Balban’s Tomb

Ghiyas-ud-din Balban rests here..
Balban’s Tomb and (in the background) one of the pillars of the now broken first dome in India

Ghiyas-ud-din. The name doesn’t suit a king. Does it?

The first thing that comes to my mind whenever I hear Ghiyas-ud-din is a person jisko life mein bahut Ghisna pada. May be a lowly servant in a king’s palace.  Though there have been 3 kings of Delhi named Ghiyas-ud-din, but Ghiyas-id-din Balban was indeed a servant – a slave. But he was also a king – the last king of the Slave dynasty. (Literally speaking his grandson who became the king after his death but he ruled for a mere 3 years before the start of Khilji dynasty).

Balban was captured by Mongols as a child and later on ‘bought’ by Iltumish (Razia Sultan’s father and a popular king of slave dynasty). Balban rose in power and became one of the nobles in the court and after much Ghisayi became the king at the age of 60.

The place, which may have been Balban’s palace is also known for it being the first instance of a true arch in Indian architecture. Before that Corbeled Arches or Trabeated arches were used. I did not know what a true arch means before this visit and it is quite interesting to find out the differences.

Balban’s tomb is also known for the site of the first dome in India. The dome no longer exists but the pillars on which it stood are visible and you can imagine a huge round structure on top of it.

Also, some ruins of a city have been unearthed near the place which show homes, markets etc – although in complete ruins.

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

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.

Lodhi Gardens

Lodhi Gardens, I found on a recent visit is divided into three areas. These distinctions are around the main monuments at these gardens – the Sikander Tomb, Bada and Sheesh Gumbad and Mohamamed Shah’s tomb. The first one – Sikander Tomb is a shady place isolated by the remains of a watercourse, which once connected to the Yamuna but now acts as a boundary to this area. The seclusion along with the numerous crevices among the ruins help the couples who want privacy in the center of Delhi.

Bada Gumbad

The scene across the “Khairpur ka Pul” over the watercourse is completely different. The couples give way to families and large groups of people here. The huge green expanse under the shadow of two imposing structures – Bada Gumbad and Shish Gumbad is seemingly a famous picnic spot. There are hundreds of people, all of them carrying food baskets and sheets to sit on and enjoy the sun. Many of the groups have bats and balls and the adults are re-living their younger days by hijacking a game which their children started. In one corner, a group of oldies are sitting, heavily dressed while some sweating youngsters in their track suits jog around on the track.

The Mosque besides the Bada Gumbad in a sorry condition

The monuments themselves are in a similar state as some of the other ones in Delhi – dilapidated both from outside as well as inside (though the restoration work has supposedly started in 2009). They are tombs from the Lodhi period (the ones before Mughals arrived). The first look at the monument, however reminds you of the Khushwant Singh’s words that the dome of the Bada Gumbad looks like a woman’s bosom. Well, use your imagination.

Does it?

Another small, artificial and most probably this century bridge takes you to the third section of the Gardens. It is the Mohammed Shah’s tomb. The architecture is distinctly different here. It is an octagonal structure (whereas the others are square). Though there are many graves inside the monuments, the major one is considered to be of Mohammad Shah (last of Sayyid Dynasty rulers. Lodhi’s followed them)

Mohammed Shah’s Tomb

One benefit of the location of the gardens is the nearness to the Khan Market. So after you have had a nice long walk, you can always go try out the variety of delicacies on offer there. Or may be vice versa.

Dormitory of Mughals

Humayun, it seems did not rest in peace after his death. His body was moved around and finally his wife decided to build a huge tomb for him – unsurprisingly called Humayun’s tomb. In this grave, he must have thought…”Finally, a nice airy room to rest with a high roof and lots of windows”.
But it was not destined for him to remain in peace because even today hundreds of people come to that airy room with high roof and say ‘how beautiful!’. The matters have been made worse by Obama who visited the tomb last month. Reportedly, the footfall here has increased 30% after that.(though I didn’t overhear even one English speaking foreigner)
Graves of some relatives of Humayun

Honestly speaking, inside the monument there is nothing beautiful. May be except the architecture which to an untrained eyes is just a complex maze of rooms filled with graves. There are over hundred graves from the Mughal family at this place which is called the dormitory of Mughals. The old walls are filled with graffiti which makes the interiors simply ugly. The graves too are long past their good days. The restoration work has been in progress but it seems very slow and the focus has been on the exterior than interiors.
Wish Rubina hated the guy
Quite logical because, it is actually the exterior which makes the monument attractive. The view from far away standing in the lawns is excellent with red sandstone merging with the blue sky and the well kept green lawns. Here one gets to see the perfect symmetry and the simplicity of the monument which is a prelude to the Taj Mahal and has a stark resemblance to it. Both are on the banks of same river – Yamuna. Both share a similar story (built in memory of a husband or wife) and both have expansive lawns around them.
Similar to Taj Mahal??
I fully utilized the combination of this rare Delhi greenery, royal surroundings and the warm winter sun to write this post and read a book before returning to the call of the hunger.