Gates of Old Delhi – Part 1

Today’s Purani Dilli or Shahajanabad – the city built by Shah Jahan was a walled city. To get out of this city, there were many gates around the walls. The one to the north was known as Kashmiri Gate. The southern – Delhi gate, the eastern – Lahori gate and so on. During the 1857 uprising, the sepoys closed the gates and barricaded themselves behind these walls. So when the British put down the rising, they did the same to the walls too. Along with these came down these gates. These gates still remain in our vocabulary (Ajmeri Gate, Kashmiri Gate, Delhi Gate, Mori Gate) but only few of them survive physically. And the ones which do would be wondering if it was worth all the effort being a witness to all the change around them. You see the images and drawings of the Old Delhi before 1857 and feel what wonderful experiences these gates have been through. As for the present you just need to get around the old city.

Ajmeri GateAjmeri Gate

I started with Ajmeri Gate. When you walk down from Chawri Bazar Metro station, you are taking almost the same path as people did in Shahjanabad. Though you have to get around the now barricaded gate rather than through it. The once famous Delhi college is just opposite gate but the guard did not allow me inside even to take a photograph. Mirza Ghalib, some hundred and fifty years ago, too had stood here after being invited to be a persian professor. He expected the secretary to come and formally welcome him inside but that did not happen and Ghalib – his ego hurt, never taught at the college.

Turkman GateTurkman Gate

Moving east along the imaginary wall of the city, you come to the Turkman Gate. Overshadowed by the Delhi Stock Exchange it lies forgotten on one side of the road. Though the area was filthy but inside the barricades, the Gate and its immediate surroundings were clean. Standing there and clicking the photos of this gate, I got ‘what-a-mad-guy’ looks from passers-by.

Delhi GateDelhi Gate

You need to go further east to reach the Delhi Gate. The gate which saw Mughal kings ride leisurely through it on elephants now witnesses people rushing past by its sides. The road once led to a Lunatic Asylum just outside the city. Today it leads to..well..New Delhi.


Ishq - e - Dilli Ishq-e-Dilli

If you live in Delhi and have not seen Ishq-e-Dilli, you have missed something. Ishq-e-Dilli is a sound and light show held in the evenings at Purana Quila. Both the show and the environment is a pleasant change from the regular pathetic movies watched after spending thousands at the malls. The ruins of the southern gate of the city built by Humayun is used as the screen for the show which revisits Delhi’s history from the time of Prithiviraj chauhan (13th century). Even if you are not interested in history, the show is interesting enough to keep you engrossed for an hour with two songs thrown in too. The visual effects are worth a dekko and in the period of one hour, you will also develop a soft corner for the history.
To warm up, one can come a bit early and roam about the sixteenth century city. The guards then force everyone out at around 6. You have to buy another ticket to experience ishq-e-dilli. While the normal ticket costs Rs 5, the show comes at an additional Rs 80 and it is worth it.

Humayun climbing downThe scene where Humayun died while climbing down the steps

Feroz Shah Kotla – The Fort

Remains of the mosque courtyard

Dark skies with a hint of rain in the air made the ruins of Feroz Shah Kotla look amazing. Guess it did the same for many other people who had come there with their DSLR’s (mostly new) hanging from their necks. (Reminded me of the recent article on DSLRs I had read). For some whom I overhead, this was a just ‘some old fort’ with good photography opportunities.

For me it was an extension to the visit of the ancient college at Hauz Khas where Feroz Shah Tuglaq was also laid to rest. Feroz Shah was a reformer who built hospitals, colleges, mosques, reservoirs for irrigation. Many of them were part of Ferozabad – the fifth city of Delhi. This city extended upto Hauz Khas and Feroz Shah Kotla was the city’s highlight. Timur, who plundered the city some years later, too was impressed by this fort and very gladly took away all the ornamentation. The rest of the building material from the city was taken away for construction of Shah Jahan’s Shahjenabad.

One thing that still eludes my understanding is the fascination with pillars. There is a pillar in the Qutab Complex(one of the first cities in Delhi), here at Ferozabad and one in the latest city – the Luytens (inside Rashtrapati Bhavan).
Unlike the other two pillars, the one in Ferozabad is given special attention. It is placed on a 3 story high platform.

Ashoka Pillar

Also present inside the fort is the Jami Masjid, which impressed Timur so much that he took masons from here and built a replica in his hometown, Samalkhand(Uzbekistan). Interestingly, I found Diyas lit and people performing a prayer ritual in a true Hindu religion fashion near the stairs leading up to the masjid. Perhaps it is a good representation of the communal harmony that existed at the prime of this fifth city. In fact it was this tolerance towards Hindus which prompted Timur to invade India apart from the wealth – which can be only imagined adorning these ruins now.

City of Tombs


If you roam around Delhi, you can get a sense of how people loved their after life. May be it was their relatives who wanted them to be remembered. Many of the monuments here are tombs. And though Humayun’s tomb is the largest and most beautiful of it all, the ‘parampara’ did not start with Mughals. It was prevalent much before – Feroz Shah Tughlaq being one of the examples.

May be the rulers at that time had not imagined that space would be such scarce in few hundred years. They designed the resting places of their ancestors/relatives as colossal and peaceful places. Standing alone and visible from a distance, they look like an imposing figure in their old ‘black and white’ photos taken a few hundred years ago. Today they jostle for space. Many of them are nestled among the modern markets, hidden by the trees, ignored and visited by people interested in sleeping under the cool tree shades.

These shades along with neatly pruned green grass was what pulled me too, towards two such monuments in Hauz khas as I, tired after walking a lot, passed by them. There is no recorded history of these places. Barakhamba is nowhere near the barakhamba road and simply called because there are 12 pillars in the structure. The dadi poti tomb does not get its name from a granddaughter and her grandmother buried there. It is more linked to the size of the tombs. As you can get an idea from random names, no one knows who is buried here and they even belong to different eras (Dadi – Lodhi and Poti – Tughlaq). They have been taken by the Archaeology survey team for improvements and now they look like Aishwarya Rai – beautiful but artificial.

Jantar Mantar

Jantar Mantar

No Getting Lost here


Since childhood, I was under the impression that at Jantar Mantar in Delhi, there is a maze of confusing alleys where often people get lost. The name – Jantar Mantar also had a sound of mystery and magic to it. I had always wanted to come here to test my sense of direction. Finally when I went there, I couldn’t find anything that one could get lost in.

Jantar Mantar is a the 18th century version of a space laboratory. Even if one wants to understand that how the strange-looking structures, it is a bit tough without a guide. These observatories with barely visible scales and markings played the role of clocks 1700’s. They help in calculating time of the day, co-ordinates of heavenly bodies, movement of sun, moon and planets etc.

It is generally recommended that you visit this place early morning or late evening – time when you can make some sense of the shadows which helped in the calculations. I went there at 9 but could not really grasp the logic of it all.
May be its the same for everyone else as people here were more interested in getting clicked among these ‘strange’ structures or relax in the lush green lawns.

Badi Ghadi

Sunday Morning Greens

Apart from a cosy bed, where else would you like to be on a fine Sunday morning. There could be hundreds of options, of course. Chandigarh’s Sukhna lake is one at top of the mind. Recently I managed to find another one in Delhi. It is the Hauz Khas Tank – built in the early 1300’s to meet the water needs of a brand new fort – Siri. The fort is nothing more than mere walls now. But the tank or a lake if you can call it, still stands. It is like an island – a small area of peace in the middle of a mad rush of a colossal city.

There is a thick cover of trees which keep things really cool and  instant relaxation is what you get when you see the huge water pool. There is a jogging track to keep you fit and beautiful ruins form the backdrop when you sit.

It actually has something for everyone. Solitude for loners, privacy for lovers, views for photographers, ruins for history lovers, birds and animals for people interested in them and vast space for children to express their freedom. All in all a peaceful place for which I would gladly trade some sleep on a Sunday morning.


The College with a View

Students studied under the shadow of their teachers

There are tombs strewn all over Delhi. But perhaps one of the most beautiful after-life view is enjoyed by Feroz Shah Tughlaq. He is the guy who built Feroz Shah Kotla – not the cricket stadium but a city which once stood and was later destroyed (the cricket stadium came in there many years later).
He was a liberal ruler, who came in after his tyrant uncle Mohammed Tughlaq and focussed on education and medicine. He built around seventy dispensaries and many Madarsas. One of the them was at the Hauz Khas overlooking the magnificent Hauz Khas tank. He liked the view so much that he decided that this place would also be his resting place. Along with the madarsa he built his to-be tomb 30 years before he died. The tank is now an algae ridden lake but considering the view, studying at this Madarsa must have been a delightful experience. A chronicler of those times once wrote, “People come from East and West in caravan after caravan just to look at it”.

view from college

View from the College

It is hard to imagine that this place, with a dense cover of trees is in the middle of Delhi. May be that is an important difference between Delhi and Mumbai. In Mumbai you hardly find a place where you have the out-of-the-city feel. Delhi on the other hand has many Delhi’s within it – some ruined, some beautiful and some like this corner of Hauz khas – Peaceful. May be it looked peaceful because it was an early Sunday morning.

But I was not alone this morning. There was another group of people who were there visiting the tomb and the Madarsa. A lady in the group was diligently picking up the wrappers of chips, biscuits etc which people had strewn the place with. And some time later as I passed the group, I realized that I knew one of the persons in that group. It was Nandan Nilekani.

More Photos

Perfect Ruins

What it must have been once
Perfect Ruins. It may be an oxymoron but holds perfectly true for the ruins at the Tughalakabad. Colossal is the first word that comes to mind when you cross a bend on the Mehrauli – Badarpur road and have the first glimpse of what was the third city (of the 7 cities) in Delhi. Once inside, the 12 foot thick walls make the traffic sounds simply disappear. It is quite clearly meant to be a military strong-hold but in his hey days had seen splendor too. The famous traveler Ibn Batuta (made more famous by the song in the movie Ishqiya), spent a significant time here under the tyrant king Mohammed Tughlaq. In his words, “..inside Tughlukabad is the great palace whose tiles the Sultan has gilded. When the sun rises they shine with a brilliant light that makes it impossible to keep one’s eyes fixed upon it”. Today that palace is just two broken perpendicular walls, conspicuous in their isolation

Remains of the Palace

On the eastern side there are some spectacular ruins of what was once a market place. Some houses are clearly recognizable. From some of the bastions you get breath taking 360 degree view of a vast flat land. It reminds you of a famous curse associated with this place. Nizamuddin Aulya, the famous sufi saint had once cursed Ghiyassudin Tuglak with the words, “Hunuz Dilli dur ast” (Delhi abhi door hai)

As you sit some 20 meters above the ground, cool breeze gently ruffling you with nothing but silence to give you company, Delhi truly seems far away.

Tughlakabad City

Delhi seems far away

kisi zamane ka ghar

Must have been some one’s home once

Ruins of Tughlakabad

Splendid Ruins

(Ibn Batuta Quote from the book City of Djinns by William Dalrymple)

Beating Retreat

lighted up..

After the hectic preparations and an immaculate parade, the soldiers who have come from various regiments around the country need to celebrate the success of the picture perfect republic day.

And these celebrations take place in a traditional way – called the Beating Retreat.  The North and South block along with the Rashtrapati Bhavan are beautifully illuminated.  Thepresident comes, unfurls the flag and there is a band and another march past by the three pillars of India’s defense – Air force, Navy and Army.

Jai Hind

Talking of pillars, there is an interesting story behind the Rashtrapati Bhavan. It is said that Edward Lutyens, the chief architect had wanted the palace to sit majestically, all by itself on top of the Raisina Hill. But he was forced to have the two buildings – North and South block alongside it. So he placed a 145 foot Jaipur column in front of the palace which in a way spoils the whole view.

Rashtrapati BhavanThe 145 foot Jaipur Column – Spoils the view?

Blast from the Past

The best part about history is the story. And they can be found in plenty at the Purana Quila. The popularity of the place is indicated at the approach road itself. There was a long line of cars and people turning right towards the neighboring zoo but the ones marching straight towards the ‘real’ place were only couples interested in having some space and time to them. Space they get in plenty as they are only a handful of them in what was around 500 years ago a whole city.

The Purana Quila

The story of the place goes like this. Humayun, the second Mughal ruler, decided to build a city and chose this site on the banks of river Yamuna. A walled city called Dinpanah was quickly built. Sher Shah Suri then defeated Humayun, forced the poor guy out of India and took charge of the city. He allegedly demolished all buildings inside and built some of his own (and called it Shergarh). Humayun returned with vengeance and regained the city 15 years later. After a few months, he was enjoying the magnificent view on top floor of his library (Sher Mandal) when he heard the prayer call and in a hurry slipped down the stairs and died. This was perhaps coming. History tells that whoever tried to build a city in Delhi did not survive to rule. (Shah Jahan and the British are other prominent examples after Humayun) . His tomb was later built a few kilometers down south and is now a more popular tourist spot.

Sher Mandal – Humayun fell down the stairs here and died

But this is a story only 500 years old. Much more interesting is another one. In 1950’s areas of Purana Quila were excavated and many civilizations were found to have existed here. They date back to the days of Mahabharat and the city of Indraprastha. A mud hut has been excavated from that age.  Unfortunately, it may be the case that the pandavas and kauravas were not at all like we see in the TV serials with all kinds of jewellery and all. They were, as William Dalrymple puts it, simple cave men who fought with sticks and stones.

The Western Entrance

Just behind the Sher Mandal there is a steep slope. On this slope is the evidence of 3000 years of Delhi. The actual slope is now covered with trees but it is beautifully displayed in a well maintained museum. On entering the museum there is a huge photograph which truly shows the importance of the site. There is a wall with the three thousand years in different layers. Indraprastha at the bottom, then Maurya, Sunga, Saka, Gupta, Post Gupta, Rajput, Sultanate and finally the Sher Mandal on top representing the Mughal era. Far away you can see the buildings of modern Delhi.

May be 500 years from now these would also become just a layer in history.