University writes to ASI for permission to look after the monuments
The “Ridge”, another name for the remains of the ancient Aravalli Hills whose rocks crop up all across the city, has its strongest and most sinister formation at Delhi University’s North Campus -- now a hotspot for wild monkeys and furtive couples but once the frontline for one of India’s most decisive battles.
“During the famous siege of Delhi in 1857, the British who managed to escape from the rebels in the city -- made their way towards the Ridge and took shelter at the Flagstaff. The rebels chased them, many days of fighting ensued and the battle almost tilted in favour of the rebels until the British were rescued by a regiment from Punjab… and the rest is history,” says Delhi University’s Vice-Chancellor Dinesh Singh. He was standing in front of the historic Flagstaff, the first stop on a heritage walk that he has planned for willing students beginning this October.
The Flagstaff is a pale pink and has the necessary locks and sign-boards that declare the tower a “protected monument”, but there is nothing else. Nobody, except an avid historian familiar with the city, will be able to guess what the Flagstaff stands for, with the signboards offering no explanations just warnings to keep off the “protected monument” -- which now does not even bear a hint of the bullet-marks that once covered its walls, all thanks to a recent “renovation”.
Top of the Tower
“We have applied to the Archaeological Survey of India to let us look after this place and the other landmarks of the historic battle, they are considering letting us take over the maintenance. We will then put sign-boards explaining the history behind this place and open up the tower so people can actually walk to the top,” says Prof. Singh, adding that the tower used to be open when he was a college student and that he often came here with his telescope and camera. He wanted other kids to be able to do the same.
Khooni Khan Lake
Another place that Prof. Singh used to visit most often is the Khooni Khan Lake which is located deep within the Ridge that now resembles a deserted garden overgrown with wild trees, bushes and cacti. It is also infested with monkeys and feral cats but has a paved road running all through it, with park benches placed along the road and at clever bends inside the thick foliage. It is a long walk and the Aravalli remains jutting out of the ground make it an uncomfortable one. “During the battle the lake was used as the main water source. After several days of fighting, the water turned red from the blood of the wounded, thus earning it the name of Khooni Khan Lake.” The lake is now green and is barricaded by thick and sharp wires. The resident monkeys have made it their personal swimming pool, using the overhanging branches of trees as the diving board.
The Ashoka Pillar, opposite the Hindu Rao Hospital, is the next stop on Prof. Singh’s list. It is quite ordinary-looking and would not inspire the average passersby to stop and gaze, but Prof. Singh said it is historically relevant. After all, a Muslim ruler brought this symbol of peace all the way from Meerut into the city. A stone’s throw away is the Mutiny Memorial which resembles a tower. The architecture is a mixture of colonial and Islamic styles and is imposing with steep steps that go all the way to the top and boasts stunning views of the city. The memorial was originally built for “the Delhi field forces who were killed between May 30 and September 8, 1857” and by “the comrades who lament their loss and the government they served so well”. The number of soldiers, native and white, who were killed, wounded or missing in battle has been carefully etched on the walls.
However, the entrance to the memorial, built most recently in 1972 has this. “The “enemy” of the inscriptions inside this monument were those who rose against colonial rule and fought bravely for the nation’s liberation in 1857.” Prof. Singh says the university has also applied for maintenance of the pillar and memorial.
The Viceregal Lodge, already with the university is the last stop on Prof. Singh’s list for the proposed heritage walk which would follow the pattern of history. “We start with the bloody battle of 1857 and end with the Gandhi-Irwin pact which took place right here at the Vice-Regal Lodge, we are just trying to find the room where the pact was actually signed. We have searched everywhere; there is no secret room or basement that has missed us. Now we have people looking through the national archives, our archives. We really want to find it.”