In the beginning Delhi was Mehrauli. When new cities like Jahanpanah, Siri and other subsequent ones came up, this became the old city. When Shahjahanabad was built, that was the new Delhi and Mehrauli was not even regarded a part of Delhi – it was like another town or village that people ‘travelled’ to. And when today’s central Delhi and later south Delhi were developed, Shahjahanabad became old Delhi and Mehrauli again became a part of New Delhi.
Are you confused?
A walk in the village takes you back centuries, where residents live like they would in an urban village – with parts being taken over for some of the finest restaurants and boutiques in the city. While the latter may be well known, a peek into the lesser known historical remains is highly recommended.
This 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.
ADHAM KHAN’S TOMB OR BHOOLBHULAIYAN
Adham Khan was a favoured noble of Mughal Emperor Akbar, and son of his foster mother Maham Anaga. Adham Khan committed the folly of murdering another of Akbar’s favourites, Atgah Khan, and was awarded the death penalty.
This tomb was built in Adham Khan’s memory by his mother. It is by far the largest structure in the village, and cannot be missed opposite the bus terminal. It is also known as Bhoolbhulaiyan because of a maze on its upper corridor along the dome – it is supposedly easy to get lost in it. Unfortunately, it is now closed to visitors. According to the ASI caretaker, there is a tunnel running from here all the way to Agra!
Much of a ruin, this was originally built by Akbar II who reigned from 1806 to 1837 with major additions by Bahadur Shah Zafar II, the last in the line of Mughal emperors. The three storeyed building is crumbling, and you can go up only because of reinforcements by the ASI. But still be careful – you never know what might give way sending you into nothingness below. A marble enclosure within the complex has the graves of some Mughal emperors like Bahadur Shah I (son of Aurangzeb, who ruled from 1707 – 1712), Shah Alam (ruled from 1759-1806) and Akbar Shah II (1806 – 1837). An empty space between the graves of the first two has been earmarked for Bahadur Shah II, who died in exile in Rangoon and rests in peace there.
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SHRINE OF KHWAJA QUTUBUDDIN BAKHTIYAR KAKI
Many an emperor and other nobles preferred to be buried in the area as it was the khanqah or blessed area of the Sufi saint and mystic, Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, who came from Iran and died in 1235 A.D. His shrine adjoins the Zafar Mahal, and is one of the more revered destinations for the devout.
HIJRON KA KHANQAH
This is one of the most interesting places in Mehrauli, one many residents themselves are not aware of. It is a graveyard for eunuchs (known as hijras). It is in the middle of the Mehrauli bazaar, and you can easily miss its small entrance. There are about 50 white graves, all of eunuchs, one standing out from the rest. According to the caretaker Naushad, this one is believed to be of the adopted sister (not a eunuch) of Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki. Some versions date this graveyard back to the Lodi period of the 15th century. No fresh burials are made here anymore. But it has a western prayer wall, or mehrab, that is used for prayers on special occasions. The place is maintained by Naushad and another caretaker; they take up odd jobs to support themselves and rely on donations for the upkeep. You can go anytime as long as one of the two is around.
GANDHAK KI BAOLI
Turn left into the narrow lane leading to the bazaars of Mehrauli, and you will come to a step-well called Gandhak ki Baoli. It is said to have been built during the reign of Illtutmish. Five storeys deep, it got its name from the strong smell (gandh) of sulphur emanating from it. Sadly enough, it has gone dry now.
This pavilion is built on the banks of the Hauz-i-Shamsi, or water reservoir. One is not sure of the origins, but it may have been built around the 15th century in the Lodi period. It could have served as a serai or a rest house for travellers, or as a retreat for the later Mughal emperors. It is also the venue of the annual Phoolwalon ki Sair, the procession of florists held around October.
The reservoir itself may have been built around 1230 A.D. by Illtutmish. Unfortunately, it requires cleaning up and a conservation effort to restore it to its original pristine state. And a commitment by residents not to throw garbage or wash clothes in it. Across the road, through some slums is another place called the Jharna meaning waterfall. It was built within Mughal Gardens around 1700, and water from the reservoir would flow into it. This water would be used to run fountains, and to further channelize it for use of residents.
Mehrauli village is clearly a case of being a rich place going to seed – but it is still worth the obstacle course created by high density living and poor maintenance.
METRO: Qutab Minar
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