The Ruins Of Mehrauli

Delhi’s architectural vestiges, the remains of its seven original cities, represent its complex and convoluted history. The spectacular rise of empires and the disasters and conflicts that led to their fall, writ large on every crumbling stone..

Mehrauli is the second of the seven cities, built around 1206AD by Qutub ud din Aibak, a former slave and general of Mohammed Ghori, who set up the first Sultanate of Delhi. Over a hundred haunting relics ranging in antiquity from the 11CE foundations of the Hindu fort that existed at the site before the Ghori invasion of 1192, to a few structures from the Raj era some seven centuries later, are now encompassed in a 200 acre archaeological park of the same name.

Tourist interest rarely strays beyond the adjacent Qutub Minar complex (a UNESCO heritage minaret, also constructed by the founder of the Slave dynasty), making for a tranquil and atmospheric visit.

Come see for yourself……….

Balban's tomb, Mehrauli arcaeological park, Delhi
The tomb of Balban, Iltutmish’s slave and the last of the Mamluk sultans is said to be the first structure in India to use Islamic arches.. The grave (see thumbnail) is now believed to be that of Balban’s son, Khan Shahid,DSC_4461 copy

Balban's tomb, Mehrauli arcaeological park, Delhi

Jamali Kamali, Mehrauli arcaeological park, Delhi
Jamali Kamali Mosque
Jamali Kamali, Mehrauli arcaeological park, Delhi
Mirhab, Jamali Kamali Mosque
Jamali Kamali, Mehrauli arcaeological park, Delhi
The Jamali Kamali Mosque
Jamali Kamali, Mehrauli arcaeological park, Delhi
A small tip to the caretaker gains one entry into the tomb of Jamali Kamali – an unassuming structure, with impressive interior ornamentation.
Jamali Kamali, Mehrauli arcaeological park, Delhi
The spectacular painted ceiling
Mehrauli arcaeological park, Delhi
The dome of a Lodi period tomb in the distance
Mehrauli arcaeological park, Delhi
Metcalfe’s folly!
Mehrauli arcaeological park, Delhi
View of Qutub Minar from Quli Khan’s tomb or Dilkusha. Quli Khan was the son of Akbar’s wet nurse, so considered a foster brother. Sir Thomas Metcalfe later converted this tomb into a summer residence.
Mehrauli arcaeological park, Delhi
Rajaon ki Baoli – a step well and the tomb of Adham Khan

Several tour companies conduct three to four hour long walks through the park, early morning or late evening. We got a private car and driver to drive us as close to each site as possible, thus saving a bit of time and effort, but possibly losing out on a lot of atmosphere. The Slave Dynasty water tank: Hauz i Shamsi, the stunning 15th century Jahaz Mahal and the Bakhtiar Kaki Dargah near the village outside the park, we saved for a future visit. Hopefully soon.

Happy travels, no matter where life takes you.

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Madhu is an Interior designer turned travel blogger on a long sabbatical to explore the world. When not crafting stories on The Urge To Wander, she's probably Tweeting @theurgetowander or sharing special moments on instagram.com/theurgetowander

92 thoughts on “The Ruins Of Mehrauli

  1. What a terrific initiative, Madhu – making 1000 years of history easily accessible – and beautifully kept. Its good to see something positive about poor Delhi – all we (overseas) seem to hear about that beguiling city is about traffic, and overcrowding … you know, negative things.

    1. You forgot the R word Meredith. Sad that Delhi’s ancient history is overshadowed by so much negativity. And that initiatives such as this are few and far between.

  2. Mehrauli is my favorite history spot. Did you see Jahaaz Mahal? It is another amazing structure and catches you unawares – right in the midst of the little galis, it suddenly looms before your eyes: ‘come, check out this piece of historical elegance’!

    Excellent images! I watched them many times over, soaking in the smell of the ages. 🙂

    1. Delighted that you enjoyed the photos Meenakshi! We didn’t have time for Jahaaz Mahal and the neighbouring monuments sadly. A good excuse to return 🙂

  3. It was fun to drop by and get a quick history lesson on three different countries in a row! I forgot to mention how much I enjoyed your photography in each post. Take care, and happy travels Madhu. I often wonder where your wanderings will take you next.

    1. Thank you so much Elisa. Happy you enjoyed all three. I always struggle with the amount of history to include.

  4. Really beautiful post, Madhu – not only entertaining but also educational for me.
    And that ceiling is truly amazing…colours, patterns, the mood…all…

    1. Thank you Ese. Glad you enjoyed this post. That tomb with its amazing ceiling was the highlight for me.

  5. I regret that we didn’t get to include this on our trip. A short visit wouldn’t do it justice and I would prefer a guided walk as you suggest, by someone hopefully with a vested interest in the subject. Lovely pictures and unique history… To be absorbed.

    1. Thanks Lynne. You would need well over two hours just for the park. That is the reason most people, even locals, skip this. The Qutub complex is much easily done though, but almost always full of tourists.

  6. It looks like a lesser known Taj Mahal, or a Taj Mahal would-be look after devastation. 😉 India is a magical country.

    1. Yes, there is quite a bit of the magical here Rommel. The magic is not quite utilized to its full potential though.

  7. Great photos, Madhu. I think Charles Metcalfe must have been quite a character, and he built his folly in such a picturesque spot. The painted ceiling inside the tomb, is exquisite.

    1. Thanks Sylvia. The ceiling was a pleasant surprise! The builder of the folly is Thomas Metcalfe actually, the British resident at the Mughal court and the younger brother of Charles Metcalfe. The latter was the governor general of Bengal. It seems Thomas’s son was also in the Indian civil services!! 🙂

  8. Beautiful photo tour Madhu. Great to clear the cobwebs of distant childhood memories. The ceiling of the Jamali Kamali tomb is gorgeous!

  9. What colours and rich architectural detail, Madhu! The park looks beautiful and so utterly devoid of people. I’m fascinated by the life story of Qutub ud din Aibak; it’s amazing to think that a slave could rise to become a general and then the sultan of a new dynasty.

    Funny how the ruins are interspersed with relics from the days of the British Raj. I’m not sure why Sir Thomas Metcalfe decided to appropriate someone’s tomb as his summer residence – it seems very odd through modern eyes.

    1. I think they were born with amazing destinies James!! 🙂 It was the norm with Central Asian dynasties, to leave behind a ‘slave’ general to look after conquered provinces. This man declared himself ‘Sultan’ after Ghori’s death. He wasn’t the most benevolent of rulers and is certainly not remembered fondly. But his architectural contributions were impressive.

      Metcalfe added layers to the tomb, and had his residence on the first floor….now stripped by INTACH. The main tomb chamber was left untouched. It is believed he wanted to keep a close watch on the last Moghul, Bahadur Shah Zafar, who lived in the Jahaz Mahal in Mehrauli. Still weird though!! 🙂

    1. I think so too, along with Greece and Turkey! 🙂 That ceiling was most unexpected inside the tomb of a saint Jo!

  10. I didn’t know this place existed, as I only went to Qutab Minar. 😦 Thanks for the heads up though with this great post, if I ever go back I will check it out!

    1. You should. And the remains of four more cities that I haven’t visited myself!!! 🙂

  11. That is so much history out there and that makes me angry sometimes is we run to foreign shores including me to see all this when we have so much to discover in our own great nation 🙂

    1. Nothing to get angry about I would think. One doesn’t make the other less interesting or beautiful.

    1. It certainly is Ian! Far more than any other city, and especially compared to those in the South.

      1. I loved to visit the shops where they made all kind of things from wood. Watching the skill and precision of those workers squatting on the ground and working at speed was entertaining. One of my most prized possessions is the finely carved room divider from Old Delhi. I’ve faithfully nurtured my treasured office carpet from Delhi too, and it’s in excellent condition.

  12. Beautiful pictures and the write-up a nice revision. Must confess I did go beyond the Qutub Minar but your information is very enriching. Thanks Madhu.

    1. Hope you do Nicole. This was in Delhi though, right next to the Qutub Minar. Did you visit that at least?

      1. No I didn’t visit sadly. Every time I’ve been there it has been brief so I will have to put this on my list to do when I make it back someday. 🙂

  13. The ceiling inside the Jamali Kamali tomb is particularly breathtaking! Judging from your photos, the motifs look different from the ones found in Central Asia or Iran, I suppose. It is true that interesting places often lie a few meters away from where everyone goes as I also experienced visiting such place in Central Java where a temple compound sat peacefully 1 km away from another temple compound flocked with tourists. Beautiful captures, Madhu, as always!

    1. That is indeed a unique ceiling Bama, especially so in the humble tomb of a saint! Didn’t see even one other like it in all the tombs we visited, and we saw many! Yes it always pays to get away from the heavily touristed paths, although those are usually the grandest sites 🙂

    1. It is! Not always looked after sadly. Surprised this has been taken up for conservation even without pressure from UNESCO!

    1. This is a 200 acre park full of ruins Tony. There is just that one Baoli next to Adam Khan’s tomb that I featured in a post named ‘Vanishing Wells’. Link below.

  14. Amazing – excellent captured… 🙂

    Not a single bad word about tourist guides – but I prefare if possible “non-uniformed” local people for the advises – gives the best result I believe – okay we miss some of the general tourist infos – but get a lot of non-written facts… 😀

    Very interesting post… 🙂

    1. Thanks Drake. Me too. Guides are indeed a bit of a toss up. Some have added immensely to our enjoyment of places. A few have been very disappointing. Partly because I research my destinations to death before I arrive 🙂 I find organised walks a lot more enjoyable these days.

  15. …”atmospheric visit” indeed, Madhu and the tranquility is also apparent. What an amazing ceiling!
    Happy full moon and weekend! 🙂

    1. There was not another soul in sight while we were there late afternoon Marina…can’t get more ‘off the beaten path’ than that! Appreciate your comment and share as always 🙂

    1. Thank you very much Gilly! The Qutub Minar complex and this park are two different entities although they are both in Mehrauli.

  16. Good thing there is UNESCO to watch over places like this, otherwise, many heritage places will be lost to the world. Thanks for sharing, Madhu. 🙂

    1. This park isn’t a UNESCO site as yet Imelda. Only the Qutub Minar next door has been given heritage status so far, and hence its popularity. Or perhaps the reverse is true! The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage is maintaining this park along with the Delhi tourism board.

  17. Surreal. Your images are, as always, amazing. Of course, I have trouble getting past your header image and all the detail there!!!

    1. The header to this post or the main background image? That is from Calcutta. Strangely nothing else seemed ‘right’! 🙂 Thank you very much Gary!

    1. Thanks Amit. Most of us put off playing tourist at home for that opportune moment that never seems to materialise….I am as guilty of neglecting monuments around Chennai 🙂

  18. Fantastic, Madhu…. I would love to see this place for myself, who knows maybe one day

  19. Such beauty! I have always seen them from far, but never ventured into them…I feel so bad about it now. Hopefully on my next visit to Delhi…

      1. You should. The archaeological park is well worth the effort. Sept/Oct when the Phoolwalon ki Sair festival takes place in Mehrauli might be a great time to visit.

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