Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Through the ruins and wilderness: Mehrauli Archaeological Park

It’s had been two years; since I had planned a proper heritage walk for myself. The Mehrauli and Qutub area, was on my list last when I had this idea of filming a documentary. Hence I decided resume my journey from where I left; at the ramparts of Lal Kot (The first city of Delhi) south-east to Qutub Minar Complex. I really thought they go on further; and tried following the walls into the wilderness when finally I stopped after passing through a lot of spider webs and thorns and bushes. Later I realized that the full extent of the ramparts didn’t lie where I was looking; but to the north into a forested area known as the Sanjay Van.
Metcalf's Boathouse
I didn’t realize it until then that there is a back entrance from Qutub Side to Mehrauli archaeological park as well (Most people know it as the Jamali Kamali; though Jamali Kamali is just a small part of the region). So I thought maybe I’ll explore the region which is known for encompassing the entire medieval history of Delhi. So from the Qutub side one comes across the Quli Khan tomb; and found it rather bizarre that the tomb was used as a weekend suite by a British official ‘Metcalf’. Some rumours hold that he desecrated the sarcophagus and placed his dining table or billiards table (Pretty upsetting for the soul of the Mughal Noble, who served Emperor Akbar). Further east as one goes downhill we witness yet another medieval building which was converted to a boat house by Metcalf. One would now think twice before boating in the swamp amidst the overgrown wilderness; it now plays host to spiders, insects, dogs and birds (However once the rains are done; I am sure the depression would be left pretty dry). Perhaps the best thing he did was covert a major chunk of the area to a garden, with canopies where one could lay back and enjoy the view.
pavilion tomb of Jamali Kamali
Jamali (L) and Kamali (R)
The famous Jamali Kamali Mosque; is now a protected monument and hence is no longer operational as a regular mosque (After all, encroaching mosques and temples is a pretty common activity in India). There is a courtyard next to the mosque which hosts several unknown graves sharing the site of burial with the Maulana Jamali (during the reign of Humayun in the sixteenth century). The sarcophagus of Jamali lies in a chamber (pavilion); along with another of a man of whom no one has any knowledge. To make the tomb sound rhythmic they named him Kamali. Probably one could cook up a pretty controversial story between Jamali and his unknown companion. Further east lie the ruins which were perhaps once excavated in 1993; and now are a home to pigs, dogs, and sometimes goats which are brought in by the villagers for grazing. Though, one could consider pigs sniffing graves of Jamali’s disciples pretty blasphemous.
                At a depression from the ruins lie the main entrance of the Archaeological Park and the Tomb of Sultan Balban (of the 13th century), and if observed pretty closely he did spend quite amount of fortune in building it (However the sarcophagus present there is not his; it’s of his son). Though currently in ruins; the walls at some points reveal small patches of blue tiles and plaster which has engravings. Apparently his reign was the first one in India to master the art of building true arches.
Rajon ki Baoli
                Walking further away from the entrance in search of ‘Rajon ki Baoli’ or ‘Masons’ step well’ one comes across a long chain of debris, tombs and structures which all lie in ruins. I guess more than the eagerness to find the destinations; it’s the feeling of time travel to the medieval age that appeals to one. Even though in the busiest areas in Delhi; one feels falling back in past as he/she observes wilderness climbing around abandoned and ruinous structures which covers about seven hundred years of history. Finally ending my journey at Rajon ki Baoli; a step well of four levels I felt I could just sit here forever in the serene environment and perhaps have a few of my friends over for an acoustic JAM (Well; even in the past, step wells used to be pretty cool venue for social gatherings, I believe it hasn’t lost its touch).

Qutub Minar peaking behind the traffic
It was nearly sunset and my legs finally gave up after walking continuously for about four hours. Reclining back against the stairs of the Reebok Showroom across the Anuvrat Marg Road, the Qutub Minar was perhaps the only archaic structure standing high above the new urban city of New Delhi.

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