Eerie voices, mystery wall: ‘Ghostly’ 14th century palace in central Delhi gets a facelift
In the mid-14th century, during one of his summer hunting expeditions to the western periphery of the city, the Sultan of Delhi, Firuz Shah Tughlaq, became extremely thirsty. His caravan had exhausted its supply of water.
At that moment, he spotted by the road a pretty girl carrying water. She seemed to have lost her way. At Tughlaq’s request, the girl gave him a draught of water.
The king fell in love. He gave the girl, a member of the Rajasthani Bhatiara community, a shikargah (hunting lodge) he had built nearby soon after becoming sultan. Later, she converted it into a sarai (inn).
According to RV Smith, an expert chronicler of Delhi’s folklore, that’s just one story of the origins of Bhuli Bhatiyari ka Mahal, a lodge whose name and history are shrouded in mystery.
Those who subscribe to the tale of the girl think Bhuli Bhatiyari ka Mahal means ‘the palace of the lost Bhatiari’. Others believe that the lodge was the residence of a nobleman named Bu Ali Bhatti, a theory attributed to Asar-al-Sanadid, a mid-19th century survey of Delhi monuments by the scholar Syed Ahmad Khan. Smith said he’s heard yet more stories, for example that Bakhtiyari was the name of an old caretaker.
Whatever its origins, the lodge still exists. It lies in the ridge behind Jhandewalan metro station.
Smith said that legends about the history of the lodge are complemented today by rumours that the place is haunted. He described reports of eerie whispers of a woman’s voice emanating from its precincts at night.
According to Smith, the area surrounding the lodge was once used by manjha (kite string) makers who took advantage of the open landscape to wind yards of their string onto the charkhis (reels) used by kite flyers. He said they would complain of an old woman’s ghost pulling their hair and ears while they slept.
“Over the decades, several mysterious stories have been developed,” said Smith, “but none of the claims can be substantiated.”
Vikramjit Singh Rooprai, a heritage enthusiast and a blogger, said he has also encountered rumours of paranormal activity on his visits to the lodge.
“During one of a photo-walks organised by me, two members of the group went deep into the forest,” Rooprai said. “They spotted a white wall and tried to take a picture but found it had disappeared. We went to check with them but could not find the wall.”
Mohammad Zahiruddin is an old caretaker of Mir Afzal Khuda Numa, a dargah situated around 200 metres away from the ancient building. “Because of the popular belief, several people come enquiring about the place,” he said of the lodge. “Some even come with their family but return disappointed as they don’t find any spirits there.”
Restoring the past
Till recently, the ramparts of the 14th century monument were crumbling, wild shrubs filled the courtyard, and an unpleasant odour wafted from the grounds. A security guard said the lodge had turned into a haven for homeless people and drug addicts.
But in October, the Delhi state archaeology department decided to take up its conservation along with 18 other historical buildings in the city. The restoration job was handed over to the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage. One conservator who was not authorised to speak to the press told Hindustan Times that the project should be completed by the end of June.
Already the shrubs have been cleared, and you can see that the old walls are being restored. The unanswered questions of Bhuli Bhatiyari ka Mahal, however, still linger.