April 21, 2012

Tughlaqabad - Adilabad - Nai-ka-Kot Fortress Complex, New Delhi

Tughlaqabad Fort holds special significance for me since I visited the place with a very good friend, someone I had a crush on then & liked to spend time with. Moreover, it was the trip to Tughlaqabad that made me search for beauty in even the most monotonous of things – it’s amazing how stones & rocks stacked together can look so striking. The fortress’ repute as a secluded lover’s point along with its share of stories & myths about megalomaniac Sultans, conniving princes & sorcerer saints further adds to its charm. There’s not an iota of doubt that a history-buff & a sticker for stories & legends cannot resist falling in love with this magnificent fortress!

Let’s start this post with the very interesting story behind the foundation of this fortress –Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq (ruled AD 1320-25), the builder of this mighty fortress-city started out as a trooper in the powerful army of Sultan Ala-ud-din Khilji (ruled AD 1296-1316). By the dint of his combined qualities of hardwork, determination & humility, Ghiyas-ud-din rose from strength to strength & was finally assigned the governorship of Dipalpur & the position of “Warden of Marches” of the Sultan’s combined armies (Ala-ud-din possessed one of the largest armies in the world at that time – his forces were efficient & combined staggering quickness with amazing ruthlessness). The son of a Hindu lady & a Turkish slave, Ghiyas-ud-din was soon leading campaigns on behalf of the Sultan to Ghazni, Qandhar & Kabul to punish the Mongols for their incessant raids – unable to defend their territories against the lethalness of Ghiyas-ud-din, the Mongols retreated in his face, opening way for plunder & levy of tributes. Ghiyas-ud-din became one of the foremost generals of Ala-ud-din’s armies, a position he retained during the reign of Sultan Qutb-ud-din Mubarak Shah (ruled AD 1316-20), Ala-ud-din’s son & successor. One day, while on a sojourn of Delhi, Mubarak & Ghiyas-ud-din were passing through the area where Tughlaqabad fortress stands today – impressed by the rocky prominence that imparted natural defense to this area, Ghiyas-ud-din suggested to the Sultan that the site was ideal for the construction of a new fortress. The Khilji sultan laughed at his governor and suggested that the latter build his citadel there when he became a sultan.

The massive fortress of Tughlaqabad

All respect for the crown disappeared under Mubarak’s weak reign – he would keep company of women & fools, run naked in the court, indulge in drinking bouts with the commoners – his own cousins & relatives revolted against him, so did his governors & nobles. He raised a shepherd named Hasan to the position of prime minister – ungrateful & treacherous, Hasan disposed & murdered the Sultan who had always favored him & sat on the throne of Delhi with the title of Nasir-ud-din Khusro Shah. Ghiyas-ud-din was opposed to Hasan’s ascension to Delhi’s throne on account of his belief in the supremacy of Turkish Muslims over Indians & the latter’s being a convert from Hinduism – he marched against Delhi with his army combined with those of his son Muhammad Juna Khan, defeated & executed Hasan & proclaimed himself the Sultan of Delhi under the title of Ghazi (“slayer of enemies”). The first order that Ghiyas-ud-din Ghazi Malik Tughlaq, founder of the Tughlaq Dynasty, issued as Sultan of India in 1321 AD was to commission the construction of his fortress at Tughlaqabad – thus came into being Delhi’s most colossal fortress, a citadel that looks supreme even in its present ruined state.

Stretching over 6.5 kilometers in circumference, the fortress is the largest in Delhi – before I started documenting Delhi’s architectural heritage, it was this vast fortress that I would gape at while travelling at the Mehrauli-Badarpur road (aka M.B. road aka Surajkund road) – this is another reason why this fortress is so close to my heart – admiring its massiveness was what cultivated a love for all things monumental in my adolescent mind.

Same fortress, another view

Its saddening that this fort is almost totally ignored by tourists who prefer to flock to the more magnificent Red Fort complex or the more stupefying Qutb complex – given the neglect this fortress faces from locals, tourists & authorities alike, I wasn’t expecting a ticket counter at its premises, but it was right there along with a detachment of several policemen .The fortress stands guard like a sentinel, towering above the children playing cricket in a clearing beside it, the puny ticket counter & the steady stream of traffic passing around it. It took us a long time to reach the fort complex, partly because this was my first time this way, secondly the auto drivers (intent on fleecing us!!) got us confused with the directions when we were standing next to the flyover (and its associated curving roads) at Tughlaqabad metro station – one has to simply take a bus plying along the M.B. Road & it would take you past Batra Hospital, Jamia Hamdard college & Vayusenabad air force quarters to drop you opposite the fortress’ ticket counter. From this point, the fortress looks incredibly imposing – humongous ramparts, huge battlements, curving bastions and mammoth stonework speak of the building might & architectural prowess of Ghiyas-ud-din’s engineers. What is more astounding is that the entire construction process was completed in a mere 4 years (AD 1321-25) – Ghiyas-ud-din definitely knew how to tame his vast workforce of architects, engineers & artists & draw the most effort from them (& here we thought modern-day MNCs make their workers sweat!). Even the staircase with its wide steps leading to the entrance set within the gigantic bastion seems huge. But once you step through the gateway, the picture is quite different – thorny bushes rising from every spot conceivable, ruined structures thrown desolately everyway and buildings overtaken by bushes speak of the gross neglect the fortress faces – till sometime back there was an entire village settlement living inside the fortress, now it would be hours before you spot a single soul who isn’t an Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) guard. Ruined buildings, towering walls extending as far as one could see, wide staircases ending in limbo & tumble-down bastions can be seen in almost every direction along with huge craters where archaeological excavations were conducted in the past. Heaps of rubble from fallen towers & bastions remains strewn around, speaking of the destruction & desolation of this vast fortress that betrays a Sultan’s ambition & capability.

Ever imagined even rubble could be so colorful??

Making our way towards the imposing curtain walls first, we decided to step onto the walkways that lined the sides of these walls – it was definitely a scary experience, most of these walls are 15 meters high & in sharp contrast to his megalomaniac tendencies, Ghiyas-ud-din decided to keep the walkways narrow – a fall down would be a definite way to meet the fortress’ inceptor in person!! Some of the large sandstone blocks (quarried locally) that layered the rubble wall face still remain projecting outwards & one can pull oneself up these square ledges with ease & look at the continuous traffic encircling the fortress – Ghiyas-ud-din’s soldiers would have appreciated even these hard seats, they had to stand on duty all day here looking over the artificial lake that existed next to the fortress back then, the little islands in the middle of the lake & the territory beyond. From several vantage points along these walkways you can even spot Ghiyas-ud-din’s red tomb & the bastions around it (more on that later) across the road. Visible at several points are broken walls, crumbling chambers, arched gateways fit for giants (both true & trabeate arches can be seen here, often in combination complementing each other) – most of the structures here are simplistic in nature & unadorned – true to Tughlaq aesthetics, these were built for function rather than form. One can see the slits in the bastion walls that allowed archers to shoot through to counter an enemy attack. The monotony of the glowing red & orange rubble ruins is broken only by the monotonous grey quartzite bastion walls – Timur, when he invaded India in 1398 AD & decimated the last of the Tughlaqs, noted in his journal that the fortress walls glittered as if they were made of solid gold – in all probability he saw the fortress in scorching summers; we, on the other hand, visited the place on chilly Christmas morning when the stones took on multi-colored hues & the bastions appeared as cold as they felt to the touch – there was blue everywhere, no gold, very little green & an all-encompassing blanket of fog that made the winter even melancholy.

Third view

Enormous blocks of stone were used to build the stronghold’s colossal bastions (some of which are as high as 15-30 meters) and walls (10 meters thick in places) – it does not look as if this fortress is a handiwork of mere mortals. Situated on a high, rocky ground that acted as a natural vantage against enemy hordes, the fortress’ massive walls seem to be reaching out to the sky with their battlement fingers – these walls are not the type that an invading army would hope to scale in a hurry. The fortress was an ideal defensive structure & encapsulated within its octagonal periphery both Ghiyas-ud-din’s royal palace & some of the local population – part of Delhi’s population continued to live in older fortresses such as Siri & villages like Ghiyaspur (modern-day Nizamuddin area) even after Ghiyas-ud-din shifted with his court & retinue to this imposing citadel. The double-storied bastions & gigantic towers were built to scare away marauders, especially Mongols, whom Ghiyas-ud-din defeated several times & wished to protect his subjects from. Except for the side adjacent to the lake, all other sides of the fortress featured deep trenches along their outer face; the fortress also boasts of huge grain silos to survive an extended siege.

Perhaps the most interesting legend associated with the fortress’ construction is the one pertaining to Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya – a contemporary of Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq & one of the foremost Sufi saints in Delhi’s history. Hazrat Nizamuddin was well-renowned for his spiritual prowess & mystic tendencies, his hermitage (refer Pixelated Memories - Chilla-Khanqah Nizamuddin) was a meeting point for the city’s poor & starving & the rich & influential – he would feed the poor, look after the sick & bless the others for fulfillment of their wishes. But one man’s saint is another man’s villain – Ghiyas-ud-din was pissed at Hazrat Nizamuddin since the latter refused to return the one lakh (100,000) tankas (gold coins) that Nasir-ud-din Hasan Khusro had given him in order to win him over to his side – on assumption of power, Ghiyas-ud-din was cracking down on all the associates of Hasan & demanded that all the religious grants & land titles to nobles be returned to the state on account of their being illegal. Hazrat Nizamuddin had already donated his one lakh tankas in charity; he had nothing to give to the Sultan except his blessings – thus began the long feud that claimed as its cost not only the Sultan’s life but also Tughlaqabad’s fortunes!!

Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq's tomb, as seen from Tughlaqabad's walls (Photo courtesy - Wikipedia.org

At the same time when Ghiyas-ud-din was building his capital, Hazrat Nizamuddin had employed laborers to help build a baoli (step well) close to his residence – Ghiyas-ud-din decreed that all capable men in the city should work on the new fortress or else face severe punishment. Fearing the emperor’s wrath, the workers had no option but to shift to the under-construction citadel; however, out of respect & adoration for the saint, they continued working at his baoli in their off hours. Ghiyas-ud-din reiterated his hatred for Hazrat Nizamuddin by raising the price of oil to keep workers from toiling in the night; the saint reciprocated with a prophecy directed at the fortress –

“Ya rahe usar, ya base Gujjar” 
(“Either it remains barren or be inhabited by nomads”)

Ghiyas-ud-din was then on a military campaign in Bengal; so enraged was he at hearing the Sufi’s words that he decided to punish him when he returned to Delhi. When word of it reached Hazrat Nizamuddin’s ears, he issued another prophecy, this one pertaining to the Sultan himself –

"Hunuz Dilli dur ast” 
(“Delhi is yet far away”)

Both these prophecies proved true – on his way back from Bengal, Ghiyas-ud-din was killed at Kara (Uttar Pradesh) when a wooden canopy collapsed over him during the reception arranged by his son Muhammad Juna Khan. (Much to the chagrin of his father) Muhammad Tughlaq was a follower of Hazrat Nizamuddin & it is generally assumed that he had a hand in the death of his father – the canopy was built to fail, moreover the prince delayed help from reaching the buried people. On succeeding to the throne, Muhammad Tughlaq decided to abandon Tughlaqabad on account of it being cursed & chose to build his own citadel opposite it – he christened it Muhammadabad initially, but later changed the name to Adilabad (“Abode of the just”) – the new fortress follows Tughlaqabad in its aesthetics & construction, but is comparatively much smaller. Despite its unassailable defensive features, Tughlaqabad never saw much warfare; it was soon deserted & only Gujjars came here to herd their cattle there. The fort is still believed to be cursed by many & wears a deserted look at night with only the ongoing traffic for company. This does not prevent the lovers who have turned this military outpost into a rendezvous point from coming here.

Bird's eye view (Photo courtesy - Sahapedia.wordpress.com)

The fortress was constructed with traditional stones & hence has been able to survive (almost) intact despite being abandoned for so long. The whole settlement area was divided into three parts – the palace, citadel and the residential quarters. Each area had its own baolis & water supply along with thoroughfares & buildings – the palace & city are almost in ruins now & very few complete structures survive intact. 13 of the original 52 gateways still exist – around these are located remains of the entire city which we could not explore properly because of the predominantly thorny vegetation that has overtaken these ruins. Nearby is a deep baoli too with long stone beams sticking out from its steep walls like ledges (giving the appearance of planks on a pirate ship) – perhaps these beams once formed part of a pavilion which was lost with time; there certainly is a great amount of rubble & fallen stone lining the bottom of the (now dry) baoli. The baoli is dry & filled in with thorny scrubs – one wonders what happened to all the water of the area, where did it disappear?! For baolis to function there ought to have been an adequate water level with replenishable or perennial sources – oh development, what hast thou done!! Remnants of the walkways & tunnels that once connected different parts of the fortress can also be seen.

Two of Delhi's sultans rest here!

Next we proceeded towards the elegant and well-maintained red tomb of Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq that I earlier mentioned seeing from the fortress ramparts. Ghiyas-ud-din had commissioned this mausoleum himself on an island in the lake next to the fortress – the structure was enclosed within fortified walls complete with massive bastions & a huge red sandstone gateway. It was connected to the fortress by means of a wide causeway – the lake dried out but the causeway still exists, though a portion of it was demolished to make way for the M.B. Road to pass through – even the causeway is oversized, its stones almost reach my waist – Ghiyas-ud-din had a penchant for doing things on a grand scale. The rectangular, red sandstone gateway leading within the tomb complex is reached by a flight of steps & is largely unornamented except for white marble inlay, medallions, carved red sandstone pillars & thick trabeate arches.

Conveying strength & grandeur

Sitting surrounded by monotonous grey walls on a bed of lush green grass, the bleak exteriors of the vibrant red mausoleum are in stark contrast to its surroundings. The square tomb was built in the Tughlaq style of architecture – the thick walls slope outwards & bear very little ornamentation in the form of white marble & grey quartzite inlay – a row of kanguras (battlement like ornamentation) adorn the roof while the arched entrances on three sides are lined with crenellated arches & jaalis (latticework) in marble. The fourth side is filled in & acts as a mihrab (western wall of a structure that indicates the direction of Mecca, faced by Muslims while offering Namaz). The massive dome, topped by a unique lotus finial, rests on an octagonal drum (base) & is blanketed by sparkling white marble slabs. The overall aesthetic effect is outstanding, conveying a sense of strength & subdued grandeur. The interiors are also remarkably plain – white marble shrouds most of the lower level as well as the entire portion above the entrances including the dome; strips of slate relieve the monotony by appearing in the mihrab – again the most appealing features are the thin carved pillars & the crenellated arches. Of the three graves, the central one belongs to Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq, another is of Muhammad Tughlaq & the last houses Ghiyas-ud-din’s wife. It is but natural to be overawed by the massive interior space; the silence is deafening & one instinctively begins to whisper in here lest one’s voice disturb the dead.

Graves - Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq (center), his wife (left) & son Muhammad Tughlaq (right)

Close to Ghiyas-ud-din’s tomb & built into the fortification walls of the tomb complex is another tomb, octagonal but similar in design & much smaller in proportions, that belongs to Zafar Khan, a pretty successful General in Ghiyas-ud-din’s army. It is said that Ghiyas-ud-din first built his general’s tomb here & its location gave him the idea of constructing his own tomb – he integrated the tomb into his own larger tomb complex & went on to christen the island Dar-ul-Aman (“Abode of peace”). Zafar Khan’s tomb is small, dark & considerably smaller – of the two graves inside, the central one belongs to Zafar Khan & is in a much better preserved condition compared to the one that lies crumbling next to it & belongs to his wife in all probability. Due to its merger with the fortification walls, the tomb appears entirely hemmed in, almost subterranean due to the darkness & confinement; light enters from the various small windows to create a play with darkness to illuminate the central grave while the smooth round dome overhead remains bathed in darkness; calligraphic inscriptions mark the arched entrances & lend an air of subtle subdued grace to the unornamented tomb.

Inside Zafar Khan's dark tomb 

There are colonnaded walkways built into the walls next to Zafar Khan’s tomb – the simplistic carved pillars & jaalis (stone filigree screens) lend the appearance of strength & dignity to the dark passages, although the place could certainly do with occasional cleaning (anyone heeding?? ASI?)

Parallel to Tughlaqabad’s great walls stretches the fortress of Adilabad that almost appears to be a copy of the former. This later fortress also incorporated within itself the sluice gates that controlled the level of the artificial lake along with several defensive structures. Close to Adilabad is a third fortress referred to as "Nai ka Kot" ("Barber's fort") - barring the name, the fortress has no connection to barbers - it was used as a private residence by Muhammad Tughlaq while Adilabad was under construction. One day is less than sufficient if one wishes to explore all threee fortresses in detail; we decided to leave after paying only a cursory visit to Adilabad.

Colonnaded walkways surrounding Zafar Khan's tomb

After a day spent at the place, the fortress feels like a friend & both Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq & Hazrat Nizamuddin seem to be known to us – not as sultans and saints, or heroes and villains, but more like characters out of a seemingly impossible fairy tale. Leaving the fortress behind feels strange, sad actually; going back to humanity, the noise and the population after the silent sojourn amongst these ruins feels bitter. The traffic around the fortress continued to move in a state of trance, ignoring the fortress as if it was not even there. Maybe these people have become used to seeing the fortress daily, or maybe they are afraid that unlike the Sultan, they would not be leaving behind a formidable reminder with through the world would know them. I sure was!

Suggestion: There are no public facilities (food court, toilets or drinking water) at Tughlaqabad-Adilabad. It is advised to carry adequate amount of drinking water as well as eatables with you. Kind request to not litter the place with bottles/food packets after you are done. One can avail public conveniences at the malls at Saket (20 min by bus – buses can be availed from outside the fortress; any bus going towards Mehrauli/Lado Serai will drop you at Saket)

Location: Along Mehrauli-Badarpur Road (M.B. Road)
Nearest Metro Station: Tughlaqabad
How to reach: Buses ply from different parts of the city for Badarpur/M.B. Road. One can hop on any bus going towards Mehrauli & get down at Tughlaqabad. Same after deboarding at Tughlaqabad metro station.
Entrance fees: Rs 5 (Citizens of India, SAARC countries, Thailand & Myanmar), Rs 100 (others)
Photography/Video Charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 1 day
Relevant Links - 
  1. Pixelated Memories - Chilla-Khanqah Nizamuddin
Suggested Reading -
  1. Hindustantimes.com - Article "Tughlaqabad Fort lacks even basic facilities" (dated January 06, 2014) by Nivedita Khandekar
  2. Jacob's Delhi - Tughlaqabad and Surroundings
  3. Sahapedia.wordpress.com - Tughlaqabad Fort by S. Gopalakrishnan
  4. Thehindu.com - Article "ASI plans to promote Adilabad Fort for tourism" (dated May 7, 2011) by Neha Alawadhi
  5. Timesofindia.indiatimes.com - Article "Adilabad, Tughlaq's forgotten fort" (dated Sep 2, 2008) by Richi Verma
  6. Timesofindia.indiatimes.com - Article "Containers threaten Tughlaqabad Fort" (dated May 6, 2005) by Megha Suri
  7. Timesofindia.indiatimes.com - Article "Facelift for forgotten fort" (dated Mar 18, 2011) by Shreya Roy Chowdhury
  8. Timesofindia.indiatimes.com - Article "Historic secrets hidden in Tuglaqabad Fort" (dated Jun 15, 2004) by Arundhati Basu
  9. Timesofindia.indiatimes.com - Article "Slabs from past shed new light on Tughlaq era" (dated Apr 22, 2008) by Richi Verma


  1. Interesting!It's amazing how each stone has a story.... Although, I must say, I never knew about this one. Also- You are pretty good with descriptions :)

    Now...let's come to the main point here... whose the friend? :P

  2. Gud work!!! way 2 go..

  3. Wonderful pictures, write-up and thoughts, thanks!

  4. Enchanting.. you have outdone yourself once again. And this time its with your photos too

  5. Very good article but you have missed the secret passage of tughlakabad fort.I have been to all forts in Delhi but never seen a secret passage like that.me and my friends visited the ruins at night and believe me it scared the shit out of us all

  6. Very good article, thanks for sharing.