Mandira Nayar

Littered with history, Mehrauli Archaeological Park offers much to the wandering visitors

NEW DELHI: With the Archaeological Survey of India's blue-board coming up near Balban's Tomb and the important ruins around it in Mehrauli Archaeological Park here recently, this bit of green has come closer to getting some legal sanctity as a first-of-its-kind park.

Increasing the number of Centrally protected monuments within the area, there is also now a serious bid by ASI to include the park in the buffer zone of the Qutab Minar World Heritage Site.

An example of rare successful synergy of different agencies working together, the Mehrauli Archaeological Park -- a sprawling 100 acres abutting Qutab Minar -- has the involvement of India National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), Delhi Tourism and the Delhi Development Authority (DDA). Having worked in the area for the past 10 years now with Delhi Tourism and Transportation Development Corporation (DTTDC) funding, INTACH has restored over 40 monuments. "There is a proposal pending with the Director-General to bring all buildings within the park under the protective umbrella of ASI. This area will be included in the buffer zone of World Heritage Site. At the moment we have protected Balban's Tomb and the significant ruins around it, including the gateway. There are many structures that fall within this area, but we are unable to give a precise figure at the moment," said a senior ASI official.

While ASI officials will have to survey the area to find out the exact number of buildings, according to INTACH officials there are 11 buildings that fall within the protected radius. An important building in the history of the city, Balban's Tomb is one of the few surviving buildings of the Ilbari Turk era. The first time that the arch and the true dome made its appearance in India was in the Balban's Tomb complex.

Apart from ASI's move to adopt more monuments, with the INTACH-DTTDC sponsored project set to enter its final seventh phase of conservation soon, the park is now taking shape to reveal its complete potential. Littered with history, these buildings are now waiting to be discovered as signs, trails, huge sandstone trail-markers and benches are being put in place for wandering visitors to identify the monuments that they stumble upon. A detailed map of the area with pictures and drawings of the buildings and their history has been printed so that people can find their way around.

INTACH also started regular walks on Sundays here this past year to spread awareness among Delhiites. A similar programme was chalked out for school children a few years ago. It is an initiative that has become very popular with many enthusiastic history-hunters seen walking around on Sunday mornings with a guide and a glossy map of the area in hand.

"It is a welcome move that ASI is planning to adopt the monuments in the park. INTACH has written to ASI several times asking them to do so and it is the culmination of years of hard work put in by us that is now bearing fruit. Now that ASI seems to have taken these monuments over, I hope they do so fully and not half-heartedly," says INTACH Delhi Chapter convenor O.P. Jain.

The park is not only a valuable asset to the city in terms of its heritage, but it is also a vital green lung for Delhi With all the rulers of the Capital leaving their mark here, the oldest fortification Lal Kot and British garden elements hidden within the park are just waiting to reveal their secrets to visitors who come flocking to Qutab Minar.