One of the oldest inhabited neighbourhoods in Delhi region, Mehrauli is a minefield of stories. It has been witness to the earliest capital cities of Delhi and has been continuously inhabited for almost a thousand years now, which makes it a great place to explore. Our heritage walk starts at the entrance to the Mehrauli Archaeological Park. The first group of monuments one comes across is a gateway and a recently excavated area which has a courtyard and rooms built around it. Balban’s tomb stands out amongst these ruins. This 13th century royal tomb is the earliest building in India to use the true arch as an element of architecture. Balban is known to be a ruthless king. To his credit, he managed to rule for up to 40 years (first as a vice regent and then as Sultan), a remarkable feat for times marked by frequent change of rulers. Balban’s grave is no longer extant but an adjacent chamber has the grave of his favorite son, Khan Shaheed. It is said that Balban died in grief at the death of this son. A little ahead is the Jamali Kamali mosque and tomb complex. One can approach it by walking through a residential settlement which lies between Balban’s tomb & Jamali Kamali mosque. The mosque was built by a sufi & poet Sheikh Fazlullah, whose pen name was Jamali. The complex also has the tomb of Jamali, and one can see two graves, one of Jamali, but the other not being identified has become popular as Kamali. Hence ‘Jamali-Kamali’! Being sacred ground there are many other burials around the tomb complex. Moving northwards from here we entered the area which was bought by Thomas Metcalfe, the British Resident at the Mughal court. He left several traces of his landscaping and ‘beautification’: there are a couple of canopies in the Park, popularly known as Metcalfe’s follies; the carriageway built over the stream diverted by Metcalfe; the 15th century Lodi period building converted into a boathouse by him; and the last but not the least, the Mughal tomb purchased by him & modified into a residence! This tomb was for Mohammad Quli Khan who worked for Mughal emperor Akbar. This entire complex was named ‘Dilkusha’ by Metcalfe, literally, the delighter of the heart! And this was not the only estate owned by his residence was in north Delhi, still called Metcalfe House & ‘Dilkusha’ was only a weekend retreat! William Dalrymple’s works on Delhi esp the ‘City of Djinns’ & ‘The Last Mughal’ give us details of lavish lifestyles of British Residents like Metcalfe, William Fraser, David Ochterlony. The last stop on the heritage walk was Rajon ki baoli, a step well named after masons. Right next to it is a tomb and a mosque which has some very delicate plaster decoration on the façade. The restoration work on this baoli has just been finished & the well has been covered up with iron grills. Hopefully the adjacent mosque will also see some conservation work, as the building has developed serious cracks.
(posted by Kanika Singh & Kavita Singh, team members, Delhi Heritage Walks)