Ancient Places: Mehrauli Archaeological Park

Rajon Ki Baoli – an ancient stepwell at Mehrauli Archaeological Park. Credit: Times of India

Wherever you go, you can be sure that someone else was there hundreds or thousands of years before you. There are incredible ancient places hiding all around us. Let’s go find them!

First populated in the 8th century, Mehrauli is one the medieval cities which eventually became modern Delhi. Today, you can still see over 100 ancient ruins and buildings, spread across a beautiful 200-acre public park, with various kinds of wildlife wandering about including wild pigs and troops of monkeys, whose entrance is tucked away next to Delhi’s Qutub Minar metro station.

As soon as you step through the gate, you immediately enter a world filled with history as Qutub Minar’s tower looms in the distance. Each of the 100+ ruins give a glimpse into the medieval history of one of the world’s biggest cities, and some of the diverse characters that inhabited it – kings, saints, emperors and poets. Here are three of our favourites:

Tomb of Quli Khan

Credit: David Wallace

How do you get a fancy tomb in early 17th century India? Well being the foster brother of Emperor Akbar definitely helps… Muhammad Quli Khan was a general in the emperor’s army however not much is known about him. The tomb itself is so beautiful with brightly coloured glazed tiles, blues and greens (although most are sadly missing) contrasting with cream coloured and red stones – a real feast for the eyes. From the outside the tomb is octagonal in plan but inside it is square, and the interior is just as pretty with painted plaster.

Later on, in the 1830’s the tomb was converted by Sir Thomas Theopilus Metcalf (what a name!) an agent at the imperial court of the Mughal Emperor. He completely converted the tomb into a residential house and the area surrounding into series of dazzling terraced gardens, water courses and pavilions. This was his weekend retreat (so lucky) and he called it ‘Dilkhusha’ which translated means ‘delight of the heart’ and it truly is – a beautiful, peaceful and spectacular place to go for a walk.

Rajon Ki Baoli

Credit: David Wallace

This stunning old stepwell dates back to 1506, during the Lodi era when Delhi was ruled by an Afghan dynasty. Stepwells, a big structure built around a gigantic well shaft, (also called Baoli in Hindi) are an iconic feature of medieval Indian architecture, mixing the utilitarian (getting water) with the ornamental (amazing design!). Many are associated with water storage for temples and said to have healing powers. This one descends three stories ground level and served a nearby mosque. Although the water has long dried up, it really stands out in the landscape.

Jamali-Kamali’s mosque and tomb

Credit: David Wallace

Now moving onto an elegant 15th century mosque that is still in use and the architecture really attracts the eye. The prayer hall has five arches with different coloured paralelled decoration and reminds me of the Red fort in Delhi with that iconic red sandstone. The mosque and tomb are in a large enclosure with walls and gardens, where locals were playing cricket and they invited me to join them – I’m not very good at cricket…

There are two graves in the tomb Kamali and Jamali: sadly we don’t know who Kamali is but Jamali was a famous saint/ poet. His tomb has some of his poetry verses inscribed into the coloured tiles on the ceiling and walls.

Behind the mosque are two staircases leading up to some really stuning oriel windows (really fancy bay windows) and octangonal towers – it’s almost like something out of a Disney movie.

Maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India, Mehrauli truly is a place where you can get lost in time, and spend days exploring history. There’s an abandoned village, temples, tombs – and no entrance fee. It’s definitely one to add to the list for anyone making a trip to Deli

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David Wallace

Written by David Wallace

David is one of DigVentures' awesome Community Archaeologists. He studied Archaeology at Winchester University, loves digging holes, Romans, and South Asian archaeology. He also likes gaming, and exploring ancient sites as reconstructed in virtual reality. Most of all, David is looking forward to having a pint with the DV community after a long day digging on site together.

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