A bland gate opposite Delhi's Qutub Minar metro station opens itself into the Mehrauli Archaeological Park, which is a magnificent resource of medieval India. First populated in the 8th century, Mehrauli is one the cities which eventually gave way to the making of the city of Delhi.
There are over 100 structures in the park and this park is spread across an area of almost 200 acres, which spans many centuries and unbound sequences of the city. These structures reflect the vast time line which was populated by diverse characters that include kings, saints, free spirits and many more.
Many of the structures here date to the reign of the Delhi Sultanate kings who ruled large areas across the country from 1206 AD to 1526 AD, and is considered to be an invaluable asset, the structures of which assemble together to form the history of that period.
The Ignored Place
The place is unevenly maintained, it is a space where dogs answer nature's call over the medieval ruins, kids play on the old courtyards, some people warm themselves over campfires and religious outfits lay claim to ancient places of worship. Here, history is like a worn-out shoe.
Mehrauli is one of the best places to revisit the multiple legends of the Delhi Sultanate, starting from the first Sultan, Qutubuddin Aibak to Ibhrahim Lodi, the last. The first structure one would come across here is the 13th century old tomb of Ghiyas ud din Balban, who was one of the most powerful rulers of the dynasty.
The tomb has impressive arches which set new standards in the Indo-Islamic architectural style. The tomb is wide open to the sky and enclosed within walls, which are now in ruins. Adjacent to it is a grand arched gateway, which is the tomb of Balban's son, Khan Shahid.
Nature Staking Its Claims
Between the two tombs, one would find the remains of a human settlement of the 16th or 17th century. Even now, toys and earthen pottery continue to be discovered from here. Uncontrollable creepers have popped up in the ruined cavity, which once was a lady's dresser or must have been a cook's shelf for spices.
At the park, one can witness nature reclaiming everything and it threatens to conquer the ancient wall and turn its ruins into something more alive, rather than ghostly hands reaching out and tree branches casting long shadows on the tombs.
One of the most beautiful and well-maintained monuments of the park is the tomb and mosque of Jamali-Kamali. The structure was built by the followers of the 16th century Sufi mystic and poet Jamali.
A Jewel Box
The mausoleum is said to resemble the interiors of a jewellery box and in front of the structure is a manicured lawn with other structures which oddly blend into the Indo-Islamic and Victorian architectural styles.
The brainchild of this curious space was Sir Thomas Metcalfe who was a baronet and also an agent of the Governor General of India in the court of Shah Zafar between 1842 AD and 1844 AD. A bona fide eccentric, he transformed the tomb of the Mughal general Quli Khan into a pleasure getaway.
The Gandhak ki Baoli and Rajon ki Baoli are two stepwells in the park. The stepwells were constructed 300 years apart, but they are similar in their sizes and scope. The stepwells were designed as places for people to have a bath and assemble at, and to take a break from the hot summer sun.
The source of the 13th century Gandhak ki Baoli was a sulphurous spring and it is also one amongst the largest stepwells of Delhi. The 16th century Rajon ki Baoli is a grander structure, which has arched halls and bears inscriptions from the Holy Quran.