28 August 2015

Hauz Khas Trail, Delhi


“The city of Delhi, built hundreds of years ago, fought for, died for, coveted and desired, built, destroyed and rebuilt, for five and six and seven times, mourned and sung, raped and conquered, yet whole and alive.. Yet the city stands still intact, as do many more forts and tombs, and monuments, remnants and reminders of old Delhis, holding on to life with a tenacity and purpose which is beyond comprehension and belief.”
– Ahmed Ali, “Twilight in Delhi”


Delhi's secret treasures


In the heart of one of the city's most posh localities, presently abounding with upscale fashion boutiques, glittering designer showrooms, expensive restaurants and resplendent souvenir and antiques outlets, lie the remains of Hauz Khas, a regally-patronized, breathtakingly beautifully constructed medieval Islamic seminary (“madrasa”) which – in its original outstanding splendor as a colossal L-shaped construction thoroughly ornamented with numerous colonnades, a profusion of domes and highly-detailed filigreed stone latticework screens, richly plastered over with myriads of delicate stucco patterns and embossed calligraphy inscriptions, and warmly painted in reds, oranges and gold to reflect a beautiful shimmering image in the purple-green waters of the colossal, deep tank that exists besides its enormous presence – is unquestionably acknowledged to be the remarkable zenith of Tughlaq-era (AD 1320-1414) cultural and civilizational heritage that today survives in the form of magnificent massive ruins and beautifully illustrated royal histories and travel accounts. The esteemed seminary, christened “Madrasa-i-Feroze Shahi”, after Emperor Feroz Shah Tughlaq (reign AD 1351-88) who conceived and commissioned it, is said to have been regarded as an unparalleled center for education and learning especially of arts, calligraphy, algebra, mathematics, history, philosophy and Islamic jurisprudence (refer Pixelated Memories - Hauz Khas complex). Scattered around and overshadowed by it are numerous minor, historically insignificant and architecturally inconsequential, but visually fascinating edifices.


Geometry and flourishes - Poti ka Gumbad


Discounting the outstanding Bagh-i-Alam ka Gumbad and the downtrodden, curmudgeon Kali Gumti and Tohfewala Gumbad in the vast, thoroughly forested Deer Park adjacent which I have already documented in articles on this blog (refer Pixelated Memories - Deer Park), here we shall traverse around the Hauz Khas Village (HKV) proper where, overshadowed by massive trees possessing immense canopies composed of thick gnarled branches, abound several smaller monuments camouflaged as street furniture in the midst of tiny plots of beautifully maintained, manicured lawns carpeted with thick tufts of vibrant green grass and plentiful rows of flowering shrubbery. The history of the commissioning and construction of most of these monuments has not been documented in contemporaneous literary accounts, nor, in the case of the mausoleums, is anything known about the identity or the life and times of the personality interred within.


Another Delhi


Most of these structures and the minuscule garden plots enclosing them have been recently spruced up keeping in line with the beautification drive that visually and aesthetically glorified most of the city on the occasion of the 19th Commonwealth Games (CWG XIX 2010) and consequentially several of these monuments are lit up with incandescent orange and blue lights even during night time and make for interesting photography and evening stroll avenues. Also, granted that HKV is regarded as one of the most posh localities in all of Delhi, the monuments here and the small lawns surrounding them are markedly free of encroachments and conspicuously well-preserved and well-maintained by the archaeological and horticultural authorities respectively. Sadly however, while BMWs, Jaguars and Mercedes zip past here at almost all times of the day, seldom do the passer-bys bother to stop or even grace a second glance to these magnificent structures.

Closest to the Hauz Khas group of monuments is a cluster of three mausoleums – Choti Gumti (“Small Domed Building”), Sakri Gumti (“Narrow Domed Building”) and Barakhamba (“Twelve-pillared Domed Building”) – the first two separated from each other by a wide road that traverses the different localities of Hauz Khas and the last separated from both the others by another wide road that connects HKV to the arterial, perennially crowded Aurobindo Marg in the near distance.

Choti Gumti –


Adorably dwarfish - Choti Gumti


Coordinates: 28°33'12.3"N 77°12'04.8"E
Choti Gumti is a typical perfectly-proportioned Lodi-era (AD 1451-1526) mausoleum that reflects pretty gracefulness despite its diminutive magnitude. The cubical mausoleum noticeably employs small decorative alcoves in cohesion with the numerous pointed arches of the facades on all sides and is surmounted by a proportionate semicircular dome which is itself crowned with a blossoming lotus finial. The noteworthy use of “kangura” patterns (battlement-like ornamentation) and traces of small budding minarets protruding from the corners of the octagonal drum (base) of the dome and the embossed rectangular facades on each of the sides adds a certain flamboyant flair to the otherwise subdued architecture. A solitary grave slightly offset against the side of the raised ornamental courtyard that surrounds the monument crumbles to dust against the relentless assault of the elements while the dark and forgotten interiors, which possess three more sarcophagi, have been miserably transformed into a store room for housing lawnmowers and broomsticks and those information panels which never got around to be affixed against the mausoleum compound’s entrance. Seldom do visitors venture in this forgotten patch of beautified green paradise, but when they do intermittently it is merely to escape the scorching heat of the summer sun or to cuddle into the arms of a beloved and never to observe and appreciate the architecture and the gentle outline of the gorgeous monument. Sigh!

Sakri Gumti –


Enigmatic - Sakri Gumti


Coordinates: 28°33'11.6"N 77°12'06.7"E
The triple-storied, extremely narrow Sakri Gumti opposite is a remarkable edifice. It is not known what purpose did this building serve – it is too congested and unusually designed to function as a mausoleum, moreover there is no trace of a grave inside. Conjecture is that it originally was a gateway for a garden complex housing at its centerpiece one of the nearby mausoleums – but then again, all its four faces possess an entrance arch and if it ever was a gateway, it certainly was a unique one! What is even more compelling is the presence of a small extension of rubble wall that runs adjacent one of its sides – originally, the wall must have entirely blocked one of its entrances – why then was it constructed this way is anyone’s guess. Externally, through the appendage of ornamental arches and windows the structure has been afforded the semblance of a double-storied building. The short dome rests on a relatively high drum delineated by a row of kanguras identical to the ones that demarcate the roof’s vertical expanse. The only other decorations exist in the form of rudimentary, roughly carved patterns sparsely embossed on a few of the stones that compose its exterior surface and small adornment arched niches and squinches (diagonal added between two arms of a corner so as to span space and convert a square structure successively into an octagon and then a polygon/circle to support the heavy dome) along the confined interiors.


Crowning glory



Barakhamba –

Coordinates: 28°33'10.0"N 77°12'08.1"E
In architectural lexicon “Barakhamba” translates to “Twelve-pillared Domed Building”, however the extremely massive Lodi-era structure present here is an innovative advancement over the simplistic twelve-pillared constructions – the enormous domed square is supported upon pillars of different girths such that the corner protrusions spontaneously take the form of significantly solid buttressed walls. The three arched entrances located along the center of each face are embedded within a wide arched depression that justifiably reflects the colossal nature of the monument under consideration. The entire structure rests upon a high, gently sloping artificial hill and is surrounded by numerous graves and two rare constructions – a singular worn bastion that totally appears out of place here in the absence of any connecting walls and a curious square projection inset with a small alcove (which might have been once used to house an earthen oil lamp) facing the monument.


Considerably thick - Barakhamba


The hemmed-in area around the monument, despondently enclosed by high iron grilles and flanked along one side by the perpetually crowded road, is hidden from passer-bys and pedestrians alike by a nearly impenetrable veil of flourishing vegetation and perhaps that explains why it is not as tenderly maintained as the small patches that frame the other monuments nearby – thus the grass-shrouded lawns are bordered by unruly hedges and punctuated by sporadic outbursts of brightly colorful weeds, thereby suggesting an aura of uncontrollable wilderness benevolently shaded by massive trees that weigh down upon it from every conceivable direction. And in the enclosed space thus isolated abound peacocks with brilliant violet plumage who frolic around and often sweep down from trees to generously pose for the occasional photographer who treads this way.

Dadi-Poti ka Gumbad –


Brown beauty - Dadi ka Gumbad


Coordinates: 28°33'11.8"N 77°12'13.2"E
At the very intersection of Aurobindo Marg and HKV Road (couple of hundred meters from the previous cluster of mausoleums) exists another enclosed landscaped garden, studded with well-maintained hedges and lines of ornamental lampposts, hiding in its beautiful bosom two of the most striking and exceedingly well-preserved mausoleums of unknown identity that the city possesses – referred to as the mausoleums of “Dadi-Poti” (Grandmother-Granddaughter) or “Bibi-Bandi” (Mistress-Hand servant) following later date nomenclature originating from the difference in their spatial dimensions, they rest adjacent each other on contiguous artificial grass-enshrouded hills. The larger mausoleum, “Dadi ka Gumbad” dated to the reign of the Lodi Dynasty (AD 1451-1526), is a massive triple-storied edifice possessing as its distinguishing features exquisitely crafted medallions adorning its interiors and tapering fluted pillars flanking the rectangular embossed facades on each of the sides along its exteriors. The smaller mausoleum, “Poti ka Gumbad” dated to the earlier reign of the Tughlaq Dynasty (AD 1320-1414), boasts of an unfamiliar domed kiosk surmounting its towering dome and displays a splendidly outstanding profusion of intricate geometric and floral plasterwork patterns along one of its sides.


Unusually surmounted - Poti ka Gumbad


It is conjectured that both the mausoleums were primarily constructed for the internment of female benefactors who possibly belonged to nobility – however, the first tomb houses six graves and the second houses three and there is no way of ascertaining whether the personages buried underneath are feminine or masculine since all the graves have been restored and re-plastered over thereby eradicating any identifications/inscriptions that were originally engraved on them.

Chor Minar and Kharera Wall ruins –

Coordinates: 28°32'51.7"N 77°12'20.3"E and 28°33'07.1"N 77°12'18.2"E respectively
In the midst of residential quarters and bungalows on the other side of the village, past the enclosing walls of the medieval village Kharera which are the last of their kind since most of the fortifications and periphery walls that surrounded such villages and settlements were demolished at the obnoxiously avaricious altar of burgeoning urbanization and relentless commercialization, encircled by a small square garden lined with pomegranate and khejdi (Prosopis cineraria) trees, sits the city’s most macabre, supposedly haunted, monument – “Chor Minar” or “Tower of Thieves” is a tapering cylindrical edifice arising from a high rubble platform and possessing along its surface 225 holes through which once protruded sharp spears used to pierce and display the decapitated heads of thieves and other criminal offenders. Said to have been commissioned and employed by the fierce Sultan Alauddin Khilji (reign AD 1296-1316), the structure would have once lain along the peripheries of the 13th-14th century settlement “Tarapur” (“City of Joy”) and thus served to remind the inhabitants and caravan travelers entering the city of the Sultan’s preferred mode of delivering justice.


A monument to the morbid - Chor Minar



It is also conjectured that in order to prevent them from joining their brethren from central Asia in mounting a full-fledged invasion on the citadel, the Sultan here displayed the heads of brutally massacred Mongol citizens (“New Muslims”) who had adopted the city as their home and converted to Islam. Of course, the relentless Mongols did nonetheless attack Delhi in the hope of plunder and pillage only to be contemptibly defeated and rightly butchered – the Sultan raised his new fortress Siri on a purportedly auspicious foundation of their severed heads (refer Pixelated Memories - Siri Fort ruins). It is said that when the number of beheadings exceeded the count of holes, for instance during times of war or increased cases of crime in the domain, the Sultan would decree that only the heads of the more notable of criminals be displayed on the tower and the rest be stacked near it like a gruesome blood-dripping, soul-curdling pyramid! Sadly though, today very few of the city’s inhabitants know the place’s gory history and even fewer venture to visit it. Unconversant with the morbid tales that hang around the air here, locals use the small, well-shaded garden for evening strolls and gardeners and laborers employed around doze off in the corners during scorching summer days. Instead of the decapitated heads grinning their lopsided, post-death grins, pigeons and crows peep through the numerous holes and squirrels cavort around its large platform.

Thus comes to end a midsummer day’s exploration of death and macabre in the heart of one of Delhi’s most expensive and colorful locations. Hauz Khas does have several additional monuments and ruins to offer as well, several of them deserving individualistic articles for themselves on account of their exemplar detailed artworks or architectural features – fodder for future posts!


Fitted seamlessly - Kharera village fortifications and an air conditioning unit


Nearest Bus stop: Hauz Khas on Aurobindo Marg
Nearest Metro Station: Green Park (900 meters away)
How to reach: Walk from the metro station/bus stop - Dadi-Poti ka Gumbad exist on the very intersection of  Aurobindo Marg (on which the bus stop and metro station are located) and HKV Road leading to the restaurants, gastropubs and larger monuments of Hauz Khas. The rest of the monuments are located along HKV Road on a straight line from Dadi-Poti ka Gumbad. Chor Minar and Kharera fortifications are located on the other side of Aurobindo Marg and one can ask locals for directions to them - Chor Minar is a fairly famous park/traffic turnaround.
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 20-30 min per monument
Suggested reading -
Other monuments located in the vicinity - 
  1. Pixelated Memories - Bagh-i-Alam ka Gumbad (Deer Park)
  2. Pixelated Memories - Deer Park
  3. Pixelated Memories - Hauz Khas complex
  4. Pixelated Memories - Kali Gumti (Deer Park)
  5. Pixelated Memories - Nili/Neeli Masjid
  6. Pixelated Memories - Tohfewala Gumbad (Deer Park)
Other trails in the city - 
  1. Pixelated Memories - Lodi Road - Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium Trail
  2. Pixelated Memories - R.K. Puram Trail
  3. Pixelated Memories - South Ex. Trail

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