Thursday, August 27, 2015

10 More things to see in Delhi that are not in Lonely Planet

A corridor in Khirki Masjid, one of the most atmospheric historical places in Delhi, and also one of the city's most under appreciated major monuments

For the first half of my write up on what Lonely Planet missed in Delhi, go to: http://evenfewergoats.blogspot.com/2014/12/10-things-to-see-in-delhi-that-are-not.html 

Starting right in the middle of South Delhi, here are ten more interesting places to visit in that sprawling metropolis which are not included in the most recent editions of Lonely Planet.




SCATTERED SOUTH DELHI SIGHTS (continued)

The next two entries are clusters of interesting monuments that don't fall directly inside any of the classical "Seven Cities" of Delhi. While you might not feel the need to go out of your way to visit any single one of these lesser known sites, spending several hours going from one forgotten monument to the next, tracking them down through mazes of posh housing, receiving all manner of inquisitive looks, certainly gives one a sense of accomplishment (and burns calories). It is easy to get lost in South Delhi, especially since even the locals frequently don't know where the monuments are, but the upside is that South Delhi is so full of forgotten old tombs, mosques, and historical buildings of unknown usage, that getting lost on your way to one tomb often means stumbling into another.

11: ASSORTED TOMBS NEAR SOUTH EX. MARKET


Part of the unusual tomb of Darya Khan Lohani

South Extension Market is a fairly nondescript, upscale South Delhi commercial area. Within very easy walking distance is a high concentration of interesting, though very obscure, Lodhi period tombs. Buried as they are in upper middle class neighborhoods, the tombs are well hidden, though more than worth seeking out.

Of the tombs, the most unusual is that of Darya Khan Lohani, a court judge and later advocate to the kings of the Lodhi dynasty. His tomb has an unusual layout, consisting of a square platform with cupola's at each corner. Though much ruined, the cupolas retain traces of incised plaster calligraphy. While mausoleums of this sort were apparently at one time not uncommon, most of the other examples have either disappeared, or have been remodeled beyond recognition, meaning that the tomb of Darya Khan Lohani is important from the perspective of Delhi's architectural history.

North of Darya Khan Lohani's tomb is a small park containing two interesting tombs (there is a third, in poorer condition, next to a temple across the street). Their occupants are unknown, though it's possible to judge, based on the style, that the tombs are also from the Lodhi period. The larger of the two is the impressive Bare Khan ka Gumbad, of interest chiefly for its facade, which has an unusually large number of arched niches. The other tomb, the Chhote Khan ka Gumbad, retains large fragments of the original plaster and tile work that once covered the outside. Unfortunately, the places where the original work has fallen off have been covered, in an ill-thought out restoration attempt, with horrendous pink plaster. Still, the tomb is said to have an interesting and well preserved interior, though at the time I visited the man with the key to the mausoleum was nowhere to be seen.

The impressive Bare Khan ka Gumbad

12: ASSORTED MONUMENTS NEAR THE HAUZ KHAS METRO STATION


The creepy Chor Minar

The are several interesting monuments within very easy walking distance of the Hauz Khas metro station, roughly between Aurobindo Marg and the line of the walls of Siri Fort (now largely taken up by upscale housing and a sports complex..see the next entry).

Of these, the most famous is the Chor Minar, a 13th century rubble masonry tower built by Allauddin Khilji, one of Delhi's more striking early Islamic rulers. Chor Minar means, roughly, "tower of thieves" and local tradition holds that the heads of captured robbers were displayed in the 225 holes that wind around the outside of the tower. While this may or may not be true-the name "Chor Minar" seems to have been recently bestowed-Allauddin Khilji is known to have beheaded large numbers of Mongols and then hung their heads  near the walls of his military stronghold at Siri Fort, both as a warning to the Mongol armies to the north, who were during this period history constantly harassing India's western boundaries, and to populations of Mongols inside the Khilji Kingdom who might be tempted to join their brethren on the other side of the Indus. This might therefore be the origin of the tower's association with severed heads. Certainly, no matter what the actual facts are, there definitely seem to have been severed heads involved somewhere, and a visit to the tower makes for an unusual, macabre, excursion. 

Located roughly 500 meters to the east of the Chor Minar, though only accessible by rather a circuitous walk through the very upscale Mayfair Gardens neighborhood, is the Tomb and Mosque of Makhdum Sahib. This is an obscure little group of Tughluq and Lodhi period buildings, set in a small park surrounded by fancy houses. Who Makhdum Sahib was is apparently anybody's guess, though he was evidently important enough to have a religious complex where buildings went up over the course of an entire century named after him. 

While the buildings themselves, along with the setting, are pleasant in their own right, what chiefly sets the complex apart is the fact that one of the tombs still has some old paintings, presumably from the Lodhi period, clinging to it. While many of the tombs in Delhi almost certainly once had this form of decoration, there are very few places in the city where it has survived.


Paintings in the one of the tombs at the Makhdum Sahib complex

SIRI

13: THE RUINS OF SIRI FORT


Ruinous walls are most of what remains of Siri fort

Once, Siri Fort, the vast citadel of one of the Delhi Sultanate's most important rulers, Alauddin Khilji, was the most impressive and indomitable example of military architecture in the whole of India. However, over the centuries large portions of the stone that made up the fort was plundered and used in later building projects, for the most part leaving only the foundations of the walls. Now the enclosure which once housed Alauddin Khilji's military encampment is filled in with an urban village, a huge 1980s sports complex, and several pleasant green parks. One can wander for long stretches of time inside the former walls of the fort and forget it's even there. Lonely Planet does mention the area, but only the sports complex (which evidently has a swimming pool you can use for a fee). The closest major tourist spot is Hauz Khas village, otherwise, visitors seeking out the ruins seem very rare.

And indeed the ruins, both of the walls and of the ancient structures within, having been abused for six hundred years both by the elements and by dozens of later rulers of Delhi, are very much fragmentary, serving only to give faint impressions of what the citadel was once like. They are interesting, they are atmospheric, but they are not beautiful.

However, for anyone truly interested in the development of the city of Delhi, what really makes the ruins of Siri worth seeking out is their history, for it was from here, in the late 13th and early 14th century, that much of the great struggle between Allauddin Khilji and the Mongols of the Chagatai Khanate played out. As the fate of North India lay in the balance, the fort served as Alauddin's military base against the Mongols, even being besieged by them in 1299.The Khilji's were ultimately the victors, and Delhi would not fall to another group of the descendants of Gengiz Khan's hordes until the arrival of Tamerlane close to a century later. Hence, the fort's importance in both Indian and Central Asian history should not be understated.

The fort also holds the distinction of being the first of the seven cities of Delhi that was entirely constructed by the Muslims. While Mehrauli was the first seat of Islamic power within the city, its foundations were Hindu. Siri, by contrast, was constructed entirely by Muslims. The artisans who went about building the city were exiles of Seljuk origin, a Turkic speaking people whose rapid spread throughout central and west Asia a few centuries before served as a kind of dress rehearsal for the advent of the Mongols and also, incidentally, precipitated the First Crusade. The city was built in a manner which had more in common with the fortresses of central Asia and Persia than with those of Medieval India.

The western edge of the ruins of the fort are located about 800 meters west of the Hauz Khas Metro Station. Some of the more complete fragments of the walls are visible from August Kranti Road. East of here, accessible either from Siri Road to the north, and the Outer Ring Road to the south, is a surprisingly huge green area, now a park, which still covers much of what was once the Khilji military encampment. Under the trees there are a few scattered ruins. The most interesting of these, pictured below, is located near the western edge of the woods. This huge haunted looking structure is now in the process of being reclaimed by nature, and can only be reached by pressing through scrubby undergrowth. Still, it's worth the effort. What purpose the buildings here served is unknown. Whether or not it dates from the days of Alauddin's military encampment is not known. I suspect it's from a later period, but I can't confirm this. No attempt is currently being made to preserve the structure. 

The huge mysterious ruin in the park inside the walls of Siri Fort

JAHANPANAH

If there is any large swathe of Delhi that Lonely Planet should take a closer look at, surely it is Jahanpanah, the fourth of the historical cities of Delhi (following Tughluqabad, which was built after Siri, to the Southeast). While very little of the city has survived into the present, the few major monuments that do remain are some of the most fascinating and most important buildings in Delhi. Unlike a number of the places that I've listed above, which would only truly appeal to the hardcore history enthusiast, the major sites in this part of Delhi would, I think, be of interest to the vast majority of tourists. The problem is that practically no one has even heard of these places. I've gone to them all several times, and have never seen another visitor from outside of Delhi. This makes a visit to the old mosques, tombs, and palaces of Jahanpanah one of Delhi's greatest off the beaten track adventures. 

Muhammad Tughluq created Jahanpanah in the early 14th century by connecting the walls of Mehrauli and Siri, thereby enclosing the huge swath of empty space that once separated them. This new settlement, vastly larger than the three cities which had preceded it, is currently mostly taken up by the modern neighborhood of Malvia Nagar. Inside the former boundary of the now largely nonexistent walls are a collection of extraordinary monuments. However, they are all buried deep in residential areas, and known only to people in their immediate vicinity. Therefore, it's best to look them up on Google maps before trying to track them down. The distances involved in Malvia Nagar are huge, and it's easy to get lost. 

14: THE BIJAY MANDAL

An unusual Lodi period extension to the unique Bijay Mandal palace complex

The Bijay Mandal is one of Delhi's most important, mysterious, and obscure, major monuments. It is medieval Delhi's only surviving palace complex, and was in use from the days of Alauddin Khilji, through the Tughlaq period, Tamerlane's invasion of North India, and all the way to the time of the Lodhi sultans. As such, it was the seat of power of several of the Delhi Sultanate's most important personalities. In Alauddin Khilji's time, the Bijay Mandal served as the sultan's living quarters, while Siri Fort was in all likelihood largely devoted to military matters. The palace therefore considerably predates the founding of Jahanpanah. 

Muhammad Tughluq, the ruler famous for attempting to move much of the population Delhi hundreds of kilometers south to Daulatabad in present day Maharashtra, is thought to have occupied the palace complex, and it was during his reign that the palace was visited by the well known Muslim traveler Ibn Batutta. Unfortunately, Ibn Batutta's description of his time spent there doesn't give much of an impression of what the palace itself was like, meaning that there are no historical primary sources which can shed light on how the complex functioned as a building. 

Simply from the scale of the place, one can tell that the Bijay Mandal was exceedingly important in its day. Yet, the things that make the complex so unique are also what makes it so confusing: It is one of the very few surviving examples of a secular, non-military structure from medieval Delhi, but over the centuries that it was in use it was remodeled by the different rulers who occupied it. Since historians and archaeologists have almost no other examples to compare it to, and since there's no historical record of how the buildings looked in their heyday, even figuring out what purpose each of the structures in the complex served is a matter of conjecture.

What remains is a huge jumbled mass of ancient rubble masonry. While the overgrown ruins are, again, not what I'd call beautiful, they are a great place to wander around. There is a Tughluq period pavilion on the top of the main structure that one can access and get good views out over Malvia Nagar, and there is also a stone columned hall, probably dating from the Khilji period, which is interesting to explore. 

As the crow flies, the ruins are located about 500 meters south of the Hauz Khas metro station, across the Outer Ring Road. Simply head south from the metro station, into the residential area, and you should be able to find your way there. The ruins are set in a large public space between blocks of apartments. 


Masonry and columns in the Khilji era hall of the Bijay Mandal

15: BEGUMPUR MASJID


The impressively aligned entrance way, prayer hall, and central prayer niche of Begumpur Masjid

It is astonishing that something so huge and so interesting could be so completely overlooked, but the 14th century Begumpur Masjid, one of the largest, most architecturally sophisticated, and well preserved mosques of the Tughlaq era, sees few visitors. Like the rest of the monuments of Jahanpanah, Lonely Planet makes no mention of it. All the times I've gone, I've had the whole vast building to myself. 

There is some controversy as to when the building dates from. Likely, it was built during Muhammad Tughluq's reign, and therefore shortly after the founding of Jahanpanah itself. However, there are those who contend that the building was constructed later, during Feroz Shah's reign. 

Either way, in a city known the world over for its beautiful mosques, Begumpur Masjid holds its own. It's courtyard is so vast that, in the chaotic 18th century, it sheltered a whole village. Despite the roof of the colonnaded hall around the perimeter of the courtyard having  fallen in at a few places, the building is remarkably well preserved. Furthermore, the mosque is particularly worth seeking out because it is one of Delhi's few ancient buildings of any sort where no attempt is currently being made to prevent visitors from exploring its dark passageways, or from climbing up onto its roof. The strange, narrow, stairways leading up above the prayer hall are particularly interesting. 

Begumpur Masjid is right next to the Bijay Mandal, so it makes sense to visit both of them in a single trip. A walk in the near vicinity will also bring you to a large assortment of minor monuments from various periods.


Colonnaded hall in Begumpur Masjid

16: KHIRKI MASJID


Strange angles and a prayer niche in Khirki Masjid

If I had to name one single place on this list to include in Lonely Planet, it would be Khirki Masjid, Delhi's most unusual mosque, and one of its most atmospheric historical sites. Built in the later half of the 14th century, what makes it so extraordinary is that it is one of only two historical Indian mosques that are entirely covered. Designed by a recent convert to Islam, the mosque's architecture is in many ways more reminiscent of Hindu places of worship. In a Hindu temple, less emphasis is placed on communal gathering, thus the actual worship space in a temple tends to be covered. In a mosque, the building is usually meant to accommodate large numbers of worshipers, and therefor the worship space is generally open to the sky. Khirki Masjid is one of the only mosques in India to reverse this trend.

The outside of the mosque has the appearance almost of a fortress. Certainly, it would be an easy place to defend against an attacker. The inside consists of several long colonnaded corridors, with four square open courtyards which let in a certain amount of natural light. The roof has a curious arrangement of nine square groups of nine small domes (with one of the groups having largely collapsed). 

In all of Delhi, there is nothing quite like it. While the mosque is now closely beset by the buildings of Khirki village, which are literally a stone's throw away, the interior of the mosque is one of the exceedingly few places in Delhi where the modern world gets entirely shut out. Walking inside the medieval corridors of Khirki Masjid is one of the closest experiences one can have to going back in time in India's capital. Even in Old Delhi, where an earlier way of life is, to some extent, preserved, one is still surrounded by motor bikes, electrical wires, ceiling fans, and advertisements. But in the interior of Khirki Masjid, what one sees now is very similar to what one would have seen visiting the mosque when it was new.

However, on top of the mosque's historical significance and unusual architecture, both things that would make it very worth visiting in their own right, is its incredible profusion of wildlife. So far in my life I've never been to a better place to see bats, and that includes several natural "Bat Caves" that I've visited. There are  tens of thousands of the flying rodents in the mosque, mostly hanging in the undersides of the peculiar domes in the roof. They do, of course, have their disadvantages. If you don't care for bats, it's probably better to give Khirki Masjid a miss, and they certainly don't make the inside smell nice, but if you have the guts for it, seeing the huge crowds of thousands of flying rodents in the mosque might just be one of the most incredible experiences you'll have in Delhi.

Accessing the mosque is unfortunately a bit tricky. For the moment, the nearest metro stop is Malvia Nagar, though it's still not that near, and the walk is not pleasant. To make matters even more confusing, the numerous auto drivers out in front of the metro station don't seem to know where the historical Khirki Masjid is, though they may bring you to a different, new, mosque nearby.  I've found that the best tactic is simply to get in a shared auto to the vast Saket Select City Walk shopping complex, which is almost directly across Press Enclave road from the mosque. From where the auto stops, simply walk down the left side of the road, looking into each alleyway as you go. Khirki Masjid is located about a hundred meters from the road, and you'll be able to tell you're in the right place when you see an ancient looking masonry wall down one of the alleys. Yes, it's hard to find, but as one of Delhi's most unusual and atmospheric places, it's more than worth the trouble!

Gigantic numbers of bats. All the little glowing pairs of dots are bat eyes!

THE SULTAN GHARI

17: THE SULTAN GHARI AND NEARBY RUINS

The Sultan Ghari, India's first Islamic Tomb, and Delhi's most shamefully neglected major monument

Before moving on to the forgotten sights in the last of the historical cities in Delhi on this list, Mehrauli, we'll first take a took at a very interesting, historically important, and totally forgotten, complex of Sultanate and Mughal monuments, which really don't fit in anywhere else.

The Sultan Ghari, or Sultan's Cave, is the tomb of Nasiruddin Mahmud, one of the sons of Illtutmish, the second ruler of the Mamluk dynasty, and the first Muslim king in Delhi to assert his independence, thus founding the Delhi Sultanate. While Nasiruddin Mahmud's place in history may not be as illustrious as that of his father, his tomb is one of the most historically important buildings in Delhi, as it is the very earliest surviving Islamic mausoleum, not only in Delhi, but in all of India.

 The building itself is very unusual. It predates the introduction of true arches (and therefore domes) in India, which would come in a few decades later, in the less well preserved tomb of Balban, one of Illtutmish's successors. The mausoleum consists of a courtyard, with almost fortress-like walls and a prayer-niche at one side. The effect is rather more like a mosque than a mausoleum. Underneath the courtyard is a large chamber, where the grave of Nasiruddin Mahmud and another, unknown, person are kept. 

The chamber is a place of worship for both Hindus and Muslims from several  nearby villages, who come to pray every Thursday. Filled with the smell of incense and old offerings, the chamber of the Sultan Ghari feels more like a Hindu temple than like the inside of a later Islamic tomb, and in fact many of the columns used in the construction of the tomb are reused from ancient, long since demolished, Hindu temples. 

The main mausoleum in the Sultan Ghari complex is more than worth seeking out on its own merits. However, there are also a large number of other historical buildings that came up around the mausoleum that are very much of interest, though they are all being treated with shocking indifference (or were as of late 2013, when last I visited....perhaps the situation has improved?) Of these other buildings, the one closest to the main mausoleum is a chattri (pictured in the photo above), which is said to have been restored, along with much of the tomb, by Feroz Shah Tughluq. Also nearby, accessible if one is willing to push through a certain amount of scrubby undergrowth, is a small, ruined, Tughluq era mosque.

The most remarkable structures in the area surrounding the Sultan Ghari are the remains of several late Mughal era houses and other miscellaneous secular buildings. While these ruins are, by Delhi standards, fairly recent, they are nonetheless exceptionally rare:  They represent one of the very few places in Delhi where a large collection of residential buildings, in this case, several entire small villages, have survived into the present. 

For the most part the buildings that survive the ravages of time are the ones that were important to begin with. The houses of ordinary, even relatively well off, people were usually allowed to disappear. For this reason, in the modern age we are able to fairly minutely trace the development of tombs in Delhi from the 13th to the 18th century, but attempting to explain the development of normal houses over the same period is a matter of guesswork.

That makes the ruined villages around the Sultan Ghari very important from a historical perspective. As for visiting them, the downside is that the buildings (at least when last I went) are in a shameful state of neglect, and reaching them is rather more of an adventure than it should be (and not a totally pleasant one). A great deal of thorns need to be pushed through. An extensive restoration job seems to have been attempted sometime in the early to mid 2000s, but the "improvements" have often already been reclaimed by scrubby vegetation. Other than pilgrims from nearby, the site seems to receive very little in the way of visitors. 

Just getting to the Sultan Ghari itself is also no easy task. When I went, I started by riding the Delhi Metro Yellow Line down to the Chhattarpur station (the one immediately after Qutb Minar). From there, I took an auto to the "Indian Spinal Injuries Center." The hospital was about 6 kms up Abdul Gaffar Khan Marg, near to a part of South Delhi called Vasant Kunj. The turnoff to the tomb is about 200 meters west of the entrance to the hospital, and, at least when I went, the sign marking the way was so small that you'd practically have to have your face pressed up against it to know that it was indeed the way to the Sultan Ghari.  The tomb is set about half a km back from the main road, on an unpaved dirt track.

 Unfortunately, just going up to an auto-rickshaw driver and telling him "Sultan Ghari" will in all likelihood simply confuse him, so, if you intend on going out and locating the thing, make sure to research it on Google Maps. For one thing, the satellite images give you a good indication of the layout of the late Mughal era villages.


Surprisingly Greco-Roman looking pillars in front of the prayer niche of the Sultan Ghari. The columns were probably taken from significantly older Hindu temples

MEHRAULI

Having moved south from the Mughal Gardens of North Delhi, through Shahjahanabad, to the Sultanate cities of Siri Fort and Jahanpanah, we've finally come all the way south to Mehrauli, the place where the "idea" of Delhi first developed. As the last, and also earliest, part of the city on this list, Mehrauli contians things worth seeing from every age of Delhi's history, from pre-Islamic times, all the way to the colonial 19th century. 

Mehrauli began as the 11th century Hindu Rajput stronghold of Lal-Kot, or "Red Fort" ( not to be confused with the much later Mughal "Red Fort", or Lal Qila). Its conquest at the end of the 12th century by Muhammad of Ghor ushered in Islamic rule in Delhi for the next seven centuries.Thus, Mehrauli can be said to be the historical foundation of Delhi: The very concept of the city began here, and then slowly, over the course of most of a millennium, radiated outward from this point. 

Like Old Delhi (which is in fact relatively new in comparison to Mehrauli), tourism in this area is a study in contrasts. Arguably Delhi's most iconic building, and one of the top tourist draws in all of India, the Qutb Minar is the star attraction of the area, the only site in the entire country which receives more visitors being the Taj Mahal. Yet, less than a kilometer from the Qutb Minar is a dense concentration of monuments, from virtually every period in Delhi's history, which go unnoticed.

Lonely Planet has lately begun to include some of these lesser known places. The Mehrauli Archaeological Park, for example, which is nearly as interesting as the UNESCO protected Qutb Minar World Heritage site, gets well deserved high ratings from the guidebooks. However, Lonely Planet also presents a certain amount of information about the area which is incorrect, and which does little to extend tourism into Mehrauli Village itself. 

18: THE ZAFAR MAHAL


The faded elegance of the gate of the Zafar Mahal

It is often said (the quote varying slightly wherever one encounters it) that the mid 18th century mausoleum of Safdarjung, the final truly monumental Mughal garden tomb, was "the last flickering of the dying lamp of Mughal architecture." If that's the case, then the later Zafar Mahal was the last tiny bit of heat radiating out of the ashes of Mughal architectural magnificence, long after the fire had been extinguished. 

The Zafar Mahal was the summer palace of the last of the Mughal emperors, who ruled from the Red Fort in Delhi over an "empire" that was mostly symbolic. The Mughals themselves remained significant as figureheads, but the extent of their actual political power was largely determined by the British East India Company. By the middle of the 19th century, they had lost all relevance as military leaders, and many members of the royal family were in fact living in poverty. 

The gate of the Zafar Mahal, the most prominent structure left in the palace complex, reflects the fortunes of the latter Mughal emperors: Still a grand building if taken entirely on its own merits, when compared with the architectural feats of the house of Babur in it's heyday, which rank high among the most impressive buildings ever created by the human species, the gate becomes a symbol of a dynasty that had fallen irretrievably into decay. This makes the palace one of the most melancholy places to visit in the whole of Delhi. 

Much of what still exists (including the gate) was built by Bahadur Zafar II, the last Mughal emperor, and largely a puppet of the British, and later, of the Sepoys of the Indian Rebellion of 1857. A man buffeted about by historical forces that he had neither the ability nor the inclination to control, his life, and that of the Mughal Dynasty, ended on a pitiable note. Banished to Burma, he died and was buried there, not where he had hoped to be, at a grave site within the Zafar Mahal.

Inside the palace, near the small, well proportioned Moti Masjid (an earlier building dating from near the beginning of the 18th century), is a small grave enclosure containing several of the final resting places of the later Mughal rulers. Far from the overwhelming grandeur of the garden tombs in which most of the early Mughal emperors are interred, these are no more than simple, white, marble gravestones. Here lie other unfortunate later Mughals, such as Bahadur Shah I, Shah Alam, and the person who would have been Zafar's successor, Mirza Fakruddin, had he not died before Zafar. But sadder than the gravestones is the empty space left between two of them: This is the lot Zafar had chosen to be buried in, before the events of the Seapoy Rebellion spun utterly out of his control, and he wound up, not entirely by his own choosing, on the loosing side. Banished to Burma, he died in poverty, and the house of Babur which had existed in North India for over 350 years was finally expunged. 

The palace itself was built directly adjacent to the dargah of the 12th and 13th century Sufi saint Qutb-ud-din Bakhtiyar Kaki, the person to whom the Qutb Minar, the symbol of the arrival of Islamic rule not only in Delhi, but in the whole of India, was dedicated. While the shrine is not as well known as some other Sufi places of worship in Delhi, it is nonetheless just as historically important, as the city of Mehrauli largely developed around it. 

A comparison of the Zafar Mahal and the Qutb Minar therefore makes an interesting historical counterpoint: While the Qutb Minar represents Islamic rule's triumphant beginning in Delhi, the Zafar Mahel is symbolic of its ignominious finish. The termination of the Mughal era was not only the end of a dynasty, but the end of nearly 700 years of uninterrupted Muslim dominance in the city. 

While what makes the Zafar Mahal most worth seeking out is the history associated with it, it is also an interesting place to explore. The complex grew up around several older buildings, including one (possibly) 13th century tomb. The Moti Masjid  is a very lovely, mid-Mughal period mosque, and the main gate, while a far cry from the stupendous architectural feats of the earlier Mughals, is nonetheless still impressive, all the more so for it's placement in a congested corner of Mehrauli village.

Getting there is not difficult: Just go to the Mehrauli Archaeological Park, head due west along any one of several trails that lead out into Mehrauli Village. Once in the village, simply ask anyone you meet on the street for the Dargah (just asking "Dargah"? should suffice), and you'll get there, as the palace is directly adjacent to the shrine. This is, however, one of the points where Lonely Planet has made a mistake: There is a short passage in the most recent edition of the guidebook which claims that Zafar is buried "between two tombs" and that his final resting place is to the southwest of the Archaeological Park, on the banks of the ancient Haus i Shamsi reservoir. The tomb is not between two tombs, it's due west rather than southwest of the Archaeological Park, and is still close to half a kilometer away from the reservoir. No mention is made of the Zafar Mahal itself, which, judging by the looks I got from the locals when I went, sees very few tourists. This is a shame, for it is one of Delhi's most moving historical sites. 

The space left empty for Bahadur Shah Zafar II

19: ASSORTED MONUMENTS IN MEHRAULI VILLAGE

The (probably) Lodhi period Jehaz Mahal

The village of Mehrauli, adhering to roughly the same street pattern as when it first developed close to a millennium ago, contains an incredible density of ancient monuments. Yet, after the Qutb Minar World Heritage site, and then the Mehrauli Archaeological Park, exceedingly few visitors make the additional effort to explore the village itself. This is not helped by the fact that, as mentioned in the entry above, some of Lonely Planet's information on the area is incorrect. 

Mehrauli village is the true "Old Delhi." The settlement here has seen the entire history of the city, from the Hindu period all the way to the present day. Just like in Old Delhi, perhaps the most profitable way to explore the village is simply to wander around without a fixed objective. Around every corner are interesting old mosques, tombs, houses, palaces, and fortifications. Also, after walking from the Qutb Minar, you'll find that the atmosphere here to be almost entirely different: Though right next door to the world renown tourist destination, virtually nobody comes this far, so the locals won't be expecting you. 

There are an incredible number of monuments here to choose from. However, were I to pick two interesting things within the village itself to visit, they would be the Jehaz Mahal and Gandhak ki Baoli, neither of which are mentioned by Lonely Planet.

The Jehaz Mahal, meaning, roughly "Ship Palace," is a large, impossible to miss, building next to the Haus i Shamsi Reservoir (the reservoir itself having been created at the very beginning of the Delhi Sultanate). While architecturally very impressive, the actual purpose of the building seems to be unknown, a pleasure palace being the best guess. Judging from the architecture, it seems to date from the Lodhi period. Nearby are several more ruined mosques and tombs. When I visited the Jehaz Mahal, I was let in by a caretaker who refused to accept any money...this is exceedingly rare in Delhi, so I hope the same man is there now.

It might be cheating a little to include the Gandhak ki Baoli on this list: It is technically a part of the Mehrauli Archaeological Park, which is included in Lonely Planet. However, it's surrounded by modern buildings, it's a good distance away from any of the other structures in the park, and the Lonely Planet does not mention it specifically, meaning that you wouldn't know it was there, or, for that matter, that it was worth seeking out, by reading the Lonely Planet. Built partially out of fragments of ruined temples in the early 13th century by Iltutmish, it is Delhi's most ancient step-well, and therefore a vital piece of the history of the first few decades of Muslim rule in India. The structure has seven levels, though at the time the picture below was taken, the water level was unusually high. Unfortunately, the caretaker for the building is often absent, and since he has the keys, when he's not there it's impossible to get in without jumping a fence....that, however, is fairly easy to do, and if anyone confronts you about it, just play dumb and wander off...


Gandhak ki Baoli

20: THE WALLS OF LAL KOT

Overgrown ancient masonry. A long forgotten bastion of the Hindu Rajput fortress of Lal Kot 

The final entry on this list also happens to be the oldest, and the most off the beaten path. It's easy to forget that anything substantial from the pre-Islamic period in Delhi survives, other than the ubiquitous reused Hindu temple columns one sees all over Mehrauli. Yet, while they seem to be almost totally forgotten, large portions of the original walls of the Hindu Rajput city still stand. Forlorn, covered in cactus and scrubby vegetation, and now unprotected, the walls of the ancient city of Lal-Kot are where Delhi began. 

While the walls might not be as immediately impressive as the later Islamic period fortifications in Delhi, such as those of the Red Fort or Purana Qila, that so much of their stonework has remained after 800 years of the city's cataclysmic history is a testament to the engineering abilities of the medieval Rajputs. 

Visiting the walls is about as far as one can get from the usual tourist itinerary in Delhi. The most intact part of the fortifications run through a surprisingly lonely, forested area due west of the Qutb Minar World Heritage site. To find the walls, head first to Adham Khan's tomb. This is the huge dome that you'll be able to see all the way from the Qutb Minar metro station, and after the Qutb Minar itself is Mehrauli's most prominent landmark. There is a road that leads straight west from the tomb, and after about 250 meters, you'll pass by one of the bastions of the of the ancient fortification. You can climb up onto this, and then continue for some distance along the ridge of the ruined walls. A word of warning: When I went up onto the wall, the access point was covered in garbage. The situation may have improved recently, but I doubt it. Needless to say, visiting the walls of Lal-Kot is a genuine adventure, and you probably shouldn't do it alone. 

From the top of the fortifications, one is afforded what may be my favorite view in India's capital city: A wide vista encompassing all of Mehrauli, from Adham Khan's Tomb to the Qutb Minar, with Delhi stretching out infinitely to the horizon beyond.

The view from the fortifications of Lal-Kot, with Adham Khan's Tomb on the right, the small but prominent tomb of Azim Khan in the center, and the Qutb Minar on the left.


That ends my posts on twenty things to see in Delhi that are not in Lonely Planet. Note that this list is very far from being all inclusive. Even now, after six years of travelling in India, and after spending many months in Delhi, there are still large parts of the city that I have yet to visit. But for someone with a taste for adventure and for seeking out the obscure, Delhi's collection of interesting places to see is simply inexhaustible.

Regarding sources, the best guidebook for the lesser known places in Delhi is still Lucy Peck's Delhi: A Thousand Years of Building. However, that book is now a decade old, and Delhi has changed a great deal since it came out. Make sure, if you're trying to reach the sites listed above, to consult other resources such as Google maps, as many of the maps in Lucy Peck's tremendous guide book are unfortunately out of date.









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