City Hangout – Tintin in Delhi, Around Town
Travails in India.
[By Mayank Austen Soofi; the above photo was taken in Calcutta]
Delhi has been visited by many world famous celebs. The Beatles bought a sitar in Connaught Place. Gabriel García Márquez browsed for books in Khan Market. Queen Elizabeth II spoke from Ramlila Maidan. Che Guevara stayed at the Ashoka. Ricky Martin performed in Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. Margaret Atwood met fans at the Stein Auditorium in India Habitat Centre. And Tintin… yes, he too hung out in our city — and his presence lingers across NCR. There’s a Tintin cake shop in Gurgaon’s Sector 23 A, a Tintin crockery store in Faridabad’s Jawahar Colony, a Tintin cosmetic shop in Ghaziabad’s Indirapuram, and a Tintin food delivery service in Delhi’s Gagan Vihar.
Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi, a.k.a. Hergé’s, redheaded, globe-trotting reporter, accompanied as ever by Snowy (his dog), first set foot in India in the days of the Raj, meeting (and rescuing) the Maharaja of Gaipajama in ‘Cigars of the Pharaoh’ and its sequel ‘The Blue Lotus’ , meeting Chang Chong-Chen in the latter adventure.
But his first documented sojourn in New Delhi would come while on the way to rescue Chang (in ‘Tintin in Tibet’), when he would spend a full three hours in the company of the pipe-smoking, hard-drinking Captain Haddock. As Tintin celebrates the 92nd year of his debut this week, here’s his Delhi itinerary, that you can do too.
Landing at Palam
Arriving at Palam, Tintin disembarks from a plane bearing the registration number VT DAO. Some years ago BBC journalist and Tintin fan Soutik Biswas snooped around to discover that “the number belonged to a Seagull II hang glider owned by a sugar factory.” Whatever, Tintin obviously flew on Air India because his plane had our tricolour painted on it.
Soon after landing, Tintin was informed that the plane for Kathmandu (spelled Katmandu in the comic) would take off from Delhi’s other airport—Willingdon. The Viceroy, who reigned from 1931 to 1936, was fond of commemorating his family and himself, with a hospital (now ‘Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital’), ‘Lady Willingdon Garden’ (‘Lodi Garden’), and even ‘Rattendon Road’ (now ‘Amrita Shergill Marg’) which was named after his son.
Willingdon ‘Aerodrome’ was India’s second and Delhi’s first airport, and was also home to the Delhi Flying Club. (Sanjay Gandhi took off from there before plunging to his death in a crash in 1980.) Closed for all flying activity since 9/11, Willingdon is now known as Safdarjung Airport. Once visible from the flyover on Aurobindo Marg, the view is now shut off by tin barricades.
Tintin in Mehrauli
Tintin visits the Qutub Minar in Mehrauli, and says aloud “it’s 238 feet high.” That’s all!
Tintin in Shahjahanabad
Tintin’s next stop is the Red Fort, where he, Caprain Haddock and Snowy hobnob with a group of smiling Dilliwalas.
Tintin wanted to visit Jama Masjid and Rajghat, but with their flight departing in 25 minutes the gang thought it prudent to head to Willingdon. (21st century commuters can only sigh wistfully at the thought of streets so uncrowded that they could drive from Lal Qila to Safdarjung in 25 minutes.)
Tintin and gang then seek a taxi in a packed bazar. There is no mention of the name, but as they were in the Red Fort moments earlier it is almost certainly Chandni Chowk. A gateway at the far end supports this premise as it seems to be the entrance to the Fatehpuri Masjid.
As any Dilliwala would have told them, it was insane to look for an airport-bound taxi all the way from Chandni Chowk. Captain Haddock tries to step over a cow blocking the way, and the annoyed bovine then runs off with him on her back. The runaway pair pass through a series of crowded lanes, one of which certainly is Chawri Bazar—the western wall of the great Jama Masjid is easily visible.
Eventually a Sikh cab driver drops the three at Willingdon, where they get into the plane for Kathmandu — via Patna — and then onward to Tibet.