City Monument – Bagh-I-Alam Ka Gumbad and the Wall Mosque, Deer Park
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Tucked in south Delhi’s Deer Park, it is one of the Capital’s most beautiful Lodhi-era buildings. Bagh-I-Alam Ka Gumbad, circa 1501, is a small joy. Instead of being a lonely spinster, like the city’s other Lodhi tombs, it is full of life. Grass grows out of its battered stone slabs. Squirrels clamber over its arched niches. Pigeons perch at its Kangura battlements. Occasionally, their chatter gets so loud that you feel that there must be hundreds of birds inside, and that at any moment they would lift the monument and carry it along the Delhi sky.
Don’t worry. The building has withstood the centuries. The façade is built of dressed local stone with touches of red sandstone and blue ceramic tiles. It’s the surrounding slanting trees that tones down the ruin’s masculine touch.
Inside, there are three unknown tombs. The stone floor is splotched with bird droppings. The western wall has a mihrab recess. The eastern wall has stairs to the roof. The ceiling has delicate artwork etched within red bands. Though the daylight streams in through the grilled windows, the chamber is conveniently dark for lovers to spend intimate moments – but they can’t go in. The three doorways are locked. Bird feathers cling to the cobwebbed iron bars. Deer Park – full of ruins and trees it may be – doesn’t attract the romantic couples looking for sex. It’s too proper, too cool. In this garden, gay support clubs organize Sunday picnics, Facebook music groups conduct jam sessions, bookish guides lead heritage walks and yoga instructors teach easy-to-do aasans.
Adjoining the ruin is a Lodhi-era wall mosque. Octagonal domed towers guard the two ends of the wall, which faces west towards Mecca. The wall has five mihrab niches. Modestly sized minarets flank the central mihrab. The battlements are decorative. No longer used for prayers, the mosque’s character has grown a little elemental. The sights of its open-air yard are impressionistic: fallen leaves, dense moss and unknown tombs. Some good soul daily spreads out grains on the mosque’s floor for the pigeons to feed on. Come in the morning. As the day’s first rays fall on graves and the bird song rises in volume, you feel as if you are very close to God, or some such holy spirit.
Time Sunrise to sunset Nearest Metro Stop Green Park
Bagh-I-Alam’s masculine beauty
Full of life
The surrounding Deer Park
The wall mosque
Enter the mosque
Cracks in the mihrab
Who was he?
The company of birds
Can you see the God?