It was William Dalrymple’s ‘The Last Mughal’ that triggered our curiosity about the history of Delhi. Not that we were not aware of Delhi’s historical significance. Unfortunately, Delhi brings to our mind all its negatives—lack of safety, extreme heat or cold and the like. When we did our first ever trip to Delhi as ‘travellers,’ we realised 3-4 days is not just enough to explore the city and experience its history. Even as the regular must-see destinations filled up our itinerary, we were on the lookout for the not-so-common destinations. That’s how we stumbled upon the Mehrauli Archeological Park.
Being near the Qutub complex didn’t make locating it easy; no one could give the right direction. Finally, we made through a non-descript and abandoned-like entrance to a large estate of bushy forest and scattered ruins.
Spread over more than 100 acres, the park perhaps has the largest number of monuments in a single location in the world. The area remained hidden till 2001. When discovered, the authorities decided to explore its tourism potential and started a beautification process. A combined effort of Delhi Tourism, Delhi Development Authority, State Department of Archeology and Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), this conservation process is considered one of the best examples of collaborative effort. The ruins of a culturally rich past, unfortunately, remain as ruins despite the restoration efforts. A small area of the park is rebuilt as a picnic spot with vast lawns and children’s play area. Apparently, we entered through a different entrance, which is rarely used. Hardly anyone ventured beyond the picnic spot. Our driver decided to follow us through our trail since he felt that it was unsafe for a couple. And rightfully so.
The Mehrauli area is considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited area of the city (since AD 1060). A large number of unnamed tombs, ruined structures dot the park. The Jamali Kamali mosque is named after Jamali Sheikh Fazal-ul-allah, a saint and poet during the reign of Sikander Lodi and Humayun. Built in 1529, the structure is well preserved with ASI staff guarding it.
A massive step well (Rajaon ki Baoli) is an interesting attraction. The deep step well has stone galleries built on both sides and was used for social interaction.
The Metcalfe’s Canopy is a small structure atop a mound gives a good view of the surroundings. This was built by Charles Metcalfe, a negotiator of the East India Company, to keep a watch on the movements of Emperor Bahadurshah Zafar II.
What we managed to see in about an hour-and-half was merely a fraction of what the park could offer. But sadly, it seems the authorities have not taken the potential of the park seriously. Many of the ruins are still not accessible, being covered with bushes. Safety is certainly an issue. While returning from the Quli Khan’s tomb, we had a stalker following us for some time; we had to abruptly change our trail.