It was a chilly and foggy winter morning, but a good time to explore the mysteries of Mehrauli Archaeological Park. The Park has scattered monuments surrounded by thick vegetation. Right from the Tomar Rajput dynasty till now, Mehrauli has been the ‘same’ with its vegetation and numerous monuments from almost the all dynasties who ruled Delhi. Everyone knows the major landmark of Mehrauli is the famous tower Qutb Minar, but the park which is just a wall away is neglected and seldom visited. The formal name given to this 100 acres of green land is Mehrauli Archaeological Park, whereas the locals called it ‘Jamali Kamali’. We had planned to visit few prominent structures out of around 70 listed heritage buildings in this park which also has a fascinating variety of plants and birds. After a brief introduction to the heritage walk, we started observing the monuments closely; to begin with, it was the gateway and the tomb of a slave king, Ghiyasuddin Balban. The tomb is square rubble built chamber with arched openings on all four sides but with no cenotaph. This was the first major monument in India where the true arch and dome were constructed. Next is the central room, is other room with ruined cenotaph, most probably of the young son of Balban (Khan Shaheed) who died fighting Mongols. It is interesting to see the traces of blue paintwork and carvings on plaster, this building once had more decoration and beautiful carvings. It is a different feeling to walk through the 17th century ruins which once served as the residential units of workers. The group stood inside a fortified courtyard to learn about Lodi structures and its architecture, it was a clear break from the plain and minimal architecture of their predecessors. The mosque and tomb of Jamali Kamali was next on the heritage trail, the mosque was built in 1528 by a famous court poet of the Lodi and Mughal period, Shaikh Fazluddin, pen named as ‘Jamali’ meaning ‘lovable’. The prayer chamber of the masjid is entered by five arched openings with a two minarets on both sides of the central gateway. The tomb of Jamali Kamali unlike the other large structures, is a small room which once was used by the Sufi saint Jamali as his personal room. This personally is my favourite in the park and very appropriately nicknamed as a beautiful ‘Jewel box’ for its intricate carvings, coloured tiles, stuccowork and calligraphy including lines from Jamali’s poetry. As said in the beginning, this park along with most of the medieval is also a witness of modifications done by British in 19th- 20th centuries. Interestingly, Mehrauli Archaeological Park is considered as Delhi’s first ‘estate’ after it was re-landscaped, modified and modeled on European style by British official Sir Thomas Metcalfe. We began taking the tour of his farm house with a canopy erected by him on an artificial mound which he used as a viewing tower. As it is an imitated monument so it’s called Metcalfe’s folly as he deliberately gave it an old look. We took Metcalfe’s bridge to reach a structure which was once a Lodi Pigeon house/dovecot or Kabutar Khana, merrily converted into a boathouse by Metcalfe for his personal use. Opposite to this was an elevated octagonal structure reached by a grand staircase. This Mughal structure built by Akbar for his step brother, Mohammad Quli Khan in the 16th century, was further extended, re-used as personal residence and renamed as ‘Dilkusha’ or ‘heart’s delight’ by Metcalfe after he removed the tombstone. It is said the extensions were removed by Indian government after Independence, however some bit is still visible. This structure was surround by a garden and other structures namely another folly, administrative wing, a hamam and a guesthouse hidden by trees. Group was delighted to see the remains of Lal kot, the first fortified capital of Delhi and also the tallest minaret, Qutb Minar. It was time to head to our last spot, a very different Lodi structure a step well called Rajon ki Baoli. This three storeyed baoli near a deep well along with a tomb and a mosque was built during Sikandar Lodi in 1506 and it got its name from the word ‘Raj’ meaning masons. By the time we ended the walk, the fog had withdrawn and sun was out, the group happily ate sweet potatoes together served by a kind vendor in the park!
(posted by Moby Zachariah & Kavita Singh, team members, Delhi Heritage Walks)