City Monument – 5 Hidden Treasures, Around Town
A selection of Delhi’s serene monuments.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The Aamir Khan-starrer film PK has had an unintended, somewhat unfortunate, impact on one serene locale: Agrasen ki Baoli. This 14th century stepwell off central Delhi’s Hailey Road was the hero’s shelter in the film. Today, it is drawing great crowds. Agrasen ki Baoli may never be the same again. As consolation, The Delhi Walla tells you about five beautiful monuments in the city that have not yet lost their serenity — and hopefully never will.
Atgah Khan’s Tomb
In the heart of central Delhi’s Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti, this tomb is hidden by brick shanties. The turning that leads to its gate looks like a private courtyard. You see women combing their hair or shouting at their children. And then your gaze falls on the monument — so stunningly beautiful. Atgah Khan was a Mughal-era noble who was murdered in a court intrigue. The dome is of marble; the walls are carved with Islamic calligraphy. Hardly anybody visits the tomb, and that’s such a nice thing.
Situated in south Delhi’s Mehrauli village, it is one of the last major buildings built by the Mughals in their capital. Emperor Akbar Shah II commissioned it in the 1820s and named it after his son Bahadur Shah Zafar, who went down in history as the last Mughal.
The ruins lie next to the popular shrine of Sufi saint Khwaja Qutubuddin Bakhtiar Kaki, which attracts all the attention. The only intruders are cricket-playing boys and occasional tourists, armed with their Lonely Planet guidebooks.
There are sunlit passageways and darkish niches. What kind of people inhabited these cracked stone halls and chambers? How were these furnished? The guidebooks have no answers.
There is also a small white-marble mosque in one corner. Its size heightens its intimacy.
This monument was designated by Bahadur Shah Zafar as his burial place but he died in exile in distant Rangoon.
Easily spotted while driving down Ring Road, this mosque at the edge of Old Delhi looks like a miniature version of the Jama Masjid. Built in the early 18th century by Aurangzeb’s daughter Zeenat-un-Nissa Begum (hence the name), it has a distressing history. After crushing the uprising of 1857, the British briefly turned the mosque into a bakery. Today the monument stirs to life only during prayer hours. Its relative obscurity has saved it from the tyranny of camera-toting tourists.
Subramania Bharati Plaza
It’s a 2-minute walk from busy Khan Market, facing a typically noisy central Delhi avenue. Yet it offers seclusion. Dedicated to Tamil poet Subramania Bharati, this tiny plaza is not an old monument — the poet’s statue was installed in 1987. Two benches face each other; and a circular flower garden lies in between. While away a day with a novel (when hungry, just walk down to a Khan Market café).
In the evening, the occasional visitors to the plaza happen to be servants from Golf Links, stopping for a brief rest while walking their employer’s dogs. As soon as the sun sets and darkness sets in, the poet’s statue begins to look like its own shadow. The sight is breathtakingly beautiful. Visit just for this sight.
Rajon ki Baoli
The makers of PK might be smart but — luckily — they did not pick Delhi’s most beautiful baoli for their film. The best one is actually in the Mehrauli Archaeological Park. In her authoritative Delhi: A Thousand Years Of Building, author Lucy Peck calls it “the prettiest baoli in Delhi”. Set amid trees and crumbling tombs, the secluded Rajon ki Baoli is a perfect getaway from the noise of the city. Its proportions are grander than the stepwell you saw in PK, and its splendid isolation makes it feel closer to the world it originally belonged to. I’m not showing you this picture. Go, click yourself.