While travelling in India, I became fascinated with the variety of patterns in its architecture. Historically, they’re mostly a legacy of the Sultanates and the Mughal Empire, and Islam’s tradition of non-figurative art. But interesting patterns can also be found in Jain, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and modern architecture, and also in natural forms.
These galleries collects all the photographs of patterns I took during my visit. I’m releasing these into the public domain. They are far from comprehensive, and others can be found in various places such as Wikimedia Commons.
While I was in India, I grew to hate Delhi with a passion, and by the time I left for Bikaner I’d already spent more time there than any visitor ever should. But since I had to return there after Lucknow for my flight home anyway, I thought I might as well add a few more places to the Delhi Tomb Review (original review here and first update).
My last stop in India, before returning to Delhi, was Lucknow, the state capital of Uttar Pradesh. It was also my last couchsurfing experience: I stayed with Alex, a former artillery officer turned property investor, with an interest in colonial history. We got on well.
Lucknow was one of the key locations in the 1857 Indian Mutiny (which I wrote about previously in the Jhansi and Gwalior post). It was the capital of Awadh (or Oudh to the British), formerly a Mughal province, later a quasi-autonomous kingdom ruled by a Nawab. It was the British overthrow of the Nawab and annexation of Oudh which was one of the causes of the Mutiny. The British garrison in Lucknow were besieged in the Residency complex (the official home of the Resident, the East India Company‘s equivalent of an ambassador to a native state) and held out for six months of intense fighting until relieved. Afterwards, the scarred but still standing Residency building became one of the symbols of British tenacity. I imagine that in India, it was equally powerful as a symbol of continuing oppression.
Khuldabad is a small town near Aurangabad in Maharashtra. The area is also known as the Valley of Saints, because of the significant number of onion-domed Sufi tombs dotting the landscape in and around the town. A dedicated tomb enthusiast could easily spend days here, visiting and exploring them all. I went primarily for one reason: to boost my Great Mughal tomb-spotting score up to the India-maximum of 4/6.
My first impression of Aurangabad was the mob of autorickshaw drivers, clawing at the gate of the bus compound like zombies. In Bombay, the drivers were relatively civilised, letting you approach them when you needed a lift, and using the meter by default. But I’d moved on from that bubble of sanity and returned to real India now. There was no question of using a meter. The first quoted price for the journey to my couchsurfing host’s house was 350 rupees. Luckily, he’d already told me it should be 100, to 120 max. I laughed in the face of the first offer and walked away. The price quickly came down: 250… 200… At 150, I accepted. I’m not fussy about getting the same price an Indian would; I accept a little bit of overcharging as fair and natural. When it’s a matter of 30 rupees difference, it’s not worth the bother of keeping up the “I’m going to walk away and pretend I don’t really need you” charade any more.
Ashish was another CS host who had a separate apartment for couchsurfers, although unlike Pintu in Bikaner, this one wasn’t filled with drunk, shouting Indians every night. In fact, Ashish, who runs a technical translation agency, used it as an office during the day, and sometimes in the evening, so it was very quiet. It was an ideal little base for a few days.
How to get there: Take the yellow line metro to Qutub Minar. Then try to get one of the autorickshaw drivers there to take you. They’re only interested in the lucrative Qutub Minar metro to monument shuttle run business, so they won’t want to. Also they probably don’t know where it is. Find an old man who speaks a bit of English and tell him where you want to go. Let him explain to the suspicious auto driver. Agree an extortionate rate for the return journey. Set off at a snail’s pace, because the auto has a punctured tyre, which the driver forgot to mention before you agreed to the deal. Pull over at a tyre shop. Take the spare wheel, which also has a puncture, to be fixed by the tyre wallah. When this is done, replace the punctured wheel with the newly fixed spare wheel. Don’t bother with a jack; the driver can just lift up one side of his vehicle while the mechanic replaces the wheel. Set off again, this time at a more reasonable speed. Stop repeatedly the entire way to ask for directions from locals, most of whom have no idea where it is, either. When you see an unsigned dirt track through a wasteground, take it. Ask some more locals hanging around a building site / slum. Turn around and go back the way you came. Take a different unsigned dirt path which forks off the first. If you’re surrounded by overgrown scrubland and piles of rubble, and you’re wondering where the hell you’ve taken yourself, keep going. Now you’re there.
Itimad-ud-Daulah’s Tomb, glowing in the evening light
Where: The north end of central Agra, on the far side of the Yamuna river.
Who:Mirza Ghiyas Beg (?-1622), a Mughal politician and, clearly, a scheming genius, who rose to become chief minister and managed to get his daughter and granddaughter married to successive emperors.
Tomb features: It’s referred to as the “Baby Taj” and considered the penultimate step in the architectural evolution which realised perfection in the Taj Mahal. It suffers from that as people describe it as “imperfect” in comparison, which I think is unfair. It’s a different tomb with different design intentions. The Taj is very austere, whereas Itimad-ud-Daulah is intricately decorated, with the finest inlaid and latticed marble of all the tombs. It’s a nice garden to walk around in, especially in the evening when it’s bathed in golden sunlight from across the river.
Hauz Khas’s calligraphic decoration is in dire need of conservation work. But you can get a good thin crust pizza next door.
Where: About 10km south of central Delhi. The yellow metro line goes to Green Park or Hauz Khas stations but both are 10 minutes’ walk to the complex itself. Have fun asking people for directions, as the whole area is called Hauz Khas as well so you’ll just confuse them.
Tomb features: The tomb is part of a larger archaeological site, the remains of a complex built by Sultan Alauddin Khilji (reigned 1296-1316) and renovated by Firuz Shah Tughlaq. So there’s a whole bunch of old ruins to look at. And a stagnant reservoir. Next to it there’s a modern complex of upmarket boutique shops, bars and restaurants, which I think is the main reason my friend who took me there likes it so much. And beyond that, there’s a deer park. The tomb itself isn’t much to look at from the outside. The ceiling’s ok, with some painted calligraphy, but it’s a poor state of repair.
Summary: If you like to combine your tomb viewing with a bit of clothes shopping and a latte, this is the tomb for you. Otherwise you can give it a miss.