January 03, 2016

Kaushal Minar, Hastsal village, Delhi


“I do not deny the glamour of the name of Delhi or the stories that cling about its dead and forgotten cities. But I venture to say this, that if we want to draw happy omens for the future the less we say about the history of Delhi the better... We know that the whole environment of Delhi is a mass of deserted ruins and graves, and they present to the visitor, I think, the most sorrowful picture you can conceive of the mutability of human fortunes.”
– Lord Curzon, Viceroy and Governor-General of India, 1899-1905


Reminiscent of the monolith from Arthur C. Clarke's "Space Odyssey" series!


According to numerous convoluted mythological tales as recorded in Mahabharata, unquestionably the most enigmatic of the ancient Hindu epics, Delhi was the enviable site of “Indraprastha” (literally “City of Indra” (Indra being the God of war, lightning and thunderstorms and the chief of the numerous deities collectively invoked in the Hindu pantheon)), the magnificent fortified capital of the mythical Pandava brothers. Its contemporary twin citadel was “Hastinapura” (“City of Elephants”) whose very nomenclature indelibly references the widespread presence of immense hordes of massive pachyderms roaming about and being extraordinarily well-domesticated as majestic beasts involved with religion, warfare and royal impressionism. Surprisingly though, remarkably few inhabitants of the rapidly urbanizing metropolitan are aware that vast territories within the city’s expansionist peripheries were even in medieval ages densely vegetated forestlands thickly inhabited with hundreds of fascinating species of flora and fauna. Nonetheless, tales of this long forgotten environmental history do survive in popular folktales and local lore – point in case, the tranquilly laidback, commercially underdeveloped and visually kaleidoscopic urban village of Hastsal (a corruption of “Hast Sthal” (“Land of Elephants”)) where it’s said existed enormous lakes encircled by impenetrable woodlands which constituted an immense elephant corridor.


No elephants anymore! - Hastsal village


Presently accessible via Uttam Nagar metro station and regular bus and Grameen Seva cab services from the soaring residential enclaves of Uttam Nagar, Janakpuri, Vikaspuri, Nangloi Jat and Najafgarh, the urban village, essentially an agglomeration of vividly painted, box-like multistoried residential buildings intermittently interspersed by hole-in-the-wall shop stores, painstakingly endeavors to vertically dominate and entirely camouflage its viciously avaricious brutality towards what might be considered its golden egg-laying goose – the Kaushal Minar, also otherwise referred to as Hastsal Minar and Chota Qutb Minar, a 17-meter (55 feet) high minaret commissioned in AD 1650 by Mughal Emperor Shahjahan (reign AD 1627-57) which is wretchedly enveloped in its entirety by urban encroachments, rubble remains of obliterated residential annexes and a perennially multiplying rubbish dump so much so that it is next to impossible to observe and photograph its physical enormity from the immediate vicinity and one has to eventually resort to sneakily climb up peoples’ rooftops to better appreciate its mammoth proportions.


Caged beauty!


Access to the high platform on which toweringly rises the precariously ruined monument is now restricted to a grimy half meter wide staircase littered with plastic garbage and domestic vegetable refuse, however what the archaeological authorities forgot to take into account was the resourcefulness of the ingenious locals, many of whom have imaginatively designed their dingy warren-hole of houses such that the staircases and balconies literally skirt the soaring tapering structure. Considered originally to be five floors high and constituting a not insignificant fraction of a gorgeous hunting pavilion where rested the royally-entertained emperor and his immediate retinue following adrenaline-tripping chase and hunt in the forsaken center of all-encompassing wilderness, the colossal minaret, locally known as “Laat” (pillar/staff), is a very sorry picture of its erstwhile regal grandeur – a deplorable condition it grievously shares with its better renowned Shahjahan-era cousins, the Red Fort and the Jama Masjid, which too are sadly existential as heartlessly degraded mere skeletons of their original opulent splendor (refer Pixelated Memories - Jama Masjid and Pixelated Memories - Red Fort).


Yes, it is indeed a protected monument! Why would you think otherwise?!


The upper two floors and the chattri (umbrella dome surmounted on slender pillars) crowning the majestic tower are said to have collapsed somewhere in the 18th-century. Notwithstanding the epithet “Chota Qutb Minar” referencing the more renowned, ethereally ornamented victory tower in another distant part of the city (refer Pixelated Memories - Qutb Minar), the Hastsal minaret doesn’t really invoke any particular visual or historic reminiscences of the former and doesn’t share any transcendental decorative features except that it too, like all minarets, is a minaret. Adorned with a single row of flawless white marble highlights, the vibrant red sandstone tapering structure was conceived fluted throughout with alternate circular and angular projections, however it can unquestionably be considered the most modestly ornamented both architecturally and artistically, in fact almost soberly bare, vis-à-vis the aforementioned dazzlingly flamboyant monuments that Shahjahan conceived and commissioned as well as his magnum at Agra, the unparalleled Taj Mahal which mere words are explicably hard put to describe.

Enroute to the minaret, there are bustling bazaars not any different from most others that dot Delhi’s other residential enclaves and sectors, thoroughly crowded with pedestrians, shoppers and motorcyclists and teeming with multi-hued shops (festooned unerringly with glittering glimmering hoarding and shimmering tinsel) offering stationery, confectionery, gold jewelry, everyday necessities, pharmaceuticals, utensils, brassware and the like.


Piercing the skyline


The strangely sanitized scene within the small urban village is however vastly different from the rest of the perpetually crowded city – as if relentlessly endeavoring to smother it in concentric hugs, most of the narrow streets curving around the monument are so congested that automobiles cannot possibly whizz about and thus in their absence there exists an undisguised crystalline silence, an unusual bubble of undisturbed tranquility in the midst of ceaseless noise and remorseless destruction and recreation. At least for me, following an often frustratingly indecipherable zigzagging treasure hunt, it proved to be indescribably exciting to spot the colossal sandstone enormity peeping from behind differently colored buildings and then circle the seemingly concentric, narrow streets and promising looking cul-de-sacs in an eventually fruitful attempt to discover the minaret’s base. Only an infinitesimal number of people outside Hastsal are privy to the existence of this medieval monument – sadly however, as irrefutably evidenced by the beautiful structure’s pitifully aggrieved existence as a dump yard mercilessly encroached upon on all extremities, the locals irresponsibly take for granted the privileged view appreciable only from their terraces.


Howdy, neighbor?


Open: All days, sunrise to sunset
Location: Hastsal village, near Uttam Nagar in west Delhi (Coordinates: 28°38'01.9"N 77°03'26.1"E)
Nearest Metro station: Uttam Nagar (West), approximately 1.2 kilometers away
Nearest Bus stop: Hastsal village. Regular bus and Grameen Seva shared cab services are available from nearby Uttam Nagar, Janakpuri, Vikaspuri, Nangloi Jat and Najafgarh.
How to reach: Walk/avail a rickshaw from the bus stop/metro station. Ask locals for the "laat" and they will quickly provide the requisite directions.
Entrance fees: Nil
Photography/Video charges: Nil
Time required for sightseeing: 20 min
Relevant links -
Other landmarks located in the vicinity -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Barbeque Nation, Janakpuri - Restaurant review
  2. Pixelated Memories - Tatarpur - Ravana effigy business
  3. Pixelated Memories - Tihar Jail - Graffiti and Haat
Other Shahjahan-era monuments in Delhi -
  1. Pixelated Memories - Jama Masjid
  2. Pixelated Memories - Red Fort
Suggested reading -
  1. Indianexpress.com - Article "Hastsal Minar" (dated Jan 04, 2009) by Shambhu Sahu
  2. Thehindu.com - Article "Standing not so tall" (dated July 09, 2010)
  3. Timesofindia.indiatimes.com - Article "Mini minar in big mess no protection" (dated Nov 23, 2010) by Richi Verma

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