City Monument – Old Delhi Wall, Near Dilli Gate
The wall of the Walled City.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It exists. The wall of the Walled City survives in places, like near Dilli Gate in Daryaganj. A 13 meter high rampart of random rubble, this segment of the Mughal-era fortification faces the brick buildings of Ansari Road, which has offices of some of India’s most well-known publishing companies.
Built in 1650s, the wall surrounded Shahjahan’s new capital, Shahjahanabad. The seventh city of Delhi, it is famous as Old Delhi. The wall was originally 6 km long, with 13 gates and 14 smaller wicket gates, called khidkis.
In the stretch along Ansari Road, the wall has a tiled urinal, a dumping yard, a police post, a Durga temple and a milk booth. Cars are parked across its entire length. A flight of stairs leads to the top. Trees grow out of the wall and curve around the battlements. Their branches snake through separate spear holes and clasp each other.
The wall has a succession of arched niches with a walkway built above them. The niches have overgrown grass sharing space with wood shavings, broken WCs, empty cigarette packets and beer cans. One had a blanket indicating that it was the shelter of a homeless. In a few others, drivers from nearby offices were playing cards. At one place the wall was scrawled with this warning in Hindi:
Gadhe ke poot,
Yaha mat moot
[Son of an ass,
Don’t pee here]
Further ahead, a man was urinating on the wall.
During the Mughal rule, the wall marked the boundary of a civilized world. In his biography of Mirza Ghalib, author M. Mujeeb, while discussing the sophistication of Delhi’s great Urdu poet, refers to the wall. He writes:
(Ghalib’s cultural conditioning)… was narrow-mindedly, obstinately urban. It regarded the city as an oasis in a wilderness, the city wall as the bulwark of culture against a surrounding barbarism.
Beyond the wall were ruins of the older cities of Delhi, a few sufi shrines, some villages, and further beyond, wilderness. Most Delhiwallas now live on the other side of the wall.
The Walled City’s wall has been demolished over the years to make way for highways and buildings. The damage began in 1857, after the British put down the rebellion led half-heartedly by Delhi’s last Mughal king, Bahadur Shah Zafar. The colonizers destroyed much of the wall so that the city could never be secured from within. To place their cannons more strategically in any future rebellion, they built Mortello Towers across the wall.
A small circular fortification, each Mortello Tower, named after a fortress in the Corsican coast, was connected to the wall by a narrow bridge. In Ansari Road, a steep brick-layered slope climbs to the wall where a passageway built over a moat ends at such a tower. Today, the moat is a smelly drain and the passageway is broken towards the end. The tower, which has a diameter of 17 meters at the base, is not accessible. A tree is enmeshed in the broken portion of the passageway, like a body in a car wreckage. Its roots hang in midair and still it has leafy branches at the top. The tree is both dead and alive, like the Old Delhi wall.
Where Near Dilli Gate, Daryaganj; park your car in Ansari Road and start walking Best Time Morning
Spot the wall
The wall’s urinal
The wall’s dumpyard
The wall’s Durga Temple
The wall’s milk booth
Up the stairs
The passage to Mortello Tower
The back view from the passage
No access to Mortello Tower
The afternoon view
“Son of an ass, don’t pee here”
The decline and fall of the Mughal Delhi