Blog 15,16 June 2, 2020 - Heritage walks | Heritage walk | Delhi walk | Delhi walks | Delhi Heritage walks, Delhi Metro walks, Heritage walks in Delhi
Sunday, November 28


Blog 15, June 2, 2020

Lady patrons of Delhi Part 2

This week we continue our two-part series on the ladies who beautified Delhi with monuments and gardens. Last week we asked where you thought Jahanara Begum, Shah Jahan’s daughter, was buried.  Could you guess? The answer is that she’s buried in Nizamuddin in the same complex as the dargah of the Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya. Like her brother, Dara Shikoh, Jahanara was passionately committed to Sufism.

Now let’s jump to the 18th century and meet Qudsia Begum, a lady with a colourful life. One report says she was a dancer/entertainer who was introduced to the Imperial Court and caught the eye of the Emperor Muhammed Shah, who made his third wife. She wielded power in the Army and became de facto regent after her husband’s death. Her contribution to Delhi was the Sunheri (Golden Mosque), which she commissioned in 1747, and her palace and gardens on the banks of the Yamuna, commissioned in 1748. Both were badly damaged in 1857.

The Sunehri Masjid (note the late Mughal domes) is located outside the southwestern corner of Delhi Gate of the Red Fort. It is made of bassee jung, a light, salmon-coloured stone not usually used for building mosques, which gives the building a picturesque appearance. This mosque should not be confused with the Sunehri Masjid  near the Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahib in Chandni Chowk, which was built by Roshan-ud-Daula Zafar Khan in 1721. Apparently, the Persian invader Nadir Shah spent several hours on the top of this mosque on 11 March, 1739.

As mentioned above, Qudsia Begum’s palace was completely destroyed. All that stands now is the damaged mosque and the bagh (gardens) with the old gateways. All this is covered on our Mughal Gardens walk with Roshanara Gardens (see Blog – Lady patrons of Delhi Part 1 ) and on the 1857 Mutiny tour.

Qudsia Begum, the first Shia Muslim Queen in Delhi, constructed a number of buildings at Aliganj (near Jorbagh), at the shrine of Shah-e-Mardan (King among Men – the title given to Hazrat Ali). In 1724, she is said to have received a stone bearing the footprints of Hazrat Ali (son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad). She placed the footprint, referred to as “Qadam Sherrif”, at the bottom of a marble tank.

Qadam Sharif and monuments around are covered in the Jor Bagh walk for the Awadh connection.

Apart from Qudsia Begum, many women commissioned religious buildings in the 18th century. These included several mosques, a Kali temple and some Shiva temples. One of the most famous female builders of this period was Begum Samru, a Kashmiri dancing girl who married the European soldier of fortune William Reinhardt and inherited the principality of Sardhana in Meerut on his death. This formidable woman, who led her own armies into battle, became immensely rich and built many palaces, including one at Chandni Chowk, which still stands to this day (as the Central Bank of India).

To find Begum Samru’s Delhi palace, go to McDonald’s on Chandni Chowk. Enter the lane and you’ll be under onslaught from the display boards of several hundred shops selling electrical goods – this is Delhi’s premier electrical market. Look at the sign boards on the shops and find Bhagirath Place. Continue walking and ask for the Central Bank of India. Look at the building! Does it look anything like the photos above? It is difficult to imagine now, but in those days, the grand palace stood in imposing aloofness in the midst of a huge and tastefully laid garden estate. stretching from here to the Fountain Chowk on one side and half-way to the Red Fort on the other.

Scrolling forward to the 19th century, we have to acknowledge Zinat Mahal, the powerful wife of Bahadar Shah Zafar, the last Moghul, who built a mansion in Lal Kuan Bazaar besides living at the Red Fort.

Passing Zeenat Mahal’s palace (also known as Zeenat Mahal) in old Delhi fills one with dismay at the plight of this once magnificent 1846 structure. Zeenat Mahal was the youngest and favourite queen of Bahadur Shah Zafar and was a key participant in the Revolt of 1857, collaborating at first with nobles like Hakim Ahsanullah Khan (the Prime Minister) but charting out her own course after she suspected Ahsanullah Khan of being a British mole.

Local residents also remember with certainty that two underground tunnels led off from the haveli, one in the direction of the Red Fort and the other towards Ajmer gate.

In the 20th century, we must acknowledge Lady Willingdon, one of the Raj’s pushiest Memsahibs, who propelled her husband right up the social and political ladder until he became the Marquis of Willingdon and Viceroy of India and she became Marie Adelaide Freeman-Thomas, Marchioness of Willingdon and Vicereine. You’ll find her name all over India, attached to parks, schools, hospitals and nursing homes. In Delhi she turned her eagle eye to the attractive cluster of Lodhi tombs not far from Nizamuddin. Under her instruction, they were landscaped and turned into an attractive park by relocating a village called Khairpur.

The garden was inaugurated in 1936 and named Lady Willingdon Park. But Independence was just around the corner, and even the feisty Marchioness could not stand in the way of the “tryst with destiny”. When India became independent in 1947, the gardens were renamed Lodhi Gardens. Enter from one of the back gates of Lodhi Gardens and you will still find the name Lady Willingdon Park inscribed on the gates.

Hope you enjoyed our Lady patrons of Delhi, Parts 1 & 2

Do please comment!

Heritage walks with Surekha Narain. Contact details, +919811330098, and visit

Blog 16, June 2, 2020

Street Fruits 2

In our blog last week on street fruits were you able to guess the fruits in the photo? Read on for the answer.

Jamun (Syzigium cumini), also known as Java or black plum or Indian blackberry, is an evergreen tropical tree in the flowering plant family Myrtaceae.  It’s a common avenue tree in Lutyens’ Delhi and should not be confused with the Rai Jamun on Rajpath. Jamun is a beautiful tree native to the Indian Subcontinent, plus adjoining regions of Southeast Asia, China and Queensland.

Jamun flowers in February and March and gives fruit once a year from May till July. The fruit is an edible berry, 1 to 2.5 cms long, and oblong in shape. Green in colour at first, it ripens to become a deep purple fruit with a thin glossy skin. The inner pulp is white or pink, juicy, and sweet with an acid tang, and it’s rich in vitamins A and C. It also contains a pigment that stains the mouth blue. The fruit is eaten by birds and is a favourite food of the large bat or flying fox.

Jamun can be enjoyed in many ways. Known as the “Fruit of the Gods”, it is said that Lord Ram lived on jamun fruits for years after his exile from Ayodhya. And it has lots of health benefits. Both the fruit and the inner bark are good for diabetics, and jambolan – jamun vinegar – can cure diarrhoea and other digestive problems. Honey made from jamun flowers is delicious and is said to have a relaxing effect.  Like Phalsa, it can be used to make a refreshing chaat, and there’s always that delicious jamun ice-cream from “Naturals”!

Ber (Ziziphus mauritiana), known as desert apple or Indian jujube is a smallish tropical tree cultivated for its fruit in India. Ber belongs to the Rhamnaceae or buckthorn family. The fruit is oval, ovate, oblong, or round, and up to 3 cm long. It’s green at first but ripens to a yellow or reddish fleshy fruit surrounding a hard stone. The flesh is white and crisp. When ripe the fruit has a pleasant aroma, and the skin is smooth, glossy, thin and tight. Both the texture and taste of the flesh are reminiscent of apples. Unripe fruit is distinctly acidic but ripe fruit is sweet and a bit juicy with tart undertones.

Ber is often offered during the festival of Maha Shivratri. You can binge upon this healthy snack option to satisfy your sweet cravings.

Ber comes in various colours according to the way it has been processed, dried ber is mostly dark red or purplish black whereas raw ber is green in colour. Jujubes (made from ber) are pocket-sized fruits, which have some fabulous health benefits. From inducing sleep to ensuring a healthy gut, these little fruits provide a perfect dose of nutrition.

Like the jamun, you cannot miss this attractive tree, which is all over Delhi.

Cape gooseberry or goldenberry (Physalis peruviana), known in India as Rasbhari, belongs to the nightshade family, the Solanaceae, and, surprisingly enough, is related to tomatoes, potatoes, brinjal, and the bell and chili peppers. As its scientific name suggests, it comes from Peru in South America, but is now grown in warm regions all over the world including South Africa, South America, Central America, India, and China. It became known as Cape gooseberry because it was first cultivated in South Africa near the Cape of Good Hope.

The fruit is a small golden berry, like a miniature tomato and is enclosed by a papery husk (or calyx), which is green when the fruit is unripe and beige when it’s ripe. The fruit is pleasantly tart and packed with antioxidants, which are good for your skin and a blessing for your immune system. Cape gooseberries are said to contain more antioxidants than broccoli, apples, and pomegranates.

The ripe fruit can be made into sauces, pies, puddings, chutneys, jams, and ice cream, or eaten fresh in salads. Because of its attractive appearance, it is often used as an exotic garnish for desserts in upscale restaurants.

Hope you enjoyed our street fruits series. Good to know a bit more about the things you see around you!

Heritage walks with Surekha Narain. Contact details, +919811330098, and visit


Beverly in Delhi: I loved both parts of the blog on the women patrons of Delhi. Good to know more about these fascinating women and the influence they’ve had on the city. Such a shame that the havelis of Zinat Mahal and Begum Sumru are the mess they are now, but still it’s interesting to see them and try to imagine their former glory. Need to check out Qudsia Bagh next! 
DMW: Thanks Bev. If you really want to know about the splendour and glory of these ladies Havelis then please see Havelis of Delhi by Pawan Verma. 

Olav in Munster Germany: Thank you so much, Surekha, for making women in India visible, who made a significant contribution to Delhi’s magnificent architecture and green spaces.
DMW: Thanks Olav for me it is a pleasure to share Delhi’s magnificent architecture and green spaces on my walks & blogs

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