Friday, 25 April 2014

Tughlaqabad and Jahanpanah - Fourth City of Delhi

Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq threw a fit. He had just established the Tughlaq dynasty of Delhi Sultanate. To fulfill his mentor Alauddin Khilji’s instructions and to repel the frequently invading Mongols he was raising the walls of Delhi’s Fourth City and its fort. Deadlines were tight. The generals in charge of building the different sections of the walls reported labour shortages. Soon he found out that the labour was being diverted to an ongoing baoli excavation in the Ghiaspur village. The baoli was being built by a Sufi Saint. Tughlaq was livid and prohibited the workers from working at the baoli. Nizamuddin Auliya, the sufi dervish cursed the new city - Ya Rahey Usar, Ya Basey Gujjar - either it remains barren or be inhabited by cattle herders and nomads!

Delhi cities have interesting stories and lives - some have totally disappeared like Kilokari and some had life snuffed out of them like Lal Kot and Qila Rai Pithora. Some cities were dismantled to raise new cities - Siri went into Shergarh and Feroz Shah Kotla helped build Shahjahanabad. Some were plundered but survived like Mehrauli. Tughlaqabad, the most colossal and towering of all was simply felled by the curse of a saint.

The spat between the Sufi saint and the Sultan did not end here. The devoted workers returned to work at the baoli at night. Tughlaq thundered that he will raze Nizamuddin’s chilla to the ground. Nizamuddin Auliya was informed of the Sultan’s wrath. The mystic had seen a procession of Sultans come and go - seven and counting. He replied nonchalantly - Hunooz Dilli Door Ast - Delhi is far away!

The Sultan was returning from a successful conquest of Bengal. On his way to Delhi, at a reception hosted by his son Muhammad bin Tughlaq, the wooden platform with canopy collapsed killing the Sultan and his favourite son. The eldest son Muhammad bin Tughlaq succeeded and ruled from the new city for some years. The irony and the curse kicks in: Nizamuddin Auliya was building a baoli that is perenially filled and here in Tughlaqabad, Yamuna shifted away and wells dried up. 

Muhammad bin Tughlaq harangued by the revolts and general civil unrest decided to move the capital from Delhi to Daulatabad. Tughlaqabad was abandoned and slowly the city fell into ruins only to be taken over by jackals and cattle herders. Today, when Nizamuddin village thrives and the dargah receives thousands of visitors every day, Tughlaqabad fortress lies forlorn - a mere shadow of its glorious past. Only the Sultan’s Tomb across the road remains intact. In Khushwant Singh’s words, it seems as if God wants the Sultan to see his dreams of glory crumble!

Tughlaqabad Fort - Entrance through Palace Gate

Tughlaqabad Fort - Nizamuddin Auliya's Curse

Tughlaqabad Fort - A Cattle Herder

Nizamuddin Baoli - Root Cause of the Spat between Sultan & Saint

You wait for an opportune moment after the rains to to see the saint’s curse. The entry into Tughlaqabad Fort is through a gate that was probably Tughlaq’s private gate. Entering the fort you see rings of bastions on either side. The bastions seem to be double storied with walkways at both levels. Stretched in the north are the city ruins along with palace remains where Tughlaq met the public. Bountiful monsoons have turned the fort green and the first sight is the grazing cattle amid the ruins of the palace and the city. Yes, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya’s curse is still working. Cows munch on the green bonanza. A cattle herder walks among the bushes. He along with his cows seem to have moved into the premises as soon as Nizamuddin Auliya uttered the curse.

Tughlaqabad Baoli

Palace Ruins
Nothing much of the palace or the city survives except a few gateways, signs of roads and the foundation of houses. The city beyond has been swallowed by the vegetation and encroachment. Closer to the outer wall is a baoli that has been excavated and restored by ASI. It is reported to have yielded red sandstone slabs with Arabic inscriptions.

View from Citadel bastion - Stables, quarry and the palace ruins
This is how an arch is built

Tughlaqabad Fort - Mosque, Gateway and Bastion

You begin to make your way towards the citadel. Inside the outer walls, the citadel is the most prominent feature of the fort and it is further protected by bastions and a ring of wall. On the right there is a structure that looks like storerooms or stables built during Mughal times. On the other side is a gaping hole which might have provided the stone for building and then served as a reservoir later. A few bastions are in a good shape where some people have climbed to the top enjoying the monsoon breeze. There are not many discernible structures except for few arched gateways. Apart from the mughal houses, the only structure with a roof is the citadel mosque. The three arched mosque has an unusual roof along with a small courtyard. It is possible that the mosque structure was built during Tughlaq times and the roof was installed later during Mughal times.

Tughlaqabad Fort - North East View from Burj Mandal

Palace Ruins in the Citadel area

The highest point in the citadel is called Burj Mandal. The top provides a view of the fort in every direction. There is no discernible structure here but the builders might have planned to build a pavilion here similar to the one at Bijay Mandal in Begumpur village which we will visit later. To the south you can see some surviving foundations of Tughlaq’s personal living quarters. Some walls have arched niches.

Underground Passage - Is it Meena Bazaar, Storeroom or dungeon?
Getting off the burj you see the mysterious underground passage. The roof has caved in at some points revealing cells on either side of  the passage. This structure has been variously identified as a dungeon for prisoners, women’s Meena Bazaar and storerooms. Such features help spin yarn of folklore around a place - and we all love to imagine things that might have never existed.

Tughlaqabad Fort - Tank in the foreground and Burj Mandal in the distance

Tughlaqabad Ruins under monsoon clouds

Just beyond, next to the outer wall is a huge tank. Except one side, the stones lining the walls have collapsed. Ibn Battuta wrote that the tank was filled with molten gold. Such stories of riches would later bring Taimur to India who would effectively put the Tughlaq dynasty to an end. The stories of gold filled tanks and gilded bricks was perhaps plain exaggeration on part of Ibn Battuta to impress his Sultan, Muhammad bin Tughlaq, Ghiyasuddin’s son. Muhammad bin Tughlaq’s government had later gone bankrupt due to several factors like prolonged drought, counterfeit coins, revolts in the army and the ill-conceived move to Daulatabad. He did not have enough money to build a wall to connect Jahanpanah to Tughlaqabad. Possibility of gold filled tanks is just an author’s embellishment. The only plausible reason could be that with the sun shining, the Delhi quartzite stone on the walls of fort gleamed like gold giving the impression that the fort had gold bricks and tanks full of gold. When Tughlaqabad was abandoned, the tanks did not even have water.

Butterflies and Flowers

The humidity makes me itchy

Visitors flock up the Burj Mandal in Citadel
The greenery has brought life to the fort. Along with the cattle, monkeys are having a good time. Butterflies flit around the flowers. A sizeable crowd has assembled today. You are not sure if the fort sees visitors on a regular basis or is it just a lovely monsoon Sunday. Nevertheless, it brings a fleeting smile to Ghiyasuddin’s face.

Ghazi Malik was a general during Alauddin Khilji’s reign. Ghazi Malik is believed to have a Jat mother. You are kind of amused by this little trivia. He reserved special treatment for the invading Mongols and was involved in several duels with them.  In Ibn Battuta’s words, once while passing through the hilly area in the southern part of Delhi with Khilji, Ghazi Malik said to his Sultan: ‘O master of the world, it were fitting that a city should be built here.’ The Sultan replied to him in jest, ‘When you are Sultan, build it.’ 

Alauddin Khilji was killed by another of his generals and was succeeded by couple of incompetent successors. The nobles invited Ghazi Malik to take over. Ghazi Malik duly obliged. He beheaded the seemingly unpopular Hindu convert Khusro Khan. He then looked for any natural heir to Alauddin and only after finding that none has survived he became the Sultan and assumed the title of Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq (1320 - 1325). Disregarding Khilji’s humour, Tughlaq set out to build his fort and capital at Tughlaqabad. The fort was surprisingly built in a short period of just two years. It is believed that different army commanders were given the responsibility of raising the different sections of the walls between the gates thus reducing the construction time.

Tughlaqabad Fort - Mighty Walls around the MB Road

Tughlaqabad Ramparts - Looking towards Badarpur

Hangout Zone at Tughlaqabad
Tughlaqabad Fort truly looks intimidating and is the only real fort of Delhi. In comparison Red Fort walls look puny. Everything about the fort is military and defensive - its look and sense of purpose, the hill outcrop where it is built, the massive gates and lack of any ornamentation. As you drive from Saket on Mehrauli Badarpur Road, the walls appear at the bend of the road past Batra Hospital. These are the formidable walls you used to see when you lived in the neighbourhood in your college days.  The desolation and the monkeys that populate the area kept you away. Monkeys still hang from the tree branches. The walls appear to rise higher at every bastion.  The battered rubble walls faced with dressed quartzite are 15m high and protected with gates and bastions. There were 52 gates but only 13 survive now. The walls are topped with parapets that are armed with loopholes or arrowslits.  The walls extend around this irregular fort plan for about 6.5 kms. A walkway runs besides the battlements. In addition to a moat that ran around the fort, there was an artificial lake with dams to regulate the flow of water. 

Walking around the battlements at the top and looking down at the Mehrauli Badarpur road gives a feeling of invincibility. The Mongols down there at the edge of the deep lake would have felt quite vulnerable evading the arrows shot from the loopholes and merlons and  probably then and there decided to stop their excursions into India. Inside the fort there are additional two encirclements housing the palace and the citadel. The citadel is protected by three gates. The Commonwealth Games of 2010 besides creating its new set of scams at least helped clean up the monuments in Delhi. Like elsewhere, here too ASI has installed some nifty looking signage.
Concourse leading to Ghiyasuddin Tomb
Ghiyas -ud din Tughlaq Tomb - View from Tughlaqabad Fort with ruins of citadel private quarters in the foreground

Ghiyasuddin Tomb - Beautiful and Pristine

Tughlaq also built his tomb across the fort. The concourse from the palace gate leads to the tomb. You have the seen the distinct bastioned tomb from the top of the fort. Today, the MB Road cuts through the concourse. In the past this area around the tomb had a lake fed possibly by Hauz Shamsi and this elevated concourse led to the tomb. The tomb just like the fort is uncharacteristically military looking and protected by high walls and bastions. Entering the mighty gate, within a narrow pentagonal area rises the tomb. For the first time you see some colour. The walls are dressed with finely cut red sandstone and the dome is covered with white marble. The common trait shared with the fort are the battered walls crowned with merlons. The area inside is immaculately maintained with the green grass in lovely contrast to the red and white tomb. Inside, the Sultan rests along with his son Muhammad bin Tughlaq and his wife.  In the north there is another white domed tomb said to belong to Zafar Khan, Tughlaq’s general.

After burying his father in the tomb, Muhammad bin Tughlaq, kind and cruel, brilliant and eccentric, took over. Battuta described him as free in shedding blood. He ruled from Tughlaqabad, but lived in his new city called Jahanpanah built between 1326 and 1327. Jahanpanah initially was envisioned  to encompass the Old City (Mehrauli and Qila Rai Pithora), Siri - Abode of the Caliphate & the military garrison and Tughlaqabad. He lived in the Hazar Sutan Palace in Jahanpanah but Tughlaqabad remained the seat of his government. Jahanpanah city walls ran for 40 kms. It is believed about half a million people resided in the city. Battuta described Jahanpanah as the most beautiful and mightiest city he had ever seen. He liked the city so much that he stayed back for eight years (1333-1341). Plans to connect Jahanpanah with Tughlaqabad failed due to high cost of construction. Very little of these walls survive today.

Jahanpanah Walls in Qila Rai Pithora Park
Few stretches of the once mighty Jahanpanah walls can be seen on Press Enclave Road and at Satpul,  east of Khirki village.

But Jahanpanah has left us with a number of structures spread across residential colonies of South Delhi. Of course, we have read in our school history books that Muhammad bin Tughlaq for some reason shifted his capital from Delhi to Daulatabad in 1327 but returned in 1335. Even during this relocation Delhi continued to play a big role in the Sultanate and Tughlaq continued to stay in Jahanpanah when he met Ibn Battuta who arrived in Delhi in 1333.

The Hazar Sutan - A Thousand Pillars, in words of Ibn Battuta was a huge audience hall made of wooden roof and pillars. Scores of elephants and horses could stand inside to welcome the Sultan. Ibn Battuta passed through a series of gates and courtyards. It was in the second courtyard where the daily executions took place. Tiptoeing around the torso of a recently executed person, he finally crossed into the third courtyard to reach the palace where the Sultan sat cross-legged on the throne. The palace is lost but what remains in Jahanpanah are the interesting Bijay Mandal and Begumpur Mosque.

The fortress like Bijay Mandal

Sheikh Hasan Tahir Grave at Bijay Mandal

Bijay Mandal - The Lodhi era Massive Dome

Coming from Asiad Village, make a right on intersection on Outer Ring Road. Few yards away turn left into Sarvapriya Enclave. Park your car near the club and climb a few steps into the Bijay Mandal grounds. The grounds look fresh compared to the burnt grass you saw last when you came in the winters. You walk past a pavilion and grave of Sheikh Hasan Tahir who lived in Bijay Mandal during the Lodhi era. Emerging out of the tall grass you see the outline of Bijay Mandal and the curious looking dome besides it. The unusual looking dome has massive walls about twelve feet thick. Both the pavilion and dome are believed to be built later during Lodhi dynasty.

Looking up towards top of Bijay Mandal

Bijay Mandal - View from South Platform

The Verandah in front of the ruined hall

Bijay Mandal rises next to the dome. Bijay Mandal is a complicated building and a layman like you got flummoxed just looking at it. The distinguishing feature of the structure is the octagonal pavilion on the top with typical Tughlaq feature of sloping walls. The entire structure including the dome, the walls and the hall is massive. Typical to Tughlaq era, there is total absence of any ornamentation. The pavilion can be reached through incredibly narrow winding stairs. The entire complex probably went through several stages of construction and expansion. The construction started during Alauddin Khilji’s time and continued up to the Lodhis. The pavilion at the top is believed to be of the earlier part of the palace and was built by Muhammad bin Tughlaq.

Pavilion on Top of Bijay Mandal

Bijay Mandal - Treasure Pit
Looking at the various architectural features, it is quite possible that Bijay Mandal was a part of the magnificent Hazar Sutan palace - the palace with wood pillars and roof. The palace is gone leaving behind the mighty Bijay Mandal with its penthouse pavilion and broken halls. The first level has collapsed in some places and you have to watch your steps. From the top you can see series of domes beyond the intervening high roofs of Begumpur houses just a little distance south of Bijay Mandal. The second marvel of Jahanpanah waits for you. On the way down, do not miss the treasure pit where Tughlaq kept the royal treasure. Now it is filled with garbage and the place reeks. People come here to drink and toss the bottles around. You gingerly pick your way into the innards of Begumpur village.

Entry to Begumpur Mosque

Begumpur Masjid - View of the Pishtaq and Ivan of Prayer Hall

Begumpur Mosque - The Sprawling Courtyard

Begumpur Masjid - South East Pavilion

Seeing a huge structure in a congested Delhi urban village is a complete surprise. But then everything about Begumpur Mosque is a surprise. Begampur Mosque is truly majestic and probably the biggest mosque outside Shahjahanabad. Everything about it is huge - the sprawling courtyard, huge pishtaq and ivan on the western side, mammoth gateways on other three sides.  The prayer hall is again impressive with pillars running across the entire length. The north-west side has collapsed. Colonnaded pavilions runs across the perimeter of the mosque. The south side has a narrow staircase - the stairwell is even narrower than at Bijay Mandal. Muhammad bin Tughlaq’s images do indicate he was thin but was everyone thin during those times? How could he have climbed such stairs especially with a turban and a sword hanging from the waist? Tughlaq really cut corners when it came to stairs - or maybe it was a ploy to keep everyone thin among his family and nobles.

Begumpur Masjid - View from the collapsed North West Wing

Egg shaped cupolas on top with Bijay Mandal in the North

On the roof you walk among the egg shaped domes. Over the top of the prayer hall you can see the Bijay Mandal in the north. The proximity of the two structures and similarity of design cues  lead us to believe that Begumpur Mosque was built by Muhammad bin Tughlaq. Gateways, arcades and domes on top all combine to provide one of the most pleasing panoramic views in whole of Delhi.

Satpula - The Magnificent Medieval Dam - Downstream Side

Satpul - Upstream Side with the Bastion at the far end

Muhammad bin Tughlaq in addition to getting hit by revolts and being made fun of by his people also got hit by a drawn out drought. Luckily he inherited his father’s irrigation department who had built the lake around Tughlaqabad along with the dams. On one of the Yamuna tributaries in Jahanpanah, Tughlaq built an impressive dam. Satpul can be seen on Press Enclave Road, beyond Khirki village on the left as you drive from Saket Malls towards BRT corridor. Muhammad Tughlaq has a way of impressing you - whether it is Daulatabad, Adilabad, or the Begumpur Masjid. After the Athpul in Lodhi Gardens and the Barapul next to Nizamuddin station you were expecting something innocuous here too. But Satpul is a huge towering dam with all the paraphernalia like several levels of gates, walkways and slits for lowering sluice gates to regulate flow of water.

Satpula in Jahanpanah - Bastion on the East

Satpula - Slots for sliding gates to control water flow

Satpula - Co-travellers marvelling at it all
The stream flowed below the walls which doubled up as the walls of Jahanpanah. The tributary has since moved to the east and turned into a nallah just like Yamuna. The dam is named after its seven arches and is protected with bastions at both ends. Bastions have octagonal rooms with plasterwork seen for the first time in your travels to Tughlaq monuments. You are again suitably impressed with Tughlaq. 

Adilabad Fort

Adilabad Fort - View from the Main Gate

Adilabad Fort - A View of the Fort Grounds
Every Sultan needs his own private jet, err, private fort. So Muhammad bin Tughlaq after abandoning Tughlaqabad constructed Adilabad just across the MB Road. Today you see a sprawling open space between beyond Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq Tomb where number of cricket matches are played and people take driving lessons. Just beyond rises the Adilabad Fort that is a replica of Tughlaqabad Fort. ASI has constructed a neat ramp which you climb to enter the east facing gate of Adilabad. Looking back you can see the vista before you with the Ghiyasuddin Tomb on the left and the Tughlaqabad Fort looking fearsome under monsoon clouds on the right. Inside Adilabad Fort it is apparent that restoration has been done, reportedly carried out under the supervision of your favourite ASI person, Mr KK Muhammad. You can still see workers trying to repair the outer batter of inner walls.

Adilabad Fort - Ruins of Outer Walls

Adilabad Fort - Palace Area

In the distance you can some surviving merlons of the ruined outer walls. Adilabad too has high walls just like Tughlaqabad  with double storeyed cells running along the walls. Inside a sign indicates a palace but nothing built-up is seen. The grounds are landscaped with good signage. Adilabad is connected to Tughlaqabad through a causeway or a dam some of whose remains can be seen. It is not exactly known why Tughlaq built it since he is believed to have lived in Jahanpanah and Tughlaqabad Fort served as the Sultanate seat. It probably was more of an ego trip - Alauddin Khilji and his father had built forts so he should too!

Lal Gumbad - Tomb supposed to be built by Mohd bin Tughlaq for himself but Kabiruddin Auyila is interred here

As years rolled by with the familiar regularity of heads rolling in the second courtyard of Hazar Sutan palace, Tughlaq suddenly became aware of his mortality and decided to build a tomb for himself. The tomb called Lal Gumbad lies in Malviya Nagar, a little distance from Bijay Mandal. The design of Lal Gumbad is similar to Ghiyasuddin’s tomb in Tughlaqabad - sloping walls covered with dressed red sandtone. The conical dome flaunted a golden filial but was stolen by thieves after fixing iron rings on the western wall. Another tomb lies next to it. A number of graves and wall mosques fill up the grounds. Delhi has its revenge: Muhammad bin Tughlaq in his death was forced to relocate - no not to Daulatabad but back to Tughlaqabad in his father’s tomb! And his slot in Lal Gumbad by taken by Kabiruddin Auliya - a dervish! Life kept playing ironies with the father and son duo - a dervish cursed his father’s capital and now a dervish usurped Muhammad bin Tughlaq’s tomb!

So while Ghiyasuddin turns in his grave looking at the desolate ruins of Tughlaqabad that feeds cattle, he cringes when he sees his son lying next to him. He can’t believe the  son who probably killed him has been interred next to him. To further rub salt into his wounds, the son abandoned his beloved gilded fort. Everyone from the dervish to the Mongols is laughing at him. And so one of the most exciting and eventful chapters in Delhi’s medieval history comes to an end when even Delhi lost its position as the power centre of the country. But, O Sultan Ghiyasuddin do not despair, such stories will repeat in Delhi’s long history of cities.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Chanderi Charm – of Baiju Bawra, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and 1200 Baolis

All you knew about Chanderi was that it is famous for its namesake sarees and possibly the presence of a fort in the town. You always had a feeling that there was something more to the place. The past year has been lucky as you have been getting chances to visit places that you had always dreamed about – Hampi, Mandu, beaches on East Coast, temples of Northern Karnataka. And pretty soon enough another dream of Chanderi visit started crystallising – though it would need some planning and some luck. Getting to Chanderi could get tricky as the launching pad will have to be Lalitpur in the badlands of UP’s Bundelkhand. The nearest railhead Lalitpur falls on the Delhi-Bhopal rail section and quite a few superfast trains stop here. A few calls to old friends and there was a car waiting at the station. In the meantime some research had started revealing that Chanderi was another jewel box among many in MP just waiting to bedazzle you.

Chanderi - Attractions Map - the town has excellent signage and is a heritage bonanza

The road stretch from Lalitpur to MP border will unhinge your joints. You cross into Ashoknagar district of MP over the downstream water channel of the Rajghat Dam. In rains water flows over the causeway. The landscape turns pretty with Vindhyachal hills and intermittent lakes making their entry. The early rains have made the hills lush with greenery. The beauty was enough for Babur to go ga-ga in his memoirs Babur Nama. The road after crossing into MP is a breeze and soon you see signs of the local Municipal Corporation welcoming you to the historic city of Chanderi. You are surprised to find the town clean with good roads and amazing signs for the tourists. Just looking at the densely packed attractions on the map confirms that Chanderi indeed is brimming with all kinds of monuments – tombs, mosques, gateways, palaces, temples and innumerable baolis.

Chanderi lies at the edge of Malwa Plateau and Bundelkhand and was strategically located on major trade routes of Central India and also on the routes to Malwa, Mewar and Deccan. Chanderi provided a launchpad as a military outpost from where campaigns in Deccan could be launched. And so Chanderi attracted all major powers from Pratihars in 11th century to Delhi Sultanate, Mughals, Bundels, Scindias and British fascinated with the city with abundance of water, forests and fertile land.

Chanderi finds mention in Mahabharat when Shishupal ruled Chaidnagar or Chanderi. Chanderi’s documented history goes back to the 11th century when it was ruled by Pratihars. Later it changed hands from Delhi Sultanate’s Balban to Alauddin Khilji. Ibn-Battutah with his shoe tucked under his arm came visiting the town on his way to Malabar where he had to take the ship to China under Mohd-bin-Tughlaq’s order in 1342. He was suitably impressed with the economic prosperity and cultural splendour of the city.

As Delhi Sultanate’s power waned in the aftermath of Timur’s invasion, Malwa Sultanate rose ruling initially from Mandu and then later from Chanderi. Most of the construction in Chanderi happened during this era. Chanderi as a trophy kept changing hands from Rana Sanga of Chittor to Babur and then to Sher Shah Suri. In 16th century Chanderi passed into hands of Akbar. According to Abul Fazal, the author of Akbarnama, it is said that at this time the city’s population was 50000, with 14000 stone houses, 61 palaces, 380 markets, 360 caravan sarais, 1200 mosques and 1200 baolis. Later Bundelas held Chanderi after which Scindias took over. Chanderi played an important role during the 1857 uprising. During the war its population was reduced to about 2000 people and later Chanderi passed into British hands.
Chanderi Fort - Battlements & Navkhand Palace

Chanderi Fort - Way to Khooni Darwaza

The first stop is the Chanderi Fort or the Kirti Durg, built on Chandergiri hill. The fort was built by Pratihar king Kirti Pal in the 11th century after moving from the earlier capital of Budhi Chanderi or Old Chanderi 18 kms away. Later Khilji, Babur and Bundels added their own contributions to the fort. On the west is the Khooni Darwaza. It is said Malwa Sultans would throw prisoners down the gate and hang their bodies here and later during Babur’s invasion blood practically flowed down the gate.

Naukhand Palace - Before and After Restoration

Kirti Durg or Chanderi Fort - Navkhand Palace Courtyard with Fountain & Tank

The most prominent structure in the fort is the Navkhand Mahal built by the later Bundel king Durjan Singh in probably 16th or 17th century. The three storey palace is guarded by high walls and bastions with watch towers. The central courtyard has a tank and fountain.  Photos exhibited inside the palace show the great work undertaken by ASI in restoring the ruined palace to its original splendour. An appreciation mail has been duly sent to the Bhopal ASI circle.

Chanderi Fort - Mosque Mihrab

Next to the palace is the mosque built by Khilji. The mihrab has amazing stone carvings. There is a balcony beyond possibly called Hawa Paur that gives a breezy look of the city below. 

Chanderi Fort - Baiju Bawra Memorial

The first of the many surprises is the memorial to Baiju Bawra built in the fort premises. You remember Bharat Bhushan playing the titular role in the movie Baiju Bawra during the early days of Doordarshan. It then seemed that the movie crawled from one song to another but it was Baiju Bawra who was lighting oil lamps, making rain fall and bloom flowers by singing different Raags. Baiju Bawra or Baijnath Prasad (1542 – 1613) was a musician in the court of Raja of Chanderi and later in the court of Raja Man Singh of Gwalior. He was a contemporary of Tansen and was crazily in love with a local dancer earning the epithet of Bawra. Later he defeated Tansen in a competition in the Mughal Court. Baiju was born here and died here in Chanderi.

Chanderi - View of City from Chanderi Fort
From the ramparts you can see the town rolling out to the east. Everywhere you see is baolis, havelis and chattris. It seems like a miniature Mandu is unfolding before your eyes. Hypothalamus is pumping endorphins into your blood stream. You have felt that before - it is time to hit the town.
Chanderi - Badal Mahal with the Fort as Backdrop

Badal Mahal - Lotus Medallions, Ogee Arches and Jaalis
You drive down the fort and see a complex guarded by outer fort bastioned walls. Inside surrounded by immaculate lawns rises Chanderi’s most defining Badal Mahal against the backdrop of the fort. The two ogee arched gate with tapering turrets on each side glints like gold in the afternoon sun. The gate is crowned with finely carved stone lattices. The 15 m high gate was built in 1450 by Malwa Sultan Mahmud Shah Khilji probably to commemorate some special occasion as there is no palace around. Ogee arches and carved lattices are a common theme in Chanderi’s monuments.

Jama Masjid - Extravagant Carving on the entrance to Chanderi Jama Masjid

Chanderi - Jama Masjid's Prayer Hall with Mihrabs and Minbar

Chanderi - Jama Masjid Courtyard with Serpentine Struts

Just opposite the Badal Mahal is the Jama Masjid. The mosque was built by Delhi Sultanate’s Naib Balban to celebrate taking over of Chanderi in 1251. In proportions the mosque matches the smaller little known mosques in Delhi like Qudsia Mosque, Mohammadwali Mosque and Masjid Moth. The entrance of the mosque built later in the 15th century is lavishly carved. Three domes rise on the top. The Qibla wall has twelve mihrabs and minbar (pulpit) from where khutbah (sermon) was read on Fridays and special occasions. The Jama Masjid boasts of the unique Chanderi architectural element – the serpentine brackets or corbels supporting the chajja or eaves above. Just below the chajja are ogee arches curving like the letter S.  

Mazar Khandan-e-Nizamuddin

Chanderi - Exquisite Jaali Screens at Nizamuddin Complex

Nizamuddin Mazar at Chanderi - A Carved Mihrab
Chanderi - Mitsubishi Screen Panel at Nizamuddin Mazar

Nizamuddin Mazar - Amazing Geometric Patterns on Jaali Screens

A little walk away brings you to the biggest stone carved surprise called Mazar Khandan-e-Nizamuddin. The grave complex was built in 1425 during the time of Malwa Sultan Hoshang Shah. The complex has some of the most eye popping stone carvings ever seen in your visits to tombs. If the Jamali Kamali Tomb in Mehrauli Archaeological Park and Ahmad Shah Tomb in Bidar dazzled you with their colours, this complex will overpower you with the innate beauty of carvings. The complex contains graves of disciples and family members of Khwaja Nizamuddin Auliya. Some graves lie in the open while some are ensconced in enclosures. The black stone graves with motifs; enclosure walls with intricate lattice work; mihrabs with signature ogee arches; all combine to exhilarate you. You wish you could just sit here all afternoon soaking in the stone lyrics and at the same time being bewildered by the surprises India’s heritage keeps springing on you. But you wrench yourself away – there is so much more to see.

Parmeshwar Tal and Laxman Temple
Chanderi - Bundel Kings Chattris

Parmeshwar Tal is a short drive away. A friendly local is accompanying you as a guide. It is believed that Kirti Pal the founder of Chanderi was cured of a disease, possibly leprosy, when he took bath here. On the western edge is the white Laxman Temple. The eastern edge of the tal has two imposing but disintegrating chattris belonging to Bundel kings. The fields around have more chattris or open pavilions. One pavilion has a tree growing on its roof.

Shahzadi ka Rauza - Doomed Love
Shahzadi ka Rauza - Beautiful Serpentine Brackets
Shahzadi ka Rouza - Chamber with Pretty Arches and Squinch

Chanderi Architectural Elements at Shahjadi Ka Rouza - Jaali, Ogee Arches and Serpentine Struts

A paved walkway on the north through fields brings you to another Chanderi gem - the pretty and desolate Shahzadi ka Rauza or Tomb of the Princess. The rauza was probably built in the 15th century and is believed to house the graves of a grieving princess and her doomed commoner lover. The square building has two levels of chajjas supported by exquisitely carved serpentine brackets or struts. R. Nath describes the serpentine brackets as slender hands of a fair damsel supporting a purna kalasa. To him, the brackets look like hair curls falling on a fair face! Outside on the frieze you can see traces of glazed tiles.  The dome has collapsed and only one chattri of the possible four survives. Inside there is single level chamber with two graves in the centre; again lavishly carved. The sombre tomb sitting alone among green fields reflects the mood of the circumstances of its construction.

Chanderi - Bada Madarsa
Bada Madrasa - Exquisite Jaalis

Bada Madrasa - Black Stone Carved Cenotaphs

Just off the new bypass road to Pichore is the Bada Madrasa or Shahi Madrasa. The so called madrasa was built in the 15th century. The monument cannot be a madrasa since there are two heavily carved cenotaphs inside. The chamber is square with the dome missing again. Remnants of four smaller surrounding domes are seen on the top. As in other monuments there is a profusion of carved lattices on all sides of the chamber. Outside a pillared colonnade runs on all four sides.
Chanderi - The Overflowing Battisi Baoli (Courtesy Vipin Gaur)
Chanderi is known for its baolis. It is said that once there were 1200 baolis for each of the town’s mosques. As Chanderi flourished and its population grew, there was a need for water sources and hence the proliferation of baolis across the town. Exploring the major baolis can take an entire day. The most magnificent is the Battisi Baoli few kms from the Bada Madrasa. The baoli is four storeys deep and has thirty two steps leading to the water and hence its name.
Koshak Mahal - Entrance Gateway

Chanderi - The Imposing Koshak Mahal

Kushk Mahal - Magnificient Arches

Koshak Mahal - One Quadrant of the Palace
On the south-western end of the town just beyond the museum rises the imposing Koshak Mahal or the Koshak-i-Haft Manzil, the palace of seven storeys. The enormous proportions of the palace blow you over. The edifice looks truly majestic and looks fresh as if built yesterday. The huge blocks of buff sandstones remind you of similar stones used in India Gate. In fact the palace was built in 1445 by Malwa Sultan Mahmud Shah Khilji probably dedicated to his wife Koshak on the birth of their child. It is said that originally it was a seven storey building but today only three and incomplete fourth storeys survive. The palace looks splendid situated at the end of green lawns; almost as if a castle in an English countryside setting. Workers are hunched over to sweep away leaves from the stone platform. All monuments here in Chanderi are pampered by the dedicated workforce. The palace is made up of four square blocks all interconnected with towering arched passages. Each floor has series of arched doorways opening into the passage inside. You have not seen anything like this before. You just can’t help being in awe of the architect and his master. Percy Brown describes it as the most vigorous architectural treatment of Malwa style.  Bold sweeping arches, niches and balconies all combine to produce a true architectural masterpiece.

It is dusk when you bid goodbye to Chanderi and it turns dark when you reach the Lalitpur station. There is a train pulling away – which one you don’t know – presumably to Jhansi two hours away. You are still in Chanderi reverie and do not care. You have just spent four hours in Chanderi and have barely scratched the surface. You missed seeing the Kati Ghati, the baolis, the crumbling havelis, the Bundel palaces, even older Buddhi Chanderi, Jain temples and remnants of ancient temples spread all across the hills and woods. Chanderi deserves another trip and busloads of tourists. Things are already looking up after your visit. Since Sep 21st 2013 Shatabdi Express is stopping at Lalitpur to give the town easy reach for some tourism impetus. But then you are not sure if it is the absence of tourists that lends the old world charm to Chanderi.

Come to Chanderi if you want to fall in love with India’s history and its offerings. You know you will be back for Chanderi’s charms.

Getting There – Chanderi is 36 kms west of Lalitpur, the nearest rail head. Chanderi has a MP Tourism hotel and few other budget hotels. With its dazzling monuments and culture, Chanderi deserves at least two days to explore the monuments and spend time with the weavers spinning the exquisite sarees. To see the neighbouring temple ruins and Old Chanderi, it might need a couple of days more. All monuments are unticketed and are lovingly cared for by an army of attendants, gardeners and workers. When in Chanderi, try to get hold of Muzaffar Ahmad Ansari aka Kalley Bhai (9425381065), tourist guide, who is the authority on Chanderi, its history and who continues to discover temple ruins in the vicinity.