Many visitors to Delhi inevitable tour Old Delhi and see the Red Fort, but the real origins of the city lie hidden away in other corners of the city. If you’re looking to uncovered the city’s roots and like unique, off the beaten path tours, then join an “explorers” of India City Walks on their wonderful Mehrauli Archaeological Park Walking Tour. I had the chance to partake in one of these excellent Indian Jones-esque experiences as we had discovered the remains of early sites linked to the founding of Delhi including secret tombs, abandoned mosques and ancient stepwell. Take a sneak peek of this awe-inspiring tour below.
“Exploring the City’s Soul” is the admirable motto of India City Walks – an objective I aim to follow when I’m traveling. The company promotes sustainable tourism and strives to enhance the cultural heritage through their wide range of original tours in Delhi and a variety of other destinations around the country and is the only organisation to have received a nation-wide acclaim with their two National Awards for Tourism, by the Government of India. Their experience sharing with the guests is enhanced by the fact that they are dedicated, full-time heritage and story enthusiasts. When I got in touch with the company’s founder, Sachin Bansal, in a quest to find a unique tour, he didn’t hesitate to suggest this one. In all my research to plan for my trip, I hadn’t come across mention of this archaeological park and thus I was instantly intrigued…
Is this the right place? We had to ask ourselves, being deposited by our Uber driver in front of a unmarked laneway at the side of a large road. It was too late to second guess, our driver was speeding off. So with mild trepidation, we crept down the lane a dozen meters until a pile of stones caught our eyes. A good sign that this was indeed the archaeological park so we courageous continued down the road until we reached the carpark and the waving Nikita, the “explorer” who would be guiding us this morning. The enthusiastic and extremely knowledgeable history student quickly captured our interest through her passionate tale about the founding of the first city as far back as the 1000s and right where we were standing.
The park itself is home to over 300 listed heritage structures and many others have yet to be unearthed. We would visit five main sites, all of which told the story of a different era of the early days of Delhi (assisted by a useful timeline handout provided to tour participants). The first of these was Balban’s Tomb, built in the late 13th century for a Turkic ruler of the Delhi Sultanate during the rule of Mamluk dynasty of Delhi. The structure has what is considered to be the first true arch and the true dome constructed in India, making it extremely important in the development of Indo-Islamic architecture. This set the tone of the tour perfectly.
Nikita carried on her fascinating narrative at our next site, the Jamali Kamali Mosque. Constructed in the 15020s by the Sufi saint Sheikh Jamali, the eerily deserted place of worship is stunning. We learned about how the building was a forerunner in the design of Mughal mosque architecture in India and admired some of its beautiful sculptural decoration. The stop would only get more exciting as India City Tours has arranged for behind the scenes access to Jamali Kamali’s tomb, located next to the mosque and normally closed to the public. The breathtaking tomb features even more delicate carvings, plasterwork and precious tiles. This was a real treat and we were completely awed.
We ventured deeper into the park, along quiet paths with few other visitors, reaching Rajon ki Baoli, an early 1500s stepwell. The impressive structure consists of three long flights of broad steps leading down to the water with shaded arcades providing a cool resting place. The ornate building offers insight into the innovative water harvesting techniques used at the time. This was also a great site for learning a little more about daily life in the era.
We then ambled along the shaded walkways to our final site, the fascinating tomb of Quli Khan. The gorgeous domed octagonal structure dates back to the 17th century and is a fantastic example of the grandeur of the Mughals. The interior of spectacular building is lined with spectacular blue and white tiles, although somewhat damaged when the an official of the English East India Company, Thomas Metcalfe, converted this sector into a summer retreat and used the tomb as his dining room… A sad reminder of some of the harm done during British rule, however, the resilience of the site, and awareness of the archaeological park thanks to India City Tours, will hopefully play a role in preserving this remarkable cultural heritage site.
We had a fabulous time learning about Delhi’s early history and the tour only whet my appetite for discovering more offbeat places around the city, hopefully on more tours by India City Walks. The site is also extremely magical, peaceful and little visited by other tourists, making it a welcome break from other, crowded areas and sites of the city. Though, it would have been very difficult to visit and enjoy the Mehrauli Archaeological Park alone, which is why I can highly recommend this informative and engaging tour.
The cost of this tour is INR 2000 per person. You can read more about the Mehrauli Archaeological Park Walking Tour and request to book it here. You can also peruse the other experiences India City Walks offers in Delhi and other places in India at this link.
I was a guest of India City Walks, however, all of the opinions expressed above are my own.