Well Hidden


It was in the first week of March, late in the afternoon. Winter was receding and the weather was just perfect for going monument hunting.

Before leaving, we ran a quick search on the internet. A map in hand, we got off at the Qutab Minar Metro station and walked along the road. After about fifteen minutes, we entered a small opening.

It’s called a park. But we soon realised we were in a jungle.

landmark
The water ‘stream’ which served as our landmark

We tried to figure out where we were on the map. We turned the map around, trying to align it with the shadows, to get a sense of which direction to head towards. As it turned out, we were poor map readers. We took different paths, each one giving us different leads, and none of them making any presence on the map.

Along each dust road, we saw broken and crumbling remains of the past, surrounded by the filth of ‘modern’ day. The old ruins told us we were somewhere – but not exactly where. After taking three different roads, and ending up at the same water stream, I folded the map and put it inside my pocket.

We asked some locals for directions. Some of them gave us a vague direction in which to go. One lady pointed out that we had entered the wrong gate, and that the proper entrance was ahead along the main road. There was, however, a way through the village. We had come too far inside. If we were to turn back, it would only be to return another day.

A middle-aged gentleman gave us two sets of directions; the one he recommended, was longer and clean, through the main road; the other was shorter and filthy, through the village. We gambled on the shorter one. We had already walked a lot, and since we were wearing shoes, we didn’t think filth would be much of a problem. If only we knew better.

crumbling
Was this a garbage dumping ground 4 centuries ago?

We walked along the narrow, steep village roads and crossed a stretch of rotting garbage. But it was a foul-smelling stretch of pigs, which made us run as fast as we could. We continued on the path, wondering what else was in store. As per the directions, we had to take another turn. There were trees all around and we still couldn’t figure out where we were. We decided between ourselves, that if we did not find anything in the next 5 minutes, we’d look for the way out.

And then, just after turning, we saw a stone signboard.

wall
The wall, well hidden; the security guard stands out like a sore thumb

Almost an hour after entering the jungle, we stood facing a stone wall. We walked around and climbed up the stairs.

Rajon ki baoli, read the stone sign.  The mason’s stepwell. We had reached what we had come looking for. Tired wanderers, the thirst of our eyes was finally quenched with the sight of the well.

For those of you who have a little better sense of direction, hopefully this map will help. Clearly, we didn’t do our homework properly. To view the interactive map on Google Maps, click here. For better photographs, ask Wiki

How to reach Rajon ki baoli
How to reach Rajon ki baoli
How to get a good workout
How to get a good workout

The Sultan’s Cave


Delhi is often described as a graveyard, due to the vast number of Tombs that are spread across the city. Most of them look alike, but some stand out.

A small sign along the main road indicated the path towards our destination. It was a narrow dust road, with trees on either side. We walked a short distance before hitting a fork in the road. Short shrubs, open fields, and grazing goats in front of us, city buildings and afternoon traffic behind. But there was no hint of a historical monument in sight.

We asked the man standing next to the goats, where we could find Sultan Ghari. He paused for a while, and then asked us if we wanted to visit the Dargah. We nodded, and he pointed towards the road on the right.

The tomb is a revered place for devotees of both Hindu and Muslim religious communities of the nearby villages of Mahipalpur and Rangpur since they consider the tomb as the dargah of a saintly ‘peer’; a visit to the tomb is more or less mandatory for newlyweds from these two villages. – Wikipedia

These words made me curious…

It wasn’t very far, but hidden behind the trees, the building seemed to magically appear out of nowhere. And the moment we first saw it, we were surprised. It did not look like a tomb at all. In fact, had we not known it was a tomb, we would have assumed it to be a fortress.

Sultan Ghari was built by Iltutmish, for his eldest son Nasiru’d-Din Mahmud – Raziya Sultan’s brother. It was the first Islamic mausoleum built in India.

Considering how old it was, it was beautifully preserved, and looked like it was built just yesterday. We bought our tickets – five rupees each – and climbed up. We were asked to take off our footwear before entering the stone courtyard.

In the centre of the courtyard was a huge octagonal platform, on top of which dozens of pigeons were feasting on seeds. The walls of the fortress had huge ‘windows’. One of the walls had a narrow, steep, open staircase. Standing atop the wall, we caught a bird’s-eye view of the city, as well as ruins from another time.

The actual grave of the prince was beneath the fortress. On one side of the central platform, a small opening lead downstairs to a small chamber. Lit only by oil lamps, it was extremely dark. We felt our way around and stepped down the stairs cautiously. The air was heavy with incense.

A green chadar was spread on the ground, and bataashas were kept next to it – symbols of both Islamic and Hindu faiths.

There was complete silence inside the chamber. So silent, the two of us spoke to each other in hushed tones. While the world boils and burns, fueled by religious animosity, it is places like these that provide hope that peace will one day prevail.

Back outside, we climbed up the stairs along the wall, to get a birds-eye view of the whole complex, as well as the surrounding ruins.

Here are some photographs of Sultan Ghari.

With the main purpose of our visit achieved, we had decided to have a little fun with the pigeons. I must say the pigeons were extremely cooperative, and willingly flew away the moment one of us went near them!

PS. Apologies for the poor quality of images…

Reflection


Kalan Masjid
Kalan Masjid, Chandni Chowk

The Kalan Masjid lies close to Raziya Sultan’s Tomb. A rather quiet place, somewhere inside a very crowded Bazaar. Built in 1387 by Feroz Shah Tughlaq, it is one of the oldest Mosques in Delhi.

* * *

This post is part of, what appears to be, a series of short, sometimes confusing, posts.

Writing Challenge : Just Do It
Photo Challenge : Reflections
The Unsung Hero

The Unsung Hero


Crumbling Haveli
Crumbling Haveli

The city of Delhi is often referred to, as a burial ground – of emperors and nobles, princes and princesses, saints and warriors. After visiting a few tombs, one gets the feeling that all the tombs are alike. That might be true for most, but there are exceptions.

This past week, I tagged along with a group of heritage-hunters, and headed towards Chandini Chowk. A friendly local offered to guide us through the uneven paths, deep within the bazaar. We went down narrow and dark lanes, past crumbling havelis and butcher shops, and even hopped over a sleeping goat! We approached a sharp turn in the path, which revealed perhaps the smallest, and the saddest tomb in Delhi.

The only three women who were ever elected to the throne in the Mohammedan East, reigned in the thirteenth century.
– Lane-Poole

Raziya Sultan was the daughter of Iltutmish*, and the only woman to have ruled over Delhi. Her father had chosen Raziya as his successor to the throne. This was obviously not welcomed by her brother, as well as the majority of noblemen.

Iltutmish claimed that his daughter was better than many sons. And it did not take long for the citizens of the kingdom, to realise this. Raziya was appointed ruler by the common people.

Sultan Raziya was a great monarch. She was wise, just, and generous, a benefactor to her kingdom, a dispenser of justice, the protector of her subjects, and the leader of her armies. She was endowed with all the qualities befitting a king, but she was not born a man, and for that reason, in the estimation of men, all these virtues were worthless.
– Minhajas-Siraj

Raziya Sultan’s tenure as a ruler was a short one. A female monarch, appointed by common people did not go down well with the establishment. The fact that she showed her face in public, and was tolerant towards the Hindus, made her case weaker. She was assassinated after three years at the throne.

There is a conflict, regarding the actual site where she was buried. Claims include Chandini Chowk in Old Delhi, Siwan in Haryana, and Tonk in Rajasthan. The site at Chandini Chowk, was a jungle during the reign of Raziya Sultan, and there is no engraving to identify the souls resting there. A part of the mausoleum has been converted to a mosque.

Raziya was a person born well ahead of her time. Unfortunately, her story is overshadowed by others who came after her. A hero for all ages, may her soul rest in peace.

*  *  *

* Iltutmish (alternate spelling Altamish) Full name : Shams-ud-din Iltutmish

The third ruler in the Slave Dynasty. The first was Qutb-ud-din Aibak, and the second, Aram Shah. The Slave (Mamluk) Dynasty was the first of five unrelated dynasties to rule over Delhi, in what is referred to, as Delhi Sultanate.

Sources and suggested reading:

Razia Sultan Was Far Better Than Her Brothers – Sunday Guardian
Chapter 5 – Raziya, The Mohammedan Empress of India, History of India – Volume 5 – The Mohammedan Period as Described by its Own Historians – Edited by A. V. Williams Jackson (Selected from the works of late Sir Henry Miers Elliot)

The Daily Post asks readers to write about their heros. I have paid a tribute to Unniyarcha before. Raziya Sultan is my answer to The Daily Post’s prompt.

The Good People Of Kotla


Long long ago, when I didn’t have a blog page, I just recorded the random thoughts that came to my mind in separate files on the computer. I wrote this little journal entry on the 22nd day of the month of May in the year 2010. It is in relation to the video about the monuments around Kotla Mubarakpur.

I was working on a short film about the little known monuments around kotla mubarakpur. The narration had been finalised and all that was required was to go for the photo shoot.One of the monuments that was to be covered was that of the Tomb of Mubarak Shah.

I had done a little research about how to get there. And all that I could find were a few photographs, and the location on the satellite image of the area. I could not find any information about the occupant of the tomb, except his name.

A week ago, I had gone hunting for the monument with a friend of mine. I feared going there all alone, knowing that it was a medieval village, and there were very narrow gullies. We asked for directions from some locals, and after a long time, finally managed to locate it. An elderly gentlemen, who gave us the precise direction to the tomb, asked us rather suspiciously why we wanted to go there. We just replied that we wanted to see it. It was rather awkward.

When we reached the tomb, we found it fenced up and locked. We were expecting it. Entry to the tomb was sealed. The village buildings were barely a few feet from the monument. The monument cut a rather sorry picture. It belonged to one of the rulers of Delhi during the fifteenth century. And it was languishing in the middle of some obscure village, with even the locals not bothered about it.

Today, I had to go there again, with my brother, for the actual shoot. We left early in the morning, in order to avoid the scorching summer sun. I felt rather lazy and was beginning to regret the idea.

But we had set out, and the work had to be done. I traced back my steps and to my relief, we managed to reach the monument without asking any one for directions. A horrible stench and open drains greeted us. My brother pulled out his camera and began taking some shots at a very close range.

Anyone with a rather fancy camera is bound to attract attention. And some shop keepers were leaning out of their windows. After a while, a few men surrounded my brother and began questioning him. He answered them in his usual calm and friendly manner. We had come there to see the monument, and were clicking photographs for personal reasons.

His answers seemed to be sufficient for them to relax around him. For, a few seconds later, a middle aged gentleman passed by and told me that it was the tomb of Mubarak Shah and said that we could enter it through the gate on the other side. We reached the gate and I climbed up the ramp in front of the locked gate. I looked at my brother and told him we could enter it. He joined me, and then we realised that it was locked.

Gates Unlocked
Gates Unlocked (Photo by R. Karthik)

By this time, a lot of eyes were fixed on us. And just as we were turning back, a youth walked up carrying a set of keys. He opened the lock on the outer fence and entered the tomb. An observer shouted light-heartedly, “yeh yahaan ka maalik hai!” (He is the owner of this building).

He asked us to take off our shoes and we entered the tomb’s premises. It was then we realised, that we were probably the only outsiders to have set foot in this tomb. A very special privilege indeed. The caretaker then allowed us to enter the main burial area.

When we entered, we were awestruck. There were six tombs inside the tomb – not just one. They were covered with half burnt incense sticks and sweets. There was a broken street lamp fitted on to one of the walls lighting up the interiors. The inscriptions on the walls were well preserved and it was rather peaceful being inside. We took as many photographs as we could and exited the gate, thanking the care taker for his generosity.

As we were leaving, a local called out to the caretaker. “Upar bhi le jaao inhe” (take them upstairs as well).

My brother asked the caretaker, if there was a way to go upstairs as well. We had been around the circumference of the tomb and not noticed any staircase.

Once again the care taker unlocked the gate and ushered us inside. He told us not to take off our shoes and we followed him to another gate. It led to a hidden staircase to the roof. The stone staircase was steep, dark, narrow, and smelling of rotting flesh. With difficulty, we climbed up and reached the terrace. The main gumbad was surrounded by many chattris. I stood there chatting with one of the locals, sharing whatever little knowledge I had about the monument as well as the surrounding tombs, while my brother went around the terrace.

Once we had exited the premises, we spoke to some more locals who were still very suspicious. They told us how officials from ASI would just come there, give some false promises, and leave. The locals had taken it upon themselves to protect the monument.

It was amazing how, just a week ago, I had formed a rather negative opinion about the tomb – how it was lying completely neglected. And today, I had a completely different perspective. Some hospitable locals had granted us access to the monument that few could get. They had taken care of the monument that no one had bothered about.

We left the village and the stench behind us, still unable to believe our luck.

Back home, I edited my script for the film. To the concluding lines, I added, “Though these monuments are over 500 years old, there are no wide-eyed tourists gazing in awe at their magnificence. They might have suffered the ignorance of officials, but they have stood the test of time and survived with a little help from the locals of this enigmatic city called Delhi”

The video that I had been working on, had a roller-coaster of a journey and after almost a whole year, I am relieved to say that I’ve finally managed to complete it! The video has been uploaded to youtube:

Photograph by R. Karthik