The timeless architecture of Tughlaqabad and Adilabad offers amazing arches and much more

It was in 1967, I was then 17 and a student of Class X, four classmates and I decided to bunk school and spend an entire day wandering around. Our school was in Lodi Estate and I do not have any recollection of how we reached Tughlaqabad, but reach we did and spent an entire day wandering around its ruins and the mausoleum of Ghyas-ud-Din Tughlaq.

Through the last 45 years Tughlaqabad, Adilabad and the mausoleum of Ghyas-ud-Din Tughlaq - the first marble dome in Delhi - have continued to exert a strong pull. Over the years I have discovered many nooks and crannies that would escape the casual visitor. While shooting for a film on the ‘History of Urdu’ that I had conceptualised and written, we virtually spent days at the ruins. I ask everybody to visit the place and have brought all my visiting relatives and literally hundreds of school and college students to the fascinating and timeless architecture of Tughlaqabad

Tughlaqabad was a fortified city with step wells, huge water tanks and grain silos, while Adilabad was the residence of the heir to the throne - Mohammad bin Tughlaq. The small fortress of Adilabad is a favourite because three of its scattered arches have cast a kind of a spell on me and I bring this up in the hope that some of you would make the trip to Tughlaqabad and will see much more than the three arches that I intend to talk about.

Reaching Adilabad is not difficult -- you have to turn into the road opposite Tughlaqabad Fort, leading to the Karni Singh Shooting range. As you turn into this road you will come abreast of Air Force quarters located, in utter violation of heritage norms, within spitting distance of the mausoleum of Ghyas-ud-Din, the end of the fence leads you into an open ground. This was once a lake between the two forts and is now a place where people come to take and give driving lessons and boys from Tughlaqabad village and Sangam Vihar gather to play cricket every Sunday. Two of the three arches that I mentioned can be seen from this open ground.

A fairly wide path runs along Adilabad -- keep walking till you see a proper cobbled path climbing up towards the fort. Take this path and you will enter the fort through a gigantic arch, the first of my three arches. The path has recently been made by ASI, though I think this was a path used by elephants and so the steps that have been built in the path should have been much broader and wider.

The arch that leads you into Adilabad is massive, it is a true arch with a huge keystone running the entire thickness of the huge wall in which the arch has been set. The arch leads to a huge ramp with broad steps and it is from here that I got the idea that this must have been used by elephants; the ramp leads you to another arch, the second of my arches.

This is not a true arch, it is in fact a corbelled arch -- the kind that was used in India before the Central Asians brought the true arch with them. The Central Asians had in their turn acquired the true arch probably from Byzantium who took it perhaps from the Egyptians or Greeks or Romans, that is how things travel and when they arrive in a new region the locals are not very confident of these new fangled technologies and so they insist on using things that they trust.

And that is what is happening at this location. There is a huge true arch that has no real weight on it and so the local masons had no trouble building it, but when it came to building the inner gateway that was also to house the guard room, the masons fell back on the corbelled arch, something that they had known for hundreds of years and had come to trust. I do not know if our elders had this in mind when they talked of ‘Continuity with Change’.

Walk through the arch and turn to your right, you will see stairs leading to a raised platform. Climb the stairs, if you walk straight you will find yourself atop one of the bastions that provide a panoramic view of Tughlaqabad and what must have been a stunning lake with the dome of Ghyas-ud-Din’s Tomb shimmering like a pearl, to the west of where you stand.

If after climbing the steps you were to walk along this raised platform and turn to your left you would have one of the inner defense walls to your right and the ruins of Mohammad bin Tughlaq’s palaces to your left. A little ahead the inner defensive walls would give way and you will be able to see the outer defenses and amidst the rubble you would see the third arch, though I prefer to call it the first one, right in front of you.

If you want to explain the magic of the arch and show people how, in the words of Leonardo Da Vinci, “two weaknesses combine into great strength” show them this arch. There is nothing to support the arch, even the binding materials that held the stones together, close to 700 years ago, are gone. The keystone is in place and the true arch holds, for that is the magic of the true arch -- the magic of the keystone. How many earthquakes has this collection of precariously balanced stones seen, is anyone’s guess.

Go there, take your cameras along, capture these arches for posterity, for they may not last too long, the last one will be the first to go. Go and explore before all this vanishes, as so much of our heritage has and is disappearing with every passing day.