Wednesday, January 10, 2018

A heritage walk at Kashmere Gate, Delhi

We set out on a cold foggy day for a heritage walk with Sohail Hashmi.  A walk that covered the Kashmere Gate and the landmarks that were associated with the Indian rebellion of 1857 and thereabouts. Ideally, we should have started off at the Nicholson Cemetery.  For some inexplicable reason we did not and had I known then that it was just a few feet from where we stood at the Metro station gate, we would have gone there on our own.

Pic credit - Huffington Post and DNA India

When the rebellion ( the British would prefer to call it the Indian Mutiny) of 1857 began in Meerut on May 10 of that year, as the sepoys of the East India Company's army revolted against the British,  the rebels arrived in Delhi and approached the Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah for support. John Nicholson who was the deputy commissioner of Peshawar, lead the British assault and is regarded as a British hero. Nicholson died of the wounds received in the revolt and the cemetery is the resting place for him and many of the Delhi residents of the Colonial era.

The Kashmere Gate, the northern gate, one of the 14 built by Emperor Shah Jahan, so named because from here began the road to Kashmir.  The walls were initially made with mud but later reinforced with stone by the engineer Robert Smith ( those who have visited Qutub Minar, will recollect the Smith's folly - the very same person).  The British started settling in this area after they reinforced the walls.  The gate gained importance during 1857.  The rebels took over the city and the British fled.  They later gathered their resources and camped on the northern ridge and then the 'seige of Delhi' happened with very fierce fighting.  There is evidence of damage to the walls, presumably by canon balls.  There is still a plaque for the British soldiers who died there. It was here that the British gained advantage and reached the Red Fort.  

Walking towards barra bazar from Kashmere Gate - Nicholson Road

Following 1857, the British moved to the Civil Lines, and this area became a major commercial hub.  The lane along Kashmiri Gate takes us to Barra Bazar built by Lala Sultan Singh.  While there are hoardings that obstruct the buildings, one can still see traces of British style of architecture.

We go past a mosque built in 1782, called Fakhr-Ul-Masjid or Pride of Mosques also known as Lal Masjid (red mosque), built by Khaniz-e-Fatima in memory of her husband Sujath Khan who was a noble in Aurangazeb's army. 


At this stage we walked into a little sweetmeat shop to have the most amazing Bedmi puri and Dudh Jalebi.  Two juicy jalebis placed in a glass and thickened unsweetened milk from a huge cauldron that was being constantly boiled was poured into it with a layer of cream on top.  The sweetness from the jalebi seeping into the thick milk was a taste that I cannot describe. I know I never will step foot into that part of the city but I'm sure the memory of the Dudh Jalebi will remain forever.  

We walked into a government building where we saw the sign 'Purani Hindu College' and saw the dilapidated building which was once bustling with students of the Hindu College ( this is being demolished soon) and farther down the road to the 'old' Stephens College that is now the Office of the Delhi State Election Commission. 

Once upon a time - The Hindu College

We proceeded towards the St James' Church, which is opposite the old Stephen's College built in 1836 by James Skinner.  Skinner, was born in Calcutta, his father was a Scot and his mother a Rajasthani princess.  Because of his Indian heritage he could not serve in the East India Company army.  He had his own mercenary military band called the Skinner's Horse. It later became a regular regiment. In his later life, he came to be known as Sikandar Sahab. While seriously wounded in a battle he vowed to build a church if he survived.
St. James' Church, Kashmere Gate

The front pew of the church reserved for the Skinner family- Skinner had 14 wives
Beautiful stained glass 

The cemetery in the grounds of the Church

Since the church was representative of the British establishment, the church was often targeted in 1857.  The chaplain , Reverend Jennings, was killed at the Red Fort.  The church was badly damaged. The gilt cross and ball on top of the church was shot down.  It was replaced much later, and the older one that was damaged was stolen from the premises after independence.  Skinner died in Hansi, but later as per his wishes his coffin was laid to rest in the church premises. It also has the remains of the British officer, William Frazier, a close friend of Skinner.

We walked along till the road led us to the Ambedkar University campus to see the Dara Shikoh library. It was constructed in 1643. 
Dara Shikoh's Library

The slab reads - Once the Residency - and rest in Persian

 Dara Shikoh/Shukoh was the eldest son of Shah Jahan. He had a flair for literature. He translated several works from Sanskrit to Persian and vice versa. Texts like the Upanishads, New Testament were translated to Persian. In 1659 he was executed by his brother Aurangazeb for being a heretic.  The library was gifted to Ali Mardhan Khan, governor of Lahore.  In 1803 it was the residence of the British Resident, David Octerlony when another facade, stairway was added to the Library. The facade with the pillars and windows gives it the Colonial look.  The building was turned into the Delhi College till 1857.  Most books were destroyed in the Mutiny after which the building was used as Barracks by the British Army.  Sadly the books that remained were burnt or discarded at the time of independence. 

Right across the gate of the Ambedkar University on the Lothian Road are the British Magazine and the Telegraph Memorial that we saw across the road.  The magazine was manned by Lt. Willoughby and his men.  He thought that the rebels would take over the ammunition dump and decided to blow it up.  Next to it is an obelisk called Telegraph Memorial in honour of the post boys who risked their lives and sent a telegram to Ambala to warn others of the mutiny. 

That brought us to the end of this particular walk.  We will try to do the Northern Ridge walk sometime soon.  It is sad that some of the monuments, even though built by the British are in a sorry state.  

(January 2018)

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