05 August 2014

Deer Park, Delhi


Teeming with a much admired variety of flora and fauna , one of Delhi’s largest green lungs and a delight for nature enthusiasts and joggers alike, the aptly named Deer Park in Hauz Khas has endeared itself amongst heritage lovers for another reason – the thickly forested, almost pristine grounds present to visitors a feast of monuments that remains hidden behind multiple layers of foliage and is reached by following a labyrinthine trail convoluting and turning over itself throughout the massive park – in fact, it is the sheer frustration at being repeatedly brought back to the same point by the slithering, sneaking maze-like pathway and the mind-boggling confusion about finding the correct way in the vast, unmanageable park that might prove a hindrance (if you do consider these one) to locating all three medieval tombs within the complex – but then it is the thrill of discovering these forgotten beautiful structures through veils of vegetation and a complexity of trails that drives the enthusiasts and the curious to explore this hidden magical nook in the heart of the city. The park promises to present to visitors the momentary surreal feeling of awestruck surprise at the sight of a marvelous centuries-old structure that just might peep out all of a sudden through thick layers of vegetation and a tangle of branches and vines or behind vibrantly colorful swings or even amidst unbelievably large mounds of dead and dry gnarled wood! For couples, the park is a heaven, one of the last remaining bastions where young lovers can meet without being judged, disturbed or subjected to moral policing by the older generations and right-wing brigades, though of course, there might be a few lonely, frustrated guys lurking behind a tomb or a tree and sneaking up on couples and clicking them while they get physical.


At Deer Park


It was a particularly sunny summer afternoon when I visited the park and the adjacent Hauz Khas complex (check Pixelated Memories - Hauz Khas Complex) – the trees seemed parched, the concrete felt as if it would melt under the fiery onslaught and the air itself struggled to escape the scorching clutch of the sun – the park’s huge trees, with their wide spread of branches and dense foliage, conspired to keep the sun from showing its dreaded face to those who were seeking asylum under their wild expanse, thereby providing much appreciated relief to humanity and wildlife. But as evidenced by the presence of scores of couples who throng to the park at all times of the day irrespective of blistering sun or drenching rain, love knows no bounds! It has been often observed that all medieval structures – be they tombs, mosques, pavilions or palaces – tend to be considerably cooler than the surrounding environments as a result of location-specific architectural practices, honed over centuries of construction, employed in their building – it is therefore no surprise that the tombs within the park become a refuge during the daytime for dreary visitors, tired couples, heat-struck rodents and hassled birds. Though at all times the park remains threatened by vandals and deranged lovers who take to monuments to vent their emotions, be it love or anger or frustration, and often leave behind irritatingly disgusting love letters or abuses, such elements are more active during the day when the crowd is relatively less and thoroughly dispersed and there is little suspicion that anyone can go about such anti-social, anti-heritage activities diurnally – the few guards on duty have it real rough, having to patrol such vast space and managing undisciplined, and in all probability uneducated, louts and vandals who are adept at badmouthing and harassing at the slightest pretext – despite my rants against the poor state that the government has subjected the monuments to, I do feel bad for the guards. 


Nothing stimulates an adrenaline rush like a friendly fight!


True to its name, the park has enclosures that house rabbits and deer and there are ponds where duck and geese waddle about in enjoyment. The deer are a real delight (probably apparent from the large number of photos I clicked), there are so many of them, and a few look suberbly majestic with their striking horns and chiseled bodies. Incidentally, it was much later that I found out about the monuments in the park, it was the deer I first read about it in a newspaper article, that’s what piqued my interest – who would have thought there are deer roaming about in a public park in Delhi! One can also spot rare avian visitors if one is observant enough – there are lapwings, peacocks, parrots, pigeons, mynas and occasional terns.

Of the three tombs within the park premises, the largest is Bagh-i-Alam ka Gumbad (“Tomb within the garden of the world”), a beautifully adorned, medium-sized tomb that seems to be a favorite with visitors, enchanting them with its modest blue tile work and exquisite multicolored medallion art on the interiors, and also attracting couples to its deep recessed alcoves where one can hope to shut out the world while embracing one’s beloved. Along the tomb is a beautiful rubble masonry wall mosque with thick turrets and a leaf-covered and bird dropping-drenched cemetery – look out for more couples in the hollow turrets, I found it amazing how people can clamber into such narrow spaces! Nearby stand the Tohfewala Gumbad (“Gifted tomb”), an unidentified tomb whose interiors are exceptionally well maintained even though the exteriors appear all run-down and crumbling, and Kali Gumti (“Little black domed structure”), another unidentified structure whose purpose for construction is unclear but whose nomenclature is arrived at after considering the organic mortar finish applied to its round dome that has taken a blackish hue over time. You can look up these structures here – Pixelated Memories - Bagh-i-Alam ka GumbadPixelated Memories - Kali Gumti and Pixelated Memories - Tohfewala Gumbad.


Majestic - Bagh-i-Alam ka Gumbad


The park has been modeled by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) into creating a space to keep the local residents physically fit through the utilization of several simple exercise regimes along a fitness trail and the employment of info boards to guide and explain exercises to the visitors – the exercises are numerous and jocularly interesting, thanks in part to their naming and also to the strange set of accompanying instructions, take for instance “Jumping Jack”, “Balancing Beam”, “Straddle Walk”, “Spinal Exercise”, “Knee Bend” – it is another matter that rarely do people follow these instructions, nor are there many visitors, except couples, to the park except during early morning and evening.

Over the past few years, the park has been in the news for all the wrong reasons – official apathy, poor conservation-restoration of monuments, poor horticultural maintenance, lack of control over vandals and unruly elements, unclean animal enclosures straddled with garbage and polybags, maintenance-related issues and garbage dumping – at least the park was actually clean the day I was there – there weren’t any heaps of garbage, nor any disturbing elements, though yes, the issue of defacement and spoiling of public property, monuments especially, is glaringly rampant in the park premises; the park trails were being relaid with brick red soil and the guards were actually going about and looking after the property. Public facilities are another issue – though there are water coolers near the entrance gate, they seemed to be in a disgusting state of maintenance (the basin hasn’t been cleaned in ages, the taps do not close properly and are forever dripping thereby leading to moss deposits along the basin walls and overspill along the tiled walkways, the perennially filled basins have been taken over by hornets and one has to hope for their mercy while edging closer for a sip). It would take some time for Delhi to get its act together, the city is after all aiming for a UNESCO World Heritage City status, but at least it’s a start – in a city where parks, wetlands and forest covers are rapidly diminishing and children have to come out to play on streets for lack of proper parks and sporting facilities, such a vast green space is truly an unexpected delight! 


Look at those horns!


Location: Hauz Khas
Nearest Metro station: Green Park
How to reach: Walk/take an auto from the metro station to the park.
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 45 min
Relevant Links - 

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