It was the morning of Delhi’s first monsoon showers…a welcome and much needed respite from Delhi’s summer. We were a bunch of 20 odd people who turned up for this heritage walk, excited by the prospect of exploring Delhi in the rains. Take a look at the pictures…we were conspicuous wandering around with our umbrellas and raincoats.
This heritage walk covers landmarks of the uprising of 1857. We began at Nicholson’s cemetery, near ISBT. This cemetery is named after a British officer, John Nicholson, who was instrumental in recapture of Delhi by the British. He was fatally wounded during the storming of Lahori gate and was buried here. He led a force of British, Pathan and Punjabi troops and his leadership skills were legendary. He was greatly revered by his troops. It is said that at his funeral, his men threw themselves on the ground and wept. They refused to fight any more and left for the hills from where they had come, picking up flowers from their beloved general’s grave. Nicholson’s cemetery is also the resting place of Master Ramachandra, Professor of mathematics at Delhi College and a leading figure in 19th century Delhi. He was a much disappointed man when the revolt broke out in Delhi. On one hand, he faced the resentment of the rebels for being a Christian and associating with the British and on the other hand, the contempt of the British for being an Indian. There’s a story according to which, he was trying to escape from an irate mob when he bumped into a British officer astride a horse. When the officer tried to hit out at him, Master Ramchandra protested, saying that he was Christian. The officer’s response was, “So what? You’re still as black as jet!”
We next walked towards the city gate which gives name to the present neighbourhood of Kashmiri gate. Kashmiri Gate is one of the few surviving gates of the capital city of Shahjahanabad. The gate still bears the damage done to it by British cannonballs. We climbed atop the Kashmiri Gate and walked inside the remaining portions of the city wall. These are the very points from where Indian rebels were fighting the British. A little ahead is the market established by an Indian merchant, which was popular with British civilians. Almost hidden among the shops is a dainty little mosque. It is an 18th century structure called Lal Masjid or Fakhr ul masajid. It was built by a lady in memory of her husband who was a commander under the Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb. In the neighbourhood are the old Hindu College and old St. Stephen’s College buildings. Right across the road is the St James’ Church, with its pale yellow & white façade & prominent dome. It is the oldest church in Delhi, built by James Skinner, the commander of the famous cavalry unit, Skinner’s Horse. The Indian Army still has a unit of the same name. During the uprising of 1857, the church was under attack from the rebels and badly damaged. Thankfully, today, it is a well maintained structure. Adjacent to St. James’ Church is the campus of Indraprastha University which houses some of the colonial structures of 19th century. The most interesting is the British Residency, a large white building with prominent Romanesque pillars and blue shuttered windows. It was the residence of David Ochterlony, the first British resident at Delhi. The Residency is believed to have been built on the library of the Mughal prince, Dara Shikoh. There are a few arches of red sandstone at the rear of the Residency, which are believed to be the remains of Dara Shikoh’s library.
The next stop was a group of landmarks on Lothian road. On an island in the middle of the road, is a grey obelisk, the Telegraph Memorial, put up by the British to commemorate the services of its officials in telegraph department during the uprising. Next to it are the remains of a British magazine. The magazine was blown up by British officers manning it, when they could not hold out any longer against the rebels. The last stop of our heritage walk was the Lothian road cemetery, the oldest British cemetery in Delhi. The members of Delhi’s Christian community were buried in this old cemetery from 1808 to 1867. Today it is in poor shape and most graves are unrecognizable.
(posted by Rajesh Ranjan & Kanika Singh, team members, Delhi Heritage Walks)