Ruins of past are much more beautiful and alluring than the sky rocketing beautiful building of our eras, at least they tell the truth that even the mightiest would be in ruin sooner or later.
~My own quote inspired by Mehmet Murat Ildan’s.
History starts to dance before you when you walk through the ruins and remains of glorious past. Among these ruins, remains and relics multitude of great men breathed joy & woe. The ultimate lust for glory pushed them to leave mark in the future history. Broken column, fragmented floor and weather-beaten structures reflect the grand fortune of the kings, who were mighty once and ruled the world with their yardstick but, shattered by fate, now have meager dusty presences among these rusty stones. Even the unearthed stones near such ruins sing the stories of past creating a psychedelic melange of emotions.
This is exactly how I felt when I started my photowalk to the oldest part of Delhi, The Mehrauli Archeological Park which boasts of the remains of Delhi’s first City i.e. Lalkot or Quila Rai Pithora and of second city i.e. Mehrauli. With every inward step through the alley of Mehrauli Achelogical Park, amidst romantic and dreamy melancholy, my mind was a tangled hunch of mass in a string of varied emotions.
Mehrauli Archeological Park which is close to more famous Qutub Complex tells the story starting from the period of Hindu Rajput rulers of Tomar and Chauhan Clan. Within its boundary, it has the remains of magnanimous past built by Tomars, Chauhans, Mamluks or slave, Khiljis, Tuglaqs, Saiyyeds, Lodhis, Mughals and also of British. The remains were once the site of a great city which was gay and lively as the capital town of many kingdoms, where many princes became kings and gave life to peace and war alike. Holy Spirit of revered Sufi saint of Qutub Sahib or Qutubuddin Bakhtiya Kaki and the legend of Jamali Kamali made this locality a pious place of forever peace and even after the capitol of sultanate moved from Mehrauli, it continued to thrive in every era. Today, this first city, a fascinating part of ever bustling Delhi, is epitome of a cultural mix that exudes modernity, spirituality and urbanization.
It’s a veritable treasure trove for heritage lover and history buff like me as every ruler added its own elements and thus probably making this preserved archeological park, one of the most architecturally and historically prosperous places in the world. On each turn, you find some story and legend attached to someone, for here walked and lived kings, saints and many generals for centuries and they infused spirit of valor, courage and mysticism to this place. The experience even gets better when you walk with a historian of repute, a bunch of awesome photographers and enthusiastic travel writers.
During my latest Heritage Photowalk to Mehrauli Archeological Park, we had the honor of having Mrs. Rana Safvi, a noted Historian and author of Where Stones Speak, as our walk leader. This walk was organized by #TCBG_trips an initiative by #SALT managed by dynamic duo of Ms. Alka Kaushik and Ms. Puneetinder Kaur Sindhu.
There are many entrances to Mehrauli Archeological Park; however, the easiest is from the one from Qutub Minar Metro Station. After coming out from Metro Station take a walk back towards Qutub Minar and take a left turn after 500 meters that takes you to a world of ethereal past within the chaotic urbanization of Delhi.
Tomb of Balban
Mehrauli Archeological Park is spread across a huge area of 200 acres and we started our walk from Tomb of Balban which is located near the entrance of the park. Balban was the slave of Iltutmish and ruled the Delhi Sultanet from 1266-87 AD. He was the last powerful Sultan of Slave Dynasty but was notoriously mentioned in history for his cruel ways of governing his subjects. His Tomb is nothing but a collection of few stone walls and dilapidated arches without any cenotaph. Sufi Faqir condemnly believe that due to the curse of his people he even could not survive after death.
The so-called tomb chamber, with no trace of the mighty sultan, was originally built by the Sultan as Dar-ul-Amaan or House of Refuge which Ibn-E-Batuta described as an act of generosity of Balban towards his subjects. Whosoever can manage to enter this Abode of Security or House of Refugee was pardoned off by Sultan for any crime or debt.
The only remarkable aspect of this building that still stands tall and tells the glory of past are the four arches and they are believed to be the first true arches of India built in 1280 AD. Outside the main chamber, lies the cenotaph of Khan-E-Shaheed who was the beloved son of Balban and achieved martyrdom fighting with Mongols. As per the legends he was a pious soul and his close friendship with Amir Khusrau brought him closer to Sufism as well. Sufi faqir along with locals still visit this tomb to offer prayers for he was the favourite martyr of Mehrauli and his spirit is holier than many of those buried there.
This is one of the most prominent parts of the Mehrauli Archeological Park which has an elegant mosque known as the mosque of Maulana Jamali and his adjacent Tomb. Shaikh Fazlullah also known as Jalal Khan or Jamali lived the transition period between Lodhi and Mughal Dynasties but revered by both equally. The mosque built between 1528 and 1536 reflects the transition as it has the elements of both Lodhi style and Mughal style of architecture.
Next to the mosque, inside an open courtyard, lies the star attraction of Mehrauli, The Tomb of Jamali Kamali which was built in 1529 where it is believed that Jamali lived his life. When Maulana Jamali died in 1536 during his expedition to Gujarat with Emperor Humayun and then His body was brought back and buried inside this richly decorated chamber. The exquisitely ornamented walls of this small enclosure confirm his stature in his era. This rich decoration on the walls has the symbols revered by both Hindus and Muslims which signifies the cultural and religious assimilation prevalent in that era of Sufism. Right under the ceiling, each wall has Persian inscription of the verses of Quran and Maulana Jamali as well.
This enclosure has two graves one of Jamali and another of an unknown person who is popular as Kamali and assumed to be close to Maulana Jamali. And hence this entire cluster is famous as Jamali-Kamali.
Rajon Ki Baoli
This five storied step well dates a to Lodhi era which also has a conventional well at the back and a three-story pool at the front. Rajon is a Hindi word which means Mason and it is believed that this Baoli (Stepwell) might have got his name for it was occupied by Masons who are believed to come to Delhi to build glorious building of Mughal Era or may be during British Period to build Lutyens Delhi.
It is a huge Baoli complex with a Mosque and many arched resting rooms as well which gives a reason to belive that it must have been a very vibrant place in its glory days. The edifice has rich decoration and inscription from Quran at some places a along with remnants of blue color tile work here and there. These ramnents ignites the imagination to visualize the grandeur of such building when everything was intact and your own existence starts to search for the answers from these remnant.
Whenever I visit this place my favourite thing is to take a stroll down the stairs and sit somewhere in the middle which makes up for best place for some introspection. Usually solitude is loudest here!
At some distance from Jamali Kamali lies the Dilkhusha Complex amidst and under greenery all over which was originally the site of Quli Khan’s Tomb, real brother of Adham Khan, and a Mughal general and foster brother of Akbar. For centuries, Mehrauli was the pleasant outing ground or summer-house for nobles and royals families of Delhi and specially Mughals. So in later years, the green topography, hilly landscape and nearby water tank made Mehrauli a preferred recreational area and popular second home for British Elite as it offered them a serene solace amidst the hot temperature of Delhi.
The most notable soul among the British elite was Sir Thomas Metcalfe (1795-1853), the Resident British Agent at the Mughal Court of Bahadur Shah Jafar II, who built a summer residence aka modern-day resort in Mehrauli Archeological Park, probably the first luxury resort is India which is also known as Dilkhusha Complex which he even offered to honeymooners on rent. It had everything which provided ideal setting for 19th century honeymooners like a library, a hammam, a spread out boathouse, beautifully landscaped gardens on the backdrop of imposingly tall Qutub Minar and a picturesque Mughal styled Folly. The traces of grandeur built by Metcalfe can still be found and they truly speak aloud the story of luxury.
The entire Mehrauli Archeological Park treasures the story of more than 1400 years starting from Lalkot (736AD) and still continuing with the latest one is the mega construction of Delhi Metro in its vicinity. Though it was my second walk to this sprawling wealth of history and heritage, but there are still a lot to explore and know about. I was so intrigued with the narration of Ms. Rana Safvi, that I made a promise to come back to this less explored area of Delhi and again listen the story that each stone speaks.
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