A Walk through Mehrauli Archaeological Park
In school, my favourite subject was History – not the mug-up-dates-and-vomit-long-answers-on-examination-paper part of History but the stories-of-the-distant-past part of History. I would sit for long hours with the text book in hand, devouring the real-life stories of wars, intrigue, murder, mystery, love and friendship.
I was biased towards the Mughal era, which had all the elements of a best-seller. In fact this is the only reason why Delhi is my most favourite city after my home town Calcutta, despite its safety issues for women and impolite inhabitants. During my short stay in Delhi in 2007, I was intrigued to see historical ruins standing in the middle of busy roads and immediately fell in love with this place where history is still alive.
I harboured a secret desire to live here. Last year, God answered my prayer.
I was sad to leave behind Calcutta but at the same time, I was eager to begin a new life in the National Capital Region. I kick-started my exploration of history with a walk through the Mehrauli Archaeological Park.
Mehrauli Archaeological Park is in fact, an extension of the Qutub Minar complex, sprawled over 200 acres in Mehrauli on the Delhi-Gurgaon border.
Over 100 ruins dating back to a millennium, from every dynasty that ever ruled over Delhi beginning with the Tomar citadel Lal Kot built by Anangpal I and including British Raj, can be found here. In fact, it is said to be located in first of the seven historic cities of Delhi and is the only area in Delhi known for 1000 years of continuous occupation which continues till date!
Right when we entered the Park, a distant Qutub Minar greeted us in the slightly unforgiving May sun, as if beckoning us explore what lay between. Beautiful signboards, as if carved out from ancient rocks, directed our paths.
First up, is the tomb of Ghiyasuddin Balban, one of the Sultans of the Mamluk Dyanasty. History says that he was the slave of Iltutmish, who went on to marry the daughter of Sultan Nasiruddin Mahmud and ascended the throne after his death.
It is said to be the first example of a true arch and dome in the Indian sub-continent. Time has been cruel over this piece of architectural marvel and nothing remains of the dome. Balban’s grave is also missing; the grave in the picture is that of one of his sons, Khan Shaheed.
Undoubtedly the most majestic structure in the Park is the Jamali Kamali, a mosque in the name of Shaikh Fazl-ullah aka Shaikh Jamali Kamboh, a poet and Sufi saint who lived in the 1500s i.e. through the Lodhi and Mughal rule.
A very steep set of stone steps led to the tomb of Quli Khan, the foster-brother of Akbar, which land was later bought by Metcalfe.
Exquisite calligraphy border the archway and the medallions on the two sides are inscribed with Quranic calligraphy and floral patterns.
Beautiful blue-painted interior of Quli Khan’s tomb, which has withstood the rigours of time well.
We walked past what appeared to be dwelling units from yester-years. Can you imagine a busy day unfolding inside these walls?
By the time we reached the Metcalfe’s Canopy, the sun was bearing down upon all of us. I tried to use my little photography knowledge into creating a silhouette.
Sir Thomas Metcalfe, who was the British agent in the courts of Emperor Akbar Shah II and Bahadur Shah Zafar II was so much in love with Delhi that he built a country house on the land of Mirza Muhammad Quli Khan and filled his land with many structures. One such is a canopy situated on a gentle slope inside the Park.
Nowadays, it lends a resting space to the weary walkers, romantic couples and stray dogs alike.
The walking trail, flanked by greenery and leading to the various pages of a history book.
Much of the Park had been covered in dense forests for years. Conservation efforts have uncovered structures like these, which are said to be examples of the canals built by Metcalfe. There were even signs of a dried-up water body close to Metcalfe’s boathouse.
Another popular landmark – Rajon Ki Baoli, a three-story stepwell. It is said to be constructed by a certain Daulat Khan during the reign of Sultan Sikandar Lodi. This grand baoli is known to be used as a residence by local masons (rajon) and hence this name.
At the end of our walk, we have reached closer to the majestic Qutub Minar, overlooking an ongoing cricket match!
A Few Points –
1. Entrance to Mehrauli Archaeological Park is on Mehrauli Gurgaon Road, about 500 meters from the Qutub Minar Metro Station on the Yellow Line (on the left if facing towards Delhi). There is only a signboard which says ‘Delhi Development Authority, Rules & Regulations’, leading to a narrow road which is the entrance to the Park.
2. It can be enjoyed at any time of the day and year. I went early in the morning in May when the air was fresh and the sun less scorching.
3. It is best if one visits in a group. It is a vast area and mostly empty, except may be in the morning when the place is thronged by morning walkers and kids playing all sorts of sports.
4. Few of the monuments, especially Quli Khan’s tomb and the depths of the Rajon ki Baoli are accessible only by steep steps without any support. I suffer from climacophobia (fear of climbing stairs) and so, I had a hard time there.
All images have been taken by me with my Nikon D5100 AF-S 18-55mm VR lens and cannot be copied by anybody for any purpose whatsoever without my permission.