City Monument – Hauz Khas Ruins, South Delhi
Verses in stone.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The modest stone gateway opens into a grassy spread. Unknown tombs and domed chhatris lie speckled across the garden.
The lawn gives way to even more ruins spreading out into a jumble of partially collapsed walls, pillared halls and dark, musty corridors. Beyond all of this is a lake – the hauz.
This is the original Hauz Khas village, the one beyond the pesky pubs and cafes, and their unsmiling bouncers and noisy customers.
In early 14th century, emperor Allauddin Khilji of Delhi Sultanate excavated a water reservoir in this part of the city for the people of a nearby Siri, the second city of Delhi. After Khilji died and his dynasty faded, the reservoir was filled up with silt. It was re-excavated by another Delhi ruler, Feroze Shah Tughlaq, who added a mosque and a madarsa to the site. The madarsa was apparently a profound work of beauty. Ziauddin Barni, chronicler of the time, compared it to “the palaces of ancient Babylon”. Today, that vanished grace can be remotely sensed in the delicately-carved windows projecting out to the lake.
Tughlaq’s domed tomb, quite fittlingly, soars above the rest of the old buildings. Inside, there are three more graves, beside Tughlaq’s, but nobody knows who they belong to. Young lovers, who mostly throng the monument, are anyway more interested in playing with the echo of their own voices shooting off the stone walls.
Those among us who find history too oppressive may aimlessly wander around and soak in the atmopshere of the ruins. Listening to the fluttering of pigeons as they fly from one inter-connected chamber to another is very calmly.
The complex has greatly suffered over the centuries. That’s why so many stone stairs lead up and down to nothing; sometimes ending in thin air.
Before exiting, turn towards the distant row of multistorey apartments that look straight to the ruins. You will inevitably spot a couple of residents chilling out in their prized “monument-facing” balconies. Wave at them. They too are a part of Hauz Khas eco-system.
Hauz Khas’s true poetry
Hi Mayank! Just wanted to say, I love reading your articles. And don’t know how many times have gone through each of it over and over again! Makes me want to come back to Delhi and visit all these old places in winter sunshine
I was born in Hauz Khas and grew up nearby in Malviya Nagar. These neighborhoods have changed beyond recognition! Most of the public spaces my friends and I used to enjoy as children have disappeared under the frenetic pace of ‘construction’ and encroachment. There are gates, private roads and barriers everywhere. The traffic is unbelievable. Trees have vanished and so have the good old cycling routes. Our little ‘park’ ,where we used to play silly games, is a hideous parking lot now. Parks that do exist have strange rules and limited access. Where are the kids supposed to spend their leisure hours?
This rapid shrinking of public spaces is a shame because exploring one’s neighborhood/city is one of the best forms of education one can get. It is potentially an early antidote to ignorance and bigotry because one gets to learn a lot about history ( esp. in a city like Delhi) , your friends and the society in general. It also helps inculcate a robust sense of civic responsibility.
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