January 19, 2014
Sunil and I left Mandawa in the morning, shortly after the breakfast. After 16 days in Rajasthan and 35 days in India, it was my final road trip before reaching Delhi. Despite all the extremes that happened to me in Rajasthan, I made a right decision to come there and see with my own eyes this beautiful land of incredible scenery and rich history, learn about half-dozen of ancient kingdoms still co-existing within the Union of India, visit extravagant palaces and hear the secrets of zenana, witness the sunrises in Thar desert and spend a night on camel safari. At times, I felt exhausted to constantly look over my shoulder and try to remain safe and sane, but mostly, I enjoyed my experience. Waiving goodbyes to Rajasthan, I was finally driving back to where I started – New Delhi, to the comfortable home of Varun and familiar faces of my Oxonian friends.
The trip was uneventful, after 3-4 hours we reached Delhi and Sunil took me to the Kalka Travel‘s office to finally meet the owner of the agency and to pay my balance. After all formalities were done, Sunil drove me to Safdarjung Enclave where I was staying at my friend’s family home. It was an evening full of lengthy travel stories on my behalf and lots of listening on Varun’s. I finally felt safe and I looked forward to spending 5 more days in Delhi before taking off to New York.
January 20, 2014
For the history of Delhi, please refer to this link – my first post about Delhi. For many people, Delhi is the first stop in India and they rush to leave it for Agra or Varanasi, however, Delhi is a remarkabe megapolis with 7 distinctive threads of history woven in the fabric of the city. After reading the history of Delhi and especially book by William Dalrymple “City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi”, I realized that it would be a great opportunity to stay there for more than a few days and explore every nook and cranny of it. I compiled a list of 14 “must see” things and while spicing them up with some unexpected stops and diversions, embarked on my quest of Delhi.
Varun’s mom, lovely Seema, allowed me to borrow their car with a driver for a day, so I could get acquainted with the city in comfort. First, I headed to Old town to pay my respect to the person whose name just as tightly associated with India as India’s with his – Mahatma Gandhi. I drove to Raj Ghat. Located just south of the Red Fort, originally it was a name of a historic ghat of Shahjahanabad on the bank of Yamuna river, next to where the Raj Ghat Gate of the walled city used to stand. Entrance was free and in order to enter I had to remove my shoes. An attendant tried to scam me by demanding money for shoe storage, however, I just placed them on a rack on the opposite side from him and entered the site accompanied by his angry screams.
Manicured lawns and well maintained stone paths covered with green carpets made this place look serene and I guess, this is what the architects of the memorial hoped for – to put the father of the nation in tranquil and beautiful place in the heart of Delhi. A black marble platform with an eternal fire marks the spot where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated a day after his assassination on 31 January 1948. It is inscribed with what are said to have been Gandhi’s final words “Hai Ram” (“Oh, God”). Gladly, there weren’t a lot of visitors, so I enjoyed the memorial in peace. On the way back, I was afraid not to find my shoes, but they were exactly where I left them.
Then, despite Seema’s advice not to visit the market today, we drove to Chandni Chowk where the driver dropped me off. If I were to see the largest and most famous market in India, I had to go for the full-on Indian experience on the busiest day of the week – Monday. Chandni Chowk, or the Moonlight Square, was designed and established by Princess Jahanara, Shah Jahan’s favorite daughter, in 1650 B.C. and was once the grandest of the markets in India (in fact, the Mughal imperial processions used to pass through it). The bazaar, shaped as a square, was given further elegance by the presence of a pool in the centre of the complex, which didn’t survive to present times. The pool shimmered in the moonlight hence the name “Moonlight square” (another theory – the bazaar was famous for its silver merchants and was referred to as Chandi in Hindu). The shops of the complex were originally built in a half-moon shaped pattern, which is lost today too.
Today, Chandni Chowk is Delhi’s main thoroughfare – chaotic, dirty, non-disciplined, packed with small shops and stalls, crowded with sellers, lookers and hawkers. Sarees, jewelry, wedding gowns, ice-cream, shoes, fabrics etc. The market lives and spreads through the network of twisting alleys but unfortunately, it doesn’t offer the medieval bazaar experience of the time of Shah Jahan.
Somewhere in the middle of Chandni Chowk I saw a beautiful building of the Sikh Temple – Gurdwara Sis Ganj Sahib. It is one of the nine historical gurdwaras in Delhi, established in 1783 by Baghel Singh to commemorate the martyrdom site of the ninth Sikh Guru, Tegh Bahadur who was beheaded there on the orders of Aurangzeb on 11 November 1675 for refusing to convert to Islam. Before Guru Tegh’s body could be quartered and exposed to public view, one of his disciples, Lakhi Shah Vanjara, stole it and burnt his house to cremate the Guru’s body (this place is Gurdwara Rakab Ganj Sahib). The severed head (“sis” in Punjabi) of Guru was brought to Anandpur Sahib in Punjab by another disciple, Bhai Jaita where it was cremated by the Guru’s son, Gobind Rai.
Story goes that on 11 March 1783, Sikh military leader Baghel Singh marched into Delhi along with his army. He occupied the Diwan-i-Am and the Mughal emperor Shah Alam II agreed to allow Baghel Singh to raise gurdwaras on Sikh historical sites in the city and receive six annas in a rupee (37.5%) of all the octroi duties in the capital. Sis Ganj was one of shrines built by him, within the space of eight months, from April to November 1783. However, due to volatile political climate in the 19th century, the site alternated between being a mosque and a gurdwara which caused dispute between two communities. Eventually, the Privy Council during British Raj ruled in the favor of the Sikh and the present structure was added in 1930, gold guild of the domes was added in the coming years. The trunk of the tree under which the Guru was beheaded is also preserved here along with the well from which he took bath while in prison. Also, adjoined to gurdwara is the Kotwali (police station), where Guru was imprisoned and tortured. Now Katwali serves as Langar (free kitchen) and Sarai (accommodation for pilgrims).
I removed and deposited my shoes (free) before entering the Temple. Visitors were washing their hands and feet and water was running down the road in all directions, so I had to walk barefoot through the puddle of water for about 20 meters. Inside the Gurdwara I covered my head and shoulders and stepped into a different world. The prayer’s hall was phenomenal, covered with white marble, crystal chandeliers, carpets and red flowers. It was quiet with not lots of visitors, so I sat in the corner and let my eyes explore this beautiful place.
I am not familiar with Sikh traditions but it looked like I entered in the middle of a ceremony conducted by a man sitting next to a covered throne, right in front of a poshly decorated tomb or mausoleum. People kept getting up and coming to this man while he continued to sing or recite something in a melodic manner. It was quiet and relaxed, nobody paid any attention to me. I discreetly took a few pictures and ascended to the second level which provided me with even better views of the temple. I wish I could stay there longer but I had more things to explore.
After leaving the Temple, I unsuccessfully tried to reach my driver to come and pick me up, so I simply took a tuk-tuk (I became more familiar and comfortable negotiating the prices with drivers of “never-in-order meters”). Since I still had a full day, I asked him to take me to Lakshmi Narayan Temple also known as Birla Mandir.
It is a Hindu temple dedicated to Laxminarayan (usually refers to Vishnu Preserver when he is with his consort Lakshmi). Its construction started in 1933 by industrialist and philanthropist Baldeo Das Birla and his son Jugal Kishore Birla and the foundation stone was laid by Maharaj Udaybhanu Singh. The temple was built in the northern Nagara style under the supervision of famous Acharya Vishvanath Shastri who brought with him more than hundred skilled artisans from Varanasi. In 1939, the completed temple was inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi who requested it to be open not only to the Hindus but to people of every cast, hence the sign on the gate says “Everyone is Welcome”.
The temple faces the East and is situated on a high plinth. It spreads over 7.5 acred and is adorned with many shrines, fountains, large garden and cascading waterfalls. The entire temple is decorated with Jaipur marble carvings depicting the scenes from Hindu mythology and the highest shikhara above the sanctum sanctorum rises 160 feet high. The main temple houses statues of Lord Narayan and goddess Lakshmi, while the side shrines are dedicated to Shiva, Krishna, Ganesha, Hanuman and Lord Buddha. The left temple’s shikhar houses Devi Durga, the Hindu goddess of Shakti, the power.
Even though it is a large temple surrounded by many little temples, it took me only 30 minutes to see everything (maybe because they didn’t allow any pictures inside – backpacks and shoes must be deposited in a special room for free). I don’t think it is the most beautiful Hindu temple I’ve ever seen but it was the most organized one, they even had signs in English, explaining one or another Hindu deity.
From there, I walked to another Sikh place -a beautiful wedding cake-like Gurdwara Bangla Sahib. I had a list of places to see, but without planning, I ended up visiting lots of Sikh’s places in one day. Gurdwara was originally a bungalow belonging to Raja Jai Singh, a ruler of Amber, and was known as Jaisinghpura Palace. The eight Sikh Guru, Har Krishan Dev, resided there in 1664. During that time, there was a smallpox and cholera epidemic, so a 6 y.o. Guru, despite his tender years, tended to victims by giving aid and fresh water from the well at the house. Soon he too contracted the disease and eventually died on 30 March 1664. Raja Jai Singh constructed a small pond “Sarovar” over the well and now its water “Amrita” is revered to have healing properties. The temple itself, along with 8 others, was first built by the the General Sardar Bhagel Singh in 1783 with an agreement of Mughal emperor Shah Alam II. Currently, the Gurdwara is a place of great reverence and pilgrimage for Sikhs who flock here at all hours.
Shoeless (free to deposit) and with a mandatory covered head, I entered the beautiful Gurdwara. The premises include the temple, a kitchen, Sarovar (holy pond), a school and an art gallery. Every Sikh Gurdwara practices the concept of langar – all people regardless of race or religion are invited to dine in the Gurdwara kitchens (langar halls) for free.The food is prepared by gursikhs who work there but also by volunteers. I was offered to join langar several times while I was inside, but because I was very cautions in regards to food, I declined the invitation and never got to experience the langar.
I didn’t go inside the temple but instead slowly walked around Sarovar, repeating the rituals that sikhs performed – washing my hands in the water, circumambulating the pond and enjoying this beautiful site. I am not sure if the water was clean but it was definitely full of fish.
I spent about an hour in Durgwara and could possibly spend a whole day, it is just a wonderful, peaceful, stunning place to be at.
After leaving the Gurdwara, I leisurely strolled (1 km) towards Janta Mantar (literally meaning “abracadabra” in Hindi). It was another popular place in Delhi that I wanted to visit. Jantar Mantar in Delhi is one of five observatories in west-central India built by the Rajput king of Amber & Jaipur, but also scientist and astronomer, Jai Singh II. Other four are in Mathura, Varanasi, Ujjain and Jaipur (click here to read my review of Jantar Mantar in Jaipur). Its construction started in 1724 and presently it consists of 13 architectural astronomy instruments that were built by an order of the Mughal emperor Muhammad Shad to revise the calendar and astronomical tables, to be able to predict the times and movements of the sun, moon and planets.
The four main yantras (Samrat, Jai Prakash, Ram and Misra) are housed in six structures. The Mistra yantra believed to have been constructed after Jai Singh II death by his son, Maharaja Madho Singh (1751-1768). They say that by 1867, most structures considerably decayed but were beautifully repaired and restored back to life. Unlike the Janta Mantar of Jaipur, which is still in working condition and frequently utilized by scientists, the Delhi’s one is just another touristic site to see and explore.
After paying Rs.100, I walked into the observatory. Jantar Mantar in Delhi occupies much larger space than the one in Jaipur, that is why, no matter how many people are inside, it still feels spacious and pretty empty. In addition, I guess Monday isn’t their busiest day (I suspect everyone was shopping at the Chandni Chowk), there were no more than 10 tourists and about 30 Indian visitors inside.
The first astronomy instrument located to the right from the entrance is Misra Yantra or “composite yantra” consisting of five different instruments – Dakshinottara Bhitti, Samrat (in two halves), Niyat Chakra, Karka Rasivalaya and the Western Quadrant. Misra Yantra was designed as a tool to determine the shortest and longest days of the year. Quite remarkable, it could also indicate the exact moment of moon in various cities and locations regardless of their distance from Delhi. In a sense, it is a unique instrument, since it was the only one not invented by Jai Singh II.
The Dakshinottara Bhitti (also built in 4 other observatories) was a modified version of the portable meridian dial present in Greek, Arabic, Hindu and European systems of astronomy. It is a graduated semicircle structure located on the easter wall and its purpose is to measure the meridian altitude of a celestial object, particularly altitude of the sun.
The Niyat Chakra or “Fixed Arc” is in the center of Misra Yantra and consists of four semicircular scales on either side of a central gnomon. The scales are inclined to the meridian place at different degrees and serve to measure the declination of an object at intervals of a few hours as the object moves from east to west in the sky during the period of the day. The Niyats are meant to duplicate the readings for the meridian arcs at four different locations on the globe: Notkey in Japan, Serichew in Pic Islands, Zurich in Switzerland and Greenwich in England.
The Karka Rasivalaya or “Circle of the Sight of Cancer” consists of large graduate semicircle marked on the northern wall of the Misra Yantra. This wall is inclined to the vertical at angle of about 5° and is parallel to the plane of the tropic of cancer. On 21 June, when the sun is at the tropic of cancer, its rays graze the instrument at noon. Its purpose is to measure (to the nearest minute of an arc) the longitude of a celestial object, such as the moon at the moment when the first point of the sign of cancer is on the meridian.
The Samrat Yantra of Misra Yantra is constructed in two halves so it could be used before and after the noon hour. Its function is to determine the local time.
The taller Western Quadrant was sometimes identified as an Agra or amplitude instrument to measure the latitude and longitude of a celestial object every 24 hours.
Next was Samrat Yantra or “Supreme Instrument” – a giant triangle that is basically an equal hour sundial. It is 20.73 m high, 38.10 m long at the base and 3 m thick. It has a 39 m hypotenuse that is parallel to the Earth’s axis and points toward the North pole making an angle of 28°37′ with the horizon, equal to the latitude of Delhi. On either side of the triangle is a quadrant representing the plane of the equator with graduation indicating hours, minutes and seconds. The time at a given moment is read by the shadow of the inclined wall (gnomon) on the quadrants. At the time of the Samrat Yantra’s construction, sundials already existed, but the Supreme Instrument turned the basic sundials into a precision tool for measuring declination and other related coordinates of various celestial bodies. The chamber in its Eastern quadrant contains another instrument – the Shasthamsa Yantra.
The Shasthamsa or “Sextant Instrument” is unique to the Delhi and Jaipur observatories and is regarded to be the Jai Singh II’s high precision instrument which measures the declination, zenith distance and the diameter of the sun. This Yantra consists of a large graduated 60° arc built in the plane of a meridian within a dark chamber hight above the arc. A pinhole near the top of the chamber is left open to read the declination of the sun when it passes through the meridian and shines on the arc through the pinhole.
Another interesting instrument, named after Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, used to measure the coordinates (azimuth and altitude) of the celestial objects, local time and other zodiac observations is Jai Prakash Yantra or “Light of Jai”. It consists of two hollowed out hemispheres, 6.33 m long, built into the ground and represents a complete hemisphere. The hemisphere has various scales marked on the concave surfaces, including the circles of the signs of the Zodiac. The areas between alternate hour circle in the two hemispheres were replaced by steps in order to read the scale markings. The position of the sun was indicated by the shadow of the cross wires that were stretched across the yantra from North-South and East-West.
Ram Yantra, named after Raja Ram Singh, was Jai Singh II’s invention and is known to have no duplicates in the world. The hight of the walls and the pillar is equal to the internal radius of the building – 7.51 m. The floor is divided into 30 sectors raised on 0.91 m high supports which help observation. The sectors and their intervening open spaces measure 6° degrees each, thus making a full circle of 360°. Its function was to measure the horizontal (azimuth) and vertical (altitude) angles of celestial bodies, such as the sun and the moon.
It is a cylindrical instrument, consisting of the two large building open to the sky. The building are complementary to each other and each represents a circular wall surrounding a central pillar. The walls, floor and pillar have scales marked on them. The wall sections correspond to the floor markings and contain notches to place sighting bars. The horizontal sectors are used to measure the angle of azimuth for objects with zenith distance less than 45° and the scales on the walls are used for objects with zenith distance greater than 45°.
Jantar Mantar is an interesting place to discover, especially if you have a guide or know what you are looking at. Otherwise, it resembles an enormous park filled with the gigantic abstract sculptures belonging more to a Museum of Modern Art then to science. I spent about an hour there, walking around but mostly interacting with a gang of homeless children who came to beg but then got carried away by the stuff I pulled out of my backpack – little trinkets, chocolate and beautiful hair ribbons for the smallest and only girl in the group. We developed some sort of communication, without speaking a word in each other’s language and I felt sad to leave, and so did they, I think.
At the exit, I saw a hundred missed calls from my driver. Apparently, he was in a basement with his friends when I tried to reach him from Chandni Chowk, but when Seema and Varun called him later to check on me, he didn’t know where I was. When I reached him, he told me to wait at Jantar Mantar till he comes to pick me up. I was actually going to see the last place of the day – Agrasen ki Baoli, which was about 5 minutes walk from the observatory. I should have done it because the driver arrived 45 minutes later and then got lost looking for the baoli. By the time we arrive, the baoli was about to close but I asked an attendant to let me in for 5 minutes.
Agrasen ki Baoli (also known as Ugrasen ki Baoli) is a protected monument by the Archeological Survey of India. A stepwell (baoli) is an underground structure for the water storage mainly constructed to cope with seasonal fluctuations in water availability. Although there are no known historical records to prove who built Agrasen ki Baoli, it is believed that it was originally built by the legendary king Agrasen during the Mahabharat epic era and rebuilt in the 14th century by the Agrawal community which traces its origin to Maharaja Agrasen. The architectural features of this Baoli resemble those of the late Tughlaq or Lodi period.
It is 60 m long and 15 m wide and is among a few of its kind in Delhi. Built with rubble and dressed stones, the main feature of the structure is the long flight of steps leading down to the steep well situated in the north. Some parts of the well, with 103 steps, are permanently immersed in water. The visible parts of this historical stepwell consist of three levels. Each level is lined with arched niches on both sides. Regarding the name Agrasen Ki Baoli it should be stated that in 1132 AD an Agrawal poet named Vibudh Shridhar mentions, in his work Pasanahacariu, a wealthy and influential Agrawal merchant of Dhilli named Nattal Sahu who was also a minister in the court of King Anang Pal III. Rebuilding the old Agrasen Ki Baoli would have been within the means of a well established and wealthy Agrawal community during the 14th century.
On the west is a small mosque with three openings. Raised on a solid platform with underground dalans on the sides, it has a “whaleback” roof and pillared columns of red sandstone carved with “Chaitya motifs and stucco medallions” in spandrels, which makes it a distinct structure.
I truly wish I had more time to spend in this atmospheric place and hang out on the steps with a bunch of other young couples, but it was closing at 6 pm.
It was getting dark, so the driver took me back home to Safdarjung Enclave via the eastern end of Rajpath and by 42 m-high India Gate. In a few days (26 January) India was getting ready to celebrate its Independence Day, so the roads were closed for public and traffic was horrendous.
Wow, what a great but tiring day I had! There was nothing better than to spent the evening at home, in a lovely company of Seema and Varun.
January 21, 2014
Unlike the day prior, Tuesday turned out to be foggy, cold and wet. Luckily, it wasn’t raining, but equipped with an umbrella, I was ready to embark on yet another journey around Delhi. Varun, on his way to work, kindly dropped me off at my first pit-stop – Safdarjung’s Tomb. Unexpectedly, on my trip to India I’ve seen more tombs then ever in my entire life.
This magnificent marble mausoleum, built in 1754 in the late Mughal Empire style, holds a body not of an Emperor but a very rich and powerful Vizier. The story goes that Mirza Muqim Abul Mansur Khan, who was popularly known as Safdarjung, was a ruler of Awadh as viceroy of Muhammad Shah. After the death of Emperor, he moved to Delhi and upon Ahmed Shah Bahadur ascendance to the throne in 1748, Safdarjung was made the Chief Minister (Vizier) of the empire with the title of Wazir ul-Mamalk-i-Hindustan.
Since the Emperor was just a figurehead, who enjoyed wine, women and opium more than running a state, Vizier had taken all powers under his control. Unavoidably, his abuse of power provoked the Emperor’s family to call their Hindu Maratha confederacy for help to get rid of Vizier. A civil strife ensued and eventually in 1753 Safdarjung was driven out of Delhi. After his death, just a year later, his son Nawab Shujaud Daula pleaded with the Mughal Emperor to permit him to erect a tomb for his father in Delhi. He then built the mausoleum, designed by an Abyssinian architect, that became both, a site of ridicule and a site of praise. In my opinion, lack of proportions and use of poor material (sandstone in comparison to marble) couldn’t take neither significance nor grandeur away from this structure. As one of the last projects completed during the Mughal rule, Safdarjung’s Tomb is often described as “the last flicker in the lamp of Mughal architecture“.
After paying Rs.100, I was allowed to enter the premises of the mausoleum. As every other Mughal tomb in India, whether it is small or large (except for the tomb of Aurangzeb in Aurangabad), it is never about the actual tomb, which, on most occasions, is located underground and invisible to visitors. It is about the lushness of gardens, the superiority of architecture, the splendor of fountains, the presence of supporting buildings such as palaces, mosques, libraries and so on. Taj Mahal might have set a very high bar, but there are so many wonderfully designed and executed buildings of Mughal period in India. The Safdarjung’s Tomb is no exception. The tomb has four key features – the garden with the mausoleum at the center, a ninefold floor plan, five part façade and a large podium with a hidden stairway.
The main (eastern) entry gate to the tomb is a two storied building with a very elaborate purple façade decorated with the ornaments over plastered surfaces. There is an inscription in Arabic that translates “When the hero of plain bravery departs from the transitory, may he become a resident of god’s paradise”. The rear side of the eastern gate, which is seen after entering through the gate, hosts many rooms and the library. To the right of the gate is a three-domed mosque marked with stripes.
After passing through the main gate of the complex, I entered the charbagh-styled garden which occupies 274.2 m2 and has a lay out in the form of four subdivided squares with wide foot paths and water tanks. One channel leads to the entrance gate and the others lead to the three pavilions – western Jangli Mahal (Palace in the forest), northern Moti Mahal (Pearl Palace) and southern Badshah Pasand (King’s favorite). Nawab’s family used to reside in these pavilions.
Entering through the main gate gives a perfect view of the mausoleum which was built on the podium 50 m long on each side. Red and buff stones were used to build the main mausoleum and its dome which is 28 m2. The central chamber, square in shape, has eight partitions with a cenotaph in the middle. The interior of the tomb is covered with a decorated rococo plaster. Four polygonal towers with marble panels and decorated arches surround the main tomb at the corners. Underneath the cenotaph is an underground chamber which houses the actual graves of Safdrjung and his wife.
I spent over an hour at the Safdarjung’s Tomb and it was well worth it; my next pit-stop was only a few minutes walk from the Tomb – Lodi Gardens.
Spread over 360,000 m², this park in the heart of New Delhi is a place of stroll, meditation, yoga, picnics, power-talks, making-up, everything that can happen in a busy city’s quiet garden. In addition, Lodi Gardens is also a place of Delhi’s oldest architectural heritage. It witnessed the rise and fall of three different dynasties – Sayyid, Lodi and Mughal, contains architectural works of the 15th century such as Sheesh Gumbad and Bara Gumbad and serves as the last resting place to two leaders – Mohammed Shah and Sikandar Lodi. As there is little architecture from these periods remains in India, it was the best place for me to explore.
I entered the Lodi Gardens from Lodi Road and appeared right next to the oldest and most remarkable monuments of the park – The Mohammed Shah Tomb.
The Tomb is visible from the road and is the earliest structure in the gardens built in 1444 by Ala-ud-din Alam Shah as a tribute to the Sayyid dynasty ruler Mohammed Shah who ruled from 1434-1444. Sayyid dynasty reined for a short period of time (from 1414-1451) over much shrunken territories. Therefore, they had neither the time nor the money to build grand cities or palaces. The Tomb of Mohammed Shah has some distinctive features of its time – an octagonal plan, corner buttresses, decorative plaster finish, corbeled doorways and chhatris (pavilions) on the roof. The central chamber, which is 15 m in diameter, contains several graves, of which the central one is believed to be that of Mohammed Shah and the others belong to members of his family.
Following the park’s map, I proceeded to the Lodi period Mosque which stands in a masonry enclosure, most portions of which have now disappeared. The mosque consists of rectangular chamber with vaulted roof and three-arched entrances on the eastern side. The west wall hosts three recessed arches. The interior is decorated with ornamental moulding while the exterior is highlighted by the floral ornament with moulding at the cornice level and the inverted lotus on top of the fluted dome. The Mosque is constructed of stone masonry and rendered with very fine red colored plaster in traditional fresco technique. Even though the building yet remains, its initial purpose and some of its dignity was stripped away by time and garden visitors (workers, likely) who use the mosque to park/store their bikes.
One of the most memorable and imposing constructions is Bara Gumbad (Big Dome), located in the middle of the gardens. During the Lodi Period (1451-1526), tombs were raised in two styles – square and octagonal. Bara Gumbad and Sheesh Gumbad are examples of the former, though many archeologists believe that neither of the Lodi Gardens’ Gumbads were actually tombs. Bara Gumbad, a rubble-constructed dome (19m x 19m x 27m high), is one of the biggest and finest examples of the Lodi period monuments in Delhi, built in 1494 during the reign of Sikandar Lodi. Some say that it is a gateway to an attached three-domed masjid (mosque), but some claim that the mosque was no doubt erected as an adjunct to the tomb, and not the other way around.
Both, Sheesh Gumbad and Bara Gumbad has a semblance of being double-storied. It combines spans of both arches, brackets and lintel beams. The main material is grey quartzite with some other stones used for decorative touches – red sandstone on the doorways and a combination of red, grey and black stone on the facade. The interior is very plain and the stone finish is un-plastered and mostly un-carved.
The name of the person who was buried here, but whose grave no longer exists, is unknown, but he must have occupied an important position during Sikandar Lodi’s reign.
The Bara Gumbad’s mosque (25 m x 6.5 m), built at the same time with the Big Dome, is a five-arched hall with a frontage of bracket-and-chajja cornice. It is a fine example of the decorative technique of incised and painted limestone plaster used during the Lodi period. The tapering minarets at the rear are in Tughlaq style but seem to anticipate the octagonal towers of early Mughal and Sur periods of oriel windows on the north and south. Other distinctive elements are the jharokhas (cantilevered, enclosed openings).
The Interior of the mosque is extremely rich in arabesque stucco decoration and paintings, consisting of floral and geometrical designs and Quranic inscriptions (an inscription over the southern mihrab – the arch on the western wall which indicates the direction of prayers- dates it to 1494). Partaking both the Tughlaq and Mughal features, it occupies an important place in the development of the Mughal Mosque.
The long hall in front of the mosque is mihman-khana or guesthouse for pilgrims, there are also the remains of a water tank and a mound of rubble which was probably a grave platform.
Opposite to Bara Gumbad is the Sheesh Gumbad (Glass Dome) named for the glazed tiles used in its construction. Also built during the reign of Sikandar Lodi, the building is somewhat different in ornamentation. With its facade divided horizontally by a string -course and with series of sunk niches running above and below it, it has an external resemblance of being double-storied. Its western wall has a built-in mihrab (arch) which served as a mosque, while the other sides have a central entrance set in a projecting frame. The niches are spanned by arches, the central openings are by bracket-and-lintel beams, combining thus features of both Hindu and Islamic architecture. It was originally faced with friezes of blue enameled tiles, which survived now only in traced, and which gave it its name. It is likely that originally the top half of the exterior was almost entirely covered with tiles.
Inside, Sheesh Gumbad’s high ceiling is decorated with stucco and painted plaster containing floral and Quranic patterns. The chamber of the tomb (10 m²) contains a number of graves but the names of the persons buried here are not known. Some historians suggest that this is the tomb of the first Lodi Sultan Bahlul Lodi who died in 1489.
After Gumbads, following the well-maintained paths and the remains of a watercourse which connects the Yamuna river to Sikander Lodi’s tomb, I headed to the other side to the gardens to see the last site. Sikandar Lodi was the second ruler of the Lodi dynasty and ruled from 1489 to 1517. His tomb, resembling the one of Mohammed Shah, is set in a garden surrounded by an elaborate enclosure, about 76 m², with 3.5 m high walls. It was built by Sikaner’s son, and the last of Sultans of Delhi from Lodi dynasty, Ibrahim Lodi in 1517.
Tomb is a simple rectangular structure on a high platform approached by a flight of steps. The two chhatries (pavilions) on the square platform in front have remains of blue tiles. Inside the enclosure, the middle part of the western wall has been built so as to function as a wall mosque, with the qibla (direction of prayer) indicated through arches and a paved area in front.
In the center of enclosure is the octagonal tomb, its interior decorated with extensive and fairly well preserved tile work and a painted and incised plaster ceiling. The Tomb was renovated by the British and an inscription mentioning Ibrahim Lodi’s defeat at the hands of Babur was included in 1866.
Before leaving the Lodi Gardens, I passed by the Athpula Bridge (Eight Piered), the last of the buildings in Delhi, build during the reign on Mughal Emperor Akbar. This bridge was constructed to span a stream which went through this area and probably joined the Barahpula nala further south which fed into Yamuna River. The bridge is placed diagonally across the stream bed and has a beautiful curving shape. It contains seven arches, amongst which the central one being the largest. No one knows which road went over this bridge but the presence of a Mughal garden nearby suggests that this was an important resting place.
I spent over 3 hours in the gardens and If I lived in Delhi, it would have been be one of my favorite places to visit. I only regret that there were no guides to explain and elaborate on the magnificent structures the gardens host.
After the Lodi Gardens, still following my graveyard tour of Delhi, I took a tuk-tuk to the Humayun’s Tomb. The Humayun’s Tomb is one of the city’s three UNESCO World Heritage Sites (along with Red Fort and Qutb Minar) and is considered to be the most perfectly proportioned and captivating Delhi’s mausoleums. As most Mughal tombs, it is located in a large, immaculately maintained garden in the Persian Char Bagh (four corners) style that were thoroughly renovated in 2003, which makes it more pleasant to walk around but more boring too. Rs.250 will get you in.
Frankly, there were less visitors at the site than people buried in The Humayun’s Tomb. The garden hosts at least 6 other tombs – of Haji Begum (Humayun’s senior wife), Afsarwala Tomb, Iza Khan Tomb, Bu-Halima enclosure, a tomb of the emperor’s favorite barber and Khan-i-Khanan’s tomb.
Right as you walk in, the first major structure on the right is the bulbous Tomb of Isa Khan built in 1547. Isa Khan Niyazi was a noble in the court of Sher Shah Suri. The enclosure includes his tomb and a mosque, both built during his own life. The octagonal tomb, predating Humayun’s Tomb by 20 yeas, has striking ornamentation in the form of canopies, glazed tiles and a lattice screens. Along the western side of the enclosure, the three-bay-wide mosque has a grand red sandstone central bay and striking mihrabs. Until the early 20th century, an entire village lived in the enclosure.
A bit further on the left, there is an unidentified Tomb with neither visitors nor signs describing what it was and who was buried there.
Aligned in axes with the western gate of Humayun’s Tomb enclosure and Subz Burj, the 16th century gateway to Bu Halima Garden Tomb (of whom not much is known) stands on the eastern side of the enclosure. The upper arched opening has sandstone jharokha with beautiful lattice parapet which is supported on decorative sandstone brackets. Ornate domed canopies surmount the two northern bastions of the garden wall. Remains of the original tile-work decoration are still visible and conservation work was in full process.
Following the Bu Halima Garden Tomb gate was the Arab-Ki-Sarai gateway – the 14 m high passage that served as the southern entrance of Arab Serai, a housing site accommodating the Persian craftsmen involved in building of Humayun’s Tomb. Red sandstone and white marble inlay work add a striking touch to the gateway, mostly built of Delhi quartzite stone. The projecting jharokhas still display remnants of the glazed ceramic tiles.
I passed through Arab-Ki-Sarai gateway and appeared in a totally different world of rubbish and destruction. While the gateways and main tombs were finely restored and decorated, many other buildings, hidden from visitors’ eyes remain in pitiful state. For me, they were the most interesting one to explore, until I realized that they also host many unattended seclusion-seeking creeping single men. I have had my share of experience with Indian men, so I rushed to get out to the public area.
Following the Arab-Ki-Sarai gateway was the whole complex of Afsarwala Tomb and mosque dated to 1566. Folklore attributes this tomb and mosque to “Afsarwala”, meaning “officer”, but nothing more is known. The octagonal tomb is covered with red sandstone with sparing use of white and black marble inlay work. Over the central lofty arch of the three-bay-wide mosque is a niche that could have once held an inscription. The guard at the site was very annoying and clingy, so I sped my pace up.
From there, I entered the West gate (16 m high) – the main doorway to the Tomb-Garden of Emperor Humayun. Rooms on each side flank the central passage and the upper floors has small courtyards. Six-sided stars, used by the Mughals as an ornamental cosmic symbol, adorn the structure.
The centerpiece of the site is the eponymous Tomb of Emperor Humayun, who was the second Mughal emperor. Built between 1565-1572 by Hamida Banu Begum, his Persian-born senior wife, the tomb brings together Persian and Mughal elements, creating a true predecessor or prototype of Agra‘s Taj Mahal. The structures are indeed stylistically similar (by now, every tomb looks like the previous one to me), although Humayun’s Tomb is built from red sandstone, not white marble, and was built by a wife grieving for her husband, not the other way around. The Tomb stands on a platform of 12,000 m² and reaches the height of 47 m (the brass finial over the white marble dome is itself 6 m high). Built of rubble masonry, the structure follows strict rules of Islamic geometry, with an emphasis on the number “eight” and is the first to use red sandstone and white marble in such great quantities. The small canopies on the terrace were originally covered in glazed blue tiles.
After climbing to the second level, on the south side I found an entrance into the main crypt which contains the solitary tomb of an emperor, but the structure itself has within it over 100 graves, earning the name “Dormitory of the Mughals”. It was almost 5 pm and guards rushed the visitors out long ago, so I was left on my own. It felt adventurous and a bit freighting to be alone in the mausoleum at night. Interesting fact is that the tomb was the place of refuge taken by the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, before being captured and exiled by the British in 1857.
Soon, the guards came for me and after leaving the Tomb’s site I understood how much scarier it was outside with alive people than inside with dead. Apparently, the entire area around the Tomb is a big resting place for at least a hundred of people. I ended up stepping over sleeping people and their belongings, playing children, cooking women with their utensils and it all was happening in darkness. Since I didn’t know the area well, I rushed to the main road and called Varun, though he was pretty far away to pick me up. I tried to get a taxi but it is almost impossible to get one on the road in Delhi. A few cars stopped by and their impudent and shameless owners, sizing me up, offered to give a lift. Dah… No way! Luckily, there was a police station across the street so I asked the officer to fetch me a tuk-tuk.
I was all wired and tired by the time I got home but I was eager to see my Oxonian friend Priyanka, who invited me to come to an American Comedy club night. It was a very nice place with mediocre but acceptable Italian food, filled mostly with either expats or Indians who hangs out with expats. I haven’t been to many comedy clubs so I am not a judge, but I found the jokes entertaining and the atmosphere friendly and relaxed. Priyanka opened a totally new side of Delhi to me and I am forever thankful for that.
January 22, 2014
Weather was not cooperating with me, but it is normal. I can choose to come to India in summer and suffocate from smoke, heat and smell, or in winter, when it is rainy, cold-ish and super foggy. For the last few days it has been raining, but usually by noon the weather would improve. Today, rain didn’t stop for a minute and after spending all morning and early afternoon at home, I decided to take my chances and go out. Mostly all places I wanted to see were outdoors, so if I wanted to visit everything that I planned, I had to get wet and dirty.
I took an Uber car to the first place – Baha’i Lotus Temple. Because it is a temple, there was no entrance fee, pictures were allowed in the garden, but not inside the temple. Just as its names says, Lotus Temple does look like a bud of a Lotus flower with 27 petals arranged in clusters of three to form nine sides. Designed by Iranian-Canadian architect Fariborz Sahba, it was completed in 1986 and is surely one of the most magnificent monuments ever made from concrete (the surface of the temple is made of white marble from Penteli mountain in Greece). Some of its elements are specified by Baha’i scripture. Abdu’l-Bahá, the son of the founder of the religion, stipulated that an essential architectural character of a House of Worship is a nine-sided circular shape. While all current Bahá’í Houses of Worship have a dome, this is not regarded to be an essential part of their architecture. The Lotus Temple located in a beautifully manicured garden (comprising 10.5 ha) with multiple walking paths and nine ponds to enjoy the scenery, but I was in a rush.
Somewhere in the middle of the main path, no less than 70 meters before the temple itself, there was a shoes deposit center. It was about 10-12 C outside with unstoppable rain, but I had to remove my shoes and walk barefoot in pools of water till I finally reach the building itself. Cascading waterfalls on each side (remarkably blue), made it look as if the Lotus bud was floating in the water (as I was definitely already floating). The whole construction and its setting made a breathtaking scene.
What I, unfortunately, can’t say about the internal decoration of the Temple. Bahá’í scripture states that no pictures, statues or images be displayed within the House of Worship and no pulpits or altars be incorporated as an architectural feature (readers may stand behind simple portable lecture stands). The 9 doors of the temple open into a central hall that is slightly more than 40 m tall and capable of accommodating up to 2,500 people. All visitors were divided into guided groups and each group is given an instructions to pack cameras and phones and to be silent for the entire time while inside.
Like all other Bahá’í Houses of Worship, the Lotus Temple is open to all, regardless of religion, or any other distinction, as told in Bahá’í texts. A stone tablet in front of the temple says “This House of Worship is a place for prayer and meditation for the peoples of all religion and races. From within it portals the voice of mankind will ever be raised in praise and glorification of the creator of Universe.” The Bahá’í laws emphasize that the spirit of the House of Worship be that it is a gathering place where people of all religions may worship God without denominational restrictions. The Bahá’í laws also stipulate that only the holy scriptures of the Bahá’í Faith and other religions can be read or chanted inside in any language; while readings and prayers can be set to music by choirs, no musical instruments can be played inside. Furthermore no sermons can be delivered, and there can be no ritualistic ceremonies practiced.
So, when “my” group entered, there was nothing but silence in the Temple. Just as impressive as the temple looked from the outside, as empty and barren it looked from the inside – empty of worshipers, of sounds, of decor or any other religious attributes. I stayed inside for 5 minutes and went out together with my group; apparently, we all were there to see, but not to pray. Before leaving the Temple, I picked up a few brochures about Bahá’í Faith in order to research more at the later time. Luckily, I also had a few spare pairs of socks, because after 30 minutes barefoot under the rain, I sought warmth and dryness of my Merrell shoes.
My second stop of the day was Purana Qila – the oldest fort among all forts in the city and, the oldest known structure of any type in Delhi. It’s located at the site of the legendary city of Indraprastha, that was founded by Pandavas on the banks of Yamuna, which is revered by Hindus since ages. This points to the possibility of this site’s history dating back to nearly more than 5000 years old. A Kunti Temple inside the Qila also exists, which is believed to be the place where Kunti, the mother of Pandavas lived. Consequently the fort is considered by some, to be ‘the first city of Delhi’. Researchers now confirm that up till 1913, a village called Indrapat existed within the fort walls. Excavations carried out by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) have unearthed Painted Grey Ware dating 1000 B.C., and with a continuous cultural sequence from Mauryan to Mughal through Sunga, Kushan, Gupta, Rajput and Sultanate periods, confirming the antiquity of the fort.
Fort was called as the inner pitamdel of the city of Dina-panah during Humayun’s rule who renovated it in 1533 and completed five years later. Purana Qila and its environs flourished as the “sixth city of Delhi” (read about the history of Delhi in my previous blog). The founder of the Suri Dynasty, Sher Shah Suri, defeated Humayun in 1540, naming the fort Shergarh; he raised the citadel of Purana-Qila with an extensive city-area sprawling around it and it seems that the fort was still unfinished at Sher Shah’s death in 1545, but was completed either by his son Islam Shah or Humayun.
Subsequently Islam Shah took over the reins of North India from this fort, but shifted his capital to Gwalior, a safer capital in that period, leaving the charge of Delhi and Punjab to his Hindu Governor and military General Hemu. After Islam Shah’s death in 1553, Adil Shah Suri took charge of North India and appointed Hemu as the Prime Minister-cum-Chief of Army and himself retired in Chunar fort. According to a vizier-turn-historian Abul Fazal, Hemu became a virtual king and had all authority of appointments and other decisions making. Hemu was busy in quelling rebellion in east India so the fort remained neglected. Humayun, who was based in Kabul at this time, seized the opportunity to re-capture the citadel and the seat of Delhi in 1555, fifteen years after abandoning it following his defeats at the hands of the Suri Dynasty in the Battles of Chausa and Kannauj. Humayun’s reign proved brief thereafter; he died following an accidental fall within the fort complex at Sher Mandal only a year later, in January 1556.
Hearing about re-capture of Delhi by Humayun, Hemu rushed towards Delhi from Bengal, where he had just defeated and killed Muhammad Adil Shah, the ruler of Bengal. After winning 22 battles spanning entire north India, Hemu met and defeated the forces of Akbar, which were led by Tardi Beg Khan, in the Battle for Delhi, which took place in the Tuglaqabad area in October 1556. Hemu had his Rajyabhishek (coronation) at Purana Qila on 7 October 1556, declaring ‘Hindu Raj’ in North India, and was bestowed the title of Samrat Hem Chandra Vikramaditya. Just a month later, Hemu lost his life at the Second battle of Panipat and subsequently had his torso hung outside this fort to create terror among Hindus.
As history shows, Purana Qila brought bad luck for rulers who occupied it; Humayun, Sher Shah Suri, and Hemu all had but relatively brief tenures ensconced there. Humayun’s son Akbar did not rule from here and Shah Jahan built a new fort in Delhi known as Lal Qila (“Red Fort”).
The walls of the Fort (20 m high and 4 m thick), traverse about 1.9 km, and have three arched gateways: the Bada Darwaza (Big Gate) facing west, which is still in use today; the south gate, also popularly known as the ‘Humayun Gate’ (probably so known because it was constructed by Humayun, or perhaps because Humayun’s Tomb is visible from there); and lastly, the ‘Talaaqi Gate’, often known as the “forbidden gate”. The eastern side was originally bounded by Yamuna river which since has long changed its course eastward. All the gates are double-storied sandstone structures flanked by two huge semi-circular bastion towers, decorated with white and colored-marble inlays and blue tiles. They are replete with detailing, including ornate overhanging balconies, or jharokhas, and are topped by pillared pavilions (chhatris), all features that are reminiscent of Rajasthani architecture as seen in the North and South Gates, and which were amply repeated in future Mughal architecture. Despite the grandeurs of the exterior, few of interior structures have survived and the ambiguous historical record makes it difficult to say for sure which of the remaining structures of the fort were built by Humayun and which were commissioned by Sher Shar or his son Islam Shah. Nevertheless, this site that conjures up the images of conquest and combat was one of the most desirable for me to visit and after paying Rs.100, I was in.
Like everyone else, I entered Purana Qila via Bada Darwasa (Big Gate), the western entrance (20 m high) to the fortress which most probably was built under Humayun, as it is a part of the main fortification. On either side of it are bastions which, along with the curtain wall beyond, have arrow/gun slits. Kungaras (merlons) would originally have run along the top of the entire length of the wall, but have now completely disappeared except at the top of one of the bastions. The surface ornamentation of the gate consists of inlay patterns in sandstone and marble, some stone carvings and tile work. Jharokhas (cantilevered enclosed openings) and chhatris (pavilions) also serve decorative purpose.
I decided to walk clockwise along the fort’s massive wall in order to enjoy this magnificent structure. It was nice to see that some steps were made to preserve this incredible “sixth city”, as construction workers and their tools were seen everywhere. Walking along the wall, I noticed that some parts of the fort, especially those closer to Bada Darwasa were better preserved than those in the northern or southern parts. I hope the reconstructions will eventually touch all parts equally, because some ruins looked not better than jungle. I also noticed that even though some parts of the wall were left to deteriorate, the others were rebuilt and used as offices or perhaps storage facilities.
Talaaqi Darwasa on the north side is a tall and imposing structure, with the central archway itself measuring 17 m in height. It has entrance ways on two levels, the lower originally being at the level of water. The upper entrance way seems to have been the main way in, as it is more ornamented. If so, a drawbridge or causeway must have connected it to the land on the other side of the moat that encircled the fort. Decorative features include sandstone and marble inlay, carving, tile work, jharokhas and chhatris. There is no credible explanation for the origins of the name of the gate, which literally means “forbidden gate”.
I continued clockwise toward the Mosque located on the eastern side of the compound; I found myself surrounded by more abandoned ruins and weeds than tourists, however, isolation didn’t keep small groups of suspiciously looking weirdoes away, on the opposite. Luckily, there were guards everywhere, so I felt more or less safe. The coolest part was to climb the thick walls of the fort and look outside or around. It was truly an interesting angle.
Single-domed Qila-i-Kuhna Mosque (literally means “the mosque of the old fort”) built by Sher Shah in 1541 is an excellent example of a pre-Mughal design, and an early example of the extensive use of the pointed arch in the region as seen in its five doorways with the ‘true’ horseshoe-shaped arches. The octagonal turrets at the corners of the back wall are distinctive features of the Mughal style. It was designed as a Jami Mosque, or Friday mosque for the Sultan and his courtiers. At one time, the courtyard had a shallow tank, with a fountain.
The prayer hall inside, the single-aisled mosque, measures 51 m by 15 m and has five elegant arched prayer niches or mihrabs set in its western wall. Marble in shades of red, white and slate is used for the calligraphic inscriptions on the central iwan, marks a transition from Lodi to Mughal architecture.
A second floor, accessed through staircases from the prayer hall, with a narrow passage running along the rectangular hall, provided space for female courtiers to pray, while the arched doorway on the left wall, framed by ornate jharokas, was reserved for members of the royal family. On a marble slab within the mosque an inscription reads: “As long as there are people on the earth, may this edifice be frequented and people be happy and cheerful in it”. Today, it is the best preserved building in Purana Qila.
It was distressing and saddening to observe Indian visitors (Hindus and mostly young couples) touching everything and taking pictures of a girl, leaning on the monument, and a guy, groping her. This mosque wasn’t an exception and when I finally got fed up and schooled one couple, they just pack their stuff and left without paying the mosque another glance. Sad.
From the mosque, I proceeded to Sher Mandal that was named so after (Sher Shah) who had tried to finish what was ordered by Babur but had died during the initial phase and so construction was halted until the arrival of Humayun in 1451.
This double-storied octagonal tower of red sandstone with steep stairs leading up to the roof was intended to be higher than its existing height. Its original builder, Babur, ordered the construction to be used as a personal observatory and library for his son Humayun. It is also one of the first observatories of Delhi, the first being in Pir Gharib at Hindu Rao at Ridge built in the 14th century by Feroz Shah Tughlaq. The external diameter of the structure is 16 m, and the height from the base of the plinth to the top of the parapet is 13.5 m. The lower floor is mostly solid, with stairs leading to the upper floor. At the center of the upper level is a small chamber. The tower is topped by an octagonal chhatri supported by eight pillars and decorated with white marble in typical Mughal style.
Inside there are remnants of the decorative plaster-work and traces of stone-shelving where, presumably, the emperor’s books were placed.
This was also the spot where a tragic event took place on 20 (24 or 27) January 1556. Humayun, with his arms full of books, was descending the staircase from his library when the muezzin announced the Adhan (the call to prayer). It was his habit, wherever he heard the summons, to bow his knee in holy reverence. Kneeling, he caught his foot in his robe, but some say that he was pushed while he was trying to do that, tumbled down several steps and hit his temple on a rugged stone edge. He died three days later. They say “he tumbled in life and finally tumbled out of it too.” Entry inside the library is now prohibited.
Next to Sher Mandal is a ruined brick structure – all that stands of a hammam (bath house). The remains of terracotta pipes and a ribbed water chute can still be seen around a room measuring some 32 m². Such hammams, with provision for hot and cold water and even steam rooms, were an important part of Mughal culture. In the years after the abandonment of the fort as a capital of the empire, this structure was forgotten and built over. It was revealed when the clearance of the village of Indarpat and conservation of the site was undertaken in 1913-1914.
And I completed my circled next to the last, southern gate of the Purana Qila – Humayun Darwasa. Though, it is called after Humayun, it is partly attributed to Sher Shah on the basis of fading inscription in ink that was found in one of the rooms on the upper floor. There are two entrances, one on the top of the other. The lower one opened at the level of water in the moat, while the upper would have been approached by a drawbridge or causeway across the moat. Decorations include inlay work and carvings in sandstone, marble and tile work. This gate is the only one to preserve the decorative merlons on top which originally existed over the other gates of the fort too.
I guess most visitors (mostly Indians) weren’t very excited to see yet another replica of the gate they’ve just see on the other side of the fort, that it why this gate was absolutely and utterly empty. There is more for me.
Before it got too dark, I harried to visit another interesting historic place dated 200 years earlier than Purana Qila – Feroz Shah Kotla (entrance fee Rs.100). Since there wasn’t a lot of information about this fort and it was getting to the closing time, I decided to hire a local guide (Rs.200) only to find out a few moments later that he was drunk as a skunk. Nevertheless, since there were no other visitors, his company was better than none at all, so I proceeded anyway.
Ferozabad, the fifth city of Delhi (read about it in my previous blog), was built by Feroz Shah Tughlaq (1351-1388) in 1354 as a replacement for Tughlaqabad. Feroz Shah Kotla was the citadel built along the banks of Yamuna inside Ferozabad. The fortress contained palaces, pillared halls, mosques, a pigeon-tower and a baoli (step-well). While the gateway from the southern enclosure has been later closed, there are also the remains of a gateway from the northern enclosure. Several flights of steps on the east lead down to the old river bank. Feroz Shah was a renown builder whose reign is credited with the construction of several mosques, hunting lodges, reservoirs for irrigation, embarkments and colleges. However, there isn’t a lot remains from his citadel since most of the building material from it was robbed to build Shahjahanabad (1638-1648).
However, ringed by crumbling fortifications, this meticulously maintained fort, still hosts a huge mosque, a baoli (step-well) and a pyramid-like Hawa Mahal topped by a pillar. We first visited the baoli, but it was already closed. I asked the guide to find a keeper with the keys to open it (since they closed it before the due time, simply out of laziness), but he just rolled his drunk eyes on me.
Then we went to see the place of a particular interest to me as it contains a relic of Ashoka The Great, the first Indian emperor dating back to the 3 century B.C – a column, also called obelisk or Lat is one of Ashoka Pillars. The 13.1 m high column, made of polished sandstone and dating from the 3rd Century BC, was brought from Pong Ghati Ambala, Punjab in 14th century A.D. under orders of Feroz Shah. It was installed on a three-tiered arcaded pavilion near the congregational mosque, inside the Sultanate’s fort. In centuries that followed, much of the structure and buildings near it were destroyed as subsequent rulers dismantled them and reused the spolia as building materials, however, Ashoka Pillar remained untouched.
The guide showed me the very steep steps up to the upper pavilion, so I could see the Ashoka Pillar from close distance. The upper lever was a square platform no more than 15 m x 15 m with no railings, so when I asked my guide to take a picture of me and he started to back off all the way to the corner, I got a bit scared for him. He was drunk enough to fall off this 6-7 meter structure.
The Sultanate had wanted to break and reuse the Ashoka pillar for a minaret, however, Feroz Shah decided to erect it near a mosque instead. At the time of re-installation of the obelisk in Delhi, in 1356, no one knew the meaning of the script engraved in the stone (it was written primarily in Brahmi language, with some Pali and Sanskrit added later).
About five hundred years later, the script was deciphered by James Prinsep in 1837 with help from scripts discovered on other pillars and tablets in South Asia. The Ashoka Pillar contains the decrees of Ashoka with the following texts: “Among high roads, I have caused fig trees to be planted that they may be for shade to animals and men…” or “..And let these and others the most skillful in the sacred offices discreetly and respectfully use their most persuasive efforts, acting on the heart and eyes of the children, for the purposes of imparting enthusiasm and instruction in dharma (religion), etc.
It is hard to describe the feelings when you are so close to something that is so ancient. From the upper pavilion, there was a beautiful view of the Jami Mosjid. Only the remains of the congregational mosque of the citadel stand today belying the fact that it was quite spectacular in its own time. Built in 1354, it was the largest of the seven mosques built in Delhi during Tughlaq’s reign. The main entrance to the mosque is to the north on account of the proximity of the Yamuna to its eastern wall. It rests on a series of cells on the ground floor. The cloisters on the sides of its courtyard and its prayer hall have disappeared with only a rear wall standing on the western side. The doorway was decorated with carved stones, which have since been plundered. In the middle of courtyard was an octagonal domed structure on which was inscribed, the “Futuhat-e-Feroz-Shahi”, listing the great works and achievements of the emperor.
Timur, visiting the mosque in the end of 1398, was so impressed by it, that he is said to have had a similar mosque built in his capital Samarkand, using craftsmen taken from India. They also say that in the mosque or in an adjoining building, Emperor Alamgir II was murdered in 1759. An interesting feature is the chambers at the lower level. There is an otherworldly atmosphere in the ruins which are still an active place of worship – on Thursday afternoons, crowds gather to light candles and incense and leave bowls of milk to appease Delhi djinns.
The walls of the citadel are 15 m hight and have a slights slope on the outside. The top parapets or merlons have now disappeared but the arrow slits can still be seen.
The rest of the ruins represented the remains of the Palatial structures. The buildings inside are too ruined to be identified individually, but historians from the time of Feroz Shah listed many structures of the fortress. There was “The Palace of the Clayey Court”, which was meant for the emperor’s court attended by nobles, officials and distinguished literary men. “The Palace of a Wooden Gallery/Overhang” was for the officers of the emperor and the “Central Quadrangle” or the “Palace of the Public Court”, was where the emperor held court for the general public. The more private areas meant for the residence of the emperor and his family, have not been mentioned, but must also have existed. It is likely that the surfaces were at one time covered by a fine limestone plaster which was decorated by carvings and paintings in various colors.
It got dark and rain started to pick up, so without proper goodbye, I left Feroz Shah Kotla with hope to visit it once again. By the time I reach Varun’s house, I was exhausted and cold. I spent a nice and cozy evening at his beautiful home with his family.
January 23, 2014
Weather wasn’t cooperating, but I still moved forward with my plans. I hired an Uber Delhi for a few hours and my first stop, despite many warnings that it wasn’t worth a trip, was Tughlaqabad Fort (entry- Rs.100). I admit that Mehrauli and Tughlaqabad were two extremely underrated sites. Yes, they were rustic, in progress and, sometimes dangerous, but authentic, adventurous and inspiring, being there brought me back in time to the seven ancient cities of Delhi.
Tughlaqabad Qila is a ruined fort in central Delhi, stretching over 6 km, built by Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq, the founder of Tughlaq dynasty, of the Delhi Sultanate of India in 1321-1325, where he established the third historic city of Delhi, which was abandoned already by 1327. Story goes that Ghazi Malik was a feudatory of the Khalji rulers of Delhi and once while promenading with his Khalji master, Ghazi Malik suggested to build a fort on a hill in the southern portion of Delhi. The king jokingly told Ghazi Malik to build the fort himself when he would become a king.
In 1321 AD, Ghazi Malik drove away the Khaljis and assumed the title of Ghias-ud-din Tughlaq. He immediately started the construction of his fabled city, which he dreamt of as an impregnable, yet beautiful fort to keep away the Mongol invaders. However, destiny had other plans for him. Usually perceived as a liberal ruler, Ghias-ud-din was so passionate about his dream fort that he issued a dictate that all laborers in Delhi must work on his fort. Saint Nizamuddin Auliya, a Sufi mystic, got very upset about the edict as the work on his baoli (well) was stopped to supply people for the construction of the fort. The confrontation between the Sufi saint and the royal emperor has escalated and become a legend in India. The saint uttered a curse which was to resonate throughout history right until today: “Ya rahey ujjar, ya basey gurjar” which can roughly be translated to “the fort either remain inhabited or would be occupied by gurjars (shepherds)”. At that time in 1324, the Emperor was engrossed in a successful campaign in Bengal and was on his way to Delhi, when his son, Muhammad bin Tughlaq, met him at Kara in Uttar Pradesh. Allegedly at the prince’s orders, a Shamiana (tent) fell on the Emperor crushing him to death. Another of the Saint Nizamuddin’s curses was “Hunuz Dilli dur ast” meaning “Delhi is still far away”. The Emperor never reached Delhi and never saw the completion of his fort. After the fall of sultanate, Gurjars of the area captured the Qila and situated in it. Thus, both curses of the Sufi saint came true.
Tughlaqabad still consists of remarkable, massive stone fortifications that surround the irregular ground plan of the city. The sloping rubble-filled city walls, a typical feature of monuments of the Tughluq dynasty, are between 10 and 15 meters high, topped by battlemented parapets and strengthened by circular bastions of up to two stories height. The city is supposed to once have had as many as 52 gates of which only 13 remain today. The vast size, the great strength and visible solidity of the gigantic in proportion walls, give it an air of stern and massive grandeur.
The moment I entered the fort, I knew that it would be safer if I hire a guide-guard to take me around. There weren’t lots of visitors and definitely no foreign tourists as I could see, however, there were plenty of single men, alone and in groups, and thousands of placed to hide, which made me worry. The guide-guard and I agreed on Rs. 200 and it was perhaps the best safety investment I made in India. In addition, while most of the fort is inaccessible due to dense thorny vegetation, an ever increasing part of the fort area is occupied by modern settlement, my guide-guard made sure I didn’t get lost and didn’t intrude/walk-in into somebody’s backyard. His English and knowledge of the fort were more than acceptable, while his skills as a body-guard were tried on multiple occasions since here and there a man or group of men would pop up out of the ruins and storm towards me until they saw a guard. Till now I am not sure what their intentions were, since they still did follow us though never came close. Despite this little inconvenience and constant safety alert, I really enjoyed checking out every crevasse of the fort, I breathed the air of history.
Tughlaqabad is divided into three parts:
- the wider northern area was designed as a city area with houses built along a rectangular grid between its gates;
- the citadel with a tower at its highest point (known as Bijai-Mandal) and the remains of several halls and a long underground passage are located in the eastern part of the fort;
- the adjacent palace area containing the royal residences and still existing long underground passage below the tower are in the western part.
The fortified city contained seven rainwater tanks, and I was happy to climb down into one of them.
South of Tughlaqabad is an elevated causeway that connects Fort with the fortified outpost of Ghiyath al-Din Tughluq’s Tomb. Initially, it was built with large size stone boulders, supported by the 27 arches over a large lake, now, lake is gone, and the causeway crosses a busy highway.
Ghiyath al-Din Tughluq’s self-built tomb with a mausoleum enclosed within high battered pentagonal stone walls, strengthened with bastions and surmounted by cupolas, looks like a small fortress itself. Originally it stood within an artificial lake fed by the overflowing of the Hauz-i-Shamsi, and by some natural drainage channels.
The entrance to the tomb enclosure is through a high and massive gateway of red sandstone, approached by a flight of steps. The mausoleum (8 m²) with sloping walls of red sandstone crowned with battlements is surmounted by a white marble dome raised on an octagonal drum, inscribed panels, arched boarders and perforated screens in tympana, all in marble together with its “lotus-bud” fringes, break the monotony of the red sandstone and give it a decorative effect.
There are three graves inside, the central one is of Ghiyath al-Din Tughluq’s and the other two believed to be those of his wife and his son and successor Muhammad bin Tughlaq (1325-1351).
Against the enclosure-walls are cells or pillared corridors with bracket-and-lintel openings. In the north-western bastion there is an octagonal tomb with an inscribed slab over its southern door according to which Zafar Khan lies buried in it. It seems that this tomb was the first to be raised here and while engaged in its construction, Ghiyath al-Din Tughluq had an idea of putting up an enclosure and placing his own tomb also inside it. The place is referred to as Darul-Amam (“Abode of Peace”) in the contemporary records of Ghiyath al-Din Tughluq. Zafar Khan was the general of the Delhi Sultanate who conquered vast territories and died in the battle. His tomb is an integral part of the enclose wall, where an arched opening gives access to the tomb. Walls are surmounted with a domical roof and clad with white marble.
Sadly, little is know about Tughlaqabad fort, but it was by far, one of the most exciting and under-investigated places I visited in Delhi. If you decided to check it out, please allow at least 1.5- 2 hours and keep your car/ride handy.
When I finally left the fort, I found my Uber Mercedes on the parking lot surrounded by a dozen of “homeless” children (not sure they were homeless but they definitely looked like they had no home). I knew they were waiting for me, because a few hours earlier they saw me getting off by the fort’s entrance. It is always hard to resist those children in India, because I felt both – pity and annoyance, but more pity, compassion and helplessness that no matter what I give them, would either end up in adult’s hands or won’t bring them a long term benefit.
After a fantastic exploratory tour of Tughlaqabad fort, I asked the driver to drop me off by one of the most famous landmarks of India, a UNESCO World Heritage Site – the Qutb (Qutub) Complex. When most people visit this site on their first day in Delhi, I left it for the end of my trip. Like every other “popular” and touristic sites, the Qutb Complex was very organized, preserved, clean, busy and provided plenty of information about sites. Entry is Rs.250 and don’t forget to pick up an audio guide (Rs.100), which was, perhaps, one of the best historical audio-narrations I’ve ever heard. The authors put a lot of effort and imagination, as well as research in compiling the audio recording which consists of not only the historical background of the site and its monuments but impersonalization of the sultans, kings, commoners and even the first empress of India who participated in its construction, all taken from the historical records. It was a fantastic tool to guide me through the Complex.
In overview, the Qutb Complex consists of multiple monuments built by the first sultans of Mehrauli and subsequent rulers who expanded on their work, hiring the best craftsmen and artisans to create masterpieces in stone. The complex is studded with ruin tombs, pillars and other historical sites, which would take you at least 2-3 hours to visit.
In 1192, Muhammed Ghori managed to defeat Prithviraj Chauhan in battle and after leaving his slave and general Qutub-ud-din Aibak as his viceroy in Delhi, returned to Afghanistan. Aibak, in turn, captured the city the subsequent year. After Ghori’s death in 1206, Aibak proclaimed himself the first Sultan of Delhi and founded Mamluk (Slave) dynasty, the first dynasty of Muslim sultans to rule over northern India. Aibak built Mehrauli (one of the seven ancient cities of Delhi) and started his most prominent contribution – construction of Qutb Minar, a recognizable symbol of Delhi, to commemorate his victory, but died before its completion. In the Qutb complex he also constructed the Quwwat-al-Islam mosque (Might of Islam), which is the earliest extant mosque in India. He was said to have destroyed twenty-seven Jain temples initially housed in the Qutb complex and pillaged exquisitely carved pillars and building material from their debris for this mosque, many of which can still be seen. A Slave dynasty ruled until 1290, and among the rulers was Razia Sultan, who ruled for just 3 years, but became a historic figure for being the first empress in India. After the end of the Slave dynasty, the complex was added to by many subsequent rulers, including Firoz Shah Tughlaq and Ala ud din Khilji as well as the British. The structures in the complex are the Qutb Minar, the Quwwat al-Islam Mosque, the Alai Gate, the Alai Minar, the Iron pillar, and the tombs of Iltutmish, Alauddin Khilji and Imam Zamin, surrounded by Jain temple ruins.
Right as you walk into the Complex, there is a small Mughal Mosque which comprises of a prayer hall with three compartments, each covered by a bulbous dome. Architecturally it is assigned to the late Mughal period and was in a dilapidated condition in the early 1990’s but was conserved by Mr. Page, the then British Archeological Superintendent of the Qutb Complex. The Mosque is located in a beautiful garden laid according to the Charbagh pattern. It is square on plan and is further sub-divided into four quarters with paved walkways (Khiyaban).
The very first landmark is the Qutb Minar. You can’t miss it as it is visible from way beyond the Complex’ grounds. The Qutb Minar is the second tallest minar in India (and the tallest brick minaret in the world). Inspired by the Minaret of Jam in Afghanistan, it is an important example of early Afghan architecture, which later evolved into Indo-Islamic Architecture. The Qutb Minar is 72.5 m high, has five distinct stories, each marked by a projecting balcony carried on muqarnas corbel and tapers from a diameter 14.3 m at the base to 2.7 m at the top, which is 379 steps away (entry inside is banned).
Built as a Victory Tower, to celebrate the victory of Mohammed Ghori over the Rajput king, Prithviraj Chauhan, in 1192 AD, by his then viceroy, Qutb-ud-din Aibak, later the first Sultan of Mamluk dynasty. Its construction also marked the beginning of Muslim rule in India. Even today the Qutb remains one of the most important “Towers of Victory” in the Islamic world. Aibak however, could only build the first story, for this reason the lower story is replete with eulogies to Mohammed Ghori. The next three floors were added by his son-in-law and successor, Iltutmish. The minar was first struck by lightning in 1368 AD, which knocked off its top story, after that it was replaced by the existing two floors by Firoz Shah Tughlaq, a later Sultan of Delhi 1351 to 1388, and faced with white marble and sandstone enhancing the distinctive variegated look of the minar, as seen in lower three stories. Thus the structure displays a marked variation in architectural styles from Aibak to that of Tughlaq dynasty.
The minar made with numerous superimposed flanged and cylindrical shafts in the interior, and fluted columns on the exterior, which have a 40 cm thick veneer of red and buff colored sandstone; all surrounded by bands of intricate carving in Kufic style of Islamic calligraphy, giving the minar the appearance of bundled reeds. Also marking a progression in era, is the appearance of inscriptions in a bold and cursive Thuluth script of calligraphy on the Qutb Minar, distinguished by strokes that thicken on the top, as compared to Kufic in earlier part of the construction.
Inscriptions also indicate further repairs by Sultan Sikander Lodi in 1503, when it was struck by lightning once again. In 1802, the cupola on the top was thrown down and the whole pillar was damaged by an earthquake. It was repaired by Major R. Smith of the Royal Engineers who restored the Qutb Minar in 1823 replacing the cupola with a Bengali-style chhatri which was later removed by Governor General, Lord Hardinge in 1848, as it looked out of place, and now stands in the outer lawns of the complex, popularly known as Smith’s Folly.
The Qutb Minar is am awe-inspiring monument, it might look like a simple bricked pillar from afar, but the moment you come close and circumambulate it a few times, it will take your breath away by its solid brick mighty but delicate carvings and design.
At the foot of the Qutb Minar stands the first mosque to be built in India known as Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque (Might of Islam). It was also built by Qutb-ud-din Aibak and represents the oldest surviving example of Ghurids architecture in Indian subcontinent. The construction of this Jami Masjid (Friday Mosque), started in 1193 simultaneously with the Qutb Minar. And even though the Qutb minar appears to be a stand-alone structure, it was built as the ‘Minar of Jami Masjid’, for the muezzin to perform adhan, call for prayer, and also as a qutub, an Axis or Pole of Islam. It is reminiscent in style and design of the Adhai-din-ka Jhonpra or Ajmer mosque at Ajmer, Rajasthan, also built by Aibak during the same time and also constructed by demolishing earlier temples and a Sanskrit school, at the site.
On the picture – Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, Qutb Minar and Iron Pillar
According to a Persian inscription still on the inner eastern gateway, the mosque was built from the parts taken by destruction of twenty-seven Hindu and Jain temples built previously during Tomars and Prithvi Raj Chauhan, and leaving certain parts of the temple outside the mosque proper. Historical records compiled by Muslim historian Maulana Hakim Saiyid Abdul Hai attest to the iconoclasm of Qutb-ud-din Aibak. This pattern of iconoclasm was common during his reign, although an argument goes that such iconoclasm was motivated more by politics than by religion.
The mosque is built on a raised and paved courtyard, measuring 43 m by 32 m, surrounded by pillared cloisters added by Iltutmish between 1210 and 1220 AD. The stone screen between prayer hall and the courtyard, stood 16 m at its highest and was added in 1196; the corbeled arches had Arabic inscriptions and motifs. Entrances to the courtyard, also uses ornate mandap dome from temples, whose pillars are used extensively throughout the edifice, and in the sanctuary beyond the tall arched screens. What survives today of the sanctuary on the western side are the arched screens in between, which once led to a series of aisles with low-domed ceilings for worshippers. Expansion of the mosque continued after the death of Aibak. His successor, Iltutmish, extended the original prayer hall screen by three more arches. By the time of Iltutmish, the Mamluk empire had stabilized enough that the Sultan could replace most of his conscripted Hindu masons with Muslims. This explains why the arches added under Iltutmish are stylistically more Islamic than the ones erected under Aibak’s rule, also because the material used wasn’t from demolished temples. Some additions to the mosque were also done by Alauddin Khilji, including the Alai Darwaza.
The mosque is in ruins today but indigenous corbeled arches, floral motifs, and geometric patterns can be seen among the Islamic architectural structures. In the center of the mosque, there is an Iron Pillar – one of the world’s foremost metallurgical curiosities. The pillar, 7.21-m high and weighing more than six tonnes, was originally erected by Chandragupta II Vikramaditya (375–414 AD) in front of a Vishnu Temple complex at Udayagiri around 402 AD, and later (in 10th century) shifted by Anangpal from Udayagiri to its present location. Anangpal built a Vishnu Temple here and wanted this pillar to be a part of that temple.
The estimated weight of the decorative bell of the pillar is 646 kg while the main body weighs 5,865 kg thereby amounting to 6,511 kg. The pillar bears an inscription in Sanskrit in Brahmi script dating 4th century AD, which indicates that the pillar was set up as a Vishnudhvaja, standard of god, on the hill known as Vishnupada in memory of a mighty king named Chandra (believed to be Chandragupta II). What the inscription doesn’t tell is how the pillar was made – scientists have never discovered how the iron, which has not rusted after 1,600 years, could be cast using the technology of that time. A deep socket on the top of this ornate capital suggests that probably an image of Garuda was fixed into it, as common in such flagpoles.
I exited Mosque from the north and proceeded to what looked like a mud-hill but turned out to be Alai Minar. Story goes that after doubling the size of Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque, Ala-ud-din Khilji (1296-1316) started building the Alai Minar, which he conceived to be two times higher than Qutb Minar in proportion with the enlarged mosque. The construction was however abandoned, just after the completion of the 24.5-m high first-story core, soon after Ala-ud-din died in 1316, and never taken up by his successors of Khilji dynasty. The first story of the Alai Minar, a giant rubble masonry core, still stands today, which was evidently intended to be covered with dressed stone later on.
To the west of the Alai Minar are a Muslim graveyard requiring restoration but importantly, a noticeable tomb of Iltutmish which was built by the monarch in 1235. The tomb of Iltutmish (the second Sultan of Delhi who ruled from 1211-1236), was built as a part of the Qutb minarat Mehrauli. The central chamber is 9 m² and has squinches, suggesting the existence of a dome, which has since collapsed. The main cenotaph, in white marble, is placed on a raised platform in the centre of the chamber. The facade is known for its ornate carving, both at the entrance and the interior walls. The interior west wall has a prayer niche (mihrab) decorated with marble, and a rich amalgamation of Hindu motives into Islamic architecture, such as bell-and-chain, tassel, lotus, diamond emblems.
At the back of the complex, southwest of the mosque, stands an L-shaped construction, consisting of Ala-ud-din Khilji’s tomb dating 1316, and a madarsa, an Islamic seminary built by him. Khilji was the second Sultan of Delhi from Khilji dynasty, who ruled from 1296 to 1316 AD.
The central room of the building, which has his tomb, has now lost its dome, though many rooms of the seminary or college are intact, and since been restored. There were two small chambers connected to the tomb by passages on either side. Fergusson in his book suggested the existence, to the west of the tomb, of seven rooms, two of which had domes and windows. The remains of the tomb building suggest that there was an open courtyard on the south and west sides of the tomb building, and that one room in the north served as an entrance.
It was the first example in India, of a tomb standing alongside a madarsa. The tomb is in a very dilapidated condition. It is believed that Ala-ud-din’s body was brought to the complex from Siri and buried in front of the mosque, which formed part of the madrasa adjoining the tomb. Firoz Shah Tughluq, who undertook repairs of the tomb complex, mentioned a mosque within the madrasa, though it is no where to be found today.
On the southern part of the Complex, there is Alai Darwaza – the main gateway of the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque. It was also built by Ala-ud-din Khilji in 1311 AD, who added a pillared court to the eastern side. The domed gateway is decorated with red sandstone and inlaid with white marble decorations, inscriptions in Naskh script, latticed stone screens that showcases the remarkable craftsmanship of the Turkic artisans who worked on it. This is the first building in India to employ Islamic architecture principles and characteristics in its construction and ornamentation. Important among those characteristics are the pointed horse-shoe shaped arches, squinches and Lotus-bud fringes of the arches. These Seljuquian influences (Seljuq period: 1038-1157) came to India due to the exodus of artists and artisans who were fleeing to India from the Mongol attacks on central and western Asia.
The Mamluk dynasty did not employ true Islamic architecture styles and used false domes and false arches. This makes the Alai Darwaza, the earliest example of first true arches and true domes in India. It is considered to be one of the most important buildings built in the Delhi sultanate period.
To the right of the Alai Darwaza is the Tomb of Imam Zamin. Saint Imam Muhammad Ali, better known as Imam Zamin, was a native of Turkestan who came to India during the reign of Sikander Lodi (1488-1517). Apparently, he performed some important duties in connection with the Quwwar-ul-Islam mosque. He built his tomb according to an inscription in 1538 and died a year later.
The tomb was built during the reign of the Mughal emperor Humayun. Although this building was constructed in the early Mughal period, it exhibits all the typical characteristics of the Lodhi style of construction. It is surmounted by a dome rising from an octagonal drum. The drum is decorated with a double row of Kanguras and marble panelling can be noticed above chhajja. Twelve square pilasters support the structures and spaces between them are filled up with perforated screens of red sandstone. However, the west contains a Mihrab and the south – an entrance doorway. An inscription above the doorway is written in Naskh characters and provides the story of the Tomb.
One of the interesting features worth observing is the marble radiating ribs in the sandstone dome. The entire structure was originally covered with a finely polished stucco, of which considerable portion is still present.
In the eastern corner of the Complex, there is a Sanderson’s Sundial, which was erected in memory of Sanderson who was one of the Superintendents of the Archeological Department. He conducted extensive excavation at the Qutb Complex and was involved in its repair and conservation. An inspiring verse inscribed on the sundial in Latin – transit umbra; lux permanent – meaning “the shadow passes; the light remains”. Next to the sundial is a Smith’s Folly.
By the end of the tour (3 hours later), equipped with an incomparable knowledge from the audio-guide, I confidently headed towards the exit, but decided to make a stop at the lady’s room. As much as Qutb Complex is taken care by the Archeological Society of India, as little you want to visit their bathrooms. I generally prefer not to use public restrooms but when I travel, I can’t avoid it. In Ajmer, after paying a fee to use the bathroom, I literally walked into a wooden shack that was suspended above the river, so the waste would go just down …. into abyss. At the Complex, it wasn’t as bad, but when I went to wash my hands the water just poured down on my shoes. That was actually quite hilarious.
I briefly mentioned earlier that Qutb Complex is part of Mehrauli -a neighborhood in the South West district of Delhi, which is also one of the seven ancient cities of Delhi. From what I read about it, the entire area was a huge archeological park, only without tourists, archeologists or any work in progress (at least at the moment). Still, I wanted to poke around and see what other fantastic monuments of the past I can visit. So, when I exited the Complex, I negotiated with a tuk-tuk driver to take me on a 2-3 hour ride around Mehrauli (Rs.400). I made sure he actually knew what I wanted to see, as drivers tend to take you to shops and residential areas which I wasn’t interested in seeing. I specifically told him that I want to visit the ruins of old tombs, baolis, palaces and such. Luckily, he was the best person for this task, as he knew a bunch of places, he was acquainted with guards/caretakers at those places and he never left my side, which was very important since our trip wasn’t as smooth as I thought it would be. Even though Mehrauli is a part of Delhi, most of the monuments were located in the middle if the jungle or forest and as I have experienced before, those places where occupied by some shady characters, so man’s presence, especially a local man, was re-assuring in my case.
Mehrauli, earlier known as Mihirawali (which means Home of Mihir) was founded by King Mihir Bhoja of the Gurjara-Pratihara Dynasty. In 731 AD, the Gurjar Tanwar chief Anangpal I constructed the Lal Kot fort, which in 11 century was expanded by Anangpal II, when he shifted his capital to Lal Kot from Kannauj. The Gurjjar Tanwars were defeated by the Chauhans in the 12th century. Prithviraj Chauhan further expanded the fort and called it Qila Rai Pithora. He was defeated and killed in 1192 by Mohammed Ghori, who was, in turn, succeeded by his general Qutb-ud-din Aybak and Mehrauli remained the capital of the Mamluk dynasty until 1290. During the Khilji dynasty, the capital shifted to Siri. Even though the capital was moved, many other dynasties contributed significantly to Mehrauli’s architecture.
Mehrauli Archaeological Park is an archaeological area spread over 200 acre, adjacent to the Qutb complex, and it consists of over 100 historically significant monuments. It is the only area in Delhi known for 1,000 years of continuous years of occupation, and includes the ruins of Lal Kot, the oldest extant fort of Delhi, and architectural relics of subsequent period – Khalji dynasty, Tughlaq dynasty, Lodhi dynasty of Delhi Sultanate, Mughal Empire, and the British Raj.
In reality, scattered around a forest park that spills into chaotic bustee (slum) are the ruins of dozens of tombs and palace buildings and several colonial follies. A short distance west of the enclosure, in Mehrauli village, is the Tomb of Adham Khan (built in 1561) who, according to legend drove the beautiful Hindu singer Roopmati to suicide following the capture of Mandu in Madhya Pradesh. Adham Khan, son of Maham Anga, a wet nurse of Akbar, was a nobleman and general in Akbar’s army. In 1561, he fell out with Ataga Khan, Akbar’s Prime Minister and favorite general, and killed him, whereupon he was thrown down from the ramparts of Agra Fort twice, by the orders of the emperor Akbar and died.
His mother after fortieth day of mourning also died out of grief, and both were buried in this tomb, believed to be commissioned by Akbar, in a conspicuous octagonal design, not seen in any Mughal building of that era. It was common design features visible in the tombs of the previous Sur Dynasty, and also the Lodhi dynasty, which the Mughals considered traitors. It lies on the walls of Lal Kot and rising from a terrace enclosed by an octagonal wall provided with low towers at the corners. It consists of a domed octagonal chamber and has a verandah on each side pierced by three openings. It is known popularly as Bul-bulaiyan (a Labyrinth or Maze), for a visitor often loses his way amidst the several passages in the thickness of its walls.
In 1830s, a British officer named Blake of Bengal Civil Service, converted this tomb into his residential apartment and removed the graves to make way for his dining hall. Though the officer died soon, it continued to be used as a rest house for many years by the British, and at one point even as a police station and a post office. The tomb was vacated and later restored by the orders of Lord Curzon, and the grave of Adham Khan has since been returned to the site, and lies right below the central dome, though that of his mother Maham Anga is forever gone.
The Tomb was restored but the feeling of a public house didn’t vanish, perhaps due to the dozens of people casually sitting on the Tomb’s steps. Close to Adham Khan’s tomb, lies that of another Mughal General, Muhammad Quli Khan, later it served as the residence of Sir Thomas Metcalfe, Governor-General’s Agent at the Mughal court. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to visit that tomb, or simply wasn’t able to find it.
After visiting the Tomb, I boarded tuk-tuk and we went to see Gandhak ki Baoli, situated just approximately 100 m from the Tomb of Adham Khan. It is supposed to be the largest step-well ever built in Delhi, constructed during the rule of Emperor Iltutmish (ruled 1211-1236). The name, ‘Gandhak’ means sulphur as the water of the well smelled like it and ‘Baoli’ means ‘a well with steps’. Iltutmish had built Gandhak Ki Baoli for Khwaja Sayed Muhammad Qutb-ud-din Bakhtiar Kaki, who was a well renowned Sufi Saint during his reign and who greatly inspired the Sultan through his Islamic teachings.
Gandhak Ki Baoli is seen in the shape of a huge five tiered structure which included a circular shaped well on its southern side. This well was once famous amongst the local inhabitants who used it as a sports venue for diving and swimming, but unfortunately, this historical and ancient monument is in a neglected state and has dried up throughout the years. Despite this fact, the Baoli is still the largest well ever seen in Delhi and the absence of water allows all tourists to view and admire the architecture and intricate design of the Baoli to the fullest.
After one Baoli, the driver took me to see another – Rajon ki Baoli -constructed in 1506 during Sikandar Lodhi‘s reign. It was used to store water, though it is now completely dried and is now known as Sukhi Baoli (dry well). Rajon ki Baoli (‘rajon’, in this instance means ‘masons’) consists of three long flights of broad steps leading down to the water. This is unquestionably one of Delhi’s more beautiful baolis, with some exquisite plasterwork—very distinctive of the Lodhi period—along the arcade at the top.
The majestic Rajon ki Baoli was meant to be both – a source of water, and a place of rest for thirsty travelers. That is why, besides the small cells (used as rooms) which line the walls, there is a small and pretty mosque here, decorated with more of the finely incised plasterwork. In addition, there’s a small tomb, in the form of a chhatri (a domed pavilion). This, according to an inscription, was built possibly by someone named Daulat Khan, for a certain Khwaja Mohammad, in 1506.
When we arrived, there were another young Indian couple and a caretaker-guard with a weapon. They recommended me to climb up and explore the mosque and a tomb. And when I was on the upper level, I heard a bone-chilling scream either of a human or an animal, i couldn’t tell. Since everything around was covered in trees and bushes, I couldn’t really see what was happening below the site, but i definitely heard the struggle of what seemed to be a murder. I still hope that the victim was a pig and not a human. Everyone at the baoli heard the scream, as it first pierced the air and then went on for at least 10 minutes. I immediately asked my driver to call the police but he didn’t react, then i told the guard to go and see what was happening but he didn’t move either. Everyone behaved as nothing was going on. Then I, myself, rushed out of the compound and headed to the bushes where i’ve heard the noise but both, my driver and the guard stopped me and told me not to get involved. I think i repeated 50 times that we had to call the police but nobody reacted and my driver tried to shove me back to tuk-tuk to get me out of there. Until now, i don’t know what happened there and whose life was lost.
My driver tried to convinced me that nothing out of the extraordinary happened, but I could see he was irritated and on the edge, both – because of what happened and my reaction to act and not to hide. He quickly drove me to another site – Jamali Kamali Mosque and Tomb. It comprises of two monuments adjacent to each other; one is the mosque and the other is the tomb of two persons with the names Jamali and Kamali. “Jamali” (beauty) was the alias given to Shaikh Fazlu’llah, also known as Shaikh Jamali Kamboh (or Jalal Khan), a renowned and greatly regarded Sufi saint and poet. He belonged to a Sunni merchant family and was indoctrinated to Sufism by Sheik Samauddin. Jamali was a popular poet who traveled widely through Asia and Middle East. He became a court poet during the Lodhi Dynasty rule and continued to enjoy the patronage of the Mughal rulers, Babur and his son Humayun; it is said that his tomb was completed during Humayun’s rule. His poetry mirrored Persian mysticism of the times and his two most popular works are “The Sun and Moon” and “The Spiritual Journey of the Mystics”. Kamali was an unknown person but associated with Jamali. Their names are tagged together as “Jamali Kamali” for the mosque as well as the tomb since they are buried adjacent to each other. The mosque and the tomb were constructed in 1528-1529, and Jamali was buried in the tomb after his death in 1535.
The Jamali Kamali mosque, positioned in an enclosed garden area, built first during the years 1528-29, has a southern entry. Constructed in red sandstone with marble embellishments, it is claimed to be a forerunner in the design of Mughal mosque architecture in India. The prayer hall, fronted by a large courtyard, has five arches with the central arch only having a dome. The size of arches increases towards the central arch, which is the largest of the five arches embellished with beautiful ornamentation. The spandrels of the arch are decorated with medallions and ornamentation. Fluted pilasters exquisitely decorate the central arch. The prayer wall on the west has niches with mihrab. The niches and walls are decorated with a few Koranic inscriptions. A porch around the mosque provides access to the two storied mosque and the four corners are adorned by octagonal towers. The rear end of the mosque has been provided with oriel windows, apart from a small window on the central arch.
After exploring the Mosque (shoes must be removed outside the fence), a guard fetched the keys and let us enter the enclosure on the right side of the mosque. There were a small Mughal cemetery with a dozen of graves and the Tomb of Jamali Kamali. The tomb is a decorated 7.6 m² structure with a flat roof, located adjacent to the mosque on its northern side. Inside the chamber, the flat ceiling is plastered and ornately decorated. It is painted in red and blue with some Koranic inscriptions, and the walls are adorned with inlaid colored tiles inscribed with Jamali’s poems. The decorations in the tomb have been described as giving the impression of “stepping into a jewel box” and it indeed felt this way. The tomb chamber has two marble graves: one of Jamali, the saint poet and the other of an unknown Kamali.
Across the path from the Mosque, there was a definite section of ruins which contained the Tomb of Balban. For over a century, this area was covered with dense vegetation with only glimpses of archeological structures visible. In 2001-2002, a major conservation initiative in this area led to a careful consolidation and conservation project which affected numerous ruins. This was obviously the site of a flourishing settlement in the 16th-17th centuries with a large public courtyard and residential units looking into it.
After about 5-7 minutes walk, we came across the open space with well-preserved (perhaps, restored) walls. That was the Tomb of Ghiyas ud din Balban. Built in 1287, in rubble masonry, the tomb is a building of historical importance in the development of Indo-Islamic architecture, as it was here that first true arch made its appearance in India, and according to many first true dome as well, which however hasn’t survived, making Alai Darwaza built in 1311 CE, in the nearby Qutb complex, the earliest surviving true dome in India. Ghiyas ud din Balban (1200–1287) was a Turkic ruler of the Delhi Sultanate during the rule of Mamluk dynasty of Delhi from 1266 to 1287. The tomb of Balban was discovered only in the mid-twentieth century.
It is an imposing stone and masonry building, though lacking the splendid ornamentation to be seen in the tomb of his master, Iltutmish. The tomb is surrounded by the ruins of an extensive late-medieval settlement and it offers, from certain angles, a remarkable view of the Qutb Minar.
The more time I spent in the ruins, the more anxious my driver became. I guess he wasn’t expecting from me to actually get off the tuk-tuk and walk all the way to the forest to see the tombs, but he was wrong. When we reached the Tomb of Balban, we could see it from above, and I suggested to come down and explore the structure from the ground level. The driver said it was not possible and he wasn’t going, however, I already saw the path down and proceeded with my plan. In the back of my mind, I understood his concerns – it was getting dark and we were browsing in the ruins in the middle of the forest. Here and there, we would see some random men hiding (?) in bushes, but I wouldn’t exclude an idea of some people still living in the ruins, as it is a case in Tughlaqabad fort. I am sure the driver was concern for my well-being as he was very cautious and followed me everywhere. So, when I went down to the tomb, he went after me and I promised him to take just a few pictures and leave as soon as I was ready.
To the east of Balban’s tomb, lies a ruined rectangular structure said to be the grave of Khan Shahid, Balban’s son, whose original name was Muhammad, who died, before he could be crown, fighting against the Mongols near Multan in 1285, but because we were in a rush to leave, I never saw (found) it.
By the path, where we left the tuk-tuk, was a sign-post with different sites to see, but my driver was in a hurry to leave, so I followed him as he took me to the last place to visit – Azim Khan’s Tomb.
The tomb of Azim Khan (also known as Akbar Khan) is located on a small hillock and dates back to the days of the great Mughal Emperor Akbar. Although a prominent landmark of South Delhi, the tomb has been an example of utter neglect and not much is known about neither its historical background nor about its occupant. There are no proper historic records about Azim Khan but according to some, Azim Khan was a general in Akbar’s army and was awarded the title “Akbar” (meaning magnificent) by Akbar himself.
It was probably the horrors of war that converted Azim Khan into a pious and religious man. Azim Khan become a follower of the famous Sufi saint Hazarat Nizamuddin, who is said to appear in his dream and advise him to give up the path of war and violence. Azim Khan adopted the path of spirituality and soon his spiritual advices were much in demand. This attracted a large number of people, from far and wide, flocking to him.
In search of isolation, Azim Khan built himself a tomb on a hillock located on the barren lands south of Delhi. The hillock had vertical walls preventing access to the residence of Azim Khan. It was built somewhere in the 17th century, but historians are still in the dark about the exact date of construction.
Centuries later, during the British rule, several of the monuments of Mehrauli were converted into outhouses of British officers. Azim Khan’s tomb was no exception and it was converted into a late night partying house! The British soldiers tested their physical strength and their climbing skills by scaling the near vertical walls of the hillock for the late night parties.
After independence, the tomb of Azim Khan was left in neglect. It was only during the Commonwealth Games (Delhi 2010) beautification drive, the neglected tomb finally got its much needed attention. During the process of restoration, the Archaeological Survey of India decided to build a staircase leading up to the tomb, thus making the century old inaccessible tomb accessible.
Despite all the efforts, it is still, like most of Mehrauli, hardly visited by people and the approach road is extremely difficult to spot.
The steps didn’t look steep but I got dizzy by the time I reached the top. The newly restored square domed tomb has a few graves in front of it, entrances on three sides and the dome is crowned with inverted lotus finial. The tomb, with its plastered walls, has no ornamentation on the outer walls. All three entrances were sealed, making entry inside the tomb impossible, however, I could see the interior of the Tomb from a barred entrance. The graves were simple with many grave stones long gone, but the walls were coated with plaster and decorated with some incised ornamentation of lotus motif, calligraphy and features like finials on the domes and Kangura patterns at the parapet level.
The greatest part of the Azim Khan’s Tomb is its commendably view of the Mehrauli region, stretching all the way beyond the Qutb Minar.
A guard, who displayed a whole lot of affection towards me, offered to take a walk around the Tomb, which meant – balance on a 30 cm wide parapet along the Tomb’s walls suspended 100 m above ground. Uhhhh, no, thank you.
Wow, I got to admit that despite all the dangers and drawbacks, Mehrauli was my most favorite place. Every site I’ve visited, felt as if I were walking alone in a jungle and randomly discovered the ruins of a long lost city. I will definitely get back there since I failed to see many more places: Quli Khan’s Tomb, Hauz-i-Shamsi, Jahaz Mahal, Zafar Mahal, remains of Lal Kot Fort, Madhi Majid, the dargah shrine of Sufi saint, Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki etc.
As a part of a deal, the driver dropped me by the tourist’s shopping center (so he could get a free gas coupon from the owner). I wasn’t planning to buy anything, so I was in and out in about 15 minutes. He was still waiting for me, so I asked him to drop me off by my last site of the day – Nizam-ud-din Dargah. It is the dargah (and mausoleum) of one of the world’s most famous Sufi saints, Nizamuddin Auliya (1238 – 1325). Located across the street from Humayun’s Tomb, the dargah is visited by thousands of Muslims every week, and sees a fair share of Hindus, Christians and people from other religions too. I have heard and read so much about Nizamuddin Auliya and this dargah, that I wasn’t leaving India without visiting it.
Hidden away in a labyrinth of bazaars, selling everything from food, to rose petals and holy offerings, the marble shrine was easy to find because of the flow of people that was continuously pouring through the long marble corridors into the complex. It isn’t just a tomb of an ascetic Sufi saint who died in 1325 at the ripe age of 92, but a true pilgrimage site and a window through the centuries.
I couldn’t have said better than Yousuf Saeed in his article “Walking the Mystic Alleys”.
“You can easily miss this little mohalla if you are new to Delhi, even though it’s in the heart of the city. The Dargah Hazrat Nizamuddin, as it’s known today, was the quaint village called Ghayaspur when young Muhammad Nizamuddin migrated to Delhi from Badayun (in UP) in the early thirteenth century. It has survived the ravages of time to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in Delhi even if its neighbors – a flyover, a five-star hotel, a police station, and residential bungalows -obscure it today.
One enters the dargah Nizamuddin area from New Delhi’s Mathura Road and finds a distinctly medieval ambience: labyrinthine alleys, crowds of beggars and street vendors, bazaars with cheap eateries, hawking kababs and other delicacies, people selling caps, rosaries, religious posters, and so on. One of the lanes on the left leads to the well-known Mughlai restaurant Dastarkhwan-e-Kareem. Further ahead is the modern building of the Ghalib Academy, established to honor the 19th century Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib. It has a well-stocked library and museum, and an adjoining compound where Ghalib is buried.
As the road narrows, you meet flower-sellers who lovingly pester you to buy a tray of flowers, sweets, or a chadur (cloth) to offer at the dargahs of Nizamuddin Aulia and Amir Khusrau. Before entering the dargah premises, you have to remove your shoes and preferably cover your head. A medieval archway leads to a verandah that faces the tomb of Amir Khusrau, customarily visited first. Here you will find many claiming to be the Sajjadah-nashins (keepers) of the mausoleum, requesting money for their blessings. The maintenance and upkeep of the dargah, including a daily langar (community meal) for the poor is run with the help of alms and offerings here.
Much of the architecture here dates to the later medieval period. Amir Khusrau’s domed marble tomb was constructed in 1605. Intricate filigreed screens (jali) wall the small room that has a tall tombstone constructed in 1496 by Mehdi Khwaja, a courtier of Emperor Babur. Originally in red sandstone, the jali is now covered with years and years of paint and whitewash. In the early twentieth century, Hasan Nizami, a keeper of the dargah, accidentally scratched the paint in one portion and discovered versified dates in Persian etched on the sandstone. An effort by the government to clean the jali at that time was curtailed by strong objections from the community. Devotees now tie colorful threads to this jali. Men and women can always be seen sitting around the jali either reading the Quran, or simply praying in silence.
Opposite the opening of Amir Khusrau’s tomb there is a heavy wooden door leading to the Hujra-e-Qadeem (literally, the ancient room). Usually locked, except for the exclusive sama’ (qawwali) gatherings of the Sufis, this room is claimed to have been constructed in the thirteenth/fourteenth century. A wall outside this room has a calligraphed poem in praise of Nizamuddin Auliya composed by the Urdu poet Allama Iqbal. Saqqe, or water-sellers, with their leather mashaqs (water bags) pester you to pay for the drinking water offered to devotees.
From here, Nizamuddin Aulia’s grave is about ten yards to the north. Between the two tombs are situated a few more graves. Jehanara, the daughter of Shah Jahan, and Emperor Mohammad Shah lie buried here. Nizamuddin Aulia’s tomb is followed by a courtyard — the arena for the qawwali performances, and is always full of devotees. Towards the west is the high sandstone wall of the Jamaat-Khana (prayer hall), supposedly constructed by Feroz Shah Tughlaq a few years after Nizamuddin Auliya’s death.
Incidentally, the place where Nizamuddin Auliya’s tomb is located is not where he established his khaneqah, or monastery. When he came to Delhi with his mother and sister, he had aspirations to become a qazi (judge) in the town. However, the spiritual world of Sufis, especially the Chishtia order, attracted him, and soon he joined Baba Fariduddin Ganj-e-Shakar’s monastery in Ajodhan, Punjab (now in Pakistan). After spending a few years with Baba Farid, he was appointed his spiritual emissary for Delhi. Nizamuddin settled near the Yamuna, about a kilometer east of the present-day dargah, immediately behind Humayun’s tomb. This is where he prayed, meditated, and met hundreds of people attracted to his spiritual message. More than seven hundred years later, that attraction still continues.”
It was Thursday, a special night to come here, sit on the marble floor, admire the tomb, enjoy the ambience and listen to Sufis singing rousing qawwali (devotional hymns) from 6.30 pm till 9.30 pm.
Women aren’t allowed inside but many of them devotedly prayed by the back wall behind the jalis, which also allowed a great view of the inner room with a tomb. There are perhaps over a few dozens of tombs in Dargah and it is hard to get around with so many people, and especially children, but it was all peaceful, graceful and respectful.
After 2 hours at the Nizam-ud-din Dargah, I headed out. My friend from Oxford, Priyanka, was planning a night out and I promised to join her, so I wanted to make sure to get home on time to get ready. If I have a chance to go back to Delhi, I will definitely visit this place again. It felt truly spiritual and unique.
Priyanka definitely knows how to party, whether it is a Thursday or a Saturday night. We had such an amazing time with her friends at a bar in the area of Delhi I didn’t know. Historic Delhi is fascinating, but so is modern Delhi.
January 24, 2014
My last day in India. Many people skip Delhi all together and head to Agra and Rajasthan, but for me, Delhi was like a treasure box, full of wonderful surprises and stunning sites. I was also staying with Varun and his family, which made a difference since they have been kind and very hospitable to me, and I couldn’t have asked for a better arrangement. Varun’s mom, Seema, was an amazing host, she listened to my daily adventures and gave her advices on places to visit in Delhi or shared her experiences about traveling in India.
Obviously, in 5 days, I couldn’t possibly see everything, but I hope I dug a bit deeper than most travelers do. On my last day, before going shopping, I decided to check out one more site – Hauz Khas Complex – located in South Delhi. Delhi’s artiest enclave is home to trendy boutiques, hip bars and restaurants; in New York city terms, it is a mixture of Greenwich Village and SoHo. But unlike in Delhi, we don’t have 13th and 14th centuries madrasas and Tombs of Sultans in New York. From Safdarjung Enclave it took me 10 minutes to get to the Hauz Khas but because it was only 9 am, many shops were still closed, so I proceeded straight to the historical complex (in the end of the road). Free entry, open from 10 am till 6 pm.
Hauz Khas Complex houses a water tank, an Islamic seminary, a mosque, domed tombs of Muslim royalty from the 14th to 16th centuries, and pavilions built around an urbanized village with medieval history traced to the 13th century of Delhi Sultanate reign. It was part of Siri, the second medieval city of India of the Delhi Sultanate of Allauddin Khilji Dynasty (1296–1316). The etymology of the name Hauz Khas in Farsi (or Urdu) is derived from the words ‘Hauz’: “water tank” (or lake) and ‘Khas’:'”royal”- the “Royal tank”. The large water tank or reservoir was first built by Khilji to meet the water supply needs of the newly built fort at Siri and was originally known as Hauz-i-Alai. But Feruz Shah Tughlaq (1351–1388) of the Tughlaq dynasty re–excavated the silted tank and cleared the clogged inlet channels. The tank was originally of about 50 ha area with dimensions of 600 m width and 700 m length with 4 m depth of water. When built, its storage capacity at the end of each monsoon season was reported to be 0.8 Mcum.
Even though, the size of the royal tank was substantially reduced due to encroachment and siltation, recent renovations and attempts to restore both, the ruins and the water quality in the lake, made Hauz Khas Complex a very popular hang out place in Delhi. Even at 9 am, it was packed with students and young couples. It is a perfect place to explore for people who are interested in history but don’t want to be overwhelmed by the size of the site. It is quite compact, with great signage, many interesting things to see and safe.
The very first thing you see when you come in is Madrasa. Established in 1352, it was one of three main Madrasas in Delhi and the leading institution of Islamic learning in the Delhi Sultanate endowed by the Emperor himself. It was also considered the largest and best equipped Islamic seminary anywhere in the world. After the sacking of Baghdad, Delhi became the most important place in the world for Islamic education. The village surrounding the Madarsa was also called Tarababad (city of joy) in view of its affluent and culturally rich status, which provided the needed supporting sustenance supply system to the Madrasa. Its reputation as a premier center of learning was enhanced because it employed teachers who were scholars of note. It also attracted students from far and wide, who were given generous stipends for the time they were in the college.
The madrasa structure has an innovative design. It was built in L-Shape as one contiguous structure on the south and east edges of the reservoir complex. One arm of the L-shape structure runs in the North–South direction measuring 76 m and the other arm runs in the East–West direction measuring 138 m. At the northern end there is a small mosque. Between the mosque and the tomb two storied pavilions exist now on the northern side and similar pavilions on the eastern side, overlooking the lake, which were used as madrasa. The two arms are interconnected through small domed gateways passing through the tomb at the center.
The Northern wing of the college building has pillared rooms on the top floor and arcaded rooms below. The rooms overlook the tank and would have provided a beautiful view. On the other side, the top floor rooms overlooked the garden, which was planted with blooming trees and bushes. The buildings of Madrasa are built of rubble masonry combined with blocks of neatly cut quartzite. Much of the exterior was originally covered in white plaster, decorated with golden domes and painted in bright colors. The ornamentation that can still be seen consists of primary of some incised plasterwork and simple carving.
The North–South arm with balconies overlooking the reservoir is a two storied building with three towers of varying sizes. Also in the lower story one can see small dark cells which were probably meant for student accommodation. Inside, there are narrow openings for light and air and small storage niches. In front of these cells where were arcaded rooms which have now fallen down. Ornamental brackets cover the upper storied balconies while the lower stories have corbeled support. Roof overhangs or eaves (chajjas) are seen now only in the upper stories though it is said that they existed on both stories when it was built. The area in front of this building was originally a courtyard with two buildings that face each other and flank the large domed building.
From each floor of the Madrasa, staircases are provided to go down to the lake. Many cenotaphs, in the form of octagonal and square chhatris are also seen, which are reported to be possibly tombs of teachers of the Madrasa.
It is recorded that the first Director of the Madrasa was
The madrasa was well tended with liberal donations from the Royalty. Timur, the Mongol ruler, who invaded Delhi, defeated Mohammed Shah Tughlaq in 1398 and plundered Delhi, had camped at this venue. Expressed in his own words, his impressions of the tank and buildings around Hauz Khas were vividly described as:
“When I reached [the city’s] gates, I carefully reconnoitered its towers and walls, and then returned to the side of the Hauz Khas. This is a reservoir, which was constructed by Sultan Feruz Shah, and is faced all round with stone and stucco. Each side of the reservoir is more than a bows–shot long, and there are buildings placed around it. This tank is filled by rains in the rainy season, and it supports the people of the city with water throughout the year. The tomb of Sultan Feruz Shah stands on its bank”
While his description of the place is correct but his ascribing construction of the tank to Feruz Shah was a misconception.
The North-South and East- West arms are pivoted at the large Tomb of Feruz Shah. Feruz Shah, who established the tomb, ascended the throne in 1351 (inherited from his cousin Muhammad) when he was middle aged, as the third ruler of the Tughlaq dynasty and ruled till 1388. He was considered a well–liked enlightened ruler. He was known for “his keen sense of historical precedent, statements of dynastic legitimacy and the power of monumental architecture”. He renovated/restored old monuments such as the Qutb Minar, Sultan Ghari and Suraj Kund, and also erecting two inscribed Ashokan Pillars, which he had transported from Ambala and Meerut in Delhi. At Hauz Khas, he raised several monuments on the southern and eastern banks of the reservoir. Feruz died at the age of ninety due to infirmities caused by three years of illness between 1385 and 1388. During his enlightened rule Feroz abolished many vexatious taxes, brought in changes in the laws on capital punishment, introduced regulations in administration and discouraged lavish living styles. But the most important credit that is bestowed on him is for the large number of public works executed during his reign namely, 50 dams for irrigation across rivers, 40 mosques, 30 colleges, 100 caravanserais, 100 hospitals, 100 public baths, 150 bridges, apart from many other monuments of aesthetic beauty and entertainment.
Among the notable buildings of historical importance that he built within Hauz Khas precincts is the domed tomb for himself. Entry to the tomb is through a passage in the south leading to the doorway. The passage wall is raised on a plinth which depicts the shape of a fourteen-faced polyhedron built in stones. Three horizontal units laid over eight vertical posts that are chamfered constitute the plinth. Squinches and muqarnas are seen in the solid interior walls of the tomb and these provide the basic support to the octagonal spherical dome of the tomb. The dome with a square plan – 14.8 m in length and height – has a diameter of 8.8 m. The maximum height of the tomb is on its face overlooking the reservoir. The domed gateway on the north has an opening which has height equal to two–thirds the height of the tomb. The width of the gate is equal to one-third of tombs’ width. The entrance hall has fifteen bays and terminates in another doorway which is identical to the gateway at the entrance. This second doorway leads to the tomb chamber and cenotaph, which are accessed from the gateway through the L–shaped corridor. Similar arrangement is replicated on the western doorway of the tomb leading to the open pavilion on the west. The ceiling in the dome depicts a circular gold medallion with Quranic inscriptions in Naksh characters. Foliated crenellations are seen on the outer faces of the base of the tomb. Interesting features seen on the northern and southern sides of the tomb, considered typical of the Tuglaq period layout, are the ceremonial steps provided at the ground level that connect to the larger steps leading into the reservoir.
The tomb, a square chamber, is made of local quartzite rubble with a surface plaster finish that sparkled in white color when completed. The door, pillars and lintels were made of grey quartzite while red sandstone was used for carvings of the battlements. The door way depicts a blend of Indian and Islamic architecture. Another new feature not seen at any other monument in Delhi, built at the entrance to the tomb from the south, is the stone railings (see picture above). There are four graves inside the tomb, one is of Feruz Shah and two others are of his son and grand son.
The tomb was repaired during the reign of Sikandar Lodhi in 1507 AD, as is evidenced from an inscription on the entrance. The main impression is one of solidity and lack of decoration (typical of Tughlaq style).
The garden across the Feruz Shah Tomb and madrasa houses six impressive pavilions. The pavilions with domes are of a similar ornamentation though in different shapes and sizes (rectangular, octagonal and hexagonal) and on the basis of inscriptions are inferred to be graves of the teachers of the madrasa. Each pavilion is raised on a plinth of about 0.8 m and is supported by square shaped wide columns with entablature which have decorative capitals that support beams with projecting canopies. Some of them have a shallowly marked grave in the center. It it possible that the tombs were designed so that students can sit there and study in the shadow of their departed teachers.
The two smallest pavilions have very heavy projecting stone beams just under the dome and it is possible that they were part of a large structure. Another striking structure in the garden, opposite to the Feruz Shah’s tomb on the southern side, is a small eight pillared Chatri seen in the garden which has large cantilevered beams that supported flat eaves all round the small dome.
The L-shaped madrasa has a long colonnaded hall measuring 24.7 m by 6.7 m, with an 8 m projection from the center to the west. It is not known for sure what this building’s function was. While some say it was a tomb with many graves inside, there are no traces of graves now in it. From its size and shape it seems that it was a meeting place or assembly room, designed to hold a bigger group than would normally gather for classes. A cluster of three hemispherical domes, a large one of 5.5 m diameter and two smaller ones of 4.5 m diameter, portray exquisite architectural features of foliated motifs on the drums with kalasa motifs on top of the domes.
The northern end of the madrasa is secured to a small mosque – a place of worship for those who lived and worked in the madrasa. The central courtyard is 13 m by 12 m, and is surrounded by ruined colonnades on the north, south and west. The qibla of the Mosque projects towards the reservoir by about 9.5 m. A domed gateway from the south east provides entry into three rooms of size 5.3 m x 2.4 m, whose utility is not traced. A “C”-shaped layout of a double row of pillars on a raised podium forms the prayer hall, which is open to the sky. The western wall, which indicated the directions of Mecca, is of an unusual pattern. Unlike most of the mosques, where the western wall is closed, the qibla wall has five mihrabs which alternate with decorative jharokhas (cantilevered, enclosed openings) that overlook the tank. Stairs lead down to the water from the central window and from the south of the mosque.
Even though the Hauz Khas Complex is quite small, I spent 2 hours there and wish I had more time to explore the Deer Park and Green Park with its numerous Lodi-era tombs scattered around. However, I wanted to devote a bit of time to shopping, so I took a tuk-tuk to Dilli Haat – Delhi’s famous food and craft bazaar (Rs.20 entry). It is a great place to pick up high quality souvenirs, from carpets to little trinkets, from teas to cutlery etc. I settled on two cashmere scarfs for myself and a small Ganesha present for Seema.
I also wanted to check out Connaught Place with its shopping galleria and State Emporiums, which apparently is a big mall representing each Indian state and their merchandise. Since I’ve never taken a metro in Delhi, I decided to give it a try, especially because it was very easy and straightforward to get from Dilli Haat to Connaught Place. The subway was clean and very convenient however, it served as another evidence of division between men and women as well as a confirmation that there are plenty of men on the streets, but very few women, even in Delhi. And I am referring to a line through a metal detector (yes, you need to pass a metal detector in order to enter the subway – I have seen the same practice in China too), where in a women’s line, I was in and out, but the line for men was at least 150 m long, going all the way to the subway’s exit. (Note, police stopped me and asked to delete the pictures of men in the subway, as if i could use them to sabotage anybody).
On the Connaught Place, I fell into a very typical touristic trap. When I exited a subway, I started to look for the streets’ names trying to match them with the google map on my phone. I knew where the State Emporiums where located, since I had their address, and I knew what their building looked like. While I was orienteering myself, a tall good-looking Indian guy approached me asking, in very fluent English, whether I was looking for the State Emporiums shopping mall, which I confirmed. Then he suggested taking a special Emporium tuk-tuk, which miraculously appeared before us, for Rs.40. I knew that the mall was within a walking distance from the Connaught Place, but I agree to take a tuk-tuk. Well, I can’t say I was surprised when 10 minutes later, driving in the opposite direction from the mall’s location shown on my google map, we still haven’t reached the State Emporiums. Eventually we did, and you guessed it right, it was a dilapidating shack with “Real State Emporiums” written on it, looking nothing like the one I saw on the picture and located nowhere near it was supposed to be. I asked the driver where he took me and he, playing an idiot, replied that if I wanted to go to State Emporiums, here it was. In return, I lied to him and said that I was at the mall a few days ago, so the place he took me wasn’t the right one. I also accused him of fraud and tout and told him to take me back to Connaught Place immediately, if he didn’t want to have problems with the police. Luckily, the trick with the police worked, he angrily drove me back to the Place and didn’t ask for money.
This small incident killed my desire to go anywhere, so I browsed around the Connaught Place (which consists of two – inner and outer – circles of shops), did some shopping at the Oxford bookshop and took a tuk-tuk back home.
My flight was just after midnight, so in the evening, Priyanka and Varun took me out to a restaurant for dinner and drinks.
It was a great conclusion to a very interesting, educational, historical, adventurous and definitely memorable trip to India. With ups and downs, awe-inspiring moments and rape attempt, mighty forts of Rajasthan and quiet settlements of Tibetans, richness of long gone Empires and poverty of present day India. It was an Experience.
January 25, 2014
Varun dropped me off at the airport shortly after midnight. The smog was so heavy that we even missed our exit on the highway. At the airport I found out that my Aeroflot flight was delayed by 8 hours, so I booked a room at the Eaton Smart hotel at the airport and took a well-deserved nap. Naturally, we missed the NYC connection at Sheremetyevo, so I had to spend a night at Sheraton in Moscow. I took a bath and ate delicious Russian food, so no, I didn’t regret in missing my flight.