The week of 19th November to 25th November is being celebrated as World Heritage Week. I don’t know about other cities, but the banners can be seen all over Delhi’s monuments, announcing the week. While this might be just another week for the average Joe, for the history lovers, this is quite a celebration! The World Heritage Week marks the celebration of the national heritage and the history of the nation.
Much before I moved to Delhi, the city always attracted me due to the rich history that was associated with it. No matter which road, which street you are walking on, there’s bound to be some connection to the glorious, and sometimes bloody, past of the city. Here’s a look at five ‘forgotten’ Delhi monuments that many people are not aware of:
1. Qila Rai Pithora
Qila Rai Pithora marks the first city of Delhi! Located in the present day area between Saket, Malviya Nagar and Lado Sarai, the fort was once home to Prithviraj Chauhan. It was the first proper establishment in what we know as the city of Delhi. During its prime in the 12th and the 13th century, it was ruled over by Prithviraj, followed by Muhammad Ghori and then the Mamluk dynasty.
While most of this fort has broken down and disappeared over the centuries, the walls can still be seen. Today a massive garden sprawls over this historic monument. Also, don’t believe everything you read on Wikipedia – the Qila Rai Pithora page states that Qutub ‘ud Din Aibak defeated Chuahan in the second battle of Tarain. No, he did not.
2. Tomb of Balban
A mere water-carrier in the Mamluk courts, Balban rose up the ranks, became the deputy to the Sultan, and eventually overthrew him to become the ninth and the penultimate king of the Mamluk dynasty. One could say he added the nasty in the Mamluk Dynasty. Balban’s rule was known for his ‘theory of kingship’, where he believed that being a king is a divine right.
The tomb of Balban lies in the Mehrauli Archaeological Park – a place believed to be haunted by many. Warning: The sight of open graves and deserted baolis could creep you out. Rediscovered over half a millennia after Balban passed away, his tomb is an important architectural structure, as this is the first appearance of a true-arch in India. Arches have been a core part of the Islamic architecture, and have prominently been found in India too. However, Balban’s tomb is the first such example in India.
3. Chor Minar
While Hyderabad boasts of the Chaar Minar, Delhi has a similar sounding monument to its name, although with a much scarier history.
Following the end of the Mamluk Dynasty, the Khiljis took over. Alauddin Khilji was one of the most popular kings of the dynasty, and was a ruler fond of constructions and monuments. Several of his architectures are still visible across the city. The Chor Minar was a tower built for a special purpose. It has 225 holes. While one might wonder if they are just their for the wind to pass through, like the Hawa Mahal in Jaipur, the truth is rather scary. Alauddin Khilji built this monument to exhibit the beheaded heads of thieves to set an example, and to instill fear in the hearts of anyone who has a similar plan in his kingdom.
Legend also says this tower was used to showcase the beheaded heads of Mongol warriors, as well as the heads of the Delhi youth looking forward to join the Mongols. Today, this monument stands tall on the way to the Hauz Khas area – where thousands of people party every night.
4. Alai Minar
Alauddin Khilji had a weird obsession with minars! We just saw the Chor Minar, and now, the Alai Minar. This Minar is located inside the Qutub Complex, and was supposed to be twice the size of the Qutub Minar. Thankfully, it does not have as violent a history as the Chor Minar! However, the Khilji king passed away before this Minar could be completed. The minar finds a historic reference in the works of the poet Amir Khusro.
It is a massive and overwhelming structure which was abandoned after the first floor was built. One look at the size of the first floor gives us a clear picture of what a massive structure it would be if it was fully built!
5. Ghalib Ki Haveli
Asadullah Khan ‘Ghalib’ has been idolized by millions of Indians over the years. Nearly everyone I know is a fan. Even those who cringe upon seeing Hindi/Urdu text would claim to be fans of the man! Considered to be the greatest poet of his era, the man’s house, located in Shahjahanabad’s Ballimaran, is in shambles! Ignored by the history and poetry lovers, as well as the government for hundreds of years, Ghalib’s haveli lies in a dire state today.
Almost as if predicting the future, Ghalib once wrote –
Ug Raha Dar-O-Deewaar Pe Sabzaa Ghalib,
Hum Bayabaan Mein Hain, Aur Ghar Mein Bahar Aai Hai.
This loosely translates to:
Plants are now growing on the walls of your home, O Ghalib.
I am slowing down while everything around me is in full bloom!
It is an interesting place for anyone interested in the life of the man Ghalib was.- and also for those interested in visiting the streets of Shahjahanabad!