LAST UPDATED: 02 MARCH 2022
The site is deserted, even at midday. The ₹5 entrance fee (Since hiked. See updated travel logistics below) is almost an apology, even without the elevated status of a royal tomb.
This “last flicker in the lamp of Mughal architecture” is the final resting place of the erstwhile Nawab of Avadh: Mirza Muqim Abul Mansur Khan, also known as Safdarjung, whose exceptional service to emperor Ahmad Shah elevated him to Grand Vizier (Prime Minister) in 1748. His excessive ambition cost him that privilege in 1753.
He was banished to Avadh and only returned to Delhi posthumously thanks to his son Shujaud Daula, who wangled permission from the Mughal court to lay him to rest at this spot.
The prominent and ornamental gate frames the monument, that at first glance holds a strong resemblance to its star cousin: the mausoleum of emperor Humayun. It is similar in colour and follows the charbagh (quadrilateral walled garden) style of construction divided by water channels.
As you walk in however, you notice the marked absence of refinement. The skewed proportions, the elongated facade, the bulbous dome and its mismatched stone cladding mark a disappointing epilogue to the grand legacy of Mughal architecture in India. In many ways it is said to be a reflection of its times. Of the degenerate lifestyles of lesser emperors and the decline of a great empire. whose famed coffers had been cleaned out by a daring Persian raid.
The Abyssinian architect possibly meant it to be as pristine as its iconic predecessor in Agra. But he had no access to the quarries – by then under the control of Jat chieftans – nor the funds. So he was forced to make do with scavenged material from nearby tombs. And resort to almost Moorish arabesque plaster work to adorn the interiors in place of traditional pietra dura..
In The City Of Djinns, William Dalrymple spares no adjective in deriding the monument’s shortcomings: “The spirit is fecund, Bacchanalian, almost orgiastic. Like some elderly courtesan, the tomb tries to mask its imperfections beneath thick layers of make-up; its excesses of ornament are worn like over-applied rouge.”
That, to my mind, is as exaggerated as the ornamentation. Safdarjung’s tomb isn’t perfect. But viewed singularly and without bias it is quite beautiful. And nothing justifies its neglect* or that Rs.5 entrance fee**.
*The discovery of a buried drainage system has spurred the ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) to restart the fountains. That’s a beginning!
The ASI has also recently begun illuminating the tomb every evening from 19:30 to 11 pm. Visitors are, sadly, not allowed inside during this time but it is possible to view and photograph it from outside.
** Since hiked. See below for latest info.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Delhi, like much of the subcontinent, is best visited in early spring and autumn. February, March and October, November are the ideal months.
PLACES OF INTEREST NEARBY
Lodhi Garden and Humayun’s tomb are easily combined with a visit to the tomb of Safdarjung. Visit Humayun’s tomb early to avoid crowds at the more popular site.
Safdarjung Tomb Visitng Hours: 07.00-17.00 (Illuminated from 19.30 – 24.00 but entry not permitted after 17.00.)
Safdarjung Tomb Entrance Fee: ₹15/- for Indians, ₹200/- for (Non SAARC) Foreigners
Photography charges: Free
Videography: Rs 25