Andrew Buncombe: Rich and poor, side by side

In Delhi the the layers of history are always rubbing up against each other
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The Independent Online

In Delhi the old and the new merge and mix seamlessly. Enjoying the winter sunshine and wandering around Hauz Khas – the remains of a reservoir and compound built by the 14th-century Muslim emperor Firuz Shah Tughlaq – one is struck by the layers of history rubbing up against each other.

The stones of the long-empty madrassa and tomb rooms have been rubbed smooth by the hands and feet of centuries' worth of visitors. Now the narrow lanes of Hauz Khas are home to art galleries and glass-fronted stores selling expensive clothes by the hippest Indian designers. There are cafes and restaurants, perched next to the cold stones of the old buildings. On the top-floor terrace, we sip cappuccinos and admire the fading pink domes of the older skyline.

Yet around the other side of the pond, it's a different story. Just a few hundred yards from the antique stores and galleries is a dense village squeezed up right alongside the outer wall of Tughlaq's enclosed reservoir.

Here the homes are tiny and the crowds of residents have to manage with water collected in grimy plastic containers from a hose pipe. Vegetable vendors sell their produce from wooden carts in the broken alleys. and donkeys, goats and large hairy pigs wander at will, nuzzling amid the piles of discarded garbage.

It looks like something out of the 14th century – yet here they both are, worlds apart, side by side.

History repeats itself

Around the reservoir lots of young couples idle away the afternoon, holding hands. In the aftermath of a recent attack by right-wing goons on women in a pub in the city of Mangalore, India has been gripped by a debate over what constitutes appropriate behaviour for women and young people. Sadly, many of the comments have been as medieval as these old stones.

Amid all the love-struck gazes, I'm glad to see it's not just old ruins that are timeless.

The Bollywood effect

In other historic parts of the city, locals celebrate the mix of the old and up-to-date. The owner of the non-descript Tara Hotel in Old Delhi tells a reporter that bookings are up since it was featured in the current Bollywood blockbuster From Chandni Chowk to China. Room occupancy is at 90 per cent, up from 40, since the release of the movie, parts of which were filmed on the roof.