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New landmarks so easily become a part of city life that it’s hard to remember when they weren’t there. Opened only a few weeks ago, the 40-acre National War Memorial is already getting entrenched in the minds of Delhi commuters passing through the India Gate Circle. Forever remembered are the 25,942 soldiers who perished in India’s wars since Independence. India Gate itself is a memorial built during the British Raj to commemorate soldiers in the British Indian Army who put down their lives during World War I. Despite being a recent appendage to a familiar setting, it will soon be difficult to imagine this part of the India Gate grounds without this memorial and its haunting remembrance walls, its fountains and metal fence. Then there’s one of the most beautiful aspects of the memorial for which you don’t have to enter inside. These are the benches dispersed on the sidewalk along the perimeter of the memorial. They suggest a kind of dissimilarity between the living world hustling restlessly along the busy road, and the monuments to soldiers who died for the country. This evening, the traffic is heavy and the road is a blur of cars and autos. A couple is walking inside the memorial, pausing beside the bust of a soldier, trying to read the inscription. They now move along towards another bust, and then another one. Meanwhile, it is getting darker. The quiet memorial is lit artistically and seems a world away from the road, which is a livelier blaze of headlights. While the lonesome benches seem to be occupying a kind of no man’s land separating the mortals from the martyrs. Perhaps the best place in the city to dwell upon those people whom you admire and are now no more. #remembrance
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The historic Walled City in Old Delhi is an obvious tourist attraction, but presents big problems. During daytime and right into the evening, the place is packed with fellow humans and animals. Sauntering along the ancient streets is not an unalloyed joy. One viable option is “doing” Old Delhi when almost everybody’s asleep, say, at 4 am. You’d probably want to catch a rickshaw because the street dogs—quiet and sweet-mannered during the day—do tend to snap at passersby. And, yes, rickshaws are definitely at your beck and call even at this early hour because they work in shifts. Ask your rickshaw puller to take you across random streets and lanes that include the historic Lal Kuan neighbourhood—with its dilapidated but gorgeous structures. The streets that are otherwise so tumultuous are finally resting, like a chatty hyperactive uncle who is now asleep and snoring. Hardly noticeable during the day are multitudes of rats the size of kittens, now brazenly sorting through garbage, undeterred by the approaching rickshaw. Parts of these lanes are bathed in the pale orange glow of streetlamps, while other portions are submerged in complete darkness. The effect is magical, as if you are wading through a gloomy painting by some renaissance painter. In Ballimaran, the rickshaw passes by a cute sight of two dogs sleeping in the posture of a longtime couple, with their faces touching each other. Two other dogs are fast asleep on the passengers’ seat of an auto-rickshaw. As dawn nears, the sleeping world in the Old City begins to stir. A rag picker is slowly picking his way with a gigantic sack on his burdened back; while further along stands a mini-truck packed with gular leaves as suitable feed for goats. That kind of vehicle would never be able to enter the congestion of Galli Chooriwallan during the day. In Chitli Qabar, the night’s last tea stall by a footpath is finally winding down; the tea man is quietly washing the kettle and the pan. Some minutes later the faint chimes of temple bells resound in the distance. The many cries of azaans too begin floating out from the mosques. The stillness of the previous hours quickly dissipates. It is time to end the tour.