Take a few steps off the beaten track in the City of Djinns and you can claim to have done what few tourists have done. Tucked away in the corners of the capital – growing in size every year – are monuments that time seems to have forgotten. Most package tours don’t include these little-known gems in the itinerary. Most guides skip their mention. In fact, most ‘Delhi-ites’ are unaware of these unfrequented spots. There are hundreds of such monuments, but let’s start with just five:
Agrasen ki Baoli: No one who has seen or heard of Connaught Place would imagine that the bustling commercial area is home to a stepwell more than 600 years old. Baoli is the local word for a stepwell and this one (also known as Ugrasen ki Baoli) is believed to be the residence of the mythical djinns. The djinns are said to be benevolent and even grant every wish made by tossing a coin into the water. Now that is a claim that you cannot test – we are not disputing the existence of djinns; it’s just that the baoli doesn’t have any water. Nonetheless, just walking down the stairs, surrounded on both sides by carved arches, is an experience you’d like to have.
Feroz Shah Kotla: A glammed-up version of limited-overs cricket is what has kept part of this name alive in public memory. Since 2008, the cricket ground named after this historical structure has been the home venue of Delhi Daredevils. That has ensured a steady footfall at the stadium but the adjacent fort, built in mid-14th century by Sultan Feroz Shah, has not been as lucky. History says this fort by the Yamuna was the fifth city of Delhi. Some devotees still visit the mosque, in order to appease the djinns and get their wish fulfilled. The sprawling expanse of the fort is filled with palace rooms. There’s also an Ashokan pillar and a baoli.
Jamali Kamali Mosque & Tomb: Just off busy Mehrauli–Gurgaon Road, the 16th-century Sufi court poet Jamali is buried in a tomb next to Kamali. Now who is Kamali? “Identity unknown” is the official version. A helpful guide may have a different take on it: the poet’s (male) lover. The less adventurous say Kamali is Jamali’s wife. Jamali Kamali Tomb and Mosque construction took place somewhere in the first half of the 16th century. The mosque is built like a small fort with turrets and a gateway built in the style of Lodi tombs. Inside the tomb there are two marble graves with stucco work and calligraphy.
Adham Khan’s Tomb: This is Delhi’s own Bhulbhulaiya, though not half as loved and feted as the one in Lucknow. Few people know that it was built by Akbar. Adham Khan, a minister at the royal court, was the son of Akbar’s wet nurse Maham Anga. The man was thrown off the ramparts of Agra Fort by the Emperor for assassinating one of his favourite ministers. Akbar commissioned the building of Adham’s tomb after Maham Anga died of grief. Lying north of the Qutub Minar, this Mughal structure has a rather non-Mughal shape. It is octagonal instead of the hexagonal. Some say Akbar wanted the difference in shape to emphasise its identity as a ‘traitor’s tomb’. Centuries later, a British officer removed the graves of Adham and his mother to tailor the tomb into a residence. The officer didn’t live much longer and under Lord Curzon’s orders, the graves were reinstated under the beautiful dome.
Qutb Sahib ki Dargah: About 400 metres from Adham Khan’s tomb lies the Dargah of Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki, popularly known as Qutb Sahib. Disciple and spiritual successor of Khwaja Moin-ud-Din Chishti of Ajmer, he was born in Persia. He lived in India during the reign of Emperor Iltutmish (1211-1236), the founder of the Slave dynasty. Qutb Sahib’s grave lies in the middle of a rectangular enclosure with a dome. The dargah has many other structures like the assembly house, robe chamber, mosque, tanks and several gates. There are many graves within the premises of this dargah. Among those buried here are the Mughal emperors Bahadur Shah I (1707-12), Shah Alam II (1759-1806) and Akbar II (1806-37). It is believed that the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah II wanted this dargah to be his resting place. Sadly, he died in Rangoon.
Aditi Sengupta is Delhi based and is a senior commissioning editor at Lonely Planet India.