Where the first cities of Delhi came up…a heritage walk in Mehrauli Archaeological Park, 22 Jan 2012
A large part of our city’s monumental heritage is invisible…hidden behind massive malls, residential colonies. This is the first realization to strike anyone who begins exploring Mehrauli Archaeological Park. Our first thought is ‘we have driven past this road a hundred times, but never realized all this lay behind it!’ Our heritage walk in Mehrauli weaves its way through some of the most interesting monuments in Delhi. Mehrauli being the area where the first cities of Delhi came up: the Tomars, the Chauhans, the Turkish slaves had their capitals here; the Lal Kot, Qila Rai Pithora and the Qutb area. Even when the capital shifted this area continued to be settled. So today we find remains from different time periods in this region. Our first stop is a clearing which was created by archaeological work here, about a year ago. It revealed a stone floor, some foundations, rooms, graves. It looks like a settlement built around a courtyard. I have managed to collect some surface finds from the excavation: these include pottery shards which are decorated and a clay horse which was probably a toy. Sultan Balban’s tomb which stands just after the courtyard is one of the most significant monuments in Delhi. It is now a ruined structure but it remains the earliest building to use the true arch in its construction. It has three chambers: the main tomb chamber and two adjacent ones to the west and east. Balban’s grave is no longer extant, but the chamber to the west has a grave, believed to be of this favourite son, Khan Shaheed. Climb a few steep steps and you will be walking among the remains of a residential settlement. This settlement is dated to the Mughal times and one can now see the remains of rooms, some of them being double storeyed. Our next stop is the Jamali Kamali mosque and tomb. This is the monument which gives the park its local name. Few would know it as the Mehrauli Archaeological Park. The mosque was built by a sufi saint and poet Shaikh Fazlullah whose pen name was ‘Jamali’. It is one of the finest examples of Indo-Islamic architecture. The courtyard next to the mosque has a burial ground and the tomb of Jamali Kamali. The plaster and tile decoration of this small tomb is a delight to behold! Further on our heritage trail, we rambled into the territory which was once owned by the British Resident, Thomas Metcalfe. He bought the land with its ruins and went about landscaping them to suit his English taste. He purchased Mohammad Quli Khan’s tomb and converted it into his residence; he transformed a Lodi period building into a boathouse, which stood in an artificial lake, which was created by diverting a stream! He planted follies all over this landscape and called his estate the Dilkusha or ‘delighter of the heart’! Metcalfe’s folly still stands on a hill outside the Jamali Kamali mosque. The last stop on our heritage walk was the step well. Called Rajon ki Baoli or masons’ step well, this is a Lodi period building. Now completely dry, it is undergoing restoration work. Step wells were mainly for drinking water purposes, but they were also social spaces. Being underground and near a source of water, they were extremely cool in summers and hence the galleries of step wells were places where people would sit around and spend time.
(posted by Kanika Singh, photos by Kavita Singh, team members Delhi Heritage Walks)