In 2008, I had accompanied my mother to shrines of Sufi saints in Mehrauli, Dilli, Chirag Dilli and Fatehpur Sikri. Her research on these saints was based on word-of-mouth information. There was another shrine she wanted to visit - the dargah of Kaliyar Shareef - and all we knew was that it was some 4-5 hours north of Delhi. The coordinates we had were too vague to get us there so we skipped it at that time. It was the dargah of Khwaja Maqdoom Alauddin Sabir in a small hamlet called Kaliyar, a few kilometers off NH58 between Roorkee and Haridwar. Four years after 2008, we set out to find the dargah and knock it off my mother's wishlist.

So here's some context on Sufis of India (the web is so much better a medium for research!). The Chisti order of Sufis was started in India by Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti (1141-1230) of Ajmer. His disciple was Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki (1173-1235) of Mehrauli, the beloved Sufi of many sultans and shahenshahs of Delhi. And his disciple was Baba Fariduddin Ganjshakar (1188-1280) of Pakpattan, now in Pakistan. Baba Farid had two disciples - his nephew Khwaja Maqdoom Alauddin Sabir (1196-1291) of Kaliyar and Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya (1238-1325) of Dilli. Baba Farid granted the khilafat to the two disciples. And from this point, the Chisti order split into two branches - the Chisti Sabri and Chisti Nizami orders. Alauddin Sabir's disciple was Khwaja Shamsuddin Turk (?-1316) of Panipat. Nizamuddin Auliya's two disciples were Amir Khusro (1253-1325), buried at his footsteps, and Hazrat Nasiruddin Mahmud (1274-1356) of Chirag Dilli.

Sat, 4 Feb. We flew from BOM to DEL and drove from Delhi to Haridwar in Ravish's car. The initial stretch between Delhi and Modi Nagar and the final stretch before Roorkee was tiresome. But rest of the road was smooth and enjoyable.

Tanking up near Ghaziabad before hitting the NH58. There was enormous amount of construction going on in Ghaziabad and flats were being sold through roadside stalls that you normally setup for seasonal fruits like mangoes.

The road was beautiful. Small villages and tractors, trees that would canopy the road ..

Sarson fields ..

and brick kilns. It was then I realized that I took a wrong turn and picked up a smaller road into the heartland. We lost an hour going in and coming back on the wrong turn.

A quick bite at a McDonalds somewhere between Meerut and Roorkee. We reached Roorkee around 9pm, checked into a hotel, and called it a day. The dargah would be visited the next morning.

Sun, 5 Feb. Day 2 started with breakfast and chai at a dhaba outside Roorkee on NH58.

It was Feb first week and winter had lost its bite.

Layers for the day. Btw, who paints their buses hot pink?

The village of Kaliyar is on the banks of Ganges Canal. About five shrines, old and new, of the master and his disciples lie on either sides of the canal. We had to park our car a few kilometers from the canal and take a tonga to reach the shrine.

A huge white gate that's been under construction for a few years now welcomed us to one section of the complex.

Our first visit was to the dargah of one of the disciples. If we thought we would start early and beat the crowds, we were at best naive.

The queue went round in multiple circles around the shrine and it took deft police management to keep the crowds in control.

The place was almost out of Salman Rushdie's world of magical realism.

Love letters.

My mother sent one too.

If there is a darbar, there is qawwali ..

and Naubatkhana.

That evening, we drove to Dehradun, 80 kms from Roorkee.

Dehradun wasn't much to write home about ..

It was the drive through the forests that was most charming.

Mon, 6 Feb. The big day of the dargah's annual Qul and Sema was here. Thousand of people from near and far villages were already in town. We wanted to beat the queues and headed for the dargah before dawn while it was still dark outside.

We walked through a foggy forest to the shrine of one of Sabir's disciples. And after a quick stop, we headed to the shrine of the master.

Turned out, no matter how early we tried to get here, we would be last in the queue. People had started lininig up from 3 am into a queue that now ran kilometers.
There was a massive police unit managing the crowd. Mother requested a special entry because of her leg pain and was granted the access. I was asked to join end of the queue.

I had no intention to stand in the queue for hours. So I went and hung around a barricaded enclosure of people that had a distinct strangeness about them.

Turned out, it was the enclosure of Fakirs, some of them Malang, who had come from all over India for the urs of Alauddin Sabir.

I stood there at the edge observing the enclosure.

Two fakirs were busy preparing and serving tea, four of them made thick big rotis for the entire group, one of them filled pipes with chillum and offered it to a fakir sitting on raised cushion seat (presumably their leader), while one of them manned the gate.

After about 20 mins, the guy manning the gate noticed me and called out, "Arey dewaane! Bahar se kyon dekh raha hai? Andar aaja." I went in and the guard introduced me to their sadr, Masoom Ali Shah of Surat.

Rafiq was from Rajasthan and had a fancy for rings and wrist watches. He was wearing 15 rings in his fingers and 3 wrist watches. Rafiq was a malang and would never marry. Being a malang, he was entitled to wear steel chains around his torso and waist. I was struck by how fashion was a key element in defining who they were.

Mastan Baba came from Manesar near Jaipur. He wore a patched waistcoat and carried a stick that looked like a snake. I spoke of them about their lives, travels and families as they sipped chai and puffed away chillum.

The young fakir guarding the gate.

Rafiq, the malang.

Rafiq's rings and watches.

Mastan Baba of Manesar.

Mastan Baba fancied a stick that was styled like a snake.

After a couple of hours, the fakirs showed me a way to get inside the dargah without the queues.

The complex was packed with thousands of people. I offered my fatehah and came out.

When the Qul ceremony was being performed around 11 am, streets in all directions outside the complex came to a stand still. People dropped everything they were doing and raised their hands in prayer.

After the Qul, it was time for some kababs and roti.

At 3 rupees a piece, mountains of fresh hot rotis right out of the oven vanished within minutes.

Naubat at Kaliyar Shareef. Check out this video to see what these gents kicked up.

Qawwali in the darbar of Alauddin Sabir.

On the evening of Day 3, we made the 30 km drive from Roorkee to Haridwar for the evening aarti on the banks of Ganges.

I had last seen this aarti in the winter of 2004. Not much has changed here since. When the aartis go up at dusk, it feels like the river was set on fire.

Our neighbor during the aarti was a Haridwar local who said she didn't get a chance to come here often. (I've heard that one before. All of us in our home cities?)

The Ganges was beautiful, serene and cold. Mother and I dipped our feet in the river, only to withdraw in mild shock. We underestimated February's cold. A few minutes later, we put our feet in the river back again, this time more prepared for the cold.

Fire for the faithful.

Poori sabzi and halwa in the streets of Haridwar. Yum!

Tue, Feb 7. We checked out of Motel Polaris on Tue morning. Motel Polaris was proud of two facts - it was India's first 3-star motel. And that the Beatles stayed with them twice - in 1970 and '72. Sure, there was some character to the place.

Punjabi dhaba on our way from Roorkee to Delhi. We started driving out of Roorkee around 9 am and reached Delhi by lunch. After lunch, we made the our trip to the dargah of Bakhtiyar Kaki in Mehrauli.

Mehrauli is Delhi's mysterious treasure chest that throws up a surprise each time you open it. This time it wasn't the palaces, mosques, tombs, gates or the tanks, but the Lado Sarai shrubbery that rocked me.

To list Mehrauli's charms in a paragraph would be impossible. After twisting narrow roads up and down the hills, we reached the pretty much inaccessible dargah of Bakhtiyar Kaki.

The qawwals in the darbar of Bakhtiyar Kaki.

At dusk, when the mujaavars turned on the lights, the dargah was lit up like a bride. After her prayers here, my mother's Delhi/Roorkee trip was complete.

Tags: Drive, India

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  1. Looks like a great trip - with some great photos. Thanks for sharing. - Ajay Nair