Broken Perceptions: The Mehrauli Ruins

Mehrauli Archaeological Park, Delhi. Copyright belongs to Suchita Chadha.
Building ruins at Mehrauli Archaeological Park, Delhi.
Copyright belongs to Suchita Chadha.

“Nobody said it was a beautiful world with no scars.”
― Catherine Ryan Hyde, Becoming Chloe

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Broken.”

The Mehrauli Archaeological Park is a 200 acre area in the Mehrauli neighbourhood of South Delhi. It documents a history from circa 731 AD when the Tomar dynasty founded the fort city of Lal Kot. The ruins, found in this park, make it the oldest extant fort in Delhi. As Dehli came under the rule of several different dynasties, the area has bit and pieces left of all of them, with over 100 historically significant monuments.

Looking back at my photos, I realized that this is the first place we were taken to. The first piece of history to look at and learn about. In the months to come, we’d go see many more places, all of which are more famous, and it strikes me that this was an interesting choice. Was it purposeful? I’m not sure. But it does suggest something important if you think about it, beyond the fact that this is the oldest fort city in Delhi.

Rajon ki Baoli--a three-storyed steep well-- which is thought to have been built during the reign of Sikandar Lodi in 1516 . Copyright belongs to Suchita Chadha
Rajon ki Baoli–a three-storyed steep well– which is thought to have been built during the reign of Sikandar Lodi in 1516 .
Copyright belongs to Suchita Chadha

Is this the India we should be seeing? When I compare it to any of the tourist-heavy places we visited, I want to say yes. This is the India that existed long before a lot else was around. The India that had a culture, a lifestyle, and to some extent, even a religion that we perhaps wouldn’t even recognize today. The India that is so old, but still stands strong, a foundation that hasn’t changed, even as we come in to accommodate it for the present. But is this the India we’re presented with?

As travellers, we so often need to consider that the reality of a place is unlike our perception of it, but what hand has India had in shaping these perceptions? As a country (and they’re not the one) that wants tourists to spend money to see those “exotic” monuments, to what end has tourism over powered the historical and cultural need to preserve places like Mehruali? The restoration and preservation of ancient monuments in India has been of importance only in more recent decades. Even then, there’s a been bias towards those places that would draw in the most people. The buildings in the Mehrauli Archeological Park continue to be overlooked as “better” monuments take precedence, despite the obvious history that is, for now, still buried in the rubble. Efforts are being taken by a few groups, but between a lot of talk and little action, it doesn’t really stand to be compared to any of the other recognized historical sites.

What might have been part of homes, or even homes themselves. Copyright belongs to Suchita Chadha.
What might have been part of homes, or even homes themselves.
Copyright belongs to Suchita Chadha.

The buildings at Mehrauli are broken. Of course they are. But the history that lies there isn’t. We’re all victim to the tendency of telling the grandest of stories first. To tell of the Taj Mahal over some ruins and overgrown shrubbery first. But I truly enjoyed seeing this place. Trying to imagine a mother cooking for her family in the small room there, and maybe the one down there was a place to sleep, and here is where the animals were kept, and over there is where they would have a market spread for travellers. It’s absolutely spectacular to be able to walk by what might have been a little girl’s favorite place to hide from her brother as they played, or gaze at the water in the steep well from the same spot a  young couple might have been romancing in, hidden away from the rest.

There’s a sense of history being alive in ways that aren’t there at the Taj Mahal, despite all its beauty and splendor. If you’re going to be in Delhi, try and book a walk with a guide. You could certainly go there on your own, but you may miss some of the quirky insights a guide would provide. More importantly, you might not notice beautiful parts of the architecture that are, unfortunately, almost non-existent today.

A wall by the tomb of Ghiyas ud din Balban, a Turkic ruler of the Delhi Sultanate from 1266 to 1287, during the rule of the Slave dynasty. Copyright belongs to Suchita Chadha
A wall by the tomb of Ghiyas ud-din Balban, a Turkic ruler of the Delhi Sultanate from 1266 to 1287, during the rule of the Slave dynasty.
Copyright belongs to Suchita Chadha

“Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real.”
― Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses

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