“To the debate of wasps
the dialectic of monkeys
the chirping of statistics it offers
(tall pink flame
made of stone and air and birds
time in repose on water)
the architecture of silence”
~ Translation “El Mausoleo de Humayún”
by Octavio Paz
Any experienced traveler should know better than to visit monuments that generate heavy tourist footfalls on weekends. The first Saturday after a much publicised re-opening post a controversial six year restoration, had to be far, far worse.
But we had signed up for a walk around the Nizamuddin neighbourhood and it seemed imprudent to shuttle up and down within our short time frame. That is the reason we landed at the grand mausoleum of Humayun that gloomy afternoon, along with a few hundred other people.
To add to our woes the rain Gods thundered overhead and before we knew it we were huddled under an arched recess, Ramit’s stories about Delhi’s complex history partly succeeding in keeping our minds off the incessant, unseasonal downpour. On hindsight, not a bad ambience in which to soak up one’s cultural heritage.
We couldn’t wait there forever, however, so we made a dash for the exit in search of an auto-rickshaw. I could see that the doorman of our posh lodging seemed distinctly unimpressed by our wet and bedraggled selves and our choice of transport.
I was disappointed and was not about to leave town without decent photos of the ‘Taj Mahal of Delhi’. So we returned very early Monday morning, and spent a couple of sublimely solitary hours revelling in the magnificence of the necropolis….in the serene silence of those pink stones. Paz had it down pat.
The first mausoleum of a Mughal emperor in India (his father Babur’s remains lie in the Bagh-e Babur in Kabul, Afghanistan), as well as one of the first garden-tombs in the subcontinent, Humayun’s tomb is a true labour of love by the emperor’s grieving chief consort (and cousin), Bega Begum.
The site, adjacent to the beautiful (and older) tomb complex of an Afghan noble, Isa Khan Niyazi, was chosen for its proximity to the river Yamuna (that has since changed course) and the resting place of Sufi saint Hazrath Nizamuddin Auliya. The unprecedented scale of the finished monument is said to have defined subsequent Mughal architecture apart from being the inspiration for the Taj Mahal in Agra.
Bega Begum herself is buried in an antechamber, along with Humayun’s junior wife Hamida Begum (mother of Akbar the Great), and his great, great grandson Dara Shikoh (the prince who was beheaded by dear brother Aurangazeb, who is then alleged to have presented his trophy to their ailing father on a platter!)
Many more relatives lie interred in more antechambers, but it is hard to tell the sarcophagi apart except for carved symbols that distinguish the sex of each occupant. The exquisite, creamy marble caskets carry wounds from the time when this complex served as a refugee camp. Vandalism by lost souls, to whom the glory of their past could not have measured up to a belly full of food or a roof over their heads.
Ironically this was also the final refuge of the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar before his capture and banishment by East India Company forces.
Outside, the fountains hadn’t been turned on yet. But the reflection pools mesmerised. What bliss to not have people carelessly wander into my frame!
The blinding white double dome and the freshly painted surfaces have received a lot of flak from conservationists, and a debate rages about how much (restoration) is much. I usually prefer ancient and timeworn, but this multi million rupee conservation project by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, with craftsmen flown in from as far as Uzbekistan to retrain artisans in skills lost, does not jar at all.
Just one more monsoon, and any harsh new colours and contours should mellow to perfection.
Until next time….happy travels, no matter where life takes you.