Delhi Heritage Walks with Sohail Hashmi

Who is Sohail Hashmi

Sohail Hashmi was born in 1950, studied at DU and JNU, is a writer, film-maker and a pure Dilliwala at heart. He has worked with unorganized workers, the youth, and electronic media. He has written books and scripts for documentaries based on the History of Urdu, History of Delhi, and Pioneers of Women's Education, to name a few. Now he is synonymous with discovering old Delhi on foot.

He attributes his interest in historic Delhi to his father who among other things dabbled in Archaeology. His father showed him the 7 Delhis in chronological order while he was in school and pointed to us how the Arch, the Dome and the Minaret had evolved over several centuries, from the 12th century onward. So in a manner of speaking the die was cast when he was in his teens and went back to it in his 50s.

Other who contributed to his knowledge include a number of authors like Syed Ahmad Khan, Bashir--ud-Din Ahmad Maulvi Zafar Hasan, and Lucy Peck. Collge professors like Prof. Percival Spear and Professor Narayani Gupta. He always loved to walk and with a college friend he explored many lanes and by-lanes of Shahjahanabad and gradually picked up tidbits of information that were enriched later through the reading of some of the books by authors mentioned above and other sources, both written and oral.

In 2004 he was running a creative activity centre for children called "Leap Years", started by Mr Rahul Bhandare, an entrepreneur, who wanted to create spaces for children where they could engage in extra-curricular activities to help them explore their creative talents. He realised that these children, given the kind of emphasis that is placed on rote learning, were growing up in this city ignorant of its shared heritage and history. So he started a fortnightly excursions called “Discover Delhi", very soon He started receiving requests from parents for these walks. Time Out magazine carried a story on the walks, NDTV used one of his walks to hang some stories for a breakfast show and the word spread.

It is difficult for him to forget the taste of the water from the now dried up well from the Mausoleum of Ghyas-ud-Din Tughlaq. The well at one time used to be located inside the lake that surrounded the mausoleum and was the only sweet water well for miles. The discovery of the kitchen area, and a stepwell by archaeologists, in Tughlaqabad, was made while they were shooting for a documentary inside the fort. These structures had been buried under rubble and silt for hundreds of years and were revealed when archeologists began clearing up the rubble of collapsed walls.

The easiest way to book a heritage walk with him is through his Facebook page “Delhi Heritage Walks with Sohail Hashmi”, where he posts all planned walks. Once you decide which walk you want to take, send him an email and for more details.

Group with Sohail in Masjid Rukn-ud-Daulaah, Chawri Bazar, Old Delhi
Group with Sohail in Masjid Rukn-ud-Daulaah, Chawri Bazar, Old Delhi | Source

Exerpts from the interview

1. Your name is synonymous with discovering old Delhi on foot. To what do you attribute your interest in historic Delhi?

Sohail Hashmi : In a city with more than a thousand years of built history, there are scores of hundreds of people who have been pioneers in exploring and discovering this wonderful city on foot, I am merely trying to retrace the steps of those thousands. There was who authored probably the first authoritative description of the ruins of the seven Delhi as early as 1840s. Then there was Bashir--ud-Din Ahmad , who expanded on Syed Ahmad Khan's work in 1920 and there was Maulvi Zafar Hasan who prepared a list of more than 1300 structures spread across Delhi and wrote about them in 1920 once again.

Later still there is Prof. Percival Spear who began to organise bicycle trips to historical sites in Delhi for his students of St Stephens college. Professor Narayani Gupta founded the Delhi Heritage society in the 1970 and began conducting walks for those who were interested. Lucy Peck the author of Delhi 2005, has done a remarkable work. Then there is INTACH that has been documenting and assisting ASI in restoring heritage structures. Of late the Agha Khan Foundation, the ASI and INTACH have been working together in the same area. Both IIC and Habitat organise their own Heritage walks, Delhi Heritage Walks is another organisation that has been conducting these walks for years. Satish Jacob, Bilva Sobti, Navina Jafa are some of the others in this line of work. Some began earlier than I had and some began it roughly at the same time that I did. So I can claim no precedence.

The beginning of my interest can go back to the time in 1968 when I ran away from school with five of my class mates to spend an entire day at Tughlaqabad. The place has had a magical hold on me since then. The other trigger was my father, who among other things dabbled in Archaeology. He showed us the 7 Delhis in Chronological order while we were in school and pointed to us how the Arch, the Dome and the Minaret had evolved over several centuries, from the 12th century onward. So in a manner of speaking the die was cast when I was in my teens and I went back to it in my 50s.

I always loved to walk and with a college friend who lived in Ballimaran, I explored many lanes and by-lanes of Shahjahanabad and gradually picked up tidbits of information that were enriched later through the reading of some of the books mentioned above and other sources, both written and oral.

2. How did the heritage walks start?

Sohail Hashmi : In 2004 I was running a creative activity centre for children called "Leap Years" started by Mr Rahul Bhandare, an entrepreneur, who wanted to create spaces for children where they could engage in extra-curricular activities to help them explore their creative talents. I realised that these children, given the kind of emphasis that is placed on rote learning, were growing up in this city not knowing anything about its shared heritage and history. So I started a fortnightly excursion called “Discover Delhi", very soon I started receiving requests from parents for these walks. Time Out magazine carried a story on my walks, NDTV used one of my walks to hang some stories for a breakfast show and the word spread.

3.Which is your personal favourite walk? One that you look forward to each time and never tire of.

Sohail Hashmi : It is difficult to choose between the close to 20 walks that I do , each has its high points but if a personal favourite has to be chosen then Tughlaqabad and the Mehrauli Archaeological park are my favourites.

4. In all the years that you have been helping others discover Delhi, there must have been some interesting anecdotes. Could you share some with me?

Sohail Hashmi : The anecdotes are far too numerous to list, but I cannot forget the taste of the water from the now dried up well from the Mausoleum of Ghyas-ud-Din Tughlaq. The well at one time used to be located inside the lake that surrounded the mausoleum and was the only sweet water well for miles. The discovery of the kitchen area, and a stepwell by archaeologists, in Tughlaqabad, was made while we were shooting for a documentary inside the fort. These structures had been buried under rubble and silt for hundreds of years and were revealed when archeologists began clearing up the rubble of collapsed walls.

5. What is the easiest way to book a heritage walk with you for those coming from out of town?

Sohail Hashmi : Through my FB page Delhi Heritage Walks with Sohail Hashmi, where I post all my planned walks and those who like the page, get notifications on their FB timeline. Once they decide which walk they want to take, they need to send me an email and I send them the details of time and location where we meet for the walk.

Sohail at Kalan Masjid, Turkman Gate, Old Delhi
Sohail at Kalan Masjid, Turkman Gate, Old Delhi | Source

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Group with Sohail at Haveli Gate, Gali Akhaare Waali, Choori Waalaan, Old Delhi
Group with Sohail at Haveli Gate, Gali Akhaare Waali, Choori Waalaan, Old Delhi | Source

This interview was the basis of an article in the Good Housekeeping India issue of September 2013. I'd like to thank Mr Sohail Hashmi for contributing not just his time, but also these photographs ever so generously for use.

In case you are in Delhi and want to take up a heritage walk while Mr Hashmi is unavailable you can also explore other options. These other firms that offer heritage walks are listed along with the article that was published by the Good Housekeeping magazine on my personal blog here.

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Comments 1 comment

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sweetstickyrainbo 21 months ago

Sounds like an interesting way to get to know a place.

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