INTACH Heritage Walk in Mehrauli Archaeological Park
April 18 is World Heritage Day, aka known as International Day for Monuments and Sites. So desi Traveler went on his own little jaunt with INTACH Delhi Chapter for a little heritage tour of Mehrauli Archaeological Park. Now this was not my first visit to Mehrauli, nor it will be last, for Mehrauli has more history per square meter than any other place in Delhi. And this history spans more than a thousand years from the Pre-Islam days in India to all the way to British times, all this you can cover in half a day or can take a year depending on how deep you want to dig into the history of Delhi.
Suggested Reading from earlier visit
This World Heritage Day, I joined a Heritage Walk in Mehrauli with INTACH Delhi Heritage Walks and learned many new things that made me realized that our monuments are not just ruins but they are the biggest witness, teachers, and evidence for our ever-evolving understanding of heritage.
Before we move forward let me take you back to good old Hyderabad where I first attended a Heritage cum photography walk with INTACH. That day with Hyderabad Weekend Shoot we visited the Koti Womens College and clicked some pictures. These pictures were later used in an exhibition and got coverage in various newspapers etc. Soon the Koti Womens College that was once the British Residency in Hyderabad received a grant from the powers that be for renovation. That my friends is the power of collective consciousness and the result of good work of INTACH.
Ever since I take the Heritage Walks very seriously and try to keep desi Humor at bay, but what to do ? We are like that only G.
So I arrived at the entrance of the Mehrauli Archaeological Park better known for Tomb of Jamali Kamali. Now while Jamali was a well-known Sufi, and military strategist not much is known about Kamali. But considering the place he has right next to the grave of Jamali, it is believed that he was a prominent person.
But before we move to the tomb of Jamali let me first take you to the tomb of Balban. Now this guy Balban was one of the first prominent rulers from slave dynasty who is known for better administration and not just being an invader type. But the biggest scoop that happened during the time of Balban was the import of the true arch in India.
The importance of Arch can be understood from the vast subject of Architecture begins with Arch. I am sure most of you have visited ancient Indian temples, and wondered why the main temple is always a very small structure compared to modern structures. Well, fikar not dear reader, the arch explains it all. You see while the Romans, Persians, the Central Asians etc. all have used True Arch in their architecture, but here in India, we were not familiar with a true arch or even if the Indian Architecture was familiar with true arch we have not used it. I have no idea why it was not used and it could be we were not aware of it, or use of the arch was against some principle of Vastu etc. I find this very intriguing as almost all ancient civilizations like Roman, Mesopotamia, Egyptian and even the Aztecs have used arches except the ancient Indians. Why ? I have no idea. So all the Indian Temples etc. used a beam and column from where on the pillars on the side of the entrance you place another stone slab that bears the weight. The challenge with this arrangement was that most of the weight were distributed to the center leading to cracks; hence, you could not build large structures.
Comes the Arch into the picture and you find that due to the better design and weight distribution the weight of the structure is distributed on the sides leading to better structural stability. So what is Mehrauli Archaeological Park has to do with it ? Well, two of the earliest examples of both true as well as pseudo-arch are found here. The first attempt to build an arch was at the Quwwat ul-Islam Mosque in the Qutub complex, but since the artisans (or Contractor ? ) making the same did not know how to do it they cheated and created a pseudo-arch, that looks like a true arch but is not and only resembles it in shape but not in weight-bearing capacity and design. What we have here is an arch without a keystone, to keep things in place and distribute the weight.
The first true arch that we find in India ( or at least the one that has survived ) is found at the tomb of Balban. As we moved around the tomb of Balban, Jaya Basera, Walk Leader from INTACH explained to us how the evolution of Arch and Architecture happened in India and the significance of adoption of the true arch in the Indian Architecture. Once the process of making of the true arch was honed by the artisans here in India there was no looking back and a lot of grand buildings using arches were made all over the subcontinent, some using true arches and some using a combination of true arches and other arches like Vault Arches. You can say the adoption of the arch was the begging of a new form of construction design in India and it happened right here in Sadi Dilli. At Balban’s tomb, you can see all kind of arches, the Indian style that is not actually an arch, an attempt to make an arch and then the true arch with a keystone that distributes the weight and keeps everything else in place. Phew !!!
Suggested reading: The Story of India’s Arch
From Balban’s tomb, we moved to the Tomb of Jamali and the mosque next to it, which is another development in the architecture. You find here that the bare bone stone facades are now covered with more ornamental red sandstone and there is also delicate Jali work inside the tomb of Jamali Kamali. Not only that we also find how the arches spread the weight divide from 4 to 8 and then further leading to a great round dome at the top, which would not be possible without the arch.
There are many other historical buildings within the Mehrauli Archaeological Park, the notable among them is the Rajon Ki Baoli. Now normally you will think that Rajon here signifies the King as in raja but if the legend is to be believed it was named after the Masons who are also called Raj in the local language.
Suggested reading here
The Rajon ki Baoli or the step well of Masons has been restored with efforts from ASI and Intach and now is in better shape, and it boasts of water level that goes 2 stories deep, but thanks to our tourists it was full of discarded plastic bottles.
Right opposite Rajon ki Baoli I found a new dome kind of structure, that I am not sure when appeared as when last time I visited Rajon ki Baoli and clicked one of the women working on the restoration project this building was not there. So it seems this is a structure that got demolished totally and was built again.
While coming back from the Rajon Ki Baoli we visited the weekend retreat of Lord Metcalfe, we added a few buildings in the area and restored some of the lost glory to the complex. There was also a small lake where Lord Sahib organized boat rides for his guests. Well now most of the water is gone, and the lake looks more like a cricket ground at places and more like a neglected garden at other places. Part of the lawns are maintained by ASI and part are left alone.
But my best experience of the day was clicking these brothers who were carrying rotis to the nearby madrasa somewhere in the Jamali Kamali complex for their friends and teachers in the Madrasa.
All this walking had made me very thirsty and I walked back towards Qutub Minar and there befriended a water seller. Who offered me Lemonade sprinkled with rock salts for 20 Rs a glass, I had two and now we were best of the buddies. So I asked Raju ( Raju: Pet name for Raja there are more Rajas in India than in all the decks of cards in circulation in Las vegas and Macau ) to pose for a few pictures. This image of Raju from Sultanpur village selling Lemonade in front of Qutub Minar is the result of that friendship that Raju and I struck over chilled Lemonade.
To Know more about INTACH Walks and the heritage awareness and conservation work INTACH does please visit their website: INTACH Delhi Chapter
How to reach Mehrauli Archaeological Park: The entrance is on the Anuvrat Marg, easiest way to reach Mehrauli Archaeological Park is to take the Delhi Metro Yellow line and get down at Qutub Minar Metro Station. You can walk from their or take an auto. If you are brave enough to drive in Delhi, you can park either in Qutub Minar Parking and enter from Qutub Side or park at the Anuvrat Marg entrance itself depending on from where you are coming.
Is Mehrauli Archaeological Park Safe to visit ?: There are always 50+ people in the complex, but there are patches where bushes have overgrown so better walk around in a group and don’t stay once it is dark, as we have heard stories about Ghosts moving around, but I cannot confirm or deny these stories, as the guy who told me about them vanished before I could click his picture. But then which place is not haunted in Delhi ? We have stories about Agarsen Ki Baoli being haunted and William Dalrymple has labeled Delhi as the City of Djinns.
Mehrauli Archaeological Park Timings: 8 am to 6:30 pm 7 days a week.
Entry: Free, YAY !! Another free place to visit in Delhi
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