As a city, Delhi is a beautiful combination of the old and the new. While modern constructions. flyovers, metro lines are constantly underway to connect an ever-increasing urban space, the fast-developing city is as strongly linked with a diverse and interesting history that spans several centuries.
In Delhi, this can particularly be identified by the historic names assigned to its modern landscapes. From Indraprastha to Shahjahanabad, the city’s many faces retell compelling stories from its past.
Not all stories are equally well-known, though.
Whether you’re a Delhiite by birth or have made the city your home, it’s likely that you may have overlooked these lesser-known monuments to earlier eras. We pick out five such places in the capital where time stands still.
Associated with the reign of Alauddin Khilji, this is an incomplete monument close to the famous Qutub Minar and now part of the historic Qutub Complex.
With his victory in the Deccan, Khilji intended to build a minaret that would stand twice as tall as the Qutub Minar and prove his superiority to the world through its magnificent architecture.
As per the plan, the construction started and reached the height of 24.5 metres, but came to an unschedled halt in 1316 AD, following the death of Alauddin Khilji.
Thereafter, the sultanate was taken over by the Tughluq dynasty, but the magnificent red rubble ruins stand testament to both the pride and the fall of the erstwhile Alaudding Khilji and his ambitious plans.
Location: Qutub Complex, South Delhi
Located at the top of the Delhi University ridge, there lies a geometrical double-storied rectangular structure which was once purposely built as a hunting lodge for Firuz Shah Tughluq.
“It is said that when the construction was completed, the king paid a visit for inspection. While he climbed up the first storey, he surprisingly saw a ‘fakir’ offering prayers. Out of shock he looked back and the moment he turned around, the saint disappeared. This instance made the ruler restless and uncomfortable. According to Tughluq, the same fakir appeared in his dream and instructed him to build a cenotaph on the same spot where he saw him and give up his idea of making it a hunting lodge.”
The cenotaph (an empty tomb or a monument erected in honour of a person whose remains are elsewhere) was built as per the king’s orders, but later removed as it was deemed to be against Islamic rules. The ruins are still around today and make for great photo ops.
The internal structure further reveals that Pir Ghaib is possibly one of the oldest astronomical observatories in the country.
Location: Delhi University Ridge (Behind Hindu Rao Hospital)
Roshanara Bagh & Tomb
Roshanara Begum, daugter of the fifth Mughal ruler Shah Jahan and sister to Aurangzeb is a fairly controversial figure in Indian history, largely due to her independent, often ruthless choices, her openness in maintaining lovers even when it was forbidden to do so, and her lust for land, power and gold, which eventually got her banished from Aurangzeb’s empire.
It was an exile on her terms, though. Roshanara Bagh, a beautiful Mughal-style garden designed by the princess herself. Today, it houses a diverse variety of plants, some of them imported from other countries as well. Waterbodies inside the garden are a favorite among migratory birds, making it an excellent yet offbeat haunt for bird watching. When she died, at the age of 54, still shrouded in controversy, Roshanara was buried in her beloved garden.
Incidentally, the British were extremely taken by the garden during the days of the Empire, and in 1922, they set up the Roshanara Club, an elite country club that prided itself, among other things, on its cricket legacy. The club is believed to be the birthplace of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
Location: Roshanara Road, Shakti Nagar
Chor Minar or ‘The Minaret of Thieves” is apparently haunted, but we’re not promoting any such rumors. Situated in the posh area of Hauz Khas, Chor Minar was constructed by Alauddin Khilji in order to discourage the practice of theft.
The minaret is pierced with 225 holes, which were supposedly used for exhibiting the executed heads of thieves caught during the reign. In case the number of defaulters exceeded 225, the rest of the heads were piled near a pyramid outside the Minar. Or so the story goes…
Today, however, Chor Minar is surrounded by lush green parks, largely dominated by kids and morning walkers. It’s quite a lovely place to spend a winter morning in Delhi.
Location: Aurobindo Marg, Hauz Khas
Also known as Mile Pillars, these minarets were an important aspect in travel and communication during the medieval period. Started by Afghan ruler Sher Shah Suri, Kos Minars were installed along the major royal routes.
The Mughals continued the concept and erected more of these minars along the important trails of their kingdom. The name ‘Kos’, comes from an ancient Indian unit of distance, simply meaning ‘a mile’. The Minar is architecturally simple as a rounded pillar mounted over a cemented platformat a total height of 30 metres.
If you drive along the Grand Trunk Road in the northern patches of the country, you may be able to spot several such Kos Minars after roughly equal intervals of distance. According to the ASI, Haryana has 49 Kos Minars while Ludhiana in Punjab houses five of them.
Location: Delhi National Zoo, Mathura Road, New Delhi