A long trail to Qila Lal Kot in Sanjay Van, Mehrauli is desolate and abound with keeker trees and shrubs on the sideways. Known as the first Red Fort, the 11th century Lal Kot with a six feet high fortification wall, was built in 1060 AD by Rajput ruler Anangpal Tomar whose ancestors had settled in the Aravalli Hills. Today, nature enthusiasts trek along the six kilometre track of the south Delhi ridge to take a break from the busy city life. With multiple entry points to the fort, Sanjay Van’s gate number 5, near the Qutab Minar complex is preferred by most trekkers.
According to the listing of monuments in Delhi by INTACH (Delhi Chapter), the ramparts of Lal Kot start from Adham Khan’s tomb. The structure is in a state of serious deterioration. Several portions of the wall have collapsed and the original face has been completely lost.
With the narrow pathway leading to the woods of the city, broken ramparts of the wall form a surreal sight. The calm feel of the area surrounding the fort is in contrast to the incessant traffic on the Mehrauli-Qutab road that runs parallel to it. Huge quartzite stones with perfect edges fitted into each other form the wall that is an extension of Lal Kot, which was built in 1180-86 AD by Rai Pithora, better known as Prithviraj Chauhan. The extended fortification wall was a defence against Muslim invaders. Based upon archaeological evidence, the wall forms a major part of the fortification of the first city of Delhi which was later known as Qila Rai Pithora named after Chauhan.
The ramparts are about 10 metre thick and 20 metre high. The extension of ramparts starts northwards from the Fatehburj of Lal Kot. The remnants of Rai Pithora can still be seen in present-day Saket, Mehrauli, Kishangarh and Vasant Kunj area. A few parts of walls are visible from the Aurobindo Marg behind the Mehrauli Institutional area.
The spectacle of the fort is largely overshadowed by the majestic Qutub Minar visible from all points of the fort and the quiet of the woods. Historians and heritage experts see this as a historical habitation that is in dire need of preservation. They say that youngsters should feel proud of their heritage and make efforts to preserve the history.
While the ruins of the massive towers and several gates like Hauz Rani, Barka and Budaun Gates still exist and are widely inhabited around, residents feel that not much has been done to preserve a heritage city overshadowed by massive concretised structures.
“A great amount of community participation and motivation is needed to preserve these structures. Delhi has been an ever-growing urban space and, therefore, an attraction to migrants. People need spaces to live. So how do you negotiate an identity of the past with the present?” said Navina Jafa, art historian. In her book, Performing Heritage: Art of Exhibit Walks, she talks about heritage walks being one of the many ways of exhibiting culture so that a sense of belongingness towards heritage can be inculcated in people.
“A heritage site of such humongous importance is withering away. At this point, the area is not even in a position to be completely appreciated as a heritage site. Strict action needs to be taken to preserve the history of this area and save it from encroachments,” said Sandeep Bali, a Mehrauli resident.
The residents feel that since it is an ASI-protected structure, the least they can do is put a signboard that reflects the historical importance of this site so that it doesn’t look like an abandoned ruin deep into the woods. While the ASI has time and again been credited for its conservation efforts, residents said enough has not been done.
“I am a history buff and I love coming to this place every few weeks. I feel at peace here. However, it pains me to see the treatment meted out to this centuries-old structure of massive historical relevance. I hope the government acts before it’s too late,” said Nayantara Rathore, a resident of Mehrauli.