While I had to write my ‘basic’ understanding of India’s History in the previous blog, the tour itself gave further insight into why New Delhi was such a focal point for the invading Afghans. To understand it better you need to know that ‘New Delhi’ really is an assortment of 8 cities, all built at various times, under various circumstances and ‘Empires’.
The “Old” Delhi was really the first city and was a bunch of temples, 27 temples dated from the 800s, huddled together to be exact, each one with its separate supporting infrastructure of buildings according to the Hindu way of life. Not just housing for the masses but buildings according to their caste. The 4 main castes, Priests, Warriors, Merchants and Laborers were all attached to each temple; each one of them having so many sub-casts that boggle the mind. Just know Old Delhi, the first city, was a large temple city with unimaginable riches. How rich you ask? Before the Afghans plundered it and destroyed it?
Google PADMANABHASWAMY Temple. This temple, fairly recently, opened one of its vaults to the government of India to evaluate their treasure of gold and jewels for tax purposes. The results were mind blowing; Values in the trillions of US Dollars in just one of their hiding places in just a few of their vaults in just one temple. Old Delhi was known for her riches, remember old Delhi had 27 temples, each one with their own structure and support group. Yes, the Afghan looting was stupendous. What is left today of old Delhi is one replica, one skeleton, one attempt to show how it might have been. It is still impressive; it still bears mysteries that cannot truly be explained. The Iron Pillar for example, a pillar that does not rust despite being 1700 years old.
Nobody really knows what is below ground level in this ancient place. A minaret was erected in the 1100s after the big Afghan plunder, made out of stone, layers stacked on top of each other without mortar. This minaret (Qutab Minar) has been standing for centuries now, even earthquakes did no damage it. Look a little deeper into India and talk to the people and they will tell you the myriads of stories, secrets and knowledge amassed over centuries. I found the people helpful, easy to talk to, smiling and accepting of their place in life.
After old Delhi we visited the peculiar cemetery of Humayun’stomb. It is not at all an ordinary tomb. This “cemetery” was, at the time it was established, way outside the city and was laid out like a Persian garden, representing Paradise. Humayun’s widow took it upon herself to build a memorial, a tomb for her late husband. Humayun was addicted to opium and most likely OD’d, dying youngish. His wife, Bega Begum, was grieved stricken and with the help of a Persian (Iran) architect erected this memorial; a first ever display of grandeur and love from the royals. This tomb is a precursor for the later built, now world famous Taj Mahal. The whole cemetery Paradise Garden is supplanted with other tomb buildings, too. Some of those buildings were built to prolong relationships even in the afterlife. Bega Begum’ gold smith has a tomb built near her burial place. Humayun’s opium supplier was honored with a tomb near his mausoleum. The whole layout, the whole gardens and all the buildings within it are immense. We saw the sarcophagus of Humayun and his favorite wife Bega Begum, but their real grave was below ground. According to Islamic tradition the actual graves should not be disturbed by noisy and nosy “tourists”. I kind of liked the idea of letting them ‘Rest in Peace’. Amen.