Many layers of Delhi's Past: heritage walk at Mehrauli Archaeological Park

The Mehrauli Archaeological Park reflects the changing colours of season. The time around the bougainvillea was in full bloom and lent a splash of bright colour on a landscape which is almost wild. Our heritage walk started from the clearing near the entrance. This patch was recently the site of archaeological excavations. The stone floor, foundations of rooms, graves were some of the things which were revealed. There were many surface finds too: shards of pottery, a clay horse, part of a cheelum (smoking pipe) with soot stuck to it still! Balban’s tomb stands right ahead, one of the most important buildings in India, architecturally speaking.
It is the oldest building in India to use the true arch in its construction. Before this, our artisans had some trouble erecting domes. Such small corbelled domes and their remnants can be seen in the Qutb complex even now. In Balban’s tomb, his own grave is no more extant. But we do have a grave in the adjacent chamber which is believed to be of his favourite son, Khan Shaheed. Khan Shaheed died young fighting the Mongols. It is said that Balban, who was notoriously ruthless, died in grief at the death of this very son. The tomb also has a bit of plaster decoration left which gives us an idea how it might have looked like originally. Along the tomb is a residential settlement which is dated to about 17th century. Our next stop on this heritage walk was Jamali Kamali mosque and tomb. And this was our lucky day indeed: the caretaker of the mosque wasn’t drunk! After some haggling he opened the tomb chamber for us. The 16th century mosque is a great example of Indo-Islamic architecture and the tomb has often been described as a jewel box! The bright decoration in plaster and tile work is one of its kind in Delhi. Just north of the tomb, begins the famous ‘Dilkusha’ of Thomas Metcalfe. The aptly named Metcalfe’s folly greets us from a mound! Then comes the carriageway, the dovecot converted into a boathouse and the tomb made into his residence! The tomb belonged to Muhammad Quli Khan, who worked under Akbar. It is said once Metcalfe purchased it, he removed the sarcophagus and replaced it with a billiards’ table! The last stop on this heritage walk was the spectacular stepwell,  Rajon ki baoli. The way the levels of the step well are revealed to the approaching visitor is breathtaking! There has been some conservation work going on for a long time now, which never seems to end.

(posted by Kanika Singh & Kavita Singh, team members, Delhi Heritage Walks)

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