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A palace in ruins

Zafar Mahal, the summer palace of the Mughals, shares its walls with the serene Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki Ka Dargah in congested Mehrauli in south Delhi, reports Nivedita Khandekar.

delhi Updated: Feb 13, 2010 23:06 IST
Nivedita Khandekar

Zafar Mahal, the summer palace of the Mughals, shares its walls with the serene Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki Ka Dargah in congested Mehrauli in south Delhi.

The dargah is fairly well maintained, but the 18th century monument, now in care of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), is in shambles.

The monument is almost dwarfed by residential buildings and places of worship even though the façade is an imposing more than 50 feet tall Hathi Gate, complete with decorated balconies and three Bengal domes.

The insides are another story.

The plaster has worn off the walls at several places. The columns are broken. Those walls that are relatively in a better state are defaced with proclamations of love.

William Dalrymple, author of the The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty, Delhi 1857, points out, “On most days the place stinks of urine. It has become a filthy den of gamblers.”

“(But) even more important is the continuous encroachment and vandalism. Over the last few months, people have broken stone jaalis and even some pillars.”

What can be done now?

Calling it a monument of “huge significance”, Dalrymple said, “It needs immediate restoration. They spent crores of rupees in 2007 on the ‘150 years of First War of Independence’ celebrations.”

“Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal, lived here. That money could have been used to restore his summer palace,” he added.

Lawyer Usha Kumar, who has taken up several cases in the interest of heritage monuments, said a wall was raised from the rear side of the poet king’s monument some time ago.

“Our petition in the high court in 1999 had drawn attention to the fact that buildings were coming up from all sides of the monument,” Kumar said.

“The court had directed the ASI to remove all encroachment, but nothing was done then. See what has happened now.”

With only one guard posted at the monument, there is no means to keep a tab on the vandals. ASI officials claim they don’t have the resources to fight the menace. “We are taking action, including lodging police complaints, but it is often a loosing battle,” said ASI Delhi Circle chief K.K. Muhammed.

Muhammed rests his faith on the local community. “What can help is a concerted effort by the general public against such vandalism.”