Not being one for organized tours, and this, my sixth visit to India I am feeling pretty confident about finding my way, even learning a basic smattering of Hindi. Helpful? well not really as we found out on a visit to Nizamuddin.
Most monuments and shrines are easy as long as you are respectful and follow the rules, that’s not a big ask. Whilst researching some of the less visited parts of Delhi the stepwells came onto my radar. A stepwell, or Baoli is described by famous French photographer, traveler Louis Rousselet ( 1864) as “[a] vast sheet of water, covered with lotuses in flower, amid which thousands of aquatic birds are sporting” at the shores of which bathers washed, surrounded by jungle greenery. He was not describing a lakeside scene or one of India’s famous riverside ghats, but an ancient well.
So that was the mission for today. Dehli has over 30 stepwells, and I had three on the list to see. This article describes more of the history of these beautiful feats of architecture that make up part of India’s rich history.
A walk through Lodhi Gardens after the rain is peaceful and beautiful amid the relentless traffic of Delhi. Nizzamuddin is where one of the Baoli still intact is a short walk from the gardens. If you intend to go there on your own ( without a guide) be aware this is absolutely not for the faint hearted. Most information I read blithely says, slightly to the north of Nizamuddin Mosque, what is not apparent is that the Baoli is directly at the entrance to one of the most important shrines for the Sufi faith, Hazrat Nizamuddin Darga. Having visited Ajmer Sharif Dargah in
Having visited Ajmer Sharif Dargah in Rajasthan in the company of a family who kept me under their wing the experience was wonderful and enlightening. Not so today. The walk through the market place is confusing and confronting with many places openly slaughtering animals for sale in incredibly unsanitary conditions. The entire marketplace is hot, dirty where it need not be. Poverty is one thing but is that an excuse for the mess and filth this place was? this was another level altogether.
Probably at this stage turning back and revisiting with a guide was a good idea especially for female western tourists. We fell down the rabbit hole and after being pushed and shoved, purchasing flowers and offerings ended up within the shrine where a large sign proclaimed Shariah Law. You need to come here with an open mind, check…an open heart- check…..What we didn’t understand or appreciate, in a place of worship was the pure looks of disgust aimed at us, mostly from women and the need to actually protect ourselves and belongings. We needed to leave now, but no, that was also not going to happen with out the requisite filling out of the “visitors book” and extortion of money. We paid some money just to get out. the prescribed amount seemed to be in the realm of 5,000 rupees. Only carrying small sums of money we simply did not have this and felt very intimidated.
Sufi music is undeniably hypnotic and this shrine has a big night on a Thursday I would love to have gone to, but no way were we stepping back in there. Of course, now I read reviews and see some warnings, in hindsight this was another instance a guide or a small tour would have been a good idea. Self-doubt has crept in somewhat after today…
So did we see the sought after famed step well? YES and it was every bit as amazing as I thought, some eager children happily diving into the pure green water with big smiles on their faces. We left quickly and quietly.