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A ‘jaunty’ plan for Shahjahan’s hunting lodge in Delhi

Jaunti village in outer Delhi is set to get an integrated redevelopment plan that will turn the ruins of its Mughal-era hunting lodge into a tourist attraction .

delhi Updated: Apr 29, 2018 08:59 IST
Parvez Sultan
Aam Khas, which was once a hunting lodge built during Shahjahan’s time, in it's current condition in Jaunti village near the Delhi - Haryana border near New Delhi.
Aam Khas, which was once a hunting lodge built during Shahjahan’s time, in it's current condition in Jaunti village near the Delhi - Haryana border near New Delhi. (Anushree Fadnavis/HT photo)

Jaunti village near Kanjhawala in outer Delhi, is unlike other urbanised villages of the capital. The village has at its heart a crumbling 17th century ‘shikargah’ or hunting lodge that will now be restored by the archaeology department of Delhi government.

The move comes after Delhi’s divisional commissioner Manisha Saxena asked the department to draw a feasible plan for restoration of the 370-year-old structure.

The remains of the fortress — fluted sandstone columns, halls, arches, lakhori brick walls and pyramidal roofs — will be strengthened as part of the plan for integrated development of the village.

“It is just a beginning. We may rope in agencies like National Urban Livelihoods Mission for skilled development. Setting up of district culture centre with financial assistance from the Centre is another option. Let us start with preservation of the ancient structures,” said Saxena, who also holds the charge of the archaeology department.

The shikargah in Jaunti village was built by Shahjahan in outer Delhi. The village now falls on Delhi-Haryana border, about 10km from Mundka Metro station. Besides its historical heritage, the nondescript Jaunti village was also the epicentre of Green Revolution in 1960s.

At least 69 families have lived in and around this Mughal era royal forest house for years. However, a recent spate in construction activity has damaged its original architecture.

In 2010, a court order declared these families legal residents but pronounced that the land was vested in gram sabha. “As per the order, they can’t be moved out. But, the structure can still be preserved. It has been decided that the gram sabha will send a proposal for conservation and we will undertake the work,” said Vikas Maloo, head of the archaeology department.

Towards a tourism hub

The plan for redevelopment of Jaunti village was initiated three years ago when north-west Delhi MP Udit Raj adopted it under Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana (SAGY). The Delhi Urban Art Commission (DUAC) was engaged to prepared a project report for its development into a tourist spot. However, the DUAC plan that envisioned plazas, cafes, performance areas, space for street arts, interpretation centre, and exhibition gallery, failed to take off.

Aam Khas which was once a hunting lodge built during Shahjahan’s time. (Anushree Fadnavis/HT Photo)

Rekha Vohra, the director of the Jaunti project, said the plan is expected to achieve its target this time as the district administration is on board. “The project was stuck because of multiplicity of authorities. We are hopeful now as the administration has got involved. We are moving in the right direction now,” she said.

Saxena and a battery of government officials, including Kanjhawala sub-divisional magistrate Veditha Reddy, visited the hunting lodge, an old Mughal-era pond, and an ancient Shiv temple last week. Following this, the DC also asked the fisheries department to explore the possibility of using the pond for aqua culture and boating. “A separate pond can be developed for livestock. In the existing pond, we can introduce angling and boating facilities,” she said.

Decades of Change

According to the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), Jaunti’s hunting palace was built by emperor Shahjahan around 1650s. It is identical to another hunting lodge in Hastsal village near Uttam Nagar which is also believed to have been built by Shahajahan during 1650s. Standing on an elevated land, Shahjahan’s shikargah was once a double-storeyed fortress surrounded by a wall. Only a part of the fortification remains now and the main gateway has collapsed.

Its remains comprise brick masonry work with generous use of red sandstone. A section of the fortress — central vaulted chamber with domed pyramidical roof — has survived but major elements have caved in. The domed compartment is now used to stash cow dung cakes. Adjoining this block is a series of courtyards with decaying walls. Wide courtyard openings are spanned with foliated arches and supported by decorative columns, which are still intact.

According Rann Singh Chhikara (72), who lives in the vicinity, it is almost two decades since the last repair work was conducted at the dilapidated building (also known as ‘Aam-Khas’ locally).

An extension, being used as ‘short cut’ to a row of houses in another lane, is called ‘Andheria’. Apart from doubling as a thoroughfare, the foyer also serves as a cattle shed. Locals said a southern courtyard also had a tehkhana (basement) with an underground passage connecting the place to the pond and a well in the vicinity. “It is believed that when kings and queens would return to Delhi from Kashmir, they took a break here. The queens would bathe in the pond and rest and then proceeded towards the city,” Saxena said.

Jaunti’s rich past

The village shot to limelight in 1964 when it was chosen for high-yielding seed development programme by MS Swaminathan, the father of green revolution. On September 26, 1967, then prime minister Indira Gandhi inaugurated the Jawahar Jaunti Seed Cooperative here.

“Our village was selected as it had vast agricultural land and the farmers agreed to the programme. In 1967, Indira Gandhi came to the village. However, the society closed in 1980s. The building has a dispensary now,” said Raj Singh Chhikara (66).

He said the Chhikara (Jat) clan migrated to Jaunti from Rajasthan’s Dadreda village around 200 years ago. The population of the village now is approximately 8,000. “There were two brothers, Kanha and Jaunpal, who set two villages in this region. The settlement created by Jaunpal became Jaunti and the other one, known as Kanaunda, is in Rohtak district,” said Raj Singh.

‘Mera Jaunti’, a dossier for SAGY project, says the Mughal ruler zeroed in on the village to build shikargah as the place was a dense forest.

“The village was surrounded by a thick forest and agricultural land. I have seen deers, neelgai and wolves in the forest. The entire village was then settled inside the fort. As families grew, people started constructing new houses outside,” said Maan Singh Chhikara (90), a retired school teacher. Meenu Kumari (40), a volunteer at a local skill development centre, said if the administration preserves this heritage, locals are ready to cooperate. “It will be good if it is restored. Our village will certainly get good name and tourists,” she said.