This walk covers 2 old gates Turkman Gate & Ajmeri Gate, a few mosques, some old bazaars, a famous but abandoned tomb, a not so famous but beautiful tomb, and a beautiful mosque. This is not a typical walk. You may not have heard of most of the monuments in this trail. It is a walk where you will walk in some of the narrowest possible streets. There will be so many twists and turns that you may have to constantly check your coordinates. You can buy a few things but nothing much that would attract a traveler. The highlight of this trail is that though this was a part of Shahjahanabad, the city that Shahjahan built in the 17th century, but, most of the shrines and monuments here pre-date that era. And belong to 13th or 14th century.
Turkman Gate to Ajmeri Gate, Delhi – Walking Tour
We begin the walk from one of the gates of Old Delhi, Turkman Gate. When I first heard this name, I thought it might have been so named because it would be facing Turkey. The usual convention for naming the gates after the cities they face. But I was wrong.
Turkman Gate, Delhi
This gate is named after a Sufi Saint who lived in the vicinity of this gate. During the time when this whole area was a dense forest and when the city was somewhere near the current day Qutab Minar. This was the 13th century and the saint’s name was Turkman. He was the follower of Bayabani sect of Sufis, who live in secluded places and pray. Just behind the gate, there is a small shrine which has the Dargah of the Hazrat Shah Turkman Bayabani and you can visit it. The caretaker will explain you the details of the place. Turkman gate as it stands today has been recently restored.
Local people would tell you that just a few years back it was in total ruins. Though when you look at all the goats tied to it and all the filth around it, you wonder how bad it could have been.
Holy Trinity Church
From the Sufi shrine to a little right are a century-old Holy Trinity Church built in British Era style, with grey stone and red linings. The church is simple but beautiful, with a semi-circular one end and stone pillars supporting structure. When we visited the church was closed. But the caretaker obliged us and opened it for us.
Turkman Gate Bazaar
From here we went into the street next to Turkman gate and is called Turkman gate bazaar. The place had shops of all kinds, a lot of metal and beadwork is done here. You can buy all kinds of sequins here. We did stop at one of the shops to buy some stone necklaces.
Badi Masjid aka Oonchi Masjid
Just as you enter the street there is a Badi Masjid aka Oonchi Masjid, which is being completely renovated. We almost thought that this is a new construction. But we were told this is also a centuries-old mosque and the renovations are going on to maintain it. A gentleman was teaching a few young men a lesson on Islam. So I assume that this place also doubles up as a madrassa. I could not find out how the original mosque looked like. But the new one is being made in marble with floral designs on it.
Dada Pir Wali Masjid
A little ahead on the right-hand side a lane leads to Dada Pir Wali Masjid. Which also has a claim of being the original Dargah of Hazrat Shah Turkman. The gates and walls are painted in bright green with red borders. This place was closed until late evening so we could not go inside.
A few steps further on the Turkman Bazaar road, there is Kalan Masjid which is at a height. You have to take about 25 steep steps to reach the gate. Inside it is a simple green and white mosque. This was built in 1387. One of the persons who had come there for the prayers told us that there are 7 similar Masjids across Delhi. And all of them look the same and they are from the same period. The other 6 are in Begumpur, Nizammudin, Mauza Khirki, Kotla Feroz Shah, Lahori / Ajmeri Gate and Kaloo Sarai. I am yet to see the other six, so this Masjid gave me 6 more places that I need to visit in Delhi.
Queen Razia Sultan’s Tomb
Next is Queen Razia Sultan’s tomb, which is most tricky to reach. It is located in a remote corner. You have to follow a twist and turn of narrow lanes, some of which are so narrow that only one person can pass through them at a time. And you have goats roaming around and tied to the walls all along the streets. You would see houses and small shops, most of the metal work in these lanes.
A sign outside the tomb says that it is a protected monument. But of all the tombs of Kings and emperors that you would have seen this is probably in the most dilapidated state. There are two tombs and it is not marked which one belongs to Razia Sultan, who ruled Delhi for a small period in 13th Century. The stone at the tomb says that it is unknown who the second tomb belongs to. But I read it somewhere that the second tomb belongs to Razia’s sister Saaziya. The tombs are just two raised platforms made of stone with a Masjid on the western wall.
You would wonder if the tomb is not well adorned because it is a woman ruler’s tomb. Or was it the fact that she did not build a tomb for herself before she died. Unlike other rulers who made sure that their mortal remains attract people forever.
Prem Narain Gali
Another important landmark on this path is in Prem Narain Gali. Famous for the fact that Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru got married here. This is Haskar Haveli and today when you look at it, you would find it difficult to imagine it as Haveli. The front is now a few small time shops. And the backyard is in complete ruins. I am sure it just a matter of time that this would get converted into a modern structure. I wish the descendants of Pandit Nehru would visit it sometime and make an effort to restore it before it is too late, or is it already too late. By now the Turkman Bazaar has converted into Sita Ram Bazaar, probably indicating the beginning of the area with Hindu dominance.
This trail does not have too many eateries, but you would find some street food here and there. There are some chat wallahs, one-off chai wallahs, some samosa wallahs, and some kulfi wallahs. You would also see some bangle shops. And a row of Mehandi wallahs painting the hands of women of all ages.
As you walk, you would notice that there are many Dharamshala’s along the whole street. Some of them with quite done up exteriors and carved doors. Each Dharamshala belongs to a certain community. People preferred to stay in their own community’s Dharamshala’s only. Dharamshalas are usually built to accommodate the visitors in an area. Going by the number of them in this street, it is evident that this place was frequently visited by the outsiders. I guess that these visitors must have been traders who traded in these well-established bazaars. Now, most of these are used for weddings and for hosting events where the number of people goes beyond the capacity of a household.
You would also note some Kuchas which is nothing but a gated community. For example, we saw Kucha Karigari which means a place belonging to a community of craftsmen.
At a place, we saw a Lal Darwaza, or a Red gate, which was made of red bricks and was painted red. But no one could explain us clearly the erection of this gate. But what we gathered was that some community wanted to mark their area by erecting this gate. Walking through these lanes also gave me an insight into community living, even within the city, where each community has its own infrastructure according to its own customs.
Havelis or Heritage Houses
At some point, we turned into a small narrow lane known as Kucha Pati Ram. This is a lane which has Havelis on both sides with decorated Chabutra’s, with lavishly engraved and carved doorways leading to a central courtyard. Some of the Havelis had a place for birds to come and eat on top of the front gate. These birdhouses actually look like a piece of art and only on close examination you would gather the purpose of the well-crafted protrusion. Occasionally you would see a deity placed on the top of the entrance, which is usually a Ganesha in Hindu homes. Some also have a mantra written at the entrance, Gayatri mantra being the most popular one.
You can see the underground cellars or Tehkhanas as they are known which were used by the families to escape the harsh Delhi heat in summer months. A friendly gentleman showed us around the Havelis and also managed to show the interiors of one of them. There are few Havelis where the families stay now. But most of them have been converted into warehouses to store trading materials. Most of the families have moved out of these ages-old Havelis and these narrow lanes. Within this one lane, you can see a variety of facades, colors, styles, and structures.
We were told that the outer facades cannot be altered. And for doing any change you have to take explicit permission from the government. Some of the facades have been damaged by posters advertising various things. I wonder if the government agencies can do anything about them.
Ajmeri Gate, Delhi
As you come out of this narrow lane, you would see Ajmeri gate, which is quite similar to Turkman gate but a little better preserved. Across the road, there is Indo-Arabic senior secondary school. This school was actually a Madarsa founded in the late 17th century by Ghaziuddin Khan during the reign of Aurangzeb. Later it became Delhi College and was renamed Zakir Hussein College. When the college shifted out of the premises, this building was converted into a school. This makes it one of the oldest educational institutions in the city or maybe the country.
Inside the campus, there is a beautiful mosque built in red sandstone with red and white chhatris and white domes. This was built sometime in the early 18th century. It has all the features of an Indo-Islamic architecture. The murals on the stones are delicately carved. The Jaalis are not just geometrical but have delicate floral designs on them. The best part is that it is very well preserved.
Ghaziuddin Khan Tomb
On the left side of this mosque is a small white marble structure. White, geometrically carved Jaalis with elegant arches would invite you to this corner. As you enter through the opening in the corner, you are about to see the most wonderful piece of work that you can see in Delhi. This is the tomb of Ghaziuddin Khan, a noble during the times of Aurangzeb and his successors. The tomb has a screen on all four sides, all of which are intricately carved. On the periphery of the tomb again on two sides, there are carved Jaali screens. On one side is the Mosque wall in red, and on the fourth side is a plain wall. This is the best that I have recently seen lately during my exploration of Delhi.
Must Visit Heritage
Do not forget to click a picture with you against the Jaalis. I would strongly recommend it to anyone who is even remotely interested in architecture, old heritage or delicacy carved in stone to visit this place. Do not think that many people know about this place. I did not see any visitors except us for almost an hour that we were there. Ghaziuddin tomb was the surprise package of this walk.
Fortunately, we went a day before the Id, and we found all the places well cleaned or were in the process of being cleaned.
On a sad note, my favorite mobile phone was stolen on my way back from this walk, as I was boarding the Metro from Rajiv Chowk station. Whoever has my favorite phone, please enjoy it just as I did!
Recommend you to read following posts on Places to visit in Delhi or Delhi Walking Tours.