Seven Cities of Delhi

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The “Seven Cities of Delhi” program is an incredible opportunity to explore the history and old monuments in Delhi.  Each spring and fall semester, a group of about 40 expats enroll to take part in this program.  It is led by 2 volunteers who are expats themselves.  One has lived here for 10 years and has led the program for about 3 or 4 years now.

The history of Delhi is extensive.  When Delhi was conquered or taken over by a new ruler, the new ruler most often elected to build a new and better city in his new kingdom, thus the name “Seven Cities of Delhi.”. I had heard such great things about this program before even moving that I knew I wanted to have this experience and it has not disappointed me at all.

The two leaders of the group, Hazel and Olaf, both from different European countries, assign each individual to a group of 4 persons.  Your group then has the task to create a tour based on your area and lead the group on it.  There are 10 tours, with some of the bigger cities given more than one week to cover their size.  To date, there have been 4 tours given, on Wednesday mornings, and my group just completed giving our tour this past Wednesday.

Our first tour was of Qutb Minor.  We got to see the minors that were built to celebrate victories by Mughal Emperors and mosques that dated back to the 1100’s.  We also saw “Smith’s Folly” that was built to replace the original Cupola on the Minor in 1828.

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Qutb Minor

Our second tour was of Tughlaqabad.  The Tughlaq Dynasty went from 1320-1413.  Much of the historic site is just ruins.  We toured areas where some of the rulers’ palace was, the mosque, the grinders and different storage rooms.  Of course with every ruler here in India, I am learning that a tomb must be somewhere, so we also saw the well preserved tomb off one of the leaders, Ghiyasuddin.

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These are pictures from Tughlaqabad.  In the picture below the building at the top with the white dome, is the tomb that is still well preserved and maintained.

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Our third tour took us to Haus Khaz where some of the Tughlaq Dynasty ruled.  We toured an area where there are remains of a mosque and a madras which was one of the foremost institutions of Muslim learning for students all over the world.  And of course, another tomb built by the ruler himself, which was what usually happened.

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These are pictures from Haus Khaz

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My group’s tour was not of a political leader, but of a religious leader, Hazrat Nizamuddin, who outlasted 3 dynasties and 7 rulers in India.  Our tour was unique in that instead of it just being ruins where forgotten people are buried, it is a very living area where thousands of people still visit every week.  There is an active mosque built in 1325 for Muslims and then there is the shrine of the Sufi saint, Nizamuddin himself where people come and pray to him for help in their life.  The area is lined with beggars as the caretakers of the area feed the homeless three times a week still.  Nizamuddin’s legacy was one where he cared for the poor people deeply and often couldn’t eat much himself as he saw all the hunger around him.

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The shrine of Nizamuddin

We were able to coordinate having one of the descendants of Nizamuddin arrange some Qawaali singers to perform for us, as well as allow us in one of the wings of the mosque to give history of the area.

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Just outside the side of the mosque where we presented some history.

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The Qawaali musicians that played and sang songs for us in the courtyard of the Dargah.

My group consisted of myself, Anna from Sweden, Hiromi from Japan and Sumali who was born in India but has lived all over the world and is married to an American.  Our group would meet together at least twice a week and visited the site three times prior to our tour to plan it.  I felt like I took on a part-time job getting it all ready but it was so interesting to study the history of that area and get to know these other women better.  I am so grateful I have had this opportunity.

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My group — Me, Anna, Sumali, Hiromi and a guest speaker we had come that lives in the Nizamuddin village.

Now that our tour is over, we just get to show up every Wednesday to enjoy the six remaining tours.  The group giving the tour must also plan a place for lunch following the tour so it is a great opportunity to get to know other expats from all over the world.  It is also giving me a chance to understand what all these monuments are as I drive around Delhi and look beyond the chaos of today and understand the history of this fascinating area.

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