Delhi or Dilli or Dihli isn’t merely what we see on postcards and in books. The city - a miscellany of seven cities that were raised and razed over centuries on Delhi’s soil - is dotted with fascinating fables, some secrets and many, many more sites where these legends shaped up. Presenting some tales from Delhi’s kitty, with nothing to hide...
In the days of Alauddin Khillji (1290-1320 AD), burglary meant hardcore business, especially in ‘Dilli’! Because once you were caught, you were sent off to ‘Chor Minar’ or the Tower of Thieves. This small monument had not dungeons or gallows, but horrifyingly more. The thieves were hanged, and later beheaded. The heads were pierced through a spear and put up on public display through one of the 225 holes on the Chor Minar. A deadly silent ‘do not steal’ warning by the authorities!
Some chronicles report that Khilji also filled the vents of Chor Minar and some other buildings with speared heads of an army of 8000 Mongols (baffling space management, isn’t it?), who attacked the mighty Khilji dynasty.
Today, the Chor Minar stands peacefully, with its gory past either faded or forgotten, in Hauz Khas Enclave. On your way to Qutub Minar (from the Yusuf Sarai side) on the Aurbindo Marg, turn left just before the IIT crossing. Plan to visit it before the sun sets, and take a walk inside the tower with your camera. And yes, don’t steal anything!
The Khiljis probably got gore in legacy from the Suris, and passed them to Mughals in the centuries to come. At least this is what the Khooni Darwaza suggests. Standing humbly between the modern constructions on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, Khooni Darwaza isn’t a gate but an arch outside Feroz Shah Kotla, where the mighty Sher Shah Suri built it in his brief reign from 1540-1545. Some bloody memoirs from Khooni Darwaza:
When Jehangir took the reigns of Mughal sultanate from his father Akbar, he knew he wasn’t approved of by Abdul Rahim Khan-e-Khana, one of Akbar’s Navratnas (nine jewels). To thwart a potential mutiny or probably in a fit of anger, Jehangir executed the two sons of Abdul Rahim and put their corpses on display at Khooni Darwaza.
Years later, Jehangir’s grandson Aurangzeb repeated history albeit with a more fierce attack. After seizing the throne from his father Shah Jehan, he killed his blood brother Dara Shikoh and put his head on display at Khooni Darwaza (but not before presenting it to his father in the dungeons).
In 1857, Major William Hodson stripped and shot two sons and a grandson of Bahadur Shah Zafar beneath the arch of Khooni Darwaza. This unassuming arched-gate has some more stories to tell. To make the best visit to Khooni Darwaza, read some more or - easier - take a history buff along.
We’ve all come across ‘Rahim ke Dohe’ as we grew up. The full name of Rahim is Abdul Rahim Khan-e-Khana. Rings a bell? He is the Navratan whose sons Jehangir beheaded, as you just read.
Now, the story of Abdul Rahim is with its own twists and turns so tighten your seatbelts! Rahim was the son of Bairam Khan, a tutor and advisor of the young King Akbar. As Akbar grew up to become a worthy king, he resented Bairam Khan’s influence in sultanate matters and ordered him to head to Mecca for Haj. A voyage on which Akbar got him executed (in Gujarat), married his wife and step-fathered his son Abdul Rahim Khan.
Bestowed upon the title of ‘Mirza Khan’ by Akbar, Rahim wrote various Hindi couplets (dohas), two books on astrology and translated Babar’s memoirs. So on his death, Rahim was immortalised by a grand red sandstone tomb, bedecked with jewels which were of course, stripped off.
This monument of the famous Rahim (who also happens to be of Lord Krishna’s lineage) stands worn out, rather humbly in Nizamuddin’s east residential area, not far away from Humayun’s Tomb.
Tomb of Adham Khan (Mehrauli)
Adham Khan was the son of Maham Anga, Akbar’s foster mother. While he was dear to Akbar, he had his wrath on murdering Akbar’s prime minister, Ataga Khan. He was thrown down from ramparts of Agra Fort twice and later buried in his own ‘Tomb of Adham Khan’ which Akbar built for him in 1561. Another reminder of Mughal barbarism and gallantry, Adham Khan’s Tomb, stands tall in Mehrauli Village, not far from the bus terminal.
This tomb has a maze on its upper corridor along the dome and it isn’t tough to get lost, which is why it’s called Bhool-Bhulaiyan. Get down at Qutub Minar Metro Station to arrive here. This ASI protected monument is now sadly closed to visitors, albeit with opportunity for some nice photography in its periphery. Some archaeologists and historians claim a tunnel runs from Adham Khan’s Tomb to - hold your breath - Agra!
Gandhak ki Baoli (Mehrauli)
The medieval royals had no hydraulic installations, or even electricity, but all the land and labour to make good use of. This gave birth to baolis or step-wells. Gandhak ki Baoli was built in Mehrauli under the reign of Iltutmish, presumably to keep the villages in Mehrauli hydrated. Five storeys deep, it gets its names from the strong smell (gandh) of sulphur that came from its water, that is, when it wasn’t dry.
Turn into the narrow lane leading to the bazaars of Mehrauli and you will find this step-well. It is at a walking distance from Adham Khan’s Tomb. Wear robust walking shoes and eyewear for a pleasant visit to Gandhak ki Baoli, a lovely spot to think, write, read or simply sit and brood.
Go explore these fading sites with their forgotten stories.
[Images courtesy: Wikipedia]