23 June 2015

Mehrauli Archaeological Park, Delhi


“When you’ve lived with someone for so long, the first few weeks after the break-up are strange times indeed. You have two options: you can either sit huddled up in a corner, a bottle of gin in one hand, a fag in the other, howling the lyrics of all those love songs or you can get up, get dressed and get out. I chose Option Two. I went out. Every night. Every single night, so incapable was I of staying home and facing my solitude. I went to the cinema, the theater, pubs, clubs, wine bars, restaurants, galleries, cultural talks, city walks – the opening of a tin of tuna if I thought there’d be people there. Even the gym held a certain appeal, for verily it is written: misery loves company. When I did find myself home alone, I had the TV and the radio blaring and was on the phone non-stop. Bewitched, bothered and bewildered was I.”
– Wendy Salisbury, “The Toyboy Diaries”

My recent break-up, heartrendingly painful as it was, pushed me to seek solemn solace in the streets of my beloved Delhi – my feet traversing paths that they had tread on numerous occasions previously; my mind, numbed as it was with recollections and idealizations, longing for company and asylum in delicate restaurants, magnificent monuments and forgotten corners that the city graciously offers to those who pry through its hordes of unmentionable secrets. I found myself once more in the beautifully pristine, wilderness reclaimed, forgotten and secluded Mehrauli Archaeological Complex where lie scattered, amidst the considerable remnants of large settlements and massive trees with gnarled, all-encompassing branches, magnificent ruins of enormous mausoleums, mosques and step-wells pertaining to almost a millennium of construction that cannot but be nonetheless regarded as only a fraction of architectural and cultural heritage in the immensity that is the grand city’s historical existence – and yet, despite its unmistakable reputation as being one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements within the city, the area possesses the unenviable notoriety as being a potentially unsafe, spine-chillingly haunted dark forest, redolent of death and destruction, where the trees bend closer to whisper dark secrets and even the birds too maintain a hushed unmentionable silence.


Haunted territory - Mehrauli Archaeological Park


I realized I hadn’t yet penned an article reflecting upon the complex’s renewed lease of life at the hands of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) who are exhuming the remains of structures, colossal and small, from underneath layers of earth and vegetation where they were buried for centuries since soon after the area was abandoned by the general population following the revolt of 1857 (First War of Independence/Sepoy Mutiny) and the implications that followed – in fact within the park complex, it isn’t surprising at all to come across huge chambers, buried underground in their entirety, their arches and collapsed roofs peeping through the grass and shrubbery, nor is it inconsequential to realize that here, of all places, in this distant corner of the city, ornamental British monuments (“follies”) exist next to splendid, miniaturized Mughal-era (AD 1526-1857) mausoleums, tell-tale distinctive Lodi-era (AD 1451-1526) mosques and even earlier still settlement ruins and mausoleums inspiringly dated to the Slave Dynasty reign (AD 1192-1290). I have indeed penned individualized posts about most of the major structures within the complex and here of course, they shall be interconnected along with a map depicting the presence of each of these structures, nonetheless it is the smaller, regrettably insignificant structures that I shall dwell upon here since it is these that I somehow find the most surprising and bewitching, not because of their commendable architectural and artistic features, but simply because there is such an overabundance of them that I feel astonished at the existence and requirement for so many of them – wall mosques (“qibla”) of varied dimensions and artistic ornamentation, yet retaining the overall similar structural features; rows upon rows of enclosed chambers, stables and residences; smaller mosques, many of them now encroached upon, refurbished, rebuilt and repainted to function as madrasas (Islamic seminaries) and residences for local Muslim priests and scholars; and such diminutive domed structures that I’m apprehensive of regarding as funerary structures and would have, if I was qualified enough, classified as guardhouses or some such similar functional building.


Fragments of an eventful history


It is said that the region was crisscrossed by trade routes that connected Delhi to central Asia and beyond and thus was frequented by caravans consisting of camels, horses and pack mules laden with aromatic spices, luxurious silks, precious jewels and royal gifts; mendicants and learned dervishes, their thirst for knowledge and religious mysticism unquenched and their pursuance of the same drawing them to the erudite sages and masters of Indian peninsula; regal messengers and couriers with their secretive messages and exclusive gifts and mementoes. It was here that Sultan Ghiyasuddin Bahauddin Balban (ruled AD 1266-86) decided to commission a beautiful, sober mausoleum for his deceased son Muhammad “Khan Shahid” and where he himself was laid to eternal rest in a grand and architecturally prominent tomb after he mournfully expired bereaving the latter’s demise (refer Pixelated Memories - Khan Shahid's Tomb and Pixelated Memories - Balban's Tomb). The establishment of a small rural settlement adjacent the trade route prompted the renowned Sufi mystic Sheikh Fazlullah Jalaluddin Khan “Jamali” Kamboh Dehlavi to establish his monastery here and construct the massive mosque complex (and later his artistically remarkable mausoleum), still thoroughly famed as Jamali-Kamali and presently the epitome of architectural heritage within the park where, seated upon an expansive incline, it prominently occupies the position of honor as the single outstanding monument which architecturally and artistically inspired nearly all the lavish mosque complexes that chronologically followed it (refer Pixelated Memories - Jamali Kamali Complex). I generally make it a point to enter the park complex through a small obscure opening in the periphery wall slightly offset from the intersection of the arterial, perennially crowded Mehrauli-Badarpur and Mahipalpur-Gurgaon roads at Lado Serai since the path quickly takes one past these two major set of ruins (two motorable entrances also exist – the first adjacent the renowned Qutb complex (refer Pixelated Memories - Qutb Complex) and the other on the other side of Balban’s tomb projecting from the Mahipalpur-Gurgaon highway).


Flamboyance personified - Within the mausoleum of Sheikh Jamali Kamboh Dehlavi


The large settlement that existed here must also have possessed several inns and resthouses for weary travelers which might explain the presence of such large stables and it is quite possible that many of them did construct smaller, individualized wall mosques in the vicinity to cater to the religious needs of their influential patrons. In one of the furthest corners of the complex where the comprehensive folds of thick, impenetrable vegetation gives way to an open ground used by the local kids for games of crickets, exists the thoughtfully landscaped, beautifully adorned mausoleum of Mirza Quli Khan, a foster brother of Mughal Emperor Akbar (reign AD 1556-1605) (refer Pixelated Memories - Quli Khan's Tomb). Sir Charles Metcalfe, the Agent (negotiator) of British East India “trading” Company at the royal court of Emperor Bahadur Shah “Zafar” (reign AD 1837-57) purchased this monument and had it luxuriously converted into his summer retreat and guesthouse retrofitted with additional “follies” (ornamental architectural entities eponymously designed to appear ruined/monumental) such as “chattris” (umbrella domes surmounted upon slender ornamental pillars), gingerbread hut-like guardhouses, adornment bridges and stepped pyramids (“ziggurats”) – one such chattri was also conceived and commissioned upon a slightly rolling hillscape immediately opposite the attractive Jamali-Kamali complex (refer Pixelated Memories - Metcalfe's Chattri).

Unbelievably contrasting with the magnificently multi-hued and symmetrically ordered rose garden that has been established within the park periphery abutting its extremities along the Lado Serai-Qutb Complex connecting road, past the portion of the park where there still is some semblance of civilizational presence, past the region where the winding serpentine pathways have been shrouded with layers of red soil and cobbled stone and there do exist varieties of flora and fauna apart from lithe goats, ubiquitous Kikar trees (Prosopis juliflora) and ever-garrulous Jungle Babbler birds (Turdoides striata), the thoroughly-vegetated 200-acre complex transforms into a threatening, dark and forgotten patch of forest crisscrossed by deep sewage channels, untrodden pathways and desolate remains of decrepit mausoleums (most of which have been documented on this blog in the past, follow the links mentioned at the end of this article). Nearby appear like mirages two majestic step-wells (“baolis”), since christened “Rajon ki Baoli” and “Gandhak ki Baoli” as a consequence of their association with masons (“Rajon”) and Sulphur (“Gandhak”) (refer Pixelated Memories - Rajon ki Baoli and Pixelated Memories - Gandhak ki Baoli).


Detritus from an age of sophistication - One of the disintegrated Qibla walls within the complex


Several of the predominantly small, single-floored structures, vibrantly painted white bearing highlights in green, continue to function as mosques in this part of the complex and bear names such as “Choti Bagh wali Masjid” (“The Mosque within the Small Garden”) and “Neem wali Masjid” (“The Mosque with the Tamarind Tree”) – the entire area within the park complex and beyond was originally referred to as “Nazir ka Bagh” (“Nazir’s Garden”), though sadly it is no longer remembered who Nazir was or what age did he live in, however the Muslim Waqf Board (the custodian of Islamic funerary zones) inherently claims most of the park as its property on account of it largely being an enormous funerary land, leading to tussles with the ASI and Indian National Trust for Cultural and Architectural Heritage (INTACH) and counter-accusations of encroachment and monumental damage (point in case – Pixelated Memories - Choti Masjid Bagh wali). One does reverentially hope that the issues are quickly resolved and the complex can be conserved and the monuments restored to present a larger, better preserved archaeological and heritage zone in continuation with the majestic Qutb Complex adjacent. Nonetheless, observing the immensely satisfactory restoration drive affected upon several historically important monuments, especially the hallowed Jamali-Kamali complex, one is subconsciously reminded of the below mentioned phrase from Bible (John 11:25) –

“I am the Resurrection and the Life, saith the Lord; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.”

Situated like an eagle’s nest upon an eyrie and overlooking the massive expanse of the archaeological complex from across the Gurgaon-Mahipalpur highway exists the formidable mausoleum of Azim Khan, another foster brother and army general in the court of Emperor Akbar (refer Pixelated Memories - Azim Khan's Tomb). The entire area, in fact, is literally dotted with monuments, shrines and mausoleums, considerable and minor, and can be unarguably regarded as one of the foremost sites of civilizational heritage in the beautiful cityscape – a postcard image of Delhi that was, frozen to portray the amalgam of political and financial power, majestic architecture and exquisite artworks nestled amidst lush foliage and vast landscaped plains – this truly is a representative of Delhi, The City of Cities, the City of Djinns!


White with green highlights - Neem wali Masjid


Location: Lado Serai intersection
Nearest Metro station: Qutb Minar
Nearest Bus stop: Lado Serai
How to reach: The park's entrance is immediately opposite Lado Serai bus stop at the intersection of Mehrauli-Badarpur and Badarpur-Gurgaon roads. Walk/avail an auto from Qutb Minar metro station or avail a bus from Saket metro station. Visually appropriate sandstone markers indicate the routes to different monuments inside the park.
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: Approx. 6 hrs
Note – There are no facilities (toilets, food or drinking water) available within the complex. While one can avail food and refreshments at one of the restaurants at Lado Serai, toilet facilities can only be availed at the shopping malls close to Saket Metro Station, almost a kilometer away. The park remains deserted in the evenings and is best avoided then by female enthusiasts.
Monuments within the park complex -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Balban's Tomb 
  2. Pixelated Memories - Chaumukh Darwaza
  3. Pixelated Memories - Gandhak ki Baoli
  4. Pixelated Memories - Jamali Kamali Complex
  5. Pixelated Memories - Khan Shahid's Tomb
  6. Pixelated Memories - Lodi-era Canopy Tomb
  7. Pixelated Memories - Lodi-era Tomb
  8. Pixelated Memories - Metcalfe's Chattri
  9. Pixelated Memories - Metcalfe's Ziggurats and Guardhouses
  10. Pixelated Memories - Mughal Tombs and Choti Masjid Bagh wali
  11. Pixelated Memories - Rajon ki Baoli
  12. Pixelated Memories - Rectangular Canopy
  13. Pixelated Memories - Ruins, Mehrauli Archaeological Park 
  14. Pixelated Memories - Settlement ruins
  15. Pixelated Memories - Quli Khan's Tomb
Other monuments/landmarks located in the vicinity -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Ahinsa Sthal
  2. Pixelated Memories - Azim Khan's Tomb
  3. Pixelated Memories - Hazrat Kaki's Dargah
  4. Pixelated Memories - Moti Masjid
  5. Pixelated Memories - Qutb Complex
  6. Pixelated Memories - Unmarked Ruins, Mehrauli
Suggested reading -
  1. Indianexpress.com - Article " Years of neglect and many talks later, Mehrauli park will get a touch-up" (dated Dec 30, 2010) by Sweta Dutta 
  2. Milligazette.com - Article "Heritage Park in Mehrauli area is Waqf land" (dated Aug 02, 2014) by NA Ansari
  3.  Thefirstmail.in - Article "Demarcate area of Mehrauli Archaeological Park & Waqf land: HC" (dated May 20, 2015)
  4. Thehindu.com - Article "Unkempt and uncared for" (dated Jan 12, 2013) by Sohail Hashmi 

2 comments:

  1. AnonymousJuly 16, 2015

    The post did not become dark and broody as was expected from the tone of your first sentence....goes on to prove that your love for beloved Delhi has already started healing you, so keep writing and sharing your stories. Take care.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Sahil,

    As they say what is a love story without heartbreaks.

    Cheer up. These are good learning experiences.

    Nirdesh

    ReplyDelete