A walk through Mehrauli’s dense jumble of forgotten graves with William Dalrymple
Parts of the archaeological complex’s grounds were taken over by local cricketers. They looked curiously at the walkers as if wondering why a huge crowd is walking about the abandoned monuments for no apparent reason.delhi Updated: Nov 05, 2017 22:13 IST
More than 50 experts from different fields have been pooled in for the ongoing Delhi Walk Festival. Only three of them are foreigners — and he is one of them. While no walk can have more than 30 participants, the only exception is for him — “His group limit is 40 because he is he,” explained an organiser.
The ‘he’ was William Dalrymple, who conducted a long dusty walk on Sunday morning through Mehrauli’s dense jumble of forgotten graves, gateways and domes in south Delhi.
With the humble hawai chappals as his walking gear, Dalrymple took the visitors to Baagh-e-Naazir in Mehrauli Archaeological Complex and nudged them to gaze upon a ruined gateway as if it were a profound object of beauty. The derelict building, however, began to look appealing after he pointed out barely noticed details such as a Persian poem inscribed on the top of the gateway.
“It was built by Emperor Muhammad Shah Rangeela”, gushed the walking guide. “He’s the guy I would have loved to have dinner with... he revived the imperial atelier... music… paintings… stability…”
Parts of the archaeological complex’s grounds were taken over by local cricketers. They looked curiously at the walkers as if wondering why a huge crowd is walking about the abandoned monuments for no apparent reason.
In another monument, just a few steps away, Dalrymple walked up a steep staircase to show panoramic views of the region.
“I’m pretty angry at our archaeologists,” says Shreya Bakshi, a businesswoman from Kalkaji. This was the first time Bakshi was seriously navigating through her city’s monuments and “we aren’t taking care of our heritage despite the fact we are such heavy taxpayers.”
While crossing a grassy slope on way to Jamali Kamali monument, a fruit vendor appeared chanting “shakarkandi shakarkandi’. Perhaps, sensing the profile of the walking group, he immediately changed to “Sweet potato, sweet potato.”
Later, settling down on the stairs of the Rajon ki Baoli, Dalrymple announced a discovery he had made earlier in the morning. It concerned Daulat Khan, the stepwell’s Lodhi-era builder. It was Khan, revealed Dalrymple, who shaped a great moment in history by going to Kabul and inviting Babur to India — “with a gift of green mangoes pickled in honey.”
The group was charmed enough to good-heartedly amble through the Sufi shrine of Khwaja Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki.
The final destination was Zafar Mahal, “the last great monument of the Mughals”. Here, in front of the empty grave where the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar wanted to be buried, Dalrymple ended the walk by feelingly reading out a sentimental poem by Zafar.
“On special demand”, Dalrymple will again lead the same walk Tuesday morning.