Delhi 101, by Ajay Jain, as the title says, is all about “101 Surprising ways of discovering Delhi”.
Much as I love to read travel books, I don’t really read guides except when I am actually travelling to that place (and even then, I only glance into them to plan out my trip), and the only reason I agreed to review the book was that it was based on Delhi, a city I once thought I knew well, only to realize as I grew that I knew too little about.
I have a tenuous connection with the city, forged by my birth there, as well as the loads of relatives to whom the city is home. Over the years and years of visiting the city, I learnt to find my way around, and enjoy its many sights, but it took my growth as a blogger and history / heritage enthusiast to realize that the Delhi I knew was just a small piece of the Delhi that was.
It is that Delhi that Ajay takes us to, or rather, the seven cities that had been Delhi in their own times.... cities built and ruined, time and again, cities built over what remained of even older cities...the Delhi that few of us see, and even fewer appreciate. Ajay takes on the role of a narrator or a guide, taking us through monuments which tell us the stories of those who built them, weaving into the history, legends as well as myths, with a sense of humour which keeps the reader engaged.
That Ajay’s focus is on the historical and cultural aspect of Delhi is apparent, even from his introduction, and it’s the historical part that the book is best for. He takes us through every period in Delhi’s ancient history, visiting monuments few of us would have heard of, such as the grave of Razia Sultan, or the Khair-ul-Manazil mosque, the name of which is actually a chronogram (the letters rearranged depict its year of construction!). What I loved were his detailed descriptions of certain areas – such as the Nizammudin Dargah, and Mehrauli – both places I am familiar with, but had no idea of all the monuments there, their importance and their quirks.
However, only a part of the book is about these historical monuments, roughly a bit more than a quarter of the book. The rest of the book deals with other features – such as markets, festivals, interesting quirks, out-of-the-way things to do.. and so on. It is completely understandable, considering that the book isn’t meant solely for heritage buffs, but the average traveller who would surely like to do something other than visit old, ruined sites.
I was at first surprised, on reading through, that none of the usual tourist places finds a mention in the book – such as Rashtrapati Bhavan or Parliament House (which we can even enter these days), the Bahai Temple, or the many wonderful museums that the city has. However, on second thought, I wonder if the omission was deliberate, since these places are already popular, and draw enough crowds.
To summarize, Delhi 101 is a compact guide to the city, and as the author says, is “an incomplete, illustrated, must-do guide”, at the same time, delivering the promise of showing us a surprising side of the city...worth a read, especially if you are planning a visit to Delhi.
The book was sent to me for review by Kunzum