City Monument – Ajmeri Gate, Central Delhi
A steady landmark.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
It is so rooted to the place, so entwined to its surroundings, that few realise the monument is there. Ajmeri Gate lies tucked within a traffic square. One road heads to New Delhi railway station; another to GB Road red light district; and a third to Chawri Bazaar.
During the Mughal times, this sturdy 17th century signpost was the principal exit point for royal processions on their way to Ajmer, the Sufi pilgrim town in present-day Rajasthan. Built as one of the 14 gateways in the great wall of Shahjanabad, today’s Old Delhi, Ajmeri Gate lies disconnected from its yesterday. The wall that it guarded has largely disappeared. Also lost to time are most of the wall’s gateways. Only three survive beside this one—Turkman, Dilli and Kashmere.
Frankly speaking, this single-arched gateway is architecturally unimpressive. The turrets, niches, battlements are commonplace. Tourists don’t come here. If the gateway were to vanish tonight, the city might not be poorer, aesthetically.
But some historical buildings are treasured for the continuity they give to a place. The Mughals fell, the British fell but the Ajmeri Gate stayed. Everyday, thousands of migrants step out of New Delhi railway station and the first historic landmark they are likely to see—or see through—is Ajmeri Gate.
All day long, sweating labourers walk past the ruin, dragging heavy loads with their bare hands. Homeless folks take afternoon siestas on the gateway’s broad border wall. Autos and rickshaws are parked along its length.
Situated in such a noisy setting, Ajmeri Gate is strangely one of Delhi’s quieter monuments. Often locked, you can get the caretaker to open it for you. Three peepal trees stand in the courtyard. The gate’s curved archway seems at harmony with the adjacent clutter—the New Chicken kebab shop, a branch office of Indian Labour Union, an abandoned police post, as well as various fruit stalls and omelette carts. Even so, the gateway absorbs nothing of the chaos. Its stone wall exudes the calming vibes of a meditative yogi. Standing under its roof is like being on a remote mountain peak. Come here to experience true solitude.
The gateway of solitude