The most beautiful of all buildings in the congested Nizamuddin Basti, it is also the most ignored. Most visitors to this 14th-century village, named after a sufi saint, head straight to the saint’s shrine.
A few may notice Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib’s tomb that lies on the left of the principal street. Hidden behind this mausoleum is the marbled Chaunsath Khamba (circa 1624), the rare Jehangir-era monument in Delhi, so well-preserved that it does not look old.
Built by Mirza Aziz Kokaltash, a foster brother of Emperor Akbar, Chaunsath Khamba was so named because 64 pillars are said to have supported its roof. You will, however, find only 36. These pillars join the roof in a soft, sloping harmony.
Inside, the hall has 10 tombs, two of which belong to Kokaltash and his wife. Outside, towards Ghalib’s memorial, there are more tombs. Since the walls have stone jaalis, sunlight falls through the latticework, making embroidered patterns on the marble.
Chausanth Khamba faces the open courtyard of Urs Mahal, a venue for cultural shows, which remain empty except in the evenings when boys come to play cricket. Ghalib’s tomb, too, is usually deserted. Amid the desolation, the monument feels as isolated as the North Pole, yet it is close to civilisation.
Surrounded by the Basti’s jagged skyline, sounds of children’s cries, women’s laughter, hawkers’ yells and the hissing of pressure cookers’ whistle waft through the pillared hall, where they echo softly. You feel at peace with the world.
Where: Nizamuddin Basti
Time open: Sunrise to sunset