According to the Archaeological Survey of India, there are 174 documented and protected monuments in the Delhi Circle. While we, as citizens of Delhi, are acquainted with most of these- especially the three Unesco World Heritage Sites- there are several that have fallen under the radar and over the years been left derelict and neglected, but their architectural significance and heritage value remains intact. Here are six such sites hiding in plain sight, in South Delhi alone.
Bulbul ki Masjid, Siri Fort
The Siri Fort area in Delhi may today be a frequented locality owing to the auditorium, the institutional area and the sports complex, but few notice the vast stretch of green that runs between Gargi College and the institutional area, and then again along the August Kranti Marg on the periphery of Shahpur Jat till Panchseel Park. This is the expanse of the ruins of Siri, the fortress developed by Alauddin Khilji in 1303. The wall that survives today is almost 15 metres high and in some parts, 6 metres in width, once conceived to shield Delhi from Mongol invaders led by Timur; yet it stands today wholly obscured by new constructions, tall trees and often inapproachable paths that cross garbage dumps.
As one enters Asian Games Village from August Kranti Marg, one can see a banquet hall on the left, also the site of the Asiad Tower. In the gardens of this complex, used for weddings and parties, lie the ruins of the Bulbul Ki Masjid, a mosque built in the time of Khilji: certainly in gross violation of their ‘protected’ status.
Ashokan Rock Edict, Kailash Colony
En route to Kailash Colony along the Dhirsain Marg, adjacent to the entrance to the ISKCON Temple, is a small gate leading to a rocky park. It is hard to believe that this is the site of perhaps Delhi’s oldest surviving monument, one from 260 BC. Dating back to the reign of Ashoka, the epigraph was discovered on an inclined rock face by a building contractor operating at the site. Archaeologists identified it in 1966, for its similarity to the edicts in thirteen other parts of India. Today it is covered by a crude concrete shed, manned by a single guard and surrounded by a neighbourhood park.
Chor Minar, Hauz Khas Enclave
Situated just off Aurobindo Marg, near the Mayfair Garden exit of the Hauz Khas Metro Station, stands the Chor Minar: a minaret with over two hundred small notches, built during the reign of Alauddin Khilji in 1310. Legend has it that these apertures were used by Khilji not only as windows but also to exhibit the heads of executed prisoners, as a means to daunt the public from committing crimes. During the wars, only the heads of chiefs were displayed while those of common soldiers were simply piled into pyramids. Today this minaret stands in a quadrangular park in the middle of Hauz Khas Enclave, its residents perhaps oblivious to the horrors that the ground has seen.
Hijron ka Khanqah, Mehrauli
Literally “the spiritual retreat for eunuchs”, the Khanqah is one of the many monuments located in the Mehrauli Archeological Park. Built originally in 15th century Lodi-ruled Delhi, its uniqueness lies in the fact that it is maintained autonomously by the Hijras of Turkman Gate. Forty nine whitewashed tombs of unknown Kinnars lie in the complex beside the main tomb of Miyan Saheb. The tombs are enclosed on the west in the direction of the qiblah wall. It is heartening to see this small, spiritual space dedicated to transgenders, in the middle of a city that has over the years disparaged and ostracized the community.
Khirkee Masjid, Khirkee Village
Across the road from the main entrance to Select Citywalk, a popular Delhi haunt, lie the fascinating remains of Khirkee Masjid, an architecturally unique mosque built in 1354 in the reign of Feroz Shah Tughluq. Its architect, Khan-i-Jahan Junaan Shah Telangani, designed it as an unusual cross–axial mosque in Tughluqian style resembling a mini-fortress, with re-interpretations of Hindu architectural elements. Named for its jaalis and screens, it is embellished with towers, protruding gateways, vaults and numerous small domes. With circular turrets and courtyards, it is also the only surviving mosque in North India to be almost entirely covered. Despite undergoing partial restoration and its protected status, it remains largely unknown to most Delhiites, engulfed by the eponymous urban village.
Vijay Mandal, Kalu Sarai
Two kilometres from IIT Delhi in Kalu Sarai, lie the ruins of Mohammad bin Tughlaq’s palace, the Vijay Mandal. Built in 1326, the entire structure has been positioned on a raise platform, surmounted by another higher platform. A ramp on the side leads to an octagonal pavilion that offers a remarkable view of the urban village. On the northern side, lies the shrine of the sufi saint, Sheikh Hasan Tahir, accompanied by several other graves around. This is also said to be the site of the legendary Hazar Sutoon, an exquisite jewel-encrusted palace that stood upon a thousand pillars of white marble, also the setting for Malik Kafur’s betrayal of Mubarak Shah Khilji. While the palace no longer survives, the footings of some columns have withstood the ravages of time.
These areas in present times lie as islands within the realm of the National Capital, often becoming hubs for anti-social activities. It is important to know of their existence, to visit them, respect their sanctity and to understand, that the metropolis as we know it today did not ascend from zilch; it was a centuries long process of architectural development, whose testimony are these very crumbling sites.