I have wanted to do this walk on the North Ridge of Delhi for almost a year now. I finally managed to do Delhi Ridge walk this week and I am asking myself why did I not do this earlier. For people living in the southern part of the city, it feels like they are visiting another city. But given the metro connectivity, the block exists more in our minds. So board the metro and get down at the DU or Vishwavidyalaya station. Get out of the station on the university side and start walking towards the VC office.
Delhi Ridge Places to visit
Vice Chancellor office
VC office, a huge mansion built in pristine white color in typical British style is hard to miss. It is fenced on all sides with huge metallic barricades erected on a low wall. I was told that this has been done to protect the Vice-chancellor and his office from any potential attacks from the students. Vast green lawns surround this building. There are a Nehru’s bust and a Buddha statue that peep out of the greenery.
Historically this building was a part of the Viceregal Lodge estate before 1933. And served as a residence to viceroys and governor-general of India including Lord Mountbatten. In fact, it is said that it is here that Mountbatten proposed to Edwina.
British Watch Tower at Delhi Ridge
From here, walk toward the ridge, and stroll through the thick foliage on both sides punctuated by benches with young couples. You would see a circular onion-pink building that was a watchtower and hunting tower for the British. Built sometime around 1828 AD, it stands at the highest point of the ridge at the cross-section of Flagstaff Road and magazine road. It is not a tall building as you expect the watchtowers to be. But due to its placement on the high point, it would have served its purpose.
During the May 1857 mutiny, British civilians mostly women and children gathered here hoping for some assistance to come from Meerut. And then marched towards Karnal for safety.
The gate is open sometimes. You can climb the building tower and enjoy the top view of the surrounding ridge. From here walk towards the Chauburji masjid. On the way observe the small structures which probably would have been the Aaram Ghar or rest houses for the hunting contingent or later for the soldiers. Lost in the woods, you literally forget that you are in Delhi.
The Chauburji masjid seems to be closed and I could not see a way to go in. This double-storied structure is also protected like the VC’s office. Though the name suggests four domes, only one is visible from the road. This mosque was a part of Feroze Shah Tughlaq’s hunting palace. During British times, it was used as a battery by their forces. Cross the road across the Chauburji mosque and you will see an old building, that is at this point in time under restoration.
The plaque outside the building will tell you that this is Pir Ghaib or the Vanished Saint. The story goes that a saint used this building as his worshipping place and one day he suddenly disappeared, and since then this building is referred to as Pir Ghaib.
This was originally a part of the Feroze Shah Tughlaq’s hunting palace that he called Kushk-i-Shikar or Kushk-i-Jahan-Numa. Today it is the only remains of that palace. A cylinder-like structure and a name like Jahan-Numa (the world viewing or showing) indicate that it might have been an astronomical observatory. Though the instrument could also be used to locate the animals for hunting. There is a mention that Timur the Lame visited Feroze Shah’s Jahan-Numa palace, giving a historical perspective to the history of the structure.
The structure is made primarily of stone with recessed arches. The plaster remains only in some areas and there are ornamental designs on the arches. It is said that there is a grave in this structure that lies east-west instead of the usual north-south. But since the work was going on, I could not climb and see it for myself.
Delhi Ridge Baoli or Step Well
A little ahead of Pir Ghaib is a Baoli or step well belonging to the same period. Probably a part of the same Kushk-i-Jahan-Numa. Ironically this Baoli was discovered very recently during construction activity. The ASI in charge of the building showed us the step well and told us how despite many efforts the hospital next door continues to dump the garbage in the Baoli. It is a five or more storied-step well. I could count 4 levels and the lady said there is at least one more level below the garbage. The steps on the walls take you to the various levels of the step well.
The L-shaped structure on the side indicates that this water source was probably linked to supplying water to other structures around. The old trees that are still growing through the crumbling walls stand tall. And are the only witnesses to this structure as they must have been born in the step well and are on the verge of giving away their lives for the same? The water comes to this step well naturally through the rocks.
As you stand there, you would be able to see a small stream of water falling into the step well. This natural source of water could have been the reason for Feroze Shah to set up his hunting palace around it. This was the surprise element of this walk.
Hindu Rao’s House
Walk from here to the Hindu Rao Hospital and you would see a British-style yellow-colored building, which is popularly known as Hindu Rao’s house. This house has an interesting history. William Fraser, who chose to live in Delhi but away from the usual European ghettos, bought this house from its original builder Edward Colebrooke. He was murdered and then Hindu Rao, brother-in-law of Maharaja of Gwalior, bought this house. Since then this building has been known by his name only.
Though he owned it for a very short period of time. It was bought by a British family and acted as the headquarters of British forces during the time of the 1857 mutiny.
Later it was converted into a hospital and today it is one of the oldest practicing hospitals in Delhi. Another trivia says that this house is built at the same place where Timur the Lame camped in 1398 AD before looting India.
Delhi Ridge Ashoka Pillar
Walk out of the hospital and you would see the Ashoka pillar looking down at you. Now we all know that in the 3rd century BC, King Ashoka erected pillars across the length and breadth of his kingdom with various animal capitals on top of them. On these pillars, he inscribed various edicts in Brahmi script and Prakrit language to spread the Dhamma amongst the citizens and visitors of his kingdom. The inscriptions give messages of compassion to be followed as prescribed by the Buddha.
We do not know if there were any Ashoka pillars that were originally laid down in Delhi. But we do know that Feroze Shah Tughlaq brought this particular pillar to Delhi from Meerut in 1356 AD. This massive pillar was apparently brought over by the river route and planted here in Kushk-i-Shikar.
In the early 18th century, it broke into 5 pieces during an explosion nearby. The script was taken off and sent to the Asiatic Society in Calcutta for deciphering. It was restored sometime in 1866 AD. Since then it is standing 10 meters tall, telling its tale. It is not the best Ashoka pillar that you can see in the country. It has been broken and it has lost its capital but still, there is something majestic about it. Something that makes you stand by and look at it.
Delhi Ridge Mutiny Memorial
Walk a few hundred meters down the road and you would see a well-preserved tall gothic tower in almond brown color standing tall. You enter the gates and the board there explains the brief historical significance of this tower. It was built by the British, in memory of the soldiers who fought on their side in the May 1857 War of Independence and lost lives. Appropriately it was named Mutiny Memorial and has a plaque here that reads “This was erected in 1863 in memory of officers and soldiers of Delhi field force who were killed between 30th May and 20th Sep 1857”.
It was built on the site of Taylor’s battery. In 1972, the government erected another plaque saying that the enemies mentioned here are actually those who rose against the British and fought for nationalism.
This tapering Gothic pillar is about 35 meters high and has an opening with spiraling stairs inside. Visitors are not allowed to go inside it otherwise, it can give you an excellent view of the city from the top. Marble plaques all around the building give an account of soldiers and the battles they fought. I read only one plaque and it gave the no of soldiers and officers who died, along with their ethnicity.
It records that Baluch and Sikhs fought with the British in 1857. It also gives a summary of how many of them were killed, wounded, or missing. Till some time back this memorial was named Ajitgarh. And very recently it has been re-named Fatehgarh. With nothing else changing, the memorial seems to be getting new names every now and then.
Till now, you have seen the era of Ashoka, Sultanate, and British in this walk. The only prominent era that is missing is the Mughal era. Well, that is not too far, just take a cycle rickshaw or if you can walk to Roshanara bagh near the Clock Tower. This must have been a huge park in its hay days. Even now it occupies a fairly large space in the midst of otherwise crowded spaces.
A typical Mughal garden, it has an arched gateway to enter the park. Long water channel with fountains and a fairly large baradari with a tomb enclosed with lattice or Jali walls. But do not paint this rosy visual in your mind, because this is also the most badly maintained park in the city.
Tomb of Roshanara
The tomb of Roshanara is within the Jali walls and it is an open grave now, with only mud on top. It was a marble stone grave once but the stones have probably been stolen. The fading paintings on the walls still speak of the grandeur that this park, its owner, and her tomb would have seen. Roshanara was the sister of Aurangzeb and she played a key role in his becoming the emperor by defeating his three brothers.
Various Era on a short walking tour
This is another walk after the North Mehrauli walk that takes you through various eras of history in a small span of time and space. You can also enjoy the typical laid-back atmosphere of the DU campus. And feel nostalgic about your student days.
My walk would be incomplete without thanking Sh Uma Shankar Ji, who not only suggested this walk to me but also spent his valuable time taking me around on this walk. And sharing his knowledge of the area and its history. Uma Ji, you are a true Dilliwalah.
Recommend you to read the following Places to visit in Delhi.