June 02, 2014

Lost in the Crowd - Delhi's Lesser Known Monuments

     Looking down through a window from an airbus hovering in the stratosphere, ready to land, one can see, past drifting clouds, the almost Utopian layout of Lutyen’s Delhi. One would first notice the wide criss-crossing roads and highways, then the vast expanse of greenery and finally catch a glimpse of the domes of some of Delhi’s most prominent landmarks. But, the rest is a blur of earthy hues. It is among these hues that lies time capsules hidden away in different parts of the city waiting for that lonely traveler to find.
     A view of Old Delhi

     Walk with a tour guide at a popular monument crawling with tourists. The tour guide who has faithfully memorized paragraphs from a history text book about the most famous landmarks in the city would, with a wave of his hand, dismiss the landmark’s lesser counterparts as “something built by some king in the same era”.
      Watch a tourism advertisement for a particular city or even country and one will see glorious visuals of the landmarks the city is identified with. Whilst the construction of these landmarks was in progress other structures were being built for reasons of lesser importance.
In my recent trip to the National Capital Territory of Delhi, I had the privilege to work with some of the best conservation architects and consultants in the country at the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, Delhi Chapter. It is here at one of the rallies for public awareness about nominating Delhi to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Cities that I learnt about these lesser known monuments in the city of Delhi. As they say, little drops of water makes an ocean, every single monument, well known or insignificant makes up Delhi's history and heritage. With a little research, I've come to conclude that  Lesser known monuments are indeed important for the following reasons:
First, They are witness to historic events.
-          Like the Turkman Gate, located at the Ahsif Ali Road, Chandini Chowk. In 1976, the slum relocation project was put into motion much to the disapproval of many slum dwellers, who started protesting. There was a rebellion that was started at the Turkman Gate which had a concentration of Muslim traders. They protested and resisted demolition of their houses. Emergency rule was imposed on April 18th .1976. The police opened fire on them and began demolishing the gate, acting on orders given by the then president. Many civilians were killed and this event became global news which left the country shaken.
 Turkman Gate
     Some lesser known monuments showcase the lifestyle of public figures in a particular era like the “Tomb of Mohd. Quli Khan.” This tomb, located near the Quab Minar was remodeled by Sir Charles Metcalfe who was a negotiator between the East India Company and the Mughal rulers. Metcalfe used this structure as a holiday retreat and also to spy on Bahadhur Shah, the last Mughal emperor. This tomb has also survived the Revolt of 1857, during which it was ransacked and vandalized

Tomb of Mmd. Quli Khan

     Some such monuments were built to facilitate a now-forgotten practice, like the “Chor Minar”. The “Chor Minar, as its name suggests, was a minaret constructed at the present day Haus Khas village. This minaret was used to publicly flog thieves and their heads put up on the minar as an example.
     Lesser known monuments along with the more significant ones can collectively help determine the building typology in a place and architectural elements characteristic to a particular style and period in history.
    The Baradari at Sadhana Enclave is a building typology characteristic to the Mughal era. A Baradari is essentially a building or pavilion with twelve arches, for facilitating the free flow of air through the pavilion. The pavilion or hall was used for performances by dancers and musicians of the time. The Khirki mosque at Saket is the first mosque to be covered with rendered stone due to lack of skilled artisans. This mosque also exhibits a characteristic element of the Islamic style of architecture which is the “jaali” windows. Looking collectively at these buildings it can be established that pointed arches, jaali work, domes and minarets were the recurring architectural elements of this era. All elements may not be seen in every building which is why it is important to preserve even lesser known structures as they may contain detailing or be a building typology that the landmarks might not have and might not be.

      While well-known monuments are recommended to first time visitors to a place, lesser known monuments are sure to interest budding historians and seasoned travelers. Just as little drops of water make an ocean every single monument however significant helps tell the story of a city. The cityscape of a place would be incomplete without these structures and hence, must be preserved.
      Preservation and conservation requires a significant amount of effort from not only historians and architects but from also patrons and organisations with similar ideals to help with funds and labor.
All you avid travelers reading this post these monuments are worth seeing as it only makes the big picture on India's rich history a lot clearer.

Hit like if you found this informative. Comment if you know about any more lesser known monuments but you think are significant to a city.