Special – Will Delhi Wake Up to its Heritage?

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Period Bedroom

Sexing up the city’s ruins.

[Text and picture by Mayank Austen Soofi]

It took 2,000 years of recorded history and more than 1,000 tombs, forts, havelis, baolis, darwazas for Delhi to emerge as India’s first possible ‘World heritage city’.

The city-based Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) signed a MoU with the Delhi government on July 3rd so that urban development happens in sync with the Capital’s architectural marvels.

It was high time. After all, according to writer Mr. William Dalrymple, “only Rome, Istanbul and Cairo can even begin to rival Delhi for the sheer volume and density of historic remains”.

Too busy due to its national scope, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) protects only 174 monuments in the city. The rest (out of an approximately 1,200 monuments), taken care of by NDMC and MCD, are gradually disappearing — blame the hoodlums and general indifference. “We drive past them, take a shortcut through them, walk our dogs on their grounds,” says Ms. Rakhshanda Jalil, author of Invisible City.

Will the new tag help? I talked to Mr. AGK Menon, INTACH Delhi chapter convener. “We will consult the government on the protection of legally unprotected monuments,” he says. “Heritage City status will also bring the monuments closer to the people, as in Rome and Istanbul.”


Should we expect Purani Dilli, too, to soon boast chaikhanas as charming as Parisian cafés? Will we nibble on seekh kebabs while lounging on wrought iron chairs lining the traffic-free, fly-free Jama Masjid by-lanes (with no overhead wires disrupting the masjid’s view)?

May be.

A special heritage corridor is mapped from Lal Qila to Humayun’s Tomb. Landscape, lighting, hoarding and signage will be designed “to improve the visual literacy of the Delhiwallas towards monuments”, according to Mr. Menon. Each site — Dilli Gate, Khooni Darwaza, Ferozeshah Kotla, Purana Qila and more — will dazzle and won’t be just another stony dot on your commute.

However, more than anything else, the stunning settings in ruins like Purana Qila and Humayun’s Tomb are great to just spend time in. Too bad they hardly see local visitors. Heritage City may bring in those missing Dilliwallas.