|As a seeker after magic, I am most content picking the world's pockets, looking for the rare moment, the instant when breath catches and the soul says, "yes." To step outside the box, to stumble into the unexpected lights the eyes, curls the lips. Magic hovers over a lover's kiss, surrounds the wobbling legs of a still wet foal, uplifts a flock of sandhill cranes. It washes out of the north in rippling waves of color. It rises like heat from city streets, drums against sea cliffs, rushes off mountains in spring floods.
Magic inflates the spirit, incites thought, stimulates creativity. Magic is everywhere, even in fear, as you will read below.
Fear is a caterpillar, a worm of an emotion. It burrows through the body, starting with a simple thought this might be dangerous. It’s a quick disturbance of molecules, a dart of a notion, barely recognized as anything, dismissed instantly. Of course, there’s nothing to fear.
The setting sun, a mustard yellow blob, hovers above the distant rock walls. Above us, great arches tower over flagged floors, unchanged in seven centuries. Everything else is gone. Everything else is ruins … sign posts to lives that were. Only these great canopies of stone recall shadowy populations clothed in exotic silks, remember rooms once studded with jewels and intricate arts, with brocades and precious metals. Otherwise, the place is grimly empty, sinister, is crumbling rock and piles of dirt.
Around the next corner a group of men with thin faces and bones for arms squat around a small fire. They stare.
Of course, they stare. We’re intruders in their world.
“How many tall and unveiled Caucasian women in jeans enter here?” I ask my daughter. She’s the India expert in the family, having spent the last seven months working for the American mission in New Delhi. Me? I’m a tourist. I get to ask the questions. I don’t necessarily get answers.
Certainly, not this time. My daughter just walks resolutely forward. When she was a child, she was a purposeful, small tank of a person with a determined stride that, elbows akimbo and head tilted forward, said, “Move aside world.” Now, as a woman of fashion and style, she still has that impulsion, that resolution. She takes it through a break in the walls.
I follow, thinking of the positive, of what this hike is all about.
Tughlakabad is known as the Third Delhi. As an abandoned city, it’s in all the guidebooks. You even have to pay a fee to enter … have to buy a ticket. What could be safer and more mundane? So much so, that the question of safety doesn’t occur … until we pass through giant gates and into Tughlakabad. On one side was the crowded, busy, noisy Eighth Delhi, the one we know. Here … inside the great walls, familiar sounds, smells, and sights are gone, their replacements whisper of another Delhi, a dead Delhi.
Here, as we emerge from the long, vaulted passage through the endlessly thick walls, we see a vast plain stretching to distant, wall-crested hills. We’re looking at a near void, an endless wasteland of scrub growth. Only gradually do we begin to distinguish individual features in the terrain. Slowly, the scene resolves itself. The nearest lumps assume definition as inner walls and marching arches. Over there … to the right … squinting eyes discern the outlines of former palaces and moats. Yes! This is worth exploring.
Walking, we reach the first of the former palaces, and, as we poke around, footsteps echoing on giant paving stones, we wonder. Where are all the people? A month ago, we were in Fatepur Sikri, another abandoned and empty city, but it was out in the countryside, its lack of inhabitants accounted for by its remote situation. Here, though, the walls are surrounded by tight-packed humanity. We’re right in the middle of one of the most densely inhabited cities in the world where other ruins lie deep beneath the foundations of office buildings, shops, and hotels, or rear unexpectedly at the end of an alley or out of a garden. But not here. There are no people here at all … or none we can see.