Nizamuddin along with Mehrauli is one of the oldest living spaces in Delhi. It has been inhabited for more than 700 years now. Originally called Ghyaspur, having been built during the reign of Ghyasuddin Tughlaq. It was renamed after the Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya who lived in this area. Who even today attract millions of devotees from all over to this area. Most people though may recognize this area because of the railway station of the same name. A walk through the lanes and by-lanes of Basti Nizamuddin, also called Nizamuddin Basti, will take you through lots of tombs.
And would remind you of India of your childhood if you have grown up in a small-town India.
The crisscross of narrow lanes, the bustling bazaars, people everywhere busy doing their daily chores. Eating on the street and religious fervor make this a very lively place. You can feel life all around you. Though you would wish that these lanes were a bit cleaner so that you can walk more freely.
Basti Nizamuddin, Delhi
Shiv Mandir, Basti Nizamuddin
My walk began from the Shiv temple that is next to the Lodhi Road crematorium. Though the temple loudly announces it is an ancient temple, the priest told us it is probably a little more than 100 years old. The Shiva linga is supposed to be Swayambu i.e. the one that has emerged on its own and has not been manually made.
The temple is a typical modern Hindu temple, patronized by rich people. It has all possible popular deities adorned in the finest clothes managed by a priest or a team of priests. I did not find anything noteworthy in the temple.
From here you get into the adjacent lane, and if it is a Monday, you would see a crowded, colorful, and almost crazy market. The sellers are at their best trying to attract customers. Buyers trying their best to get the best bargain from them. You would see a few gates and gateways from the old times, the only remnants of the bygone era. Some of them have been restored by agencies like Aga Khan Trust and INTACH. The others are just facing the winds of time.
You can get into a lane called Phoolwali Gali, which was so-called as this was an area full of flowering trees and plants once upon a time. And flower sellers would sell flowers from here.
It is only with a very strong sense of imagination that you can imagine flowers here now. As the whole place has a haphazard construction with not a single plant or tree in sight. You will come across the tomb of Inayat Khan, son of Vilayat Khan, which is very obviously just renovated. Not at all in sync with anything that surrounds it, but probably the only clean monument in the area.
A small gateway leads to Mohalla Kot, which is said to be the original living Mohalla of the area. But you are not allowed to go inside unless you know someone there.
The biggest structure that you would see in this area is Kalan Masjid, one of the sets of 7 similar masjids built around Delhi. Today, this and the Kalan Masjid near Turkman Gate are the two practicing mosques. All of them were built in the 14th century during the Tughlaq period. When you look at the fort-like walls of the mosque you wonder why such thick walls were needed for a mosque meant for people. This mosque also has more than 200 pillars and at least as many arches.
It is a relatively plain mosque. But you can see a remarked resemblance with other mosques from the period like the ones in Mehrauli.
Walkthrough the bazaars selling day-to-day needs and Attar or traditional oil-based perfumes and reach Urs Mahal. This is a newly built platform provided by the government of independent India for followers of Nizamuddin Auliya to perform his annual Urs. In the courtyard, you would see platforms with graves and some, where graves used to be. Most of these graves exist because many people wanted to be buried close to Nizamuddin.
But most graves are unidentified today. And practically speaking it is not possible or required to know about each and every grave.
Chausath Khamba, Basti Nizamuddin
The beautiful white structure next to Urs Mahal is the famous Chausath Khamba. As the name suggests it has 64 pillars but it is a small trick to count all of them. Try counting when you are there. Now, this is a monument from the time of Jahangir. And this is evident from the fact that there is no dome on the pavilion. Interestingly you can see the domes when you are inside it, but the roof on top is absolutely flat.
This is the only completely white, marble structure in this area with typical Jali work on all walls. Perfect symmetry makes it a very picturesque place.
Here lies the tomb of Mirza Aziz Kokaltash, son of Atgah Khan, whose tomb is also not too far. Here and there are graves of Mughal royal families and those of their higher officials. Even outside the pavilion, you see an array of graves. Sometimes it seems that the dead in this area occupies more space than the living ones.
Just outside his grave around the corner is Ghalib Academy. Which has a lovely and extensive library with a good collection of Urdu and poetry books? You can also buy the literature of Ghalib and like from the shop outside. The auditorium in the academy is used for hosting various events like Mushaira’s and plays primarily around Ghalib. Not many people know of his hidden treasure of Delhi. I wish they would conduct some courses for creating awareness of poetry and works of Ghalib here for the general public.
There is also a museum on Ghalib here. Ghalib once described Delhi as the Soul of the world and I am sure his soul is still roaming around somewhere here.
Atgah Khan Tomb
Another Gali would lead you to the tomb of Atgah Khan, which is a beautiful tomb. Perfectly symmetrical and a good example of Indo-Islamic architecture, with many colorful panels on its outside made from glazed tiles. There is a small Baradari or a pavilion, which looks like a madrasa or a school. Notice the swastika woven into the patterns on the walls. The tile inlay work is intricate and must have looked amazing when all colors would have been present in their full glory.
The inside of the dome would have been painted in typical red and blue. But only a very small portion of that remains intact today.
Atgah Khan was the husband of JiJi Anga, the wet nurse of Akbar, and was killed by Adham Khan, whose tomb is in Mehrauli. There is another plain but big dome looking at you from across a wall. This is said to belong to Baba Kambalposh, who I guess must have been a revered Fakir.
Nizamuddin Dargah at Basti Nizamuddin
From here walk towards the Nizamuddin Dargah, wherein lie the most famous saint of Delhi and his best-known follower and poet Amir Khusro. To date, every Thursday Khusro’s devotional qawwalis are sung for his master. The narrow lanes are lined with shops selling flowers, chaddars, and other items on both sides leading you to the dargah. Leave your footwear outside, cover your head, and secure your wallets as you enter these lanes.
First, you see the tomb of Amir Khusro, then Mohammed Shah Rangila and Begum Jahanara, and then the bright golden dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia.
Saint Hazrat Nizamuddin
He was a saint of the Chisti tradition. Other famous saints from this tradition are Garib Nawaz of Ajmer, Moinuddin Chisti of Fatehpur Sikri, and Baba Bakhtiar Khaki of Mehrauli. On the side is a red mosque wall which is a Mihrab well painted in Gold. Unfortunately, women are not allowed inside the two important tombs. Today the main Dargah is painted in pure gold with many other colors decorating each and every part of the walls.
But I assume that given the fact it belongs to a Sufi saint, it must have been a much plainer dargah, to begin with.
Amir Khusro often referred to himself as the beloved of Nizamuddin, ensured that he is buried next to him. Later Mohammed Shah was buried in between them. As per the legend; this is what led to the decline of the Mughals in Delhi as he came between the two lovers. I enjoy listening to these legends and it seems that almost all old places have some such legends associated with them.
Baoli or Step-well at Basti Nizamuddin
On the backside of the dargah is a Baoli or a step-well. Dating back to the time of Hazrat Nizamuddin, around 1321-22 AD. Which is probably in the worst condition that it can be. I assume that being associated with the dargah, it should be a holy place too, but the condition of the Baoli denies any such assumptions.
If you come out towards Mathura Road, you would see the Sabz Burj, which is actually a blue dome. There is a park called Mirza Ghalib Park on the corner of this road, which also has a Baradari and a few other small-unexplained monuments. Being a vegetarian, I never tried the food options at Nizamuddin. But I am sure for those who enjoy Non-veg this place would have many things to offer.
This is a walk through the ruins and remains of Delhi as it was 700 years ago. A walk through an era, and with not many signs of modernity. Aga Khan Trust for Culture conducts regular walks in Nizamuddin. The guides are the local youth of Nizamuddin Basti who have been trained for the purpose. It also serves as one of the ways to provide a livelihood for this urban village.
Recommend you to read the following travel blog on Places to visit in Delhi.