Cyclomats | Trip #18 | 20201219 | Aurangzeb's daughter's masjid & Makki-ka-Roti

Aurangzeb's daughter's mosque
Makki Ki Roti

(Cycle Trip #18. On 20201219)

1/ "It seems you guys started late last week. What time are you leaving tomorrow?" One keen observer asked me at 9.30 pm on Saturday, at a dinner gathering. "I'm not sure. Yet to decide," I said.

That's how it happens. Before we go to bed, our WhatsApp group will have a few brief messages: "8.15 tomorrow?" "Shall we make it 8.30?" "OK." That's it.

On Sunday, 20th December, we started at 9 am for our 18th bicycle trip. The temperature was 8 C. But, it was bright and sunny.

2/ We did a rough calculation. With our 17th trip, even if we averaged just 30km per trip, we cross the 500 km mark in aggregate. Not bad.

On the way, we saw Feroz Shah Kotla on our left, which we had visited earlier. We stopped by the roadside, pulled the bicycles on to the platform (how convenient!) and took some photos. Notice the Ashoka pillar in the background.

3/ We aimed to go to Rajghat. The ghats - flights of steps leading to the river water - of Yamuna swell with history. The Rajghat, the historic ghat of the old Delhi, is on Yamuna river's west bank. But Rajghat gates were closed.

No public was allowed to go inside, we were told. This has happened to us on a few earlier trips. We know the next step: Google map, search nearby spots...We went inside the adjacent Indira Gandhi National Open University campus and searched for our next destination.

4/ Since we've covered most of the prominent stops in that area, we tried other options. After some discussion, we decided to go to the Yamuna Ghat. It added another 10+ km to our trip both ways, but these things have stopped being a matter of discussion for us. 5 km means 15 minutes ride. That's all we need to know. With a few minutes of our departure, Vishvas noticed a street sign: Ghata Masjid Road.

Cloud Mosque?
Why not?

When we entered the street, we saw the tall minarets, but we could not see the mosque. The entrance was underwhelming. A small doorway, with a green name board, reading 'ZEENAT UL MASAJID, GHATA MASJID, WAY To' greeted us. It rather looked like an old garage, with rusting bikes and broken furniture.

Hesitantly, we locked and bicycles near the front gate.

We didn't know we were in for a huge surprise.

5/ This, ladies and gentlemen, is the Zeenat-ul-Masjid ['The Jewel among the Mosques'], which we didn't know it existed before climbing a few steps from that underwhelming entrance.

Since we visited Jama Masjid just last week, our immediate reaction was, de javu! Same three white and black domes, same two tall minarets on the side, same arched prayer hall, same red and white symphony. This was like a mini Jama Masjid. Were we happy or were we happy?

6/ Initially, the caretaker and his team were sceptical about us. ("Which TV you are from?") Once we explained our weekly trips and narrated a few ("Yes, even Thughlaqabad and Adilabad" "Jama? Yes, just last week"), they warmed up. Told us about the mosque and let us go inside.

This 'Jewel among Mosques' was built by Shah Jahan's granddaughter (and Aurangzeb's second daughter), Zeenat-un-Nissa, 'Jewel among Women.' Shah Jahan built the Jama Masjid, and she created this one. Clearly and openly inspired by her grandfather's masterpiece.

7/ On that bright sunny morning, we walked around (removed our shoes outside the courtyard) this Jewel among Mosques, Zeenat-ul-Masjid, which was completed in 1707. Zeenat's father Emperor Aurangzeb died that year, at the age of 88.

We checked the reason for being called as Ghata Masjid, which means Cloud Masjid. One story goes that since this mosque was on a raised platform (as Jama Masjid), it's minarets, figuratively, reached for the clouds. The next story seems more logical: closer to the Ghats of the Yamuna river. As part of the Shahjanabad, this 'Ghat Mosque' was by the riverside wall. It led to the Khairati ghat of Yamuna through Khairati Darwaza / Khairati gate. Also, the mosque is in the Darya-ganj area ('Market by the riverside.' The word 'Darya,' which originally meant sea/ocean/abundance/wealth in Persian denotes river in Urdu).

8/ Last week, I posted a close-up of the top of a minaret in Jama Masjid (left photo). It had red sepals and white petals. Here, in this Zeenal-ul-Mosque, we found the same structure, with colours reversed (right photo). Both look beautiful, but you need less marble in the later version.

I read something about Zeenat-un-Nissa, who built this mosque. She was the second daughter of Aurangzeb. Loved by her father and respected by everyone, she was honoured with the title of 'Padshah Begum,' or 'the Imperial Lady.' She remained unmarried and died at age 77, in 1721. Her tomb was in this mosque. In 1857, when the British occupied this mosque and turned it into a bakery, Zeenat's tomb disappeared (no one knows the whereabouts now).

9/ During our trips, we find us in a timeless, relaxed mood. No hurries. The interior and the exterior of the mosque looked beautiful. It's just us and the early 18th century.

We clicked some pictures and chatted about arches, marbles, and empires.

10/ We bid farewell to the caretaker and his team and departed for our original destination: Yamuna Ghat. We thought it would be easy. It wasn't.

11/ On our way to the Yamuna Ghat, we crossed the Red Fort complex on our left. Part of Rang Mahal, Khas Mahal, Diwan-i-Khas complex, built by Shah Jahan, is visible in the background. Later, Aurangzeb added the Moti Masjid (Pearl Mosque) to these marble structures.

12/ Our journey to find the Yamuna Ghat, the steps leading to the Yamuna water, wasn't easy. Given that it's the largest tributary river in India (1,300+ km) and is known from the Vedic times (as Yami, the twin sister of Yama, the god of death), given that the Yamuna river as a goddess has been depicted in so many mythologies and sculptures over the centuries, and given that it was the prime reason why Delhi emerged as a city, we thought we would be guided by name boards and clear markers. Nope.

13/ Our quest to reach the Yamuna Ghat was more challenging because of a few reasons. Google map does not have a 'cycling' mode search for routes. So, it shows maps with high bridges, which are risky and tough on bicycles. Hence, we had to know the direction, and guess the route. We went under many bridges, stopping and asking people along the way. Not many people knew. As the day grew warmer, the traffic was increasing. We were travelling on the national highway and its passages.

14/ This is the entrance to the 24th of the 32 ghats of Yamuna in Delhi. Many ghats have been lost to the sprawling growth of the city. So, this ghat has come to be known as 'the' Yamuna ghat. To reach this spot, we travelled through a subway, picked up our cycles and climbed a parapet wall that separates the river from the city, and climbed down.

15/ The Yamuna ghat is used mainly for performing last rites for the dead. Once we saw the ghat, other things fell in place - the garland/flower shops we saw under the bridge, the line of beggers, the small boy who guided us to skip other entrances and to go through a particular entry. The business of the dead. The river was filthy, and the air was stinky. Amidst all these, there was a music video shooting going on. We politely declined to offer for a boat ride to the islet in the river.

16/ We clicked a few pictures on the banks of Yamuna. Later, I read that this ghat was reconstructed during the British period in 1902.

17/ We clicked a few pictures and decided to leave. It was a bit difficult to smile in that grim, gloomy, and sad environment. Later, the more I read about Yamuna and pollution, the more frustrated I was. One data: Yamuna spends only 2% of its 1300+ km length in Delhi and gets more than 75% filth from the city. The priest families in the neighbourhood and the dependent hawkers live a life which has not changed over the centuries. Industrial development, reckless city garbage disposals, divinity-cum-disregard dichotomies, all contribute to this chaotic tragedy.

18/ On our way back from the Yamuna Ghat, opposite to the Red Fort complex, we saw the oasis of thousands of birds. As the birds scurry for more feed, which is sold by the four corner shops, children run through the bird waves with joy. It was an unending everchanging fascinating visual.

19/ Talking of birds and feeds, here's an office story. When we take over from our colleagues, we take over the work, files, and room and all associated things. The point in case is where one colleague is about to leave, and another is spending a few weeks of overlap in the same room. The outgoing officer has cultivated many birds that regularly visit during the lunch hour, peck at his window, and get fed with only Bikanerwala snacks. (Yes, based on behavioural feedback!) The outgoing officer enjoys the sight, identifies some of the birds (This one is pushy, that's a polite type, and so on), and regularly recuperates the snack bottles. Now, the incoming officer also feeds the birds occasionally, with a different intent. He says once he takes over completely, he is going to install a barbeque stand on the window so that the birds coming for food would automatically turn into his food: Different strokes for different folks.

20/ OK, food. Initially, we thought we would find some restaurant in ITO area. But we were again negotiating the bridges, traffic, and underways. We decided to eat at the Bengali market, which has a couple of good eateries. As we approached the Bengali market, suddenly Balu took a diversion and stood in front of Triveni Academy. It seems it has a good canteen. I have come to the academy but didn't know of the canteen.

To celebrate the winter, we ordered Makki Ki Roti (corn roti), Sarson Ka Saag (mustard greens), which came with jaggery and butter. The roties were good - not too hard and yet thick enough to enjoy the taste and texture. The saag was spiced correctly, and we ordered some more onions to savour. The jaggery (specially sourced, it seems) and butter added to the chorus. We ended our meal with a filter coffee, which was not bad.

21/ After our lunch at the Triveni Academy canteen, we also visited an art exhibition inside the Triveni Academy, at the, ahem, Shridharani Gallery. The solo exhibition titled Shelter, was by Pintu Sikder. I liked his style of generating large objects using brass nuts (as in nuts and bolts) and fusing it with village/town structures (as if the houses and streets are the nuts). The units making up the whole and whole making up a large-sized daily object (like scissors, iron box, and shell) are flowing effortlessly and beautifully. (Photography prohibited inside the gallery).

So, as we commented later, this 18th trip of ours was good - nothing went as planned, yet we got everything we wanted and more. It works.

The end.

Until next week!