January 07, 2013

Ruins, Mehrauli Archaeological Park, New Delhi

As I mentioned in the post about Sultan Ghiyasuddin Balban’s Tomb (Refer Pixelated Memories - Balban's Tomb), a large settlement, now in ruins, surrounds the Sultan’s Tomb. Built around 16th-17th century, the settlement boasts of a large central courtyard with surrounding houses & quarters. I wonder who used to live here. Soldiers maybe. Or general public, if they were allowed next to the tomb of one of the most powerful rulers in Indian history. Balban actually ruled from AD 1266-86, but most of the power was concentrated in his hands even 20 years before that, when his son-in-law Mahmud ruled over the vast swathes of the Sultanate. In these houses, one notices walls with alcoves for lighting diyas (earthen lamps lighted with cotton wicks dipped in oil), pillars & portions perhaps used for keeping small knick-knack. The rooms mostly survive as only the foundations, the walls have collapsed at most of the places. In a few portions, stairs too could be seen, however whatsoever used to be around these stairs is now gone & only the alcove below it survives.

These are the ruins.. (What were you thinking, eh??) 

After the mutiny of 1857, this area subsequently fell into disuse & was reclaimed by vegetation. While the rest of Mehrauli proper (part of Delhi where this settlement exists) grew at exponential phase & took rapid strides towards urbanization, this pocket was left behind & forgotten. This region is part of one of the oldest continuously inhabited region in the history of Delhi – only to be abandoned in recent past. It was as late as mid-20th century that this area was re-discovered & since India was in a turmoil then, with newly achieved independence & wars with Pakistan & China, it was left as it is, but with the tag of a heritage property under the aegis of the newly established Archaeological Survey of India (A.S.I.). It was only in the year 2001-02 that the excavation of these ruins & other structures nearby was started. The restoration work of some of the more famous & the better preserved monuments started only recently. Even now, most of these structures are in different stages of excavation.

More of the same.. (Visible in background on the left side are the remains of Balban's tomb) 

The Archaeological Park actually resembles a tamed forest bereft of any wildlife, but with a trail running through it. The trail is very well marked though, there are red sandstone posts indicating clear directions to various monuments. These ruins cover a pretty extensive area, starting a few meters from the famous chattri that Thomas Metcalfe built to beautify the surrounding expanse, & are bound on one side by Balban’s Tomb Complex & are cut off from the rest of the Park by the trail. Across the ruins stand the magnificent Tomb-Mosque complex of Jamali-Kamali.

It is quite easy to walk past these ruins, no proper road encompasses them, one has to get past thorny bushes & unlevelled, stony ground to view these properly. The Indian National Trust for Art & Cultural Heritage (INTACH) which is overseeing the excavation & upkeep of these fallen structures is yet to properly study them & convert this area & the park as a whole into a maintained tourist spot. But this is unquestionably one of those places where sitting down & observing things becomes the most natural thing to do. The lines of huge ants marching from here to there, & even climbing up the tumble-down stairs. The plants & creepers slowly, but gradually, overtaking the built structures. The thrill of discovering a beautiful flower. It all seems so natural here. Plastic bags, polythenes & other waste lies spread around, accumulated in this area as a result of general neglect & the gross misuse we Indians subject our heritage & forests to. This modern litter in stark contrast to this otherworldly litter of ruins that has been spread around here for so many centuries. One wonders what to photograph & what to leave. One wonders what is mighty – the rulers who left behind these colossal structures – now a mound of stones. Or the ants who simply overtook these & drilled their own palaces into these. 

Amidst desolation, springs beauty..

One is reminded of the ways covered with "leaves no step had trodden black" from Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”.

Location: Mehrauli Archaeological Park
Open: All days, Sunrise to Sunset
Nearest Metro Station: Saket Station
Entrance Fee: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
How to Reach: After getting down at Saket Station, one can walk to Lado Serai Bus Stop. Buses are available from different parts of the city for Mehrauli & one can alight from the bus at Lado Serai stop itself. The Lado Serai stop is situated at a crossroad & at one side, one can see a large domed-structure seated on a high hill (Azim Khan’s Tomb) rising high behind the trees & the traffic. Walking towards this structure, one comes to a recreational park called Ahinsa Sthal (“Abode of Non-Violence”), marked with a large signboard (or simply ask for Ahinsa Sthal from the locals & shopkeepers, check if they are aware of its location - they weren’t when I visited the area in December 2012). The unmarked entrance to Mehrauli Archaeological Park is through an iron gate opposite the Ahinsa Sthal.
Time required for sightseeing: About 30 min
Note – There are no facilities (toilets, food & drinking water) available within the Archaeological Park. While you can avail food & refreshments at one of the restaurants at Lado Serai, you can only find toilets at the shopping malls close to Saket Metro Station, almost a kilometre away.
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