Friday, February 3, 2012

Book Review : Delhi - 14 Historic Walks

Title : Delhi 14 Historic Walks

Author : Swapna Liddle

Publisher : Westland

ISBN : 978-93-81626-24-5

Delhi just completed its centenary year as capital of India in 2011. But Delhi's history goes back much beyond these 100 years. As I wrote in the review of 'City of Djinns' - Delhi is the city which bore testimony to the zenith and nadir of great dynasties and empires and it continues to mesmerize many people by being culturally and historically rich city while at the same time adapting with the changing periods. It has innumerable stories hidden beneath its surface which enthrall historians and followers of history.

Swapna Liddle has compiled a wonderful guide book to 14 walking routes in Delhi which includes some signature tourist attractions like - Qutub Minar, Lodi Gardens, Red Fort and Humayun's Tomb - some of these have been identified as World's Heritage Sites. However, this list includes some lesser known sites too, for instance - Satpula and Khirki.

There is a detailed map with each of the sites which marks the 'not to be missed' places. A few pages are dedicated to giving a glimpse of historical background behind the buildings, monuments or ruins, some architectural details, concepts and techniques adopted in building them while some interesting anecdotes and legends keep the narrative interesting.

I specifically liked the parts where she has brought the attention of the tourists and readers to the subtleties of architectural details. I must quote a small excerpt from the book here - 'The pillars in the Quwwat-u-Islam Masjid in Qutb Minar complex, are elaborately carved and on close inspection one can see many human, animal and divine figures. Such sculptures seem out of place within a mosque, since depiction of human or animal figures is unacceptable to orthodox Islam as being akin to idolatry. The answer to this mystery lies in the fact that these are reused materials from twenty-seven Hindu and Jain temples that had stood in the vicinity and were mostly destroyed by the invading Turks as an act of war."

I wish I had this book with me while I visited the major heritage sites in Delhi last year. If you are visiting Delhi, you must take this book along so as to take a guided tour of the interesting places in the city. This book is educational, informative and readable much more than regular tourist guides. It can work as a nice supplement to the history books in grade classes too. The author Swapna Liddle is a historian who completed his PhD thesis on cultural history of 19th Century Delhi. She has been conducting historical walks in Delhi for over a decade and has been actively involved in heritage protection and public awareness programmes. So she writes on Delhi with authority and it is interesting to read the facts behind these significant monuments.

She goes on to enlist some very practical information about these sites too - nearest Metro station, price of tickets, parking availability and amenities available in the vicinity, which is absolutely required before heading towards any destination.

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  1. I was toying with asking for this book to review too.. but i don't really know Delhi much and decided not to.

  2. I didn't know Delhi either but I read about Delhi with my son for his third grade SSt course followed by Mughal Dynasty in IV std. I happened to read 'City of Djinns' by William Dalrymple a few months back and all this made me more interested in the city and now I keep looking to read more and more on Delhi. I am enjoying this getting to know more about Delhi through these books.

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