City Monument - Neela Gumbad & Subz Burj, Near Humayun's Tomb

City Monument – Neela Gumbad & Subz Burj, Near Humayun’s Tomb

City Monument - Neela Gumbad & Subz Burj, Near Humayun's Tomb

Blue dome’s doppelgänger.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Life would have been less complicated if our Delhi didn’t have so many monuments. And some of those look so same-same! Take the early 16th century Neela Gumbad and the early 16th century Subz Burj. Each is the other’s doppelgänger.

For a start, avoid asking roadside muggles for directions to Neela Gumbad. Those well-meaning citizens are likely to send you to the more visible Subz Burj on Mathura Road. This Subz Burj stands on a traffic circle, and many of us misleadingly call it Neela Gumbad because of the neela, blue, tiles on the dome. But the dome also has subz, green, tiles on its neck, which gives the relic its true name.

Whatever, there is only one completely blue dome in the entire Delhi region and that is the Neela Gumbad. It happens to be located quite close to Subz Burj, separated from it by Humayun’s Tomb, but is not visible to the Mathura Road commuters.

Raised as a tomb on an island in the Yamuna, Neela Gumbad’s history has chipped away with time. Nobody knows who was buried in it; the grave too has disappeared. Same fate fell on Subz Burj as well.

Following the erection of Humayun’s grand tomb by son Akbar, the two older tombs gently slipped into oblivion. As time flowed, Yamuna drifted away further east, its place taken over by rail tracks, and Neela Gumbad ceased to be an island. While the garden around the Subz Burj was razed down to make way for a busy avenue, reducing the monument to a traffic island. Today, cars and autos drive nonstop around Subz Burj, while mails and expresses rumble past the Neela Gumbad. At night, when all sounds are silenced, the wails of the passing rail engines hauntingly echo off from the Neela Gumbad’s dome. Also echoes—the frequent announcements from the next-door Hazrat Nizamuddin railway station (“.. phala-phala express is running late by phala-phala ghante, inconvenience caused is deeply regretted.”).

Neela Gumbad’s dome had 1,50,000 blue Timurid brick tiles. Over the centuries, about 20,000 of those tiles disappeared. A conservation project executed by Aga Khan Trust for Culture in partnership with the Archaeological Survey of India replaced those missing tiles with the new, which were handmade in the style of the original. Aga Khan Trust restored the Subz Burj in a similar fashion a few years back (a painted ceiling underneath a later cement layer was unearthed).

Being so old, the original tiles of Neela Gumbad have lost their sheen. Fortunately, the new tiles are not nouveau rich flashy, subtly striving to resuscitate a vanishing pattern. Even so, it must be admitted that on gazing at Neela Gumbad from afar, one could mistook it for Subz Burj. Just as Subz Burj is mistook for Neela Gumbad. For the blue dome is surrounded so thickly by green leafy trees that its neck appear to be all subz.