Delhi 101: #26 Bet no one tells you this one – Mehrauli Archaeological Park

The Mosque of Jamali Kamali at Mehrauli Archaeological Park in New Delhi
The Mosque of Jamali Kamali at Mehrauli Archaeological Park in New Delhi

Right, you would never guess this place exists. 99 percent of Delhites would not know of it either. And it is right behind the city’s most famous landmark, the Qutab Minar.

If you mention Jamali Kamali, it may ring a bell for a few people – that’s what the 200 acre Mehrauli Archaeological Park was referred to earlier. Why? You will know as we walk 700 years of history, one step at a time.

Interestingly, Mehrauli has been the only part of Delhi to have always been inhabited since the time Anang Pal ruled from Lal Kot in the 11th century even when various rulers created their own cities (known as the seven cities of Delhi).

Delhi 101: Cover image of book by Ajay JainThis post has been taken from Delhi 101, a book written by Ajay Jain. It is about 101 surprising ways to discover Delhi, one of the most amazing cities in the world for travelers. To know more about the book and to order one, click here.

BALBAN’S TOMB
The entry to the tomb of 13th century powerful ruler Sultan Ghiyas-ud-din Balban is marked by a gate built in A.D. 1286. Its significance stems from it being the first surviving structure with a true dome and arches – even though the dome looks pyramidal. Balban belonged to the slave dynasty, who ruled for about 20 years. His son, Khan Shahid who died fighting the Mongols even before being crowned, is also buried here. People offer incense on his grave, leaving a lingering aroma in the air.

Structures that look like houses overlooking a central courtyard suggest there may have been a bustling settlement in the 16th-17th centuries A.D. but there is as yet no historical account to support this assumption. Some of the structures are double-storeyed, with holes for timber beams to make the roof.

And to imagine that all of these were passed off as rubble until excavated around 2001.

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JAMALI KAMALI
A prominent structure here is the mosque and tomb of Jamali Kamali. The area today is known more as a picnic spot by this name. Shaikh Fazlullah, also known as Jalal Khan or Jamali, was a saint, traveller and poet who lived between the times of the second ruler of the Afghan Lodi Dynasty, Sikandar Lodi who reigned over Sultanate of Delhi from 1489 to 1517 and Mughal emperor Humayun.

Work on the mosque commenced around 1528 but was completed during Humayun’s time. The tomb was built in 1528 and houses the graves of Jamali and Kamali. The identity of the latter is unknown. He could have been Jamali’s servant or companion.

The tomb is often locked but look out for the watchman who will let you in – with shoes off. The tomb compound has a canopy too. It is a Hindu structure and may have been put up independently at some stage.

A SIGN AT JAMALI KAMALI READS
‘Some of the noteworthy features of this elegant mosque are fluted pilasters flanking the central arch, carved bands and medallions in the spandrels and pendant lotus buds below the parapet which decorate the façade of the prayer hall, pierced by five arched openings. The west wall with octagonal towers at the corners has a narrow gallery running round the mosque on the second floor with three oriel windows. The flat roofed tomb in the adjoining enclosure to the north is unique for its ornamentation with coloured tiles and patterns in incised and painted plaster bearing an inscription composed by Jamali himself.’

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THOMAS METCALFE’S CANOPY AND HOUSE
Thomas Metcalfe, younger brother of Sir Charles Metcalfe (Resident of Delhi in the 19th century and provisional Governor General of India in 1835) took a fancy to Mehrauli and went about making it his weekend getaway.

He built a new canopy, called his ‘folly’ as it was made to look old to blend with the existing buildings. (A sign here wrongly mentions it being built by Charles). He dug a lake for boating, and a kabootar khana (pigeon house) was converted into a boat house.

He converted the tomb of Mohammad Quli Khan, brother of Akbar’s noble Adham Khan, into a residence for himself. He made extensions and quarters for servants and rooms for guests. For some reasons, the latter were usually given to honeymooning couples. But the grave was not touched nor was the burial chamber used. Do climb on to the terrace for views of the surroundings including the Qutab Minar.

He called the estate Dilkhusha meaning something that delights the heart. Wonder if any bored spooks came calling for a drink at night?

RAJON KI BAOLI (STEPWELL)
The area had a three-storey stepwell called Rajon ki Baoli built in 1506. In this case Raj does not refer to royalty or kings but to masons who used it. It is also called Sukhi Baoli meaning dry. There is an unmarked grave in an enclosure next to it which was used for social gatherings and as a mosque.

 

Travel Tip: Wear a sturdy pair of walking shoes, carry a bottle of water and some sun protection gear, and avoid wearing short pants if you don’t want to be ravaged by the occasional insect.

METRO: Qutab Minar

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The Walls of Balban's Tomb at Mehrauli Archaeological Park in New Delhi
The Walls of Balban’s Tomb at Mehrauli Archaeological Park in New Delhi
The Tomb of Quli Khan at Mehrauli Archaeological Park in New Delhi
The Tomb of Quli Khan at Mehrauli Archaeological Park in New Delhi
Rajon ki Baoli (Stepwell) at Mehrauli Archaeological Park in New Delhi
Rajon ki Baoli (Stepwell) at Mehrauli Archaeological Park in New Delhi
The Graves of Jamali and Kamali at Mehrauli Archaeological Park in New Delhi
The Graves of Jamali and Kamali at Mehrauli Archaeological Park in New Delhi

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