There are many a stories of cities of Delhi; how many people came, made it their home, only to be replaced by a new bunch. Today, their remnants are most visible as monumental heritage of Delhi. And south Delhi happens to be one of the densest in terms of these remains. After all, this is where the story of urban Delhi started, this is where the first cities of Delhi came up. Even when the capital moved up north & closer to the river Yamuna, this area was never abandoned. As a result, Mehrauli sees a continuous settlement for a 1000 odd years, which is an incredible trail back to the past!
Our heritage walk in Mehrauli Archaeological Park shares some of nuggets of this rich history. The starting point of this trail is the entrance to the Park on Mehrauli Gurgaon road. We walk through a gateway into a clearing which is the site of archeological excavation about 2 years ago. A few steps ahead, Balban’s tomb stands out. Although in a ruined condition, its scale gives us some idea of how magnificent this tomb might have been. There is also a faint trace of plaster & tile decoration on one of the walls, which helps us imagine how it might have looked in the 13th century. Balban’s grave is no longer extant & the burial we see in the adjacent chamber is believed to be of his son, Khan Shaheed. Now are days, it has become a site for ritual prayers. A couple of local Muslims offer prayers here, leaving incense sticks, perfume & rose petal as offerings. Next to it is another ruined complex, where we can see foundations of rooms, with decorative niches. These niches are not deep enough for storage, so they were probably chiragdaans, for placing lamps. Some rooms have stairs, which now lead to nowhere, but originally would have been access to the upper storey. Walking on, we come to the building which gives the area its local name. This is the Jamali Kamali mosque. Built by sufi & poet Sheikh Fazullah, this is a well preserved mosque which also has Jamali Kamali tomb in the adjacent courtyard.
Later in the 19th century, this entire piece of land was purchased by a British Resident, Thomas Metcalfe. He went about re-landscaping the terrain to suit his tastes & converted it into his weekend retreat named ‘Dilkusha’. He took many a pains to work at this site: purchased a tomb & converted it into his residence; a Lodi period building was converted into a boathouse, which stood on an artificial lake, created by diverting a stream! Moreover, he went about planting follies of all shapes & sizes through his estate. Some of them still survive, like the pavilion atop a hill opp. Jamali Kamali mosque. There are two more bizarre follies by his just outside the Qutb complex: one shaped like a ziggurat & the other like spiral! They are easy to spot, if you are standing outside the ticket counter to Qutb.
After walking though the Dilkusha, we tracked our way back to the centre of the Park & then took a slight detour to the west, which led us to Rajon ki Baoli, a step well. This is a 4 tiered step well, which is named after masons. It has recently undergone extensive restoration work, but sadly some of the debris & material is still dumped around, defeating the very purpose of such initiatives. Still, the step well is an amazing site of behold, each level revealing itself as we move closer to it!
(posted by Kanika Singh & Kavita Singh, team members, Delhi Heritage Walks)