City Monument – Tughlakabad Fort, South Delhi
The grand desolation.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Red Fort is nothing to it. Seriously. This fort is grander.
How to describe it?
Think frozen music. The Tughlakabad Fort’s sloping rubble-filled outer walls are spread out on a hillock, like ripples of sound waves extending to infinity. The third city of Delhi (circa 1324) lies forsaken. Monkeys have taken over the ramparts. Thorny grass has laid siege to palace enclosures.
Built in just two years by the Tughlak dynasty founder, Ghiyasuddin, the fort’s walls with its invincible fortifications of arrow slots and tiers of loop-holes, were designed to repel the Mongols who never came. Inside was a city with a palace and citadel for the king, and neighbourhoods and bazaars for his people. The 14th century traveler Ibn Battuta talked of “gilded tiles” and “vast stores of wealth”. All that has disappeared.
There is no water in the seven tanks. Most of the outer gates are blocked by jungle growth. The underground pits and arched passageways of the citadel are believed to be home to snakes and wild peacocks. The vast rugged landscape is marked with remnants of stonewalls. Only the distant boom of the aeroplanes flying above shatters the fort’s booming silence.
After Ghiasuddin’s death in a freak accident (he was inside a pavilion when it collapsed on him), his successor forced Tughlakabad’s population to move into his new capital in central India. The fort fell into disrepair and acquired all the trappings of an abandoned place.
Some believe that Tughlakabad Fort was cursed by Delhi’s Sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya. Having a strained relationship with Ghiasuddin, he had famously said, “Ya rahey ujjar, ya basey gujjar” (“May the fort remain ruined, or else be occupied by herdsmen).”
With its massive circular towers and colossal bastions built to last for all times, the fort’s desolation is especially melancholic. Tourists rarely come to visit this, Delhi’s grandest and largest fort. You must. Tughlakabad’s beautiful savageness will stay with you long after you have left its seemingly unassailable ramparts.
Beyond the Red Fort