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Wednesday, July 17

Walk Experiences

Catriona Child, a travel writer in Delhi, describes the

a. SUFI WALK in Mehrauli, April 2011

Mehrauli Village is a fascinating but confusing place for anyone and it certainly was for me! Ancient walls, lovely old buildings and crumbling ruins at every turn, hugger mugger with bazaars and the hustle bustle of modern life. What were these structures, who built them, why, what for?

But when I went on Surekha’s Sufi Walk she made the old stones speak and pieces of the jigsaw fell into place. One powerful tool she uses is a painstakingly collected set of visual aids – maps, old water colours and early photos – which sets the monuments in context and shows how things had changed over the centuries.

Starting with a temple to an ancient female deity and ending with a truly extraordinary place of worship (to say more would spoil the surprise!), Surekha guided us through layers of the past. No dry history lesson, but tales of Sultans and saints, poets and plots, dreadful deeds and bitter remorse.

Woven through the walk were several themes: the importance to Delhi of the Chisti order of Sufi saints, the delightful story of the Phool Walon Ki Sair (the famous flower procession), the incredible degree of religious tolerance that existed before Emperor Aurangzeb, and the gradual decline of the Mogul Empire.

b. Street Food Walks in Chandni Chowk,  March 2011

Golden, sizzling, spicy, creamy, tangy or sweet, Old Delhi’s street food is justly celebrated, history books mention it, guide books praise it, bloggers and food columnists write mouth-wateringly about it. But as an expat who’s nervous about venturing into the labyrinth around Chandni Chowk, how do you find it? And importantly, how do you know which of the myriad vendors with their piles of toothsome samosas, chaat, pakoras and sweets can be guaranteed not to give you a case of galloping trots? Surekha shepherds you through the congested streets around Chandni Chowk past dazzling displays of embroidered ribbons, beads of every colour, glowing silks, shimmering silver and even feather boas. At intervals, you stop to sample snacks from trusted stalls. And it’s huge fun – Surekha bubbles with energy and enthusiasm – as well as taking great care over group safety in the hustle bustle of the streets and lanes. She proudly states that no one has ever got Delhi Belly from one of her Street Food Walks, a truly impressive record.  A new series of food walks will start in Nov. 2011.

Jo Carpenter from the US was working in Delhi for a short period, writes about

a. 1911 British Delhi, Dec. 2011
Britishers in 20th century Delhi’: we think of Connaught Place’s majestic facades, arrow-straight Rajpath and proud Rashtrapati Bhawan. But what of the time before Lutyens swept his architect’s pencil across the city? This walk with Surekha uncovers that oft-forgotten period: the Temporary British Capital, from 1911 – when Delhi took over the mantel from Calcutta – to 1931 when New Delhi took its familiar shape.

The story of the Civil Lines area, north of Lutyens’ opus in white, unfolded before us in a special viewing secured (read charmed and cajoled ) by Surekha of a wonderful exhibition inside the former Vice-Regal Lodge, once Lord Mountbatten’s seat of power, now restored as Delhi University’s administrative centre. Once prized away, we walked over the Ridge, past Flagstaff Tower, so familiar from Mutiny history and by rickshaw to Rajya Sabha. This inspiring building, once Metcalfe House, is now home to the Delhi Assembly. Further up the old Alipur Road, we savoured the feast of the Maidens Hotel, where Lutyens brainstormed his new city, and still a sumptuous hotel. We concluded with a filling breakfast at hospitable Sham Nath Villa, a guest house with its own special history, connected with the British Raj.

b. DU University North Campus walk, Jan 2011
With the infectious enthusiasm of a fresher and the knowlege of a long-toothed professor, Surekha guided our group around Delhi University North Campus on a perfect warm and breezy Saturday afternoon. From Indraprastha, proud first women’s college of Delhi with its roots in Punjab Unversity, to noble St Stephen’s where Harry Potter would not look out of place in the dining hall and archrival Hindu College, past Daulat Ram, Sri Guru Gobind Singh College of Commerce and Miranda House. We admired the architecture old and new and soaked up the history. The characters – British and Indian – Walter George, Samuel Allnutt, Satya Nand Mukharjee, Lord Mountbatten, Annie Besant – came alive with stories of educational challenge and triumph. All framed against the backdrop of the energy and buzz of Delhi University’s thronging student successors of those early pioneers.
PYDS Walks, Jan. 2011 
 This year in January 2011, we the students of P.Y.D.S Learning academy  visited Delhi, the capital of India, Our secretary Mr. G.K.Swamy gave us a great opportunity to see Delhi. It was a dream come true. Eithteen students
 were selected from our school to go to Delhi apart from two teachers.  One of the main aims of our group to visit Delhi was to see the Historical Monuments, which are mostly unknown to the people. We were looked after by an excellent, enthusiastic and inspiring tour guide, Miss Surekha Narain. We went to many historical places but very few of them are in a proper  condition. We went to places related to Gandhiji and the revolt of 1857. While visiting these places we also did a bit of bird watching. When we saw things and places related to Gandhiji, it took us closer to him. We also
 watched a movie about him at Gandhi Bhawan, which gave us information about him in detail.

 The other places we went to places related to the 1857 revolt. These were  the northern ridge where the flagstaff tower is situated. We also went to  the Badli ki Sarai. It was the place where the British won their first war in the 1857 mutiny.

 Aside from this we also went to the St. James Church, which is very simple.  We also went to the Viceregal lodge which was in a very good condition.  There we also saw the jail where Bhagat Singh was imprisoned. Viceregal
 lodge is now part of Delhi University.  It was a wonderful trip, we acquired a very deep knowledge from this trip
 and had lots of fun too. Akansha Pundir, Class 7, PYDS Learning Academy
 This year Delhi celebrated its centenary year as nation’s capital. We the  students of PYDS Learning Academy were lucky to visit Delhi in the very  first month of 2011. There are so many historical buildings in Delhi from  where we can get information about our past. We made our visit to most of  the historical monuments in a group of 18 students accompanied by 2  teachers. An excellent tour guide Ms. Surekha Narain at Delhi helped us to explore Delhi’s most fabulous and interesting historical monuments which are still unknown to the people. She organised a well-planned walk for us which took us to a few of the hidden places like Bapu’s Delhi Adresses (Birla Mandir, Valmiki Temple, Harijan Sevak Sangh,Gandhi Bhawan). Delhi 1911 to 1931 (Coronation park near Kingsway camp, Viceregal lodge which is now
under Delhi University) and Mutiny walk (Badli-Ki- Sarai from where the battle of 1857 was first won by the Britishers). Northern Ridge where flagstaff tower is situated. It is also home of several birds. Mutiny Memorial – Ashoka Pillar, Bara Rao Hindu Hospital, St. James Church and Kashmiri Gate). Being skilled and professionally experienced in the field of bird  watching Ms.Surekha maam helped us to identify the different birds. When we walked through the Northern Ridge. This trip was really an interesting and knowledgeable one. I would desire to have this type of trips in future as well. Shalini Pandey, Class 8, PYDS Learning Academy
Click here to learn about PYDS/Purkal walks in Walk Archives, Report July 2010- May 2011.
Randall Honold, Professor at DePaul University shares his experience for a 5 day trip organized for 20 students in Dellhi & Agra, Nov. 2011

I met Surekha two years ago when a colleague and I were looking for someone to expose a group of our college students to the cultural riches of India, specifically Delhi and Agra. After being introduced via email by a mutual friend, we joined Surekha’s walking tour of Chirag Dilli – an old Muslim neighborhood surrounding the mosque that memorializes a Sufi saint. We were charmed by the neighborhood and awed by beauty and the soul-stirring qawwali singing at the mosque. Surekha even persuaded an imam to sit down and chat with us for a good bit. After that, we were pretty sure we’d found the person we wanted to work with, but our mind were made up completely the next day when, over coffee, she described what else she could do for us and our students. No sooner than we’d said, yes, a walk through Old Delhi starting at Chandni Chowk sounds good, than she said,

“Let’s go!” And we were off. Down alleys, through a Jain temple, gazing at architecture, sampling street food – two hours later we decided we would have followed her anywhere! Last year we returned with students in tow for a three-week study tour of Indian environmentalism. Surekha was our host for 5 days in Delhi and on a day trip to Agra. We saw so much in Old Delhi we never would have seen otherwise, and she gave our students a very helpful orientation to the metro and navigating around the city. And the tour of Agra went beyond the obvious Taj Mahal to include a Mughal village walk. All of this was customized for us. Surekha’s indomitable spirit was the main reason the Delhi portion of our trip was so successful. No matter if you’re a solo traveler or part of a large group such as what we had, she will take you to places you’d never see on your own or with lesser tour guides. We can’t wait to return with another group of students this year!

STRANDED IN DELHI 17-25 April 2010 due to the volcanic ash over Europe.

We were lucky to know Surekha Narain who made our extra stay of one week a pleasure and wanting to return to this beautiful, green, historic city. Surekha’s enthusiasm and knowledge makes you want to learn more about this fascinating city.

Every day was an adventure, leaving at 6 am every morning to discover its historic past, its green parks with exotic birds and trees, temples, mosques.  We went into historic buildings not open to the public, i.e. the Coronation House, next to the new Common Wealth stadium for 2010. 

She took me on wonderful shopping trips outside the shopping malls with authentic products.  A walk to discover the street food markets or she can arrange for you to have a wonderful foot massage. 

Whether you are in Delhi on business or for pleasure or just for a stopover.  It is also a wonderful opportunity to meet likeminded people and make new friends during your stay in Delhi. For those who work, by starting the walks early you will be back at work in time.  The hospitality of the Indian people has no bounds.

From a new friend
Willy Brickley

Milly Murgai, Freelance Writer and Social worker in New Delhi describes the Mehrauli Village and Fatehpuri Masjid walk.

A walk through Mehrauli is one of the joys of living Delhi. One of Delhi’s most beautiful areas, specially for a person like me who loves history, you can wander down crowded lanes and suddenly come across a pond with a pavilion, where the imprints of the feet of the Prophet’s horses can be seen – albeit faintly.

The real pleasure of walking through this area is with a group of like-minded people and being guided by someone like Surekha, who knows her work and has done enough footwork prior to the start of the walk.

One of the most interesting parts of the last walk was to see a photograph of a young boy mutilating the ‘Bhool Bulaiyan’ behind Qutb Minar. She had caught him doing this a few days earlier and had not only photographed him, but also made him promise that he would remove the graffiti – or else these would be used as evidence. (He had obviously tried to do so but failed) Hopefully this would deter all his other friends, who were using this beautiful monument as a cricket field, from following his example.

It was also interesting to trace the route of the Phool Walon Ki Sair – since some of our family members have been a part of it for generations. They have a ‘pankha’ that is decorated intricately and carried during this festival from the Yogmaya mandir to the Jharna.

These walks are not the normal  only historical walks, but seem to be interspersed with history, maps, present day changes and vignettes of stories and images.

The walks conducted by Surekha are unique because the narrative is supported by photographs and old maps and images of a bygone era. She shows an old home, and then shows us pictures of what it originally looked like, hence taking us through the ravages of time. Old maps are shown so that we can see the routes that they traversed earlier. She points out old homes with beautiful railings – something we might have missed otherwise.

2. Fatehpuri Masjid

A walk through Chandni Chowk and its adjoining areas is always an experience of contrasts. You see old buildings which definitely look like they will collapse any day, and you see modern shops selling the latest brands and clothes in the same building. Every religion has its place of worship here, and every century of India’s history has left its imprint Chandni Chowk.

Surekha’s guided walk to Fatehpuri Masjid and its adjoining areas was an eye-opener for most of the walkers. We walked from the Town Hall to the Fatehpuri Masjid, to the spice market, to Kucha Ghasiram and to the gardens in front of the Old Railway station. We saw old hovels, the remnants of a British era club, the very peaceful Fatehpuri Masjid and an old haveli where munims (accountants) still used the old red accountancy books and sat on the floor doing their ‘hisaab’.  It was clear that the route had been carefully mapped out and a lot of initial preparedness had gone into it.

She showed us old homes with amazing crumbling facades, and then she showed us old photographs of how these homes must have looked many years ago. We went through the bylanes of Chandni Chowk to enter a beautiful Shiva temple, where she had asked the curator to be present to tell us something about the history of the temple.

The joy of taking any walk through Delhi, with a knowledgeable guide lies in the fact that you learn so much more about the city. The vignettes of the city’s history, the images and maps that are shown to make you realize the passage of time are only a small aspect of the walk, they are like the icing on the cake. Surekha Narain obviously spends a lot of time planning her walks, and this is what draws us to her. She knows her subject well, and makes even an old home look and sound interesting.

If you live in Delhi, and have never wandered around Chandni Chowk, this is the best way to do it.

Nick Klotz is a publisher from Australia and has been living in India for six years. He has traveled the country extensively and is highly passionate about India’s rich heritage. Read his experience of the Mehrauli Village walk.

Today I did my first walking tour with Surekha Narain in and around the village of Mehrauli in South Delhi; an area I know well – at least I thought I did. I have also done other tours in Delhi and elsewhere over many years. A general observation of these tours is that they represent the good, the bad and the ugly! Surekha represents the very good. So what was the difference today?

It is quite clear that Surekha has spent a lot of time studying and researching the history of the area and then it’s just as obvious that she has gone up and down the route many times looking at both the obvious aspects of the area and those that are less so. There is so much about the city of Delhi that is under wraps in some way and to reveal the beauty and the interest that lies below has to be uncovered by somebody skilled in doing so. This is often not easy. Surekha has then packaged this together with stories and anecdotes that actually bring the sites and buildings alive in some way. Simply put anyone can relate facts and figures and do the leg work to put together a tour – this is primarily a logistics exercise, but to present in the engaging way that she does lifts what is already interesting to many to another level. In addition though she carries with her documents and images that she uses as reference points on her tours. Again this aspect is not common when doing tours in India.

Surekha explains that she can do quite a number of tours around Delhi and some other areas. So it is easy to gather from this that she must have devoted a lot of time researching all these walks and to present them to this degree of professionalism means that she has to passionate and dedicated about the subject. This clearly shines through on the walk.

I was actually doing some research for a well known Travel Guide on Delhi and without any doubt Surekha will be presented in the guide as the person to approach for walking tours around Delhi. I can also add that it is my plan to join her for some of the other tours as soon as possible.

Keya & Jagat, walk enthusiasts share their experiences for the DU Walk & Mehrauli Village, Nov. 2009.

I have been wanting to take a walking tour of “Heritage Delhi” for ever so long, so when my husband Jagat, got in touch with Surekha last month, I was more than excited. Our first walk with her was around Delhi University on a brilliant Saturday afternoon. The walk started bang on time and Surekha surpassed our expectations in every way. She was very professional, extremely well prepared and knew the architecture and history inside out.

At our first stop, IP College, she made it extra special by having a senior reader from the college take us around personally. She also arranged for us to see the college archives. Our group comprised of a history professor from St. Stephen’s, some journalists, students and history enthusiasts. So it was a good mix and Surekha managed nicely to cater to the varied interests. At St. Stephen’s college, too, we had a very personalized tour and were joined by some resident students who took time out to tell us about college stories and traditions that were handed down from generations. The surprise was the treat Surekha had arranged for us all at the famous college canteen of nimbu pani and samosas. The tour was thoroughly enjoyable and very exhaustive. I can’t think of another fun way to learn about the city’s heritage and history

All charged up after out first walk, Jagat & I met Surekha the next morning for a walk around “Mehrauli village”. We started around 7 am, with a crisp November chill in the air. This time we were joined by a couple of expats working with the World Bank. We all spent the most of fours hours walking around this “lost world” and viewing the most enchanting sites like sufi shrines, unusual lodi buildings, origins of the Phool walon ki Sair

Surekha again was very thorough and knew every nook and alley and all the history about each site. We got the most amazing pictures and ended the tour with eating the most delicious freshly baked bread while relaxing on the steps of the Ghandhak ki baoli.

Walking with Surekha is like stepping into a history book and I strongly recommend it to everyone.

Jaishree Goyal, a Mom shares her experience of a Purana Qila Walk for Mom’s & Kids, Jan. 2010.

My kids Anand and Anya (6 year twins) and I much against the wishes of the cold weather decided to join Surekha for the walk in Purana Qila. My kids have been to the Purana Qila before but it’s always nice to see it from someone else’s eyes.

While I concentrate on the stories attached to the place, Surekha was bringing the kids to observe the remains of the structure. She gave importance to reading the tablets hence teaching the moms and kids to eventually get independent.

The kids saw an old temple that was related to their Mahabharata cartoons characters and were quick to takeoff their shoes and give their regards to the deity inside.

While we did so, the group had already moved on, it was a wonderful to see my little kids hurriedly wearing their shoes and running to catch the group. A group that was a made of people they had never met before.

The kids observed Surekha reading the map at the Purana Qila, something they will do themselves the next time and I figured that my orientation of places outside the complex was not all that correct, like the direction on the Humayun’s tomb or India gate.

The step well silently brought out the fact that we have wasted water and hence ground water depletion.

A race to the mosque brought the kids and Surekha on friendly terms. The most beautiful mosque as Lucy Peck also said. The secret questions in Surekha’s quiz paper kept us all attentive. We loved the way the architecture of the mosque was described. We learnt a few new terms – iwan, arch, squinch, mehrab, continued corner etc. The kids exercised their monkey tactics by jumping in and out of a dry water reservoir and peeped into a dry well bravely.

Surekha is definitely a kid friendly person and while the adults looked on and waited patiently. Anand told the story of Humayun’s accident at the Sher Mandal.

A feature I had never concentrated on were the three gates. We spent enough time observing the gates that I will never forget them.

The museum – dry and boring – was not. Surekha quiz saved the day. Team work, attention and quick reading was the order of the moment. And Voila! our team won. Anand and Anya are all excited for the next walk and the next quiz now.

The walk ended with yummy sandwiches (can I have the recipe?).

What a lovely way to introduce children to old dilapidated structures….with hidden stories.


Charu Bhatnagar, teacher at The Indian School shares: THE 1911 WALK
Delhi with its long and chequered history has been witness to the making and unmaking of the capital city. In this process Delhi has become repository of great architectural legacy and today we are posed with a problem yet a responsibility as to how to protect the steady deterioration and virtual collapse of our tangible heritage.

Students from classes VI-VIII of The Indian School ,Josip Broz  Tito Marg went for yet another memorable heritage walk with an eminent conservationist and heritage walks consultant Ms.Surekha Narain and this time we were to rediscover Delhi which was to be the future capital of the British Raj and ultimately Indian Union.

We visited an ordinary looking, unguarded Coronation Park which has an extraordinary history to recount. This was the venue of three British Durbars and it was in the third durbar that King George V and Queen Mary declared shifting of capital of British Raja from Calcutta to Delhi. Today it is the resting place of many statues of British Kings, Governors and Officers brought from different locations to the Redstone plinth but then most of the pedestals plinths are vacant with no inscriptions.

It was real delight to see Viceregal lodge, a residential place of five Viceroys, a place where in Room No 13 (currently registrar’s office), Lord Louis Mountbatten proposed to Edwina, a place where Bhagat Singh was kept in one of the underground chambers for interrogation. This place has been renovated without changing its imperial splendour as Delhi University Vice Chancellor’s office and all this have been captured in a panoramic photo gallery for which Ms Narain took a quiz.

We concluded our Walk at Old Secretariat. This spectacular crescent structure was completed within one year and today it houses Delhi LegislativeAssembly. Siddhartha Rao, Secretary, Delhi Legislative Assembly made us aware about the historical legacy of Old Secretariat both before and after independence.

This walk with Ms Surekha Narain was a thought provoking walk which highlighted the fact that instead of adding more monuments to the list of protected monuments we need to accord due respect to the already listed monuments either by protecting them as they were since the bygone time or if that seem to be a herculean task amidst the lack of time and space we need to reshape them in such a manner that they do not lose their old charm.

Charu Bhatnagar, teacher at The Indian School shares: Dilliwalo Ka Dil-Lal Qila

Each year as an enrichment exercise we at The Indian School Josip  Broz Tito Marg, select an epoch in history which has had a profound influence in our lives. 2009-2010 is dedicated to Dilli Meri Jaan. The euphoria of Dilli Meri Jaan was kept alive through a heritage walk at Qila_i_Mubarak_Red Fort by  Ms. Surekha Narain,  an eminent heritage walk expert.

Students from classes 1X & X11 accompanied with the Principal Ms. Manleen Ahluwalia and the History teacher, Ms. Charu Bhatnagar received an opportunity to visit historic Red Fort where each brick reverberates with anecdotes from India’s rich past. A walk through Red Fort amid the ruins and the remains, was like turning the pages of history.

Each building had a story to tell and Ms. Narain was quick to enlighten our students about this majestic grandeur be it the reflection of composite culture opposite to Lahore Gate in the form of Digambar Jain Temple, the Gauri Shankar Mandir and Shish Ganj Gurudwara or pietra durra  work executed by Austin de Bordeaux, a renegade European jeweller on the recessed wall of the main assembly hall of Diwan-i-Am.

Embossed glass work, the continuing channel of Nahr-i-bihisht in Rang Mahal and pristine white marbled Diwan-e khas  truly echo the gilded composition of Sadulla khan-(Amir Khusro), “Agar firadaus bar rue zamin ast, Hamin ast o hamin ast, hamin ast”. (If there a paradise on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here) by great calligraphist Rashid.

The significance of the Red Fort, its place in history and architecture demands a state of orderliness and protection from further mutilation and damage and this was done through a picture puzzle by Ms. Surekha Narain at the Hayat Baksh garden through which students not only appreciated this marvellous fort and its architectural details but also developed a sense of protection towards this citadel.

Our walk concluded with a quiz at Swatantrata Sangram Sangrahalaya which is a tribute to those great sons and daughters of India who participated in the freedom struggle and who have left a lasting legacy for generations of Indians to admire and emulate. There could not have been any other appropriate place for this museum as it was Red Fort which saw the beginning of the first war of independence the revolt of 1857 and it was also in the barracks of the fort that the freedom fighters were tried. The Red Fort is a  symbol of free India.
This walk with Ms. Surekha Narain  was indeed an enriching experience ,which our students will always remember when they come back to  revisit the Red Fort –Dilliwalo ka Dil-Lal Qila.

View the photogallery

a) Indian School Walk, 1911 British Delhi, March 2010
b) Indian School Walk, Red Fort Delhi, March 2010