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Mehrauli, a view from the Qutb seeks to capture the flavour of the small township’s historic past and contemporary social character

Apart from the Lal Kot ramparts and the Qutb complex, there are numerous other old monuments in Mehrauli worth exploring, though of varying historical or architectural interest and in varying states of repair or neglect-mosque, tombs, baolis, gardens scattered about in the DDA parkland or half-buried in the natural undergrowth. Now described as the Archeological Park, this is the area lying below the ridge along which the Mehrauli township is spread, down to the Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road Bypass and stretching from the Qutb at one end to the DDA’s Picnic Huts complex at the other.

The “archaeological” part of what could be described as a heritage trail can begin near the dak bungalow (originally the Archaeological Survey’s Inspection Bungalow, built in 1925, and now a government guest house) and the farm house restaurant next door. Nearby are the incongruous-looking stepped pyramid and ziggurat structures-popular vantage points from which to admire the floodlit Qutb or sight the Id new moon. However, an alternative starting point (and convenient rendezvous for this and other explorations of Mehrauli such as the Lal Kot ramparts) from which we shall set forth is Adham Khan’s Tomb, opposite the bus terminal.

Adham Khan was famously the Mughal Emperor Akbar’s foster brother, his mother Mahem Anga being Akbar’s wet nurse, and in her time, a powerful influence at court-she built the Khairul Manazil mosque and madrasa in 1561 which faces Purana Qila on the Mathura Road. Though one of Akbar’s successful generals, Adham Khan resented the appointment of Atgah Khan (husband of another royal wet nurse) to a senior post in the Mughal empire and murdered him in Akbar’s palace at Agra during Ramazan in 1566. After the murder, trusting to the favour and kindness which had been shown to him by Emperor Akbar, Adham Khan went and stood at the door of the harem. His Majesty rushed out of the harem, sword in hand, and the assassin was bound hand and foot and cast over the parapet in punishment of his crime... as a spark of life was left in the assassin after his fall, the Emperor ordered him to be thrown over the parapet again. Mahem Anga died of grief, and in remorse, Akbar had the octagonal tomb constructed for Adham Khan on the southeast corner of the Lal Kot walls-which is still a striking landmark in Mehrauli today.

Also known locally as Bhulbhulaiyan (meaning labyrinth or maze), the tomb was once used as a residence by an Englishman, Blake, who was assistant to the Resident at Jaipur, and later as a police station and tehsil office. Nowadays, it stands almost restored to its pristine state: a vantage point and a popular rendezvous, especially in the cool of evening, where the locals play cards and gossip, and where you can watch the sunset glow developing on the warm sandstone of the Qutb Minar, and listen, perhaps, to a youth softly singing an evening raga, while munching freshly fried pakoras or samosas, or sampling Aggarwal’s sweets, from the stalls nearby.

Crossing the road from the tomb and braving the onrush of noisome buses from the terminal, at the far end of the bus park beyond a gap in the fence, you will find a path which leads directly into the “jungle”. Bearing left, a clearing appears where suddenly the magnificent Rajon ki Bain comes into view. This baoli or step-well, along with a mosque and tomb, was built in 1506 in Sikander Lodi’s time, and probably used by masons, hence the name rajon. Long since dried up (it is also known as Sukhi Baoli, or dry well), it has, nonetheless, been well preserved and protected, unlike several other baolis elsewhere which have suffered under the weight of rubble and rubbish deposited in them-like the refuse-disfigured baoli at Qutb Sahib’s Dargah-or have disappeared altogether under later constructions or encroachments, such as Aurangzeb’s baoli in the Zafar Mahal palace complex.

Skirting, or after walking up to, the plateau where the somewhat dilapidated tomb of Quli Khan can be seen (formerly Metcalfe’s Dilkusha), we enter the more formally laid-out DDA park zone with its rose garden, gravel pathways, manicured lawns and flower beds. Just beyond a hillock on the left surmounted by a lone chattri or domed canopy (like the pyramid and the ziggurat, another of Metcalfe’s landscape features or “follies”), we reach the Jamali Kamali Mosque and Tomb complex.

Jamali was the nom de plume of Shaikh Hamid bin Fazlullah, also known as Dervish Jamali Kanbo Dihlawi or Jalal Khan, who came from a Sunni merchant family but was initiated into Sufism by the respected teacher Shaikh Samauddin. He travelled widely in the Islamic world and compiled Siyar-ul Arifin (lives of the saints), and became a renowned poet and revered saint himself. Apparently, it was at Shaikh Samauddin’s suggestion that he changed his pen name from Jalali (awe-inspiring) to Jamali (loveable). He lived here during the Lodi period, much in the company of Sultan Sikander Lodi, and later composed panegyrics to the first of the Mughal emperors, Babar, and his successor Humayun. Apart from his poetry, “his power of debate in the assembly of religious men was acknowledged by all, and even the learned submitted to his authority.”

The handsome mosque, in similar Lodi style to the Moth ki Masjid in South Extension II and Sher Shah's mosque in Purana Qila, was built in 1528-29, likewise his own tomb in the adjacent walled enclosure where he lived until his death in 1536. The tomb is sensibly locked against would-be vandals and perpetrators of graffiti, though you can enter by prior arrangement with an ASI attendant. Above the entrance doorway some traditional blue-coloured tiles still survive. Inside are two marble graves-Jamali's on the left, and on the right supposedly Kamali's (who this sobriquet applied to-possibly his brother, or his second son-no one can say for sure). On the squinches around the graves and the ceiling above is a riot of remarkably well preserved (and conserved) coloured tile and painted plaster decorations with calligraphed verses from his own compositions inscribed round the four walls.

Opposite the mosque, beyond the unmistakable gateposts of Metcalfe's “Estate,” and down towards the Mehrauli Bypass in a clearing of its own, hacked out from the surrounding jungle, is the domeless tomb of Balban. One of the Slave Dynasty Delhi Sultans (Balban was a former slave of Iitutmish), he died in 1286 from grief, it is recorded, over the death of his son Khan Shahid who was martyred in battle while fighting against the Mongols near Multan.

INTACH restoration work begun in 1997-99, and still continuing in this area, has also dug out and brought to light an impressive pyramid-roofed gateway (probably an entrance to the enclosure of Balban's Tomb) dating from the same period, and evidence of what was possibly a bazaar on the outside.

Similarly resurrected is an interesting canopy-style roofed tomb which, it is supposed, is that of Balban's son. You can still see vestiges of several pale green encaustic tiles above the chajjas, while inside, above the level of the stone columns supporting the roof are finely calligraphed inscriptions, some in the distinctive Kufic style. Several such inscribed panels have traces of colouring over them-said to be the result of impressions being taken from them for carpet-weaving designs.

Khan Shahid's tomb lies off a broad gravel track which leads out to the Jamali Kamali complex entrance gate on the Bypass.

Close to the tomb is an unidentified walled enclosure with arched entrance, tomb and wall-mosque and traces of a water course and fountain which suggest it was a garden tomb complex. This has also been restored by INTACH, and leads in turn to a line of other, mainly Lodi or Mughal period, tombs and wall-mosque structures situated, unfortunately, along the course of a nauseating drain which carries away much of Mehrauli's upstream effluents.

Until this noxious nala is completely covered over or routed elsewhere, this section of the “heritage trail” is unlikely to be of much appeal, despite the interesting architectural features, decorative medallions on stucco-like facades, and ornate calligraphy that have now been carefully restored after centuries of decay and neglect. And despite, too, the unexpectedly Arcadian setting that still survives with the scattered remnants of a guava orchard and groves of ber, keekar and other trees, and cattle grazing in the undergrowth. Persistence up this malodorous track, which takes you past a fenced-off settlement to the left, centred around the mosque and modest tomb of the mid thirteenth century Sufi teacher Maulana Majduddin Haji (noted for the number of his pilgrimages to Mecca-allegedly no less than twelve-and whose urs is still observed), at least provides a short-cut into Mehrauli near the Dargah of Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtyar Kaki.

However, you can follow an alternative route via the Bypass, from which you can see the entrance and walls surrounding the Ashoka Mission on the right. This was once the walled garden of Roz Afzun Nazir, a well-known eunuch (Khwaja Sara) in the service of Emperor Muhammad Shah, and dating from 1748. It is now occupied by Buddhist students and others inhabiting the old red sandstone pavilions and gateways. An inscription over one of the gateways on the western side of the enclosure (accessible through the Maulana Majduddin settlement) proclaims, “In the name of God who is merciful and element. In compliance with the order of Muhammad Shah, the just, on whose head rests the holy crown. A flower garden was planted at the Qutb, the flowers of which are praised by the gardener of paradise. May by the blessings of Suras ‘Sad’ and ‘Tabarah’ (from the Koran) Roz Afsun be ever prosperous...”

A turn-off to the right at a usually ignored set of traffic lights towards the Maruti agents, Competent Automobiles, leads to the spectacular sixteenth century Madhi Masjid enclosure, with much of its blue tile decoration still in place but defaced, too, with obnoxious graffiti. Beyond it, just before the road reaches the Jain Mandir, and through an entrance on the left, is a track going down towards the DDA’s Picnic Huts area, with more dilapidated garden tombs, water channels and mosques in walled enclosures, like the Bagichi ki Masjid with its distinctive octagonal, domed towers in the four corners of the courtyard (though one has collapsed), which you can see amongst the trees and undergrowth.

Continuing up the rocky slope of the ridge and veering to the right, paths weave their way towards Mehrauli past more tombs and graveyards, and a curious two-storey structure sometimes referred to as the Belvedere but listed as the takya (abode) of Kamli Shah. As described by Zafar Hasan, it “is built without any coherence in regard to arrangement, consists of a house and three-bay mosque, the platform in front of the later being strewn with graves.” Kamli Shah was “a young lady who abandoned worldly affairs and became a mendicant. She lived during the time of Bahadur Shah II and the takya is said to have been built by the emperor.”

Not far from the Zafar Mahal Palace, in fact, the takya still commands a fine all-round view over the trees and jungle towards the Qutb, Adham Khan's Tomb, Jamali Kamali and other familiar landmarks. Now, though, it is overlooked by massive new apartment blocks sprouting on the edge of the ridge-Green View, Qutb View, and so on-distancing themselves from the slum-like settlements that have formed round the tombs and graveyards near the top of the ridge with their attendant litter of empty plastic bottles, non-biodegradable bags and animal and human excrement.

This is hardly a salubrious route nowadays to the Jharna and to the Jahaz Mahal on the banks of Shamsi Talab (or Hauz Shamsi) where this part of the heritage trail ends. In time, it may all be cleared up. Till then the best approach is to proceed along the Mehrauli Bypass as far as Andheria Mor (or what's left of it after the demolition of illegal structures in 2000), and then take the sharp right turn along the road lined with market stalls that marks the southern extremity of Mehrauli Bazaar.

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