Civil Lines in Delhi was a suburb of Shahjahanabad, the city that was the Mughal capital. Established by the British, North Delhi is a world in itself. It still carries the air of the colonial culture.
There are roads and streets, a stylish hotel, an old cemetery, a queen’s personal garden with a palace in Civil Lines, a mosque, an orphanage and adoption place, and a historical Gurudwara.
Civil Lines – North Delhi Walking Tour
After crossing ISBT on the ring road, take any road to your left and join Shamnath Marg.
Heritage Hotel Maiden’s
Locate the Oberoi Maiden’s hotel. This pristine hotel in white is straight out of the British era. Originally, it was called the Maidens Metropolitan Hotel.
Today, it is classified as a heritage hotel. The lobby displays various awards it has won for being the best hotel in various categories at various times. You can go around the hotel that also serves as the corporate office for the Oberoi group.
You can request the reception to take you on a quick tour of the century-old property. They graciously show you the rooms and swimming pool. It is a classic example of heritage well preserved and nurtured.
You will be transported to the colonial era when the British lived here. This area more or less belonged exclusively to them. Today it has Delhi University, the Delhi government’s steering wheels, and lots of ‘turn of century’ bungalows as its neighbors.
Mother Teresa’s Orphanage
Behind the Maiden’s Hotel in the by-lanes lies Mother Teresa’s orphanage, where you can visit and contribute anything that you can. This is the first Mother’s orphanage I have visited. It was a very happy experience.
Children have all the quality facilities that every child deserves. There are children of all age groups right from newborns. They all had good food to eat, decent clothes to wear, plenty of play area and toys, and enough staff to look after them.
They did not allow us to click any photographs of the place or of the kids which I appreciate. Visitors are welcome as long as they do not intrude on the routine and discipline of the kids. One of the sisters told me that most of the kids come from unwed mothers who are under social pressure and cannot keep the kids.
As you walk from here towards Qudsia Bagh, you would see Palna, an initiative by the Delhi government to take care of abandoned children. True to its name, there is a Palna kept outside the window with blankets in it, where any abandoned kid can be left. The kid would be taken, raised inside the premises, and placed for possible adoption.
The Qudsia Bagh in Civil Lines, Delhi is an extensive garden that was home to Qudsia Begum’s palace and mosque.
Qudsia Begum was a dancing girl who married Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah Rangeela. Their son Ahmed Shah became the next emperor.
It was originally the Persian-style char bagh garden with a wall all around. Most of it was destroyed during the revolt of 1857.
Today it is probably one of the few quiet and peaceful places in Delhi, in spite of being in the middle of the city rush. Once you are inside this garden, you would suddenly feel the serenity.
As you walk along you would see an old building which is closed now. There is no information about what this building is or was. An informal inquiry said that a senior government official used to live here until a few years back. It has since been taken over by the Department of Culture and now it lies closed.
Read More – Walk through the Lodi Gardens
To see the actual façade of the building you have to go to its back where you would see the double staircase leading to the entrance of the house. My guess is this was the palace of the Qudsia begum. It was destructed and an English-style Bungalow was built on top of it, using the same small red bricks. It is just my guess.
Hathi Gate or Elephant Gate in Civil Lines is a lovely gate of North Delhi. It looks beautiful even in its ruins. It is a typical gate that you would find outside the Mughal-era buildings.
A thick-walled gate with places for the security guards to guard, from the top and stay inside the building. Today there are only remnants of the gate but in the midst of a well-maintained garden. It looks majestic, rendering the air of the royal past.
Another important landmark in Qudsia Park is the mosque which in architecture or more appropriately in look and feel, matches the Hathi gate. It is a simple mosque with three domes.
Important members of the royal families used to have a mosque of their own to pray in the vicinity of their residential quarters. So, this mosque must have been built for Qudsia Begum. The mosque is again in ruins though it is a practicing mosque.
The ASI board declaring it to be a monument of national importance has been pulled out and kept away. A family that lives here probably does not like tourists intruding on their privacy.
Nicholson Cemetery at Civil Lines
Just across the road from Qudsia Bagh, around the corner is Nicholson Cemetery. It gets its name from one of the British Army officers buried here. This is a cemetery that is still in use, and the area close to the entrance belongs to the century or more old graves.
When you stand there and ignore the noise from the adjoining road, you would almost feel you are in the English countryside. Move around and read the epitaphs on the graves and you would realize that people died really young in those days. Some because of the war but there are lots of kids who died much before they reached the age to go to war.
Read More – Mehrauli Archaeological Park
There are an equal number of anonymous graves of unnamed soldiers. Their bodies either could not be identified or had no relatives to take care of their last rites.
Conversation with Cemetery Caretaker
The caretaker of the cemetery was a friendly person who explained a lot of graves to us. He told us stories about the children coming after centuries in search of the last remains of their parents or grandparents.
Without letting it become gory, he explained how he digs up graves and takes out the remains. He also explained the degeneration of the body as he explained after how many years what remains on the ground.
He told us about unidentified graves. I learned that some families chose to be buried in the same place. Some couples want to be buried on top of each other. It was an extremely humble experience being there. I also learned that it is a profession for someone to handle dead bodies every day.
Civil Lines Bungalows
Walking around Civil Lines in North Delhi you must stop by and look at the bungalows in this area. They were built by the governing British to live on the outskirts of the then-city. Since it was established by and for civil servants, it was called Civil Lines.
If you have grown up in Army cantonments like me, you may feel a bit nostalgic. If you have lived in the UK for a while, again it may port you there for a moment.
Roads are still broad here. If you choose a time when traffic is not much, and if the weather plays along, you can enjoy walking around.
Manju Ka Tila Gurudwara
The Majnu Ka Tila is not really a walkable distance from the Civil Lines. If you are here, it is worth visiting it. It is right on the ring road.
Majnu ka Tila is one of the historical Gurudwara in Delhi. This is a place where Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the first guru of Sikhs spent quite some time.
There is an interesting story about how this place got this unusual name. A Sufi saint lived in this place by the Yamuna River in the 15th century. He was so lost in his prayers that people thought of him as a madman. They started calling him Majnu, after the famous lover who could not see anything beyond his beloved.
Guru Nanak Dev Ji
When Guru Nanak Dev met him here and wanted to bless him, he said he wants his name to be remembered forever. So Guru Nanak blessed him and said that this place will be a place of worship. It would always be known by your name, and so it is.
There is a well in the premises of this gurudwara. A lot of miracles were performed by Baba Ram Rai at this well. It is believed that the water from this well is still magical.
This centuries-old gurudwara is quiet and peaceful. You can sit and chat with the Granthi there who would graciously tell you stories around this gurudwara. There is always a certain devotion, a sense of being at peace at places where people have worshiped for a long time.
You would feel this when you sit here with your head covered and your thoughts silenced. Of course, there is always the langar that is an added advantage of visiting gurudwaras.