different sort.  Reconnecting with classmates after four decades, continuous conversation, good food, wildlife safaris and nature walks.  Who could ask for more?

This was my first safari experience. It had a sense of adventure and anticipation and of course, the reward of seeing the animals in the wild.  The rides were bumpy, the morning temperatures were freezing, the dust immense.  It was all worth it.

It was cold as we waited at the Kutwanda Gate, the sun had not risen as yet

The spotted deer were plenty and they seemed to be on alert all the time, looking nervously side to side, cocking their ears at the slightest sound.

Spotted Deer

The Indian Bison (Gaur)

The langurs are aplenty.  Their calls are an indication that a predator is around.
We were lucky that on our first safari itself we spotted the tigress Maya and the cubs.  She lapped the water leisurely and then looked up and took in the scene around her unperturbed.  The cubs arrived a little later.

We lost count of time as we watched her.  The crowd fell silent and the only sound was the clicking of cameras. Our mobile cameras were woefully inadequate and I envy all those who got better pictures of these beauties. Maya left after quenching her thirst and marking her territory and the cubs followed soon after.

The gypsys then rushed to another spot for Maya to reappear, however she had other plans and did not show up.

The Sambar Deer
We saw more wildlife that included the Spotted Deer, Sambar Deer, Barking Deer, Wild Boar, Mugger crocodile, Wild Dog.  The birds were plenty too, the Indian Roller, Hoopoe, Lesser Whistling Teal, Woodpecker, Drango and the Grey headed fish eagle, peacocks, Jungle Fowl to name a few.
The Fish Eagle at the Tadoba Lake

Ghost Tree
In the dry deciduous forest of Tadoba, there are an abundance of teak trees.  The Saaj or the crocodile bark tree, the Arjun or the Kahua tree, the Palash, Tendu and more, but the most striking is the Indian Ghost Tree.  In the dark it's pale colour stands out like that of a ghost, and hence the name.  The bark changes colour from pale to copper and light green in a year.  The best description of the tree was in Pradeep Krishen's book where he describes the leafless tree and branches akin to a dancer's pose with the pale arms held high.  So true !

One disappointing day, the only semblance of stripes in the forest were these signposts

An attempt at humour at the Park, but it did ring true on a day we returned without sighting the tiger
Sunsets in Tadoba buffer area were beautiful
Later on we went on a nature walk around our place of stay at Ghosri Village.  While we did not see wildlife there were plenty of indication that they were around.  A broken antler, a pug mark, fresh poop of a sloth bear, that had us a little worried.  We saw interesting ant hills and tree root formations.

As we walked on there were these little tiger figures that were erected as memorials by families who had lost a member to tiger attacks.  Sadly there is a constant human-wildlife conflict in these areas.

It all came to an end too soon and it was time for us to leave.  The experience was great and I will be on the lookout for more opportunities to visit other wildlife sanctuaries .  This one was the first and surely not the last.

* A couple of pictures here are thanks to PR and JP.  Their phone cameras were better than mine :-)

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Purana Qila - where fortunes took a tumble

In the heart of the city the Purana Qila ( or the Old Fort ) stands forlorn during the day, the crowd goes to the adjacent zoo and the young couples who visit the place for the privacy it affords, hardly seem to appreciate the heritage and architecture of the structures that have survived time.

Approaching the Purana Qila

The majestic structure was initiated by the Mughal emperor Humayun in 1553 in the city he called Dinpanah ( the Refuge of the Faithful ) . He is said to have completed the 20 m high walls and its elaborate gates or darwazas in just a year.

In 1540, he was overthrown by Sher Shah Suri who renamed it Shergarh (Home of the Lion)  and added more buildings within the fort complex. In 1555, Humayun regained the throne but did not live long to enjoy his victory, when well within a year, he tumbled down the stairs of his library and did not survive.

A year later, Akbar who took over from Humayun was defeated by Hem Chandra, a general under the Suri kings, who crowned himself the emperor.  His rule lasted just a month when he met his end in a battle with the Mughals.  Thus the site was associated with so much misfortune that it was never again used as a seat of administration.

The main entrance to the fort is through the Bada Darwaza or the Big Gate with its two massive curved rubble masonary bastions.  The central window was used to drop boiling water and missiles on the attacking enemy.
The arches are flanked by floral medallions and six pointed stars with lotus rosette, symbols of Mughal architecture
The two huge circular bastions surround the gate with vertical slits to shoot missiles

There are two projecting jharokas with colourful tiles

The Qila-i-kuhna is a striking mosque built by Sher Shah with red sandstone , white, black and grey marble with calligraphy.  The mihrab on the western wall is so intricately delicate.  The carvings inside are elaborate and beautiful.  The building has a second storey with jharokas where the women went to pray.  
Qila-i-Kuhna with the tank in front for Wazu or ablution
The Mihrab

Carving at the base of the pillar

The rear view of the mosque with its jharokas 
The double storeyed octagonal building , Sher Mandal, was intended to be a pleasure resort, but after Humayun reclaimed the empire he used it as a library and it was here that he fell down the steep stairs and met his end.

Sher Mandal

Between the Sher  Mandal and the mosque is a structure that would have served as the Hamam or the bath house, with terracota pipes and drains.

The Hamam or the Bath House

There is also a stepwell or baoli close to Sher Mandal

The Northern gate,  the Talaqi Dawaza is from where Sher Shah went out to battle in 1545 with the instructions that the gate should be opened only on his return.  He was killed  in the battle and the gate reportedly remained closed forever.    The Talaqi Darwaza is built on two levels, the upper one opened on to land and the lower one onto water.  There are steps all around that would have led to the lower level.

Talaqi Darwaza that was never reopened after Sher Shah was killed in battle

The Humayun gate is built in similar fashion as the Talaqi Darwaza and is now the site for the Sound and Light show.

Excavation at Purana Qila where artefacts were recovered.  Some of them are housed in a museum in the fort complex.
Much later, when the city of Delhi was being planned by Edwin Lutyens, he aligned the end of the ceremonial path, Kingsway ( now Rajpath) with Purana Qila.  The Viceroy's House ( now Rashtrapati Bhavan), also was on an elevation where the fort would be viewed.  There was inhabitation of the fort  area until quite recently. A village existed within the site which was cleared in 1914.  In WW II, there were settlements that housed Japanese civilians on the grounds.  Much later, after independence it served to give refuge to many who stayed on till they were vacated in the 60s.



The Purana Qila, not just with the standing buildings, but underground passages, steps that seem to lead to nowhere, arches and pillars are fascinating.  For those who live in the city and wondered why we chose to visit the monument, I think it is time for them to go and find out for themselves and wonder why they stayed away so long. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Fort and the Tomb at Tughlaqabad

Getting away from the noisy, dusty road and making our way across a long causeway supported by 27 arches to the Tomb of Ghiyasuddin-Tughlaq, we were taken aback at the splendid structure that stood before us. 

 Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq had the sandstone tomb with a beautiful marble dome, built for himself in the Indo-Islamic style of architecture enclosed by high battered pentagonal stone walls giving it a look of a fortress. 

Three graves- one believed to be his and the other two of his wife and son Mohammed bin Tughlaq
In the northwest bastion is the octagonal tomb of Zafar Khan.  The grave was there prior to the construction of the tomb and was included in the main structure by Ghiyasuddin-Tughlaq himself. The inscription reads Daru'l Aman - an abode of peace.
Daru'l Aman- an abode of peade - reads the inscription

The tomb of Zafar Khan
There are long corridors on the outside with arched openings.  Corridors have slanted slits for observation and for defence.  There are underground rooms for storage.  Rubble masonary clad with dressed stone masonary were the main construction material with limestone plaster.

We then made our way back to the main fort.  The fort stands on the hill. Legend has it that the last of the Khilji kings, Mubarak Khilji was with his general Ghazi Malik, when the latter suggested that the hill and its rocky environs was very suitable for a fort. Khilji jokingly replied that he (Ghazi) should do it when he became king.   

In the events that followed, Khilji was killed in a battle and Khusro Khan usurped the throne.  In 1321, Ghazi Malik killed Khusro Khan and ascended the throne as Ghiyasud-din-Tuglaq , and founded the Tughlaq Dynasty . He built the fort as protection for his city against the invading Mongols.
Fort Wall 

The fort with the battered walls made with grey rubble.  

The baoli - well inside the Fort complex
The fort was built in  parts - the citadel with its tower- Bijai Mandal at the highest point,  and remains of several halls and a long underground passage. It is not clear if it was meant for shopping or storing grains. The adjacent palace area that contained the residences for the royals and a long underground passage.
Steps leading to Bijai Mandal - the highest point at the fort
secret passageway
underground passage

The City area

The structure took just four years to build! It would have been an amazing feat considering the primitive methods of construction in that period.  Sadly it never was the flourishing city Giyasuddin Tughlaq had hoped it would be.  Was it the result of the curse of a Sufi saint?  The story goes that  while the walls were being raised and enforced there was a shortage of labour.  It was found that the Sufi Saint, Nizamuddin Auliya was building a baoli and some workers were being utilised for that purpose causing the shortage. Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq prohibited the workers from attending to the work of the Sufi Saint.  This enraged the Saint and he cursed the city Ya Rahey Ussar, Ya Bassey Gujjar - meaning the city will remain uninhabited or occupied only by cattle and nomads Gujjar.  

The feud between the two did not end there.  When the labour finished work at the fort, they would go back to the baoli to work at night.  This angered the king and he said he would raze the structure to the ground.  Ghiyasuddin was at that time engaged in a battle and was returning after a successful conquest. The comment was brought to the notice of Nizamuddin, who replied Dilli Door Ast - meaning Delhi is far away - and as luck would have it, Ghiyasuddin was killed when at a reception the platform on which he was standing collapsed.  

Muhammed bin Tughlaq, his son succeeded Ghiyasuddin and ruled from here for a few years, but the baolis dried up, the river at the north of the fort shifted course and he moved the city to Daulatabad.  Sadly, it seemed that the Sufi saint's curse had worked , the fort was abandoned and lay in ruins with only cattle and nomads within its premises.

Jan 2018 - Heritage Walk - INTACH
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