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Mahipalpur; Picture courtesy: The Times of India, October 1, 2015
Mahipalpur; Picture courtesy: The Times of India, October 1, 2015

Tughlaq-era 14th century monument

The Times of India, Nov 16 2015

A monument in shambles in Mahilpalpur, Delhi; Graphic courtesy: The Times of India, Nov 16 2015

Richi Verma


Mahipalpur village in south Delhi is home to a number of historical monuments. However, over the centuries, most of these buildings have either been obliterated or reduced to ruins.But, in the heart of this village still stands a Tughlaq-era mahal that has survived the test of time. The 14th century monument is testimony to the village's legacy of being one of the oldest in the city. The mahal, with its three broad arches and sandstone pillars, stands proudly in a corner but is capable of drawing many visitors, if only they were aware of its existence and location.

While the exact history of the mahal is unclear, the most popular theory is that it is one of the oldest structures in Mahipalpur and has been attributed to the Tughlaq period based on its architecture. It is believed to have been originally built as a hunting lodge but locals claim it was constructed by a famous zamindar called `Mahipal' after whom the area is named. The Tughlaq-era theory possibly stems from the existence of a `bund' close to the mahal built by Firoz Shah Tughlaq to retain water flowing in from neighbouring areas.

“The mahal is located on the highest point in the village which indicates it was an important building. Like other structures from this period, the building has walls with tapered ends, dressed sandstone pillars, carved brackets with a `chajja' above and vaulted ceilings. One of its most unique features, however, is the stone railing at the parapet level which can only be found elsewhere at Firoz Shah's tomb in Hauz Khas,“ said an expert.

At one point, the monument served as a makeshift school run by the village pan chayat. Today , it is used as a godown for construction material or for parking. Many stray animals have also made it their home.

While the monument is hemmed in from both sides by residential buildings, the roof is no longer accessible and is filled with debris and overgrown bushes. The structure is beginning to show signs of rapid deterioation in several places but locals are still hoping it can be conserved. “It would be a matter of great pride for the village if the mahal is conserved,“ said Anil Pradhan of the Mahipalpur Resident Welfare Association (RWA).The issue has also been raised by Bijwsan MLA Col Devendra Sherawat who said he has written several letters on the issue.

Interestingly, the mahal has not been overlooked by the government, though they are yet to take action. It was one of the original 92 monuments identified by state archaeology department and Intach for protection and conservation.

Currently , it is on the third list of monuments Intach has submitted to the archaeology department but there is no word on when work will begin. Tourism minister Kapil Mishra, who also heads the archaeology department, did not respond to calls. While the government is yet to get its act together to protect the structure, growing encroachments inside the mahal have conservationists worried.

Maldhar Khan gardens

The Times of India, Jul 07 2015

Graphic courtesy: The Times of India, Jul 07 2015
Graphic courtesy: The Times of India, Jul 07 2015

Richi Verma

Mughal gateway crumbles under encroachment burden

Rapid urbanization and authorities' neglect seem to have caused irreparable damage to some of Delhi's heritage structures. An early 18th century gateway built by Maldhar Khan, Nazir during the reign of Mohammed Shah, collapsed in north Delhi on Sunday morning. It was one of the two gateways leading to the garden of Maldhar Khan, which has also disappeared over the years. The surviving structure is in a dilapidated state having seen no conservation work over decades. Both the gateways are located on GT Road, close to ASIprotected Tripolia gateways.Nobody was hurt when the structure collapsed on Sunday .One could only see rubble, debris and remains of the monument on Monday , with only some portions left standing.“It's fortunate no one was hurt when the building came tumbling down. We have never seen the authorities showing any interest to preserve this building, even though it dates back to 1710, said Vinod Bansal, who owns a shop adjacent to the collapsed gateway .

It is not clear which agency has jurisdiction over the monument. But encroachment is rampant in the area with many heritage structures being damaged by vandals and squatters. “I have been living here for many years. I used to pay rent for running my shop in the building to its owner. We knew the building was going to collapse as we saw small pieces of debris falling and noticed an unusual tilt to the monument early on Sunday .My shop has been closed as the whole building is declared dangerous now, said Niranjan Sharma, who had a telecommunications shop right next to the gateway entrance.

According to Intach Heritage listing, the double-height gateway was originally faced with red sandstone. The upper floor was taken over as a resi dence years ago, which is the only portion still standing.

The surviving gateway to the garden of Maldhar Khan, meanwhile, is also falling to pieces. Sources said both the gateways were surveyed and identified by the department of archaeology for conservation and protection under the Delhi Archeology Act. Experts said the delay in imple menting conservation measures had caused more damage to them. Officials from the department of archaeology did not respond to calls made by TOI.

Both structures also figure in the municipal corporation's list of notified heritage buildings. North Corporation commissioner P K Gupta said: “We'll have to look into the reasons of the collapse and determine the building's ownership. Action will be taken accordingly . The Maharana Pratap Bagh RWA has also written to the Delhi government over the collapse, accusing them of negligence.

“This historic building was heavily encroached upon.The department of archaeology failed to take action, which led to this, said Saurabh Gandhi, RWA president. On Monday , a team from ASI visited the site to assess whether the collapse had any effect on the Tripolia gateways.


Scrap market

The Times of India, Sep 05 2016

Paras Singh

Four decades after it was shifted to its current location, Asia's biggest scrap market is a picture of apathy

Cramped, congested and polluted: these three words best describe Mayapu ri -Asia's biggest scrap market. While some call it a cremation ground for superannuated vehicles, for others, it's a recycling hotspot where at least some of the parts come back to life.

It's difficult to imagine that this cramped site was at the centre of a major decongestion drive in 1975.A majority of traders at Mayapuri have their roots in Motia Khan, while others have been relocated from Turkman Gate, Anand Parbat and Shahdara. Recalled, Harbans Singh, an aging trader: “We were pushed out forcefully during the monsoons of 1975 (the year India had its brush with Emergency) and relocated here; we were told to either fill up the forms (agreeing to vacate the place) or go to jail.“ He added: “It was raining heavily; we were literally thrown here, on this undeveloped land with no water, roads or power. We erected tin sheds to survive the vagaries of the weather. We were devastated in 1947 and, then, again in 1975.“

Four decades on, Mayapuri boasts of a turnover of over Rs 6,000 crore, dealing in pretty much everything that's scrap -from children's bicycles to army trucks, train and airplane parts, ball bearings, and so on. In a matter of a few hours, any vehicle that comes to this scrap market is reduced to its constituent parts. There are more than 4,000 scrap-trading units here, specialising in buses, tractors, army trucks and jeeps.

Despite the high stakes in volved, the basic infrastructure here is in a shambles. The roads, especially in the inner blocks, are non-existent. There's virtually no sewerage; whatever drains are there have been choked with scrap ings. A slight drizzle is enough to flood the area with sludge.

Encroachments were so rampant that there was hardly any space left to occupy, said residents.Some traders objected to TOI taking pictures of the area as they claimed that it would only give the corporation officials an excuse to demand more money from them.Said a trader, on the condition of anonymity: “Parks have been turned into godowns. Civic officials charge money for using these spaces. It's become a business.“

Meena Bazaar

As in 2018

Richi Verma, Meena Bazaar not going anywhere, planned site to have heritage park, November 27, 2018: The Times of India

15-YEAR WAIT ENDS IN STATUS QUO: Several Agencies Object To Relocation Of Market

The agency responsible for implementing the revamp of the Jama Masjid area has dropped the idea of relocating the historic Meena Bazaar after having mooted the idea 15 years ago. The plot near the Parade Ground parking that was supposed to have sited the market is, in any case, being developed into a heritage park.

According to Shahjahanabad Redevelopment Corporation (SRDC), some stakeholders, among them the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, the North Delhi Municipal Corporation, Delhi Development Authority, Delhi Urban Arts Commission and Delhi Waqf Board, had objected to the market’s relocation. “The north corporation claimed the relocation was against Master Plan Delhi 2021 and that construction activity was not allowed within 300 metres of Red Fort,” a project official said. “DDA expressed doubts about the ownership of the plot involved, while the Shahi Imam said the plan would unnecessarily displace the Meena Bazaar traders and cause chaos.”

Meena Bazaar is believed to be as old as Jama Masjid and was once visited by the Mughal royalty and the nobility for jewellery, silk and embroidered textiles. Today, it’s a cluttered market selling from garments and hardware and automobile spares. “Relocation is a very sensitive topic with most shop owners. Even those who want to shift in the belief it will be better for business have been warned not to be vocal,” confided a trader.

The north corporation is setting up a heritage park on the plot in question. Union sports minister Vijay Goel has set aside Rs 5 crore for the park from his MPLAD funds, and insist that none of the stakeholders were “consulted about the relocation of Meena Bazaar” and that there was “no need to shift the market at all”. He added, “The redevelopment plan itself should be re-examined.”

Officials associated with the plan, however, contested Goel’s claim. “The plot belongs to the north corporation and the redevelopment of the area was planned with the civic body’s approval. How could they not have known that this land was proposed for Meena Bazaar’s new location?” wondered an official.

Sources alleged the construction of the heritage park began without proper approvals and that PWD and SRDC weren’t consulted either. After work was halted by Delhi high court, it is learnt that SRDC will now inform the court that the construction had been approved after considering the stakeholders’ views. Work is expected to resume shortly.

The area redevelopment plan itself came in the high court’s scanner in 2004, when a PIL was filed about the degrading conditions around the 17th-century mosque. Hearing the petition, the court had ordered authorities to redevelop Jama Masjid and its precincts, spreading over 23 acres. A plan for this was approved by the court two years later

Mehram Nagar

Mughal architecture

Mehram Nagar: The lone surviving gate leads one into the sarai
The entrance to the garden named after Mehram Khan
Mehram Nagar: At places, the enclosing wall is six metres high
Mehram Nagar: A well
Mehram Nagar: These crumbling walls were once crowned by battlements and vaulted chambers but are now in ruins

Mughal courtier’s lost garden

Historic ruins at Mehram Nagar are disappearing and may not stand the test of time for long

Richi Verma | TNN

The Times of India 2013/07/22

The minute you drive out of Indira Gandhi International Airport, you pass Mehram Nagar. Only the cognoscenti know it’s home to ruins of a lost era.

A gateway, a mosque, an enclosing wall, a katra and an authentic Mughal garden—all in various stages of dilapidation and decay—stand testimony to the historicity of the settlement set up in mid-17th century and named after Mughal courtier Mehram Khan.

Only one of the three gateways to the 17th-century Mughal sarai stands today. One other vanished decades ago and remnants of the third can be seen between a cluster of shops and houses. The surviving gateway is an imposing double-storey structure with pointed arch openings enclosed by a cusped arch façade. The side bays have been encroached by shopowners but the fact that the wooden gates are buried at least two feet deep stands testimony to their age. A few feet away, construction work for a Metro station is on full swing.

Some distance away lie remains of the sarai wall. Portions of it can be seen inside the village interspersed by new constructions and houses. Made of rubble masonry, the wall is six metres high and crowned by battlements and vaulted chambers. A significant chunk of the western wall vanished several years ago when a road was laid between Mehram Nagar and a large green area on the other side. A parking lot being built adjacent to the southern wall has taken a toll.

The farmland on the opposite side of Mehram Nagar, is owned by the defence ministry. It houses portions of the enclosing wall and a baoli and is known as Mehram Khan’s garden. The ruins stand forgotten, made inaccessible by thick foliage and dense vegetation.

Garden Pavilion-. Photo courtesy: Aga Khan Trust. This is a monument in the Nizamuddin area of south-east Delhi.

Yet they can be conserved to make Mehram Nagar a prime tourist attraction especially as it’s located so close to the airport, say experts.

The state archaeology department has identified some of the ruins for conservation and protection in Phase III of a project, the MoU of which has been signed by Intach and Delhi government (Phase II is yet to take off), but “in the meantime, the government should keep a tab and ensure the ruins do not fall prey to urbanization. With so much construction work happening around Mehram Nagar, the ruins could disappear completely”, an official said.

Mehram Khan

Mehram Khan was a powerful noble in the courts of Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb

Mehram Nagar village, opposite the domestic airport, was established during his reign

Here, ruins of gateways, mosque, katra and enclosure wall are found

Only one out of three old gateways still survives. The imposing wooden doors are similar to those at Red Fort

Portions of the eastern and southern walls that surrounded Sarai Mehram Nagar still exist

Construction work by Delhi Metro and an upcoming parking lot threaten the ruins

None of the structures are protected, though they have been identified for conservation and protection by the state archaeology department.

Renovation, 2017

Richi Verma, History uncovered: Mughal-era ruins get makeover, Feb 8, 2017: The Times of India

Mehram Nagar pavillion and the Katra gate, before and after renovation; Richi Verma, History uncovered: Mughal-era ruins get makeover, Feb 8, 2017: The Times of India

Just as an aircraft takes off from Indira Gandhi International Airport, those peering out from the windows can see the village of Mehram Nagar. Yet it is not just another unauthorised settlement that is so common across the expanse of the capital. The village is the site of an ensemble of Mughal-era ruins, and as the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage and Delhi government's archaeology department painstakingly clear away the overgrowth, they are unveiling newer aspects to the 17th century structures there.

A gateway , mosque, enclosing wall, in fact a whole katra, or a settlement, and an authentic Mughal garden -all in various stages of decay -speak of the history of Mehram Nagar, first set up as a habitation in the mid-17th century and named after Mughal courtier Mehram Khan. The Archaeological Survey of India has already certified a darwaza (doorway) there as having been built by Mughal emperors Shah Jahan and his son Aurangzeb in the 1660s. Not surprisingly, conservationists say Mehram Nagar can be promoted as a tourist spot, especially due to its proximity to the airport. Despite the ravages of ti me, most of the edifices have fortunately survived. Just a few have fallen victim to the urban sprawl. For three months now, work on the gar den and katra have uncovered many structures under the unkempt foliage.

“There was such dense vegetation that one could on ly catch glimpse of the katra and garden,“ said an INTACH official.

The project team has found large parts of the katra still standing. Three garden pavilions have also been exposed, but a possible fourth may lie hidden in the area barricaded by Delhi Metro for its construction work.

“We have uncovered chambers, arches and plaster work with fine traces buried under the vegetation,“ said the official.

Excavation also helped unearthed new structures, including toilets and canopies. “We dug up a small tank with a water channel,“ said an official. “Since we have only excavated a small portion of the garden, we don't know yet where the water channel leads to.“

The conservation of the garden and katra is part of a collaboration between INTACH and Delhi government on preserving 18 monuments in Phase III of a scheme to protect and restore unprotected historical edifices. While the area has caught the attention of conservationists, it may , however, be too late to save the gateways to the Mughal hub. Only one of the three gateways stands today . One vanished decades ago and the remnants of the third can be espied among a cluster of shops and houses. Unless rescued, it too could be lost before soon.

Defence ministry claims the land

Richi Verma, March 25, 2018: The Times of India

Mehram Nagar- Despite the ravages of time, most of the edifice has fortunately survived. But excavations have also unearthed new structures like toilets and canopies
From: Richi Verma, March 25, 2018: The Times of India
At Mehram Nagar, Delhi, only one of the three original gateways stands in March 2018
From: Richi Verma, March 25, 2018: The Times of India

The Mehram Nagar village was set to be Delhi’s newest tourist destination. Located a few miles from IGI Airport, the village is home to several late Mughal ruins. These were being conserved by Intach Delhi Chapter and the Delhi government’s department of archaeology.

But now, the project has hit a roadblock as the ministry of defence has objected to the work as the ruins are on its land.

A gateway, mosque, enclosing wall, a whole katra or a settlement, and an authentic Mughal garden—all in various stages of decay—speak of the rich history of Mehram Nagar. It came up in mid-17th century and was named after a Mughal courtier named Mehram Khan.

Archaeological Survey of India has already certified a doorway as having been built by Mughal emperors Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb in the 1660s. Not surprisingly, conservationists say Mehram Nagar can be promoted as a tourist spot, especially due to its proximity to the airport.

Despite the ravages of time, most of the edifice has fortunately survived. A few have fallen victim to the urban sprawl, but excavations also unearthed new structures like toilets and canopies. “We dug out a small tank with a water channel. Since we have only excavated a small portion of the garden, we don’t know yet where the water channel leads to,” said an official.

But the project was stalled in May last year. “We are trying to resolve the issue with the ministry. Our job is to conserve these monuments so that more and more people come here. We are hoping for a resolution at the earliest,” said a senior Delhi government official.

Intach officials said they needed at least six months more to complete the work. “Only some of the pavilions have been restored; a lot more has to be done,” said an official.

The conservation is part of Phase III of a scheme that entails preservation of 18 monuments that are unprotected. So far, over two dozen nearly forgotten monuments have been conserved and opened to public.

At Mehram Nagar, though, only one of the three original gateways stands today. But unless rescued, this too could vanish.


Zafar's summer palace

The Times of India, Sep 03 2015

Zafar Mahal and Mirza Babur's house; Picture courtesy: The Times of India, Sep 03 2015

Richi Verma

Last Mughal king's summer palace fights losing battle against squatters  Located in the overcrowded Mehrauli village in south Delhi, emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar's summer palace continues to reel under government apathy and neglect. Zafar Mahal is a relic from the last days of Mughal rule. It is also one of the few monuments that were declared national heritage by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in the 1920s. But encroachment is now posing a serious threat to the very existence of the structure with surrounding buildings slowly eating up its space. The once lavish courtyard has shrunk to less than half of its original size. A brick wall has come up in the open space, which acts as support for nearby buildings. Por tions of the ASI-protected monument have been vandalized too.

According to historians, it used to be a huge palace and what is now visible is just a fraction of its original size. “Zafar Mahal was a summer retreat. The monument used to sit within a large open space with several acres of land around it. As the village grew and more and more houses were built, locals started fighting for space. Some of the palace's archi tectural columns and Shahjahani arches were broken and sold off. Houses kept expanding closer and closer to the monument itself, said an expert. Evidence of the monument walls being broken can be seen in the courtyard where large stone slabs have been dumped in a corner. The 100-metre prohibitory rule doesn't even exist for the residents who have been build ing additional floors over the years, some of which are on top of the monument's surface itself. ASI had proposed setting up a Mughal museum here a few years ago. The plans, however, still re main on paper. ASI officials said it was difficult to preserve monu ments like Zafar Mahal due to their location inside urbanized villages. “The encroachments and new buildings started coming up in the 1980s and 1990s and they kept growing because ASI turned a blind eye to all these,“ the expert added.

Members of the Mughal family like Shah Alam Bahadur Shah-I (second son of Aurangzeb) and Shah Alam-II (son of Alamgir-II) were buried here. The mahal was originally built by Akbar-II, but it was his son, Bahadur Shah Zafar, who constructed the grand gate and added it to the palace in the mid 1800s.

Behind the palace ruins, there is a “house“ belonging to Mirza Babur, Bahadur Shah's brother.

Located behind Zafar Mahal, it can be reached through a maze of tiny lanes. Called “Babur Mahal“ by the locals, it houses over a dozen fami lies now. The foliated arches and floral patterns are still visible in the building. Each room in the original house has become individual dwellings for families and each family has modified the space according to its requirements.

“My grandfather used to live here, and the house has been passed on to us. We know that the house is about 200 years old, but we do not know the history behind it, said Ratna Singh, one of the residents.

Meena Bazar

Sale of sacrificial animals

See graphics, 'Sacrificial animals on sale at Meena Bazar ahead of Eid uz Zuha, 2017-I’

‘Sacrificial animals on sale at Meena Bazar ahead of Eid uz Zuha, 2017-II’

Sacrificial animals on sale at Meena Bazar ahead of Eid uz Zuha, 2017-I
From The Times of India, August 31, 2017
Sacrificial animals on sale at Meena Bazar ahead of Eid uz Zuha, 2017-II
From The Times of India, August 31, 2017

Millennium Depot

Millennium Depot, Delhi; Graphic courtesy: The Times of India

Mohammedpur village

Teen Burj, unknown tomb

The Times of India, Aug 28 2015

Richi Verma

Tale of two historic neighbours now eaten by a concrete jungle

The residents of Moham medpur village are a proud lot. The urban vil lage located amid an up scale area in south Delhi boasts of development and a rapidly-expanding infrastructure. But while this urbanization is altering its whole veneer, two of the village's monuments are going into oblivion.New buildings are cropping up at an alarming rate and absorbing every available space, suffocating the two structures. One of these is a magnificent three-domed structure called the Teen Burj. The national monument tag has clearly failed to keep squatters at bay.

Adjacent residential buildings touch the outer façade of the monu ment, while some parts of the structure were allegedly demolished by builders a few years ago.The front potion of the monument serves as a parking area, blocking access to the monument.

Deeper inside the village is a 16thcentury Lodhi-era tomb with an unusual dome. Historians say the hemispherical fluted dome is not very common in Lodhi structures in Delhi and this sets the monument apart.However, one wonders at the selection policy of ASI, which declared Teen Burj a national monument but left out this tomb, just a few metres away, open to vandalism, misuse and encroachment.“There is no protection to the monument despite being in the prohibited zone of Teen Burj. Locals don't care because they know ASI will not do anything, an expert said.

This unknown tomb can be accessed only from two sides, the rest blocked by the adjoin ing houses. The sole entrance on the north side has been locked by the owners of one of the houses and used as a godown. The balconies of the houses around touch the dome and these are expanding rapidly. The area around the dome is also used for dumping garbage.

The decorative elements in the tomb have vanished and the existence of the two masonry graves in side it remains a mystery as the access is restricted here too.

Locals said the tomb is being used as a godown for years with no one protesting. “The government doesn't care about these buildings, so why can't we use them?“ said a nearby resident.

The tomb, though, has not been completely overlooked by the government. It figures among the 92 monuments listed by the state archaeology department for conservation and pro tection. However, it's a different story as to how the department of archaeology will conserve this monument.

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