Sightseeing – On a High in Jama Masjid

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Watching 21st century Delhi from a 17th century minaret.

[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Pigeons at Jama Masjid fly high. They soar up from the enormous courtyard and settle on the imposing dome. But I went higher. Thanks to the more-than-100-feet-tall southern minaret (closest to Gate No. 1). Beware, the steps are steep and stairs dark but it’s beautiful at the top. A panoramic 360-degree view there exposes Delhi in all its splendour and ugliness. Red Fort ramparts, a little distance away, shimmer through a mist of factory fumes while ugly buildings fill up the remaining canvass. But immediate scenes are more striking. The serenity of the masjid courtyard, on one side. The teeming commerce of Urdu Bazaar, on the other. More contrasts. Red sandstone versus concrete shacks. 17th century versus 21st century. And the best part: I’m so high while pigeons are so low.

Tickets Rs 10 (Indians), Rs 50 (foreigners)

Hello, koi hai?

Feeling Dizzy

Dark Shadows Falling

If we too had wings…

Same Tower, Older Times

[By Charles John Griffiths, an excerpt from A Narrative of the siege of Delhi]

It is 1857. The British are facing the largest uprising they would ever encounter in India. Delhi has been seized by East India Company’s own Indian troops. The tragic Mughal Emperor Bahardur Shah Zafar is helpless in Red Fort. His Delhi wallas are battered and starving. Many are dying. It is in such a setting that Griffiths, a young lieutenant, clambers atop the Jama Masjid tower to oversee the smouldering ruins of this strife-scarred city.

The tower scene

Once was Shahjanabad

We ascended one of the minarets, about 120 feet high, obtaining a garnd view of the imperial city and the surrounding country. To the south extended the ruins of Ferozabad, or ancient Delhi; to the east lay the River Jumna, and to the west and north stretched a forest of trees and gardens, among which were seen the suburbs of the city, the now historic ridge in the far distance hiding the whole camp from our view. From our elevated position a just estimate could be formed of the great size of Delhi: the city lay spread out below with its vast area of streets, its palaces, mosques, and temples, all silent and deserted, in striking contrast to the din and turmoil of a few days back.

Instructions for tower visitors, as prescribed by Jama Masjid authorities

On the tower, smoking, consuming intoxicants, playing music, and defacing the walls are strictly prohibited.

Unaccompanied women (oh, not again) and children are not allowed to visit the tower.

An unaccompanied woman