This Sunday, a cloudy but pleasant winter morning, our heritage walk was organized at Mehrauli Archaeological Park. The Park has around 70 odd monuments, scattered around one of the oldest inhabited areas of Delhi, Mehrauli. History of Mehrauli is many layered & covers a long time span. It was first ruled by a couple of Rajput rulers in 11th and 12th centuries and towards the end of the 12th century, these were defeated by Turks from central Asia. The victors set up a dynasty which came to be called ‘slave’ kings. And then this area saw settlements throughout the ‘medieval’ period of Indian history & is now an urban village. The first stop on our heritage walk is a gateway of 13th century which is topped with a conical roof. The gateway originally led to the self-built tomb of a slave king, Balban. Balban’s tomb is the first example of the use of true arch and dome in India subconitnent. The tombstone and the dome are missing and the royal tomb is in a ruined conditions. It has 3 chambers, the main one would have held Balban’s burial. In an adjacent room, is the grave of Balban’s young son who was given the title ‘Khan Shaheed’ by his heart broken father. He died fighting the Mongols. We saw traces of plasterwork carvings & tile work on the wall of this room. We trace our way through the ruined buildings of 16th century which is a late Mughal residential settlement. To the west of it stands the monument which gives the park its local name, Jamali Kamali. Jamali Kamali mosque & tomb was built during the Lodi period, towards its very end. Here lived a Sufi saint, Shaikh Fazlullah, who went by the pen name of Jamali. The mosque was built under the supervision of the saint; it is typical Lodi era structure. One of the my favourite monuments in Delhi, is the personal room of Jamali which was converted into a tomb after the saints death. It also houses the grave of Kamali. You should visit the small room to witness the amazing stuccowork which covers the walls and ceiling of the room. As we exit from this complex, we see a canopy on a raised mound. It was built as a ‘viewing point’ by the British Resident, Thomas Metcalfe. Built in 19th century, the structure is lampooned as ‘Metcalfe’s folly’. It was deliberately given an old look by Metcalfe to synchronize with the other medieval monuments around the area. He added follies all around Mehrauli as a part of re-landscaping and beautifying his estate, after he bought the vast piece of land from Mughals. We took the Metcalfe’s bridge to reach the other major buildings reused by him. His estate included a pigeonhouse of Lodis which was modified into a boathouse by the Englishman and he also provided his European friends and family members with boatrides. After climbing a steep set of stairs, we reached the tomb of Mohammad Quli Khan, a step brother of Akbar. This tomb was, quite incredibly, converted by Metcalfe into his residence! He named it ‘Dilkusha’ or heart’s delight. The participants of our heritage walk stood shocked when they learnt that a man lived in a tomb after removing the tombstone. There are stories about how Metcalfe removed the tombstone & put a billiards table there!! Metcalfe estate stood on the areas which was once part of the first fortified capital city of Delhi, Lal Kot. The same is true for the Qutb Complex, which stands adjacent to Metcalfe’s Dilkusha. The final stop on our heritage trail is a baoli or a step well of Lodi era which is surrounded by other Lodi monuments such a rectangular mosques and several tombs. Rajon ki baoli literally means baoli of masons. I think of it as one of the prettiest step wells of Delhi. We chatted on the way back to the parking lot, discussing the monuments seem by us in this walking tour & enjoying the slight winter drizzle.
(posted by Moby Zachariah & Kavita Singh, team members, Delhi Heritage Walks)