August 13, 2014

Chaumukh Darwaza, Mehrauli Archaeological Park, Delhi

In an isolated corner of Mehrauli Archaeological Park, forgotten by the residents of the ancient city of cities that is Delhi, ignored by archaeological-conservation authorities and tourists alike, reclaimed by vegetation and foliage and veiled by a blanket of dense trees and brilliant sunshine, come face-to-face remnants of several centuries of human existence that culminated into a highly advanced yet culturally sublime civilization whose roots stretch back to several eons in history. Standing testimony to the residence of skilled builder-craftsmen and exceptionally talented artists in this part of the world, these monuments, that have long since passed from the collective memory of those who still inhabit the surrounding country, represent a fusion of several architectural and artistic cultures, a coming together of traditions that had made journeys worth several thousand miles and an equal number of years in time, a flowering of new forms of art and construction from the stalks of existing knowledge and traditional practices. Of all the structures in the vast open plain here, the most frequently overlooked and seldom written about is probably the oldest, and yet it doesn’t play the part of the elderly. In the shadow of the renowned Qutb Minar and Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque, respectively the oldest Islamic structures in the magnificent city and amongst the oldest in the country, enclosed by a curtain of trees and consigned to a sorry existence by layers upon layers of rotting, stench-emitting garbage that seem to grow exponentially, the Chaumukh Darwaza (“four-faced gateway”) happens to be the earliest construction in the region – one of the few surviving gateways of the majestic Lal Kot, the erstwhile gigantic “red fortress” of the Tomar and Chauhan Hindu Rajputs (AD 736-1192) who reigned over immense territories stretching all the way from modern Rajasthan and Haryana to the frontiers of Punjab. Of the thirteen gateways of Lal Kot, Chaumukh Darwaza happens to be the most easily accessible and yet it is rare for a tourist to venture in and explore this section of Mehrauli Archaeological Park despite its proximity to the handsome tomb of Quli Khan (refer Pixelated Memories - Quli Khan's Tomb) – it might have something to do with the huge number of monuments, in different stages of excavation, that are being restored and made visually palatable throughout the massive archaeological park and especially enroute to the gateway, or with the notion that after numerous exquisitely adorned and intricately carved tombs and mosques, a simplistic rubble masonry wall running division between modern residential quarters and medieval heritage structures holds little artistic and architectural value – and yet, it is this long stretch of thick curtain wall, intermittently interspersed with bastions and slight turns, that once demarcated the ancient Hindu citadel from the surrounding countryside.

Delhi's original gateway!

The defensive gateway doesn’t appear eight centuries old, it has been repaired time and again by the numerous dynasties that reigned over the country with Delhi as their seat of strength – the immensely thick sloping walls and the squat, low appearance, made more prominent by the thick base, conveys unparalleled strength and obstinate steadfastness, and is reminiscent of the architecturally-rich Tughlaq-era (AD 1325-1414) construction which was known for its lack of ornamentation and emphasis on function over form. The gateway is said to be one of the principle entrances to the city – it isn’t hard to drift into a world of imagination and fantasy and visualize it as being flanked by low makeshift bazaars composed of tents and small wooden pedestals where traders and merchants stock fruits, vegetables, flour and spices, along the paved tracks are brought bundles of cloth and stocks of firewood by means of horse and bullock carts and a steady stream of people – merchants, travelers, pilgrims, soldiers and criminals – traverse in and out all the time while sentries posted on either side inspect people and their wares in the midst of continuous hum of the chatter of people, jovial cries of children, barks of domesticated dogs, and shouts and music of conjurers, snake charmers and acrobats.

One of the bastions along this stretch of the wall; the gateway peeps from behind the vegetation in the background. The corners have fallen apart where the wall makes extreme turns and one can cross to the residential colony opposite Quli Khan's tomb from there. 

Alas, today heaps of garbage and construction debris being dumped right upto the raised, paved pathway leading to the gateway turn a hopeful visit into a futile excursion since the way to the gateway is blocked and one has to traverse through a flood of food packets, polythene and vegetable waste beside glass shreds and piles of stone and cement, in the company of groaning dump trucks and waste-filled trolley tractors – one begins to wonder if this is actually the backyard of the Qutb Complex, a World Heritage Site, and the magnificently restored monuments stand just around the corner. Oh Delhi, what have you done!

Location: Near Quli Khan's tomb, Mehrauli Archaeological Park (Coordinates: 28°31'24.6"N 77°11'14.8"E)
How to reach: One can walk from Quli Khan's tomb (red sandstone markers within the park indicate the way to the tomb); alternately one can access the gateway from Qutb complex.
Open: Sunrise to sunset
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 20 min
Relevant Links - 

  1. Pixelated Memories - Quli Khan's Tomb
  2. Pixelated Memories - Qutb Complex
  3. Pixelated Memories - Qutb Minar
Suggested reading - 

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