Delhi is full of monuments from the past telling us stories of its turbulent past right back into the 3rd century BC. While all of us have visited most of the more ‘touristy’ ones like the Red Fort or the Humayun’s tomb, there is a treasure trove of monuments out there, waiting to be explored. Forgotten monuments of Delhi – ignored by most tourists and residents, and equally neglected by the Government. In any other country, these would hold pride of place and people would go out of their way to make sure that whatever remains are preserved for posterity. Unfortunately, I have witnessed some of these monuments used as open air restrooms, or dumpsters by calloused residents of this great city. I have discovered these during my 5 years stay in Delhi. There are numerous other structures and monuments that could find its way into this list, but wanted to restrict the list to less than 10. Hope some of you will be motivated to visit these priceless gems from our past.
1. Adham Khan’s Tomb, Mehrauli Village
This is a tomb built by Akbar in 1561 for his foster-brother Adham Khan, son of Maham Anga, who Akbar ordered killed by repeatedly throwing down the walls of the Agra Fort. It is considered unusual due to its octagonal shape (most of the tombs of this period are hexagonal), something possibly deliberate as Akbar wanted to build a tomb for Adham in respect for his mother Maham Anga, while making it unique in the sense that this was a tomb of a traitor. Unfortunately, this tomb is not very well maintained, lies right in the middle of the road, not far from Gandhak Ki Baoli and most of the folks around have no clue to what this structure is and who is buried inside.
2. Salimgarh Fort, Mahatma Gandhi Marg
Salimgarh Fort plays an important role in our historical legacy. This Fort was built by Salim Shah Suri, son of Sher Shah Suri in 1546 AD, in the short period in the Mughal reign when the Suris held sway. If you are traveling on the road you can see the arched bridge connecting the Red Fort with the Salimgarh fort – this was supposedly built by Jahangir. This fort is supposedly one of Delhi’s most haunted sites, with a long record operating as a prison – first during Aurangzeb’s period (where he first imprisoned Murad, before transferring him to the Gwalior Fort, and later his favorite eldest daughter Zebunnisa), subsequently by the British after the Sepoy mutiny and then with the INA prisoners. Access to this fort was closed for a few years, but has subsequently reopened – you can enter through the Red Fort and walk across to the Salimgarh fort.
3. Pir Ghaib, Hindu Rao Hospital
You encounter this structure when you walk into the quarters of the Hindu Rao Hospital staff, which interestingly also has the house of William Fraser who was resident in the Mughal court and an avid connoisseur of Indian culture. This was possibly a hunting lodge of the Sultan Firoz Shah Tughlaq (1351-88) and later a mosque, but the reason I have included this structure in this list is because this is possibly the oldest surviving observatory in India. There is a circular hole you can see if you climb to the top of the structure which goes all the way down to the central chamber – and this was part of an instrument in the ancient observatory. This structure, by its position close to Shahjahanabad and on the ridge saw some major action during the rebellion of 1857. The nearby Baoli (Step-Well) is also worth a look.
4. Begumpur Masjid, Begumpur, Jahanpanah
This brings me to a mosque built by Khan-i-Jahan Junan Shah Tilangani. Junan Shah is credited to have built 7 beautiful mosques all across Delhi during the reign of Feroze Shah (1351-88). Junhan Shah was the son of Malik Maqbul or Ganama Nayaka, previously commander of Warangal who was brought to Delhi and converted to Islam by the Sultan Muhammad Bin Tughlaq. The beautiful Begumpur mosque in the middle of the Begumpur Village, has a huge open court possibly for open air sermons. Another distinguishing feature of the mosque is the adjoining large chamber for women.
5. Khirki Masjid, Khirki Village, Saket
Khirki Masjid, a hidden gem located in the Khirki village opposite the popular Saket Mall in Delhi is another beautiful mosque credited to Junan Shah. It has 81 domes, 180 columns and 15 prayer arches. This is a mostly covered mosque, the first of its kind in India, and to compensate for this and to ensure proper ventilation, Junan Shah built red sandstone windows instead of walls giving the mosque its unique name. A short walk from Satpula. Sadly, even this is now one of the forgotten monuments of Delhi. In my opinion, this is a must see place in Delhi.
6. Satpula, Saket
Built in Muhammad Shah Tughlaq’s reign (1325-51), this is probably India’s longest surviving dam. Built for water harvesting for his new city of Jahanpanah, this dam, so named due to the seven pillars, this formed an integral parts of the walls of the city. With pavilions at both ends, the structure looks rather grand from both sides. It is difficult to imagine that most Delhiites do not even notice this structure as they drive past on their way to Saket Mall; a quick stop is well worth it.
7. Adilabad Fort, Mehrauli – Badarpur Rd, Tughlakabad
I stumbled into this fort during my trip to the more known Tughlakabad fort and saw this impressive building at a distance and decided to walk across the field at the spur of the moment. This fort was built by Muhammad Bin Tughlaq, (son of Ghiyas Ud Din Tughlaq, who built Tughlaqabad) who also built the city of Jahanpanah and moved the capital to Daulatabad in the Deccan – more famously known as the Mad Sultan. This beautiful fortress is usually ignored by tourists, this is an ASI site and ticketed – and there is some effort at upkeep though there are no proper access roads to the structure. The fort provides a fabulous view of the walls of the Tughlaqabad fort. If you happen to be in Delhi and have an interest in the Tughlaqs, it is worthwhile to spend a couple of hours here.
8. Balban’s Tomb, Mehrauli Archaeological Park, Mehrauli
Ghias Ud Din Balban was the ninth Sultan of the Mamluk (or Slave) dynasty who ruled from 1266-87 and was arguably the most powerful ruler in the period between Iltutmish and Ala Ud Din Khilji. His tomb lies in a dilapidated structure in the Mehrauli Archaeological Park on the right as you enter. The tomb which is easily visible in this structure actually is not his but belongs to his son, Khan Shahid, who fell fighting against the Mongols and is supposedly buried in the same structure. Interestingly, this is the first time the true Arch made its first appearance in Indo-Islamic architecture.
9. Ashokan Rock Edict, Kailash Hills, East of Kailash
I had a hard time finding this place. This lies in the park right next to the ISKCON temple in Delhi and is frequented by Buddhist tourists, though largely ignored by the other tourists and inhabitants of Delhi. This is Delhi’s oldest monument, erected sometime in the 3rd century BC – discovered accidentally in 1966 by a building contractor; this is one of Ashoka’s minor rock edicts. Sculpted in the Brahmi script in the Prakrit language which was largely spoken by the masses, this edict is a message directly from the emperor Ashoka about his conversion to the Buddhist way of life and extolling the path of right living.
All Image Credits: Author