Delhi is such a glorious city! Yes, it's covered in smog, it's grimy, the traffic is maddening and the urban sprawl hugely excessive. But in the heart of the city, there are places of immense charm and elegance - and buzzing with bird life.
Last week, for the first time in twenty years or more, Anu and I spent a few hours, just the two of us, as tourists in Delhi - a city in which we have lived, in total, for seven years or more.
It's no longer home, but it still has the pull of home.
Lodhi Gardens is one of my favourite places in this world. I just love it. What a privilege to stroll past its fifteenth century tombs and gumbads, across its lawns, and around its lake.
I don't know much about Marie Adelaide Freeman-Thomas, the Marchioness of Willingdon, the wife of the Viceroy in the early 1930s. But this park initially took her name - and you can still see mention of 'Lady Willingdon Gardens' on the gate in the north-east corner.
Good on you, ma'am!
And Lodhi Gardens bird life? Well, the highlight on this visit was a pair of red naped ibis. Spectacular!
When I first got to know Lodhi Gardens almost thirty years ago, you could see the bewitching silhouette of vultures roosting at dusk. They are long gone. And on this trip I didn't see a grey hornbill, which I have caught a glimpse of in the past.
But on the lakeside, there was a real thrill - a white throated kingfisher as bold as brass perched on a low-hanging branch:
Next stop, the exquisite Humayun's Tomb, mid-sixteenth century and the earliest of India's 'garden tombs' (of which the Taj Mahal is the most famous).
Cheel or scavenger kites are common across North India, but here they were majestic as they circled and wheeled overhead:
Then, for the first time, we visited the adjoining Sunder Nursery - ninety acres of monuments, gardens, woodland and water. It's been wonderfully fashioned with support from the Aga Khan Trust.
We saw a black drongo and a family of peacocks - but for me the highlight was spotting my talisman, a group of hoopoes grubbing away. They are not particularly rare in Delhi but there is something special about them - beautiful. elegant, elusive:
This reads a little like a love letter to a city I didn't know I loved.
I certainly loved the alexandrine parakeets which popped over from Lodhi Gardens to perch alongside our sixth-floor breakfast table:
There are few more wonderful places in this world than Lodhi Gardens - as I was able to remind myself last week. They are beautiful - teeming with antiquity - even more alive with bird life (and bats as dusk falls) - and when the light is right, the atmosphere is magical. Wherever my ashes are scattered, some must rest here.
Of the monuments, my particular favourite is the Sheesh Gumbad, featured above and right. The last remannts of what must once have been vivid peacock blue tiling are visible high up on the frontage.
Below is the nearby Bara Gumbad, the first building you encounter as you enter from Lodhi Road. There is something particularly enchanting about the colours of the stonework - subdued, almost pastel shades. If you have never been, go!
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