City Monument - Three Gateways, Fasil Road

City Monument – Three Gateways, Fasil Road

City Monument - Three Gateways, Fasil Road

Of the Walled City.

[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]

The season’s first rain puddle has momentarily transformed into a receptacle for Delhi’s history. The dirty water is reflecting the centuries-old Dilli Gate, one of the 14 gateways punctuating the 5.5-mile-long wall of the Walled City of Shahjahanabad. Most of those stone darwazas succumbed to a violent past, along with much of the wall. But you may visit three of the four surviving gateways over a single afternoon. Stringed along Fasil Road, they lie close to each other, their interiors easily discerned from afar. All three are flanked by luscious peepal trees.

An arched edifice composed of turrets, niches, battlements, benches and yards, Ajmeri Gate signposted the way to the sufi town of Ajmer. Today it lies trapped between the New Delhi railway station; the GB Road red light and the Hauz Qazi market. Homeless citizens exploit the wide border wall for afternoon siesta. In the long-ago times, dacoits in the wilds that existed right outside the city walls would sometimes end up killing the travellers, dumping the bodies into the canal that used to come out of Ajmeri Gate.

It is possible to climb Turkman Gate, but the access to the staircase is through the police post tucked behind the gateway, next to the sufi dargah that gives its name to the darwaza. Originally, every gateway of the Walled City wall had a police post. The gates would be closed in the evening after the maghreeb prayers, and the armed “nigeban” would guard the various levels of the darwaza all through the night holding their ballan (batons), swords and mashal (torches).

Similar to the two gateways, Dilli Gate (see photo) nevertheless looks more beautiful. The dramatic staircase is haloed with the spirit of Elsinore, the famous castle of Shakespeare’s greatest play. The mind’s eye can easily visualise a gloomy Hamlet standing atop the staircase waiting for his father’s ghost to appear. The gateway is employed as a landing point by pigeons; sometimes they sit motionless for very many minutes, as if they were sculpted stones. Forced to function like a traffic island, the darwaza marks the starting point of a traffic-heavy road that stretches out to the Red Fort, and further beyond to Kashmere Gate, the Walled City’s fourth and final surviving gateway.