The emperor and the mystic

March 8th, 20111:46 pm @


Tughlaqabad Fort

Looking across Tughlaqabad Fort to New Delhi.

On the southern outskirts of New Delhi sits one of the capital’s ancient seven cities, the magnificent Tughlaqabad Fort. Largely in ruins and sitting at the arse-edge of the city means it isn’t going to be at the top of any visitor’s must-see list of attractions, which makes it the perfect place to spend an afternoon.

Built in the 14th century by  Ghazi Malik – aka Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq – the place was only in use for a mere six years, allegedly the victim of a feud between the emperor and a local Sufi mystic, Saint Nizamuddin Auliya. With construction of the fort occupying the city’s labourers, the Sufi mystic’s well was left unfinished (it’s good to know the building industry hasn’t changed much in seven centuries).

Annoyed, the Sufi issued a curse: “may it remain unoccupied, or else the herdsmen may live here”. Which is exactly who lives there today – the vast, sprawling complex is now home to water buffalo, goats and their respective carers. Spooky, eh?

Parts of the curtain wall are still in good shape, but inside the fort various structures are in differing states of disrepair. The site itself, however, hasn’t lost its magnificence. Surviving bastions stick out like teeth and provide views across the complex and north to modern Delhi. Apart from the various carers of stock, the only other people in the fort on our visit were a young family, who seemed to find us just as interesting as the monument, and young Delhi couples, who revel in the rare privacy the city’s old forts provide.

Around the fort, houses are still visible, as are water tanks and a mill. A long tunnel, partially collapsed in places, offers a perfect place to explore, especially as it allegedly contains a secret tunnel out of the complex. I ventured in, but decided I’d seen enough after a few feet.

Visible from a number of places in the fort, and joined to it by a causeway, is the emperor’s mausoleum. Just like his fort, he didn’t encounter a great deal of luck – having been killed by a falling tent on his way back from a campaign (an event allegedly orchestrated by his son and successor).

After climbing the walls, venturing (partially) into tunnels and taking in the views, there isn’t really a lot to do at the fort, which means it’s a perfect place to stretch out on the grass with your back against the cool stone wall and soak in the relative silence, which is only broken by the plaintive cries of a goat, or the deep lowing of a water buffalo – sounds that can probably be heard over at the resting place of Tughlaqabad’s founder.

Oh the irony.


Getting there: Tughlaqabad Fort is on the Mahrauli Badarpur Road. If you’re coming by public transport, the nearest Metro station is Tughlakabad on the Violet Line. The fort is a short auto ride from there.

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