The inevitable response should one mention these two places is, “where are they?”
As for the few who do know about their whereabouts [near Delhi’s satellite city Gurgaon in the neighbouring State of Haryana] the rejoinder is, “is there really anything to see there?”
Oh, yes, plenty! But despite having some of the loveliest monuments in Delhi’s vicinity, both towns lie in complete oblivion. There is no mention of them in guidebooks. Zilch. They are not even included in Delhi’s countless regular heritage tours. It is as if they simply did not exist.
Imagine my joy when I got a chance to explore the two. Not that I had ever heard of them before. I belonged to the first category. Then after some digging around, I was smitten. Completely.
A bit deluded, I expected to walk into a slice of history in the middle of nowhere. Instead Farrukhnagar, around 50-odd kilometres south-west of Delhi, was crowded, noisy, and chaotic when I reached it on a Sunday morning, a couple of weeks ago. Shops selling Chinese plastic-ware were holed into Dilli Darwaza [Delhi Gate], one of the original five gates of the fortified Old City. Open markets spilled around everywhere, behind which ramparts peeped through occasionally.
Dilli Darwaza, one of Farrukhnagar’s surviving city gates.
Then, from out-of-the-blue, I found myself face-to-face with a crumbling gateway, and walking through it, I entered Sheesh Mahal. The fancy home of Faujdar Khan, governor of Farrukhnagar, replete with a char-bagh garden, waterways, and sub-terranean living rooms to beat the harsh Indian summers. The whole edifice was frozen in time. Like much of Farrukhnagar, under its veil of messy modernism.
Faujdar Khan, a nobleman from Balochistan [near the Afghanistan border], lived in the early-18th Century. He was part of the Mughal Emperors Farrukhsiyar [r. 1713 – 19], and later Muhammad Shah Rangeela’s [r. 1719 – 48] court. In his role as the governor of Farrukhnagar, named after Emperor Farrukhsiyar, he was a very powerful man in the area.
In the years that followed, the town’s reigns shifted from the Mughals to the Jats, back to the Mughals and finally to the British Raj, after its [Farrukhnagar’s] siding with the sepoys in India’s First War of Independence in 1857.
Farrukhnagar was important to all its rulers. This was because of its salt trade which flourished right up to the late-19th Century. Salt was manufactured from saline water drawn from 40 wells in 12 villages around the town, brought to Farrukhnagar and then sent out to Delhi and the United Provinces. It went by the name Sultanpur Salt after the name of the village which housed the maximum number of salt-works, exporting 18,350 tons of salt annually.
Unfortunately, Farrukhnagar’s glory and prosperity lasted less than two centuries. Heavy taxes and new found sources of salt in Rajasthan led the British Raj to shut the salt production units around Farrukhnagar for good in 1923. From that point on, the town’s economy and fortunes simpered, sighed, and sank. The markets of Chinese plastic-ware today, an unwitting reliving of a past bustling trading life.
Sheesh Mahal, Mughal Governor Faujdar Khan’s home in Farrukhnagar.
The grandeur of Sheesh Mahal was, hence, no accident. After all, this was the home of the rulers of a very wealthy town, right through the 18th and 19th Centuries.
Built by Faujdar Khan himself, Sheesh Mahal or Glass Palace, had perhaps in its distant past been covered with pieces of mirror much like other Mughal buildings of that period, and therefore the name.
No traces of these mirrors remain. But the red sandstone-sheathed rectangular edifice made of Mughal bricks and Jhajjar stone, high on a plinth with a water channel cutting through the garden in front of it, is still evocative of an era of opulence. Made all the more poignant by the structural additions of the Jats and British, to only be finally overrun by time.
Haryanvi Bull, indigenous to Haryana, chilling in Farrukhnagar.
Is it a mosque? Is it a gurudwara? Or is it a temple? It is Sita Ram Mandir Gurudwara in Farrukhnagar.
This whole idea of being overrun by time takes on a whole new meaning at the Sita Ram Mandir just outside the palace.
During the Mughal period, it was customary to include a mosque in a palace or fort complex. It was no different with Farrukhnagar’s Sheesh Mahal. However, when India’s partition took place in 1947, Farrukhnagar’s Muslim community migrated to newly-formed Pakistan.
The local Hindu populace in the town, with an abandoned and empty mosque at their doorstep, decided to convert the structure into a Hindu temple cum Sikh gurudwara. I had never seen anything remotely similar before. Inside the very Islamic domed building were idols and prints of the Hindu pantheon, and the guru granth sahib [Sikhism’s holy book] in one of the side rooms. Talk about syncretism!
The one-of-its-kind Ghaus Ali Khan Baoli, Farrukhnagar’s grandest treasure.
Little did I know, though, that Farrukhnagar’s most splendid treasure was still to reveal itself.
I had mentioned the Old City had five gates. Of these, three survive. One being Jhajjari Darwaza, the road through it leading towards the town of Jhajjar.
A short flight of steps took me down from the rather insignificant, plain, unembellished Jhajjari Gate. A flight of steps that opened into a magnificent octagonal 300-year-old stepwell sunk into the earth that would take the most seasoned traveller’s breath away. More so, because it was least expected.
Stepwells are rare, and far in-between, in this part of India. Ghaus Ali Khan Baoli’s shape, grandeur, and concealed location just add to its uniqueness. Made of stone and bricks, coated in lime plaster, it was built by a local chieftain during Emperor Farrukhsiyar’s rule and resembles an elegant Turkish hammam. Pillared verandas with scalloped arches on all eight sides turn it into an oasis of peace, despite its flanking a historically busy road.
A short walk away was the domed, two-storeyed Sethani Ki Chhatri , a memorial built in the memory of a wealthy merchant’s wife, and now taken over by a political party as their office.
There was still more for me to discover: Jhajjar.
Jhajjar was also closer to the expectations I had when I set out in the morning from Delhi. Green fields that spread out on both sides of the highway. Traffic that started to thin out. Jhajjar was literally in the middle of nowhere.
View of a soldier’s tomb from a saint’s tomb: Hasan Shahid’s fortified tomb, from Abdus-al-Samad’s partially collapsed octagonal painted tomb.
Twenty-six kilometres north-west of Farrukhnagar, Jhajjar traces itself back to 1191 and the historic battles fought between Prithviraj Chauhan and the invading armies of Mohammed Ghori. There used to be a town near the battlefields called Malokan which got destroyed during the war.
Homeless, the villagers led by Chhaju, a Jat, settled down a distance away and founded Chhaju Nagar. Somehow, over the centuries, Chhaju Nagar became Jhajjar.
A word about the Jats here to put things in context. Jats are a historically rural ethnic group living in Northern India and Pakistan. One of India’s largest ethnic groups, they comprise of Hindus and Sikhs, and are predominantly into farming and animal husbandry. Thirty percent of Haryana’s population are Jats.
Coming back to Jhajjar, in the ensuing years, the town came under the Delhi Sultanate, Mughals, Kalals, Jats, Nawabs, and British. The Kalal rulers received Jhajjar from Mughal Emperor Jahangir and ruled from 1620 to 1718. What further adds to Jhajjar’s eclectic past are the short periods it was ruled by some of Indian history’s most interesting characters.
Tarikh-i Jhajhar by Ghulam Nabi  mentions Jhajjar belonged to Frenchman General Samroa and later his widow Begum Samru from 1774 to 1785, and for seven years it was the kingdom of an Irishman George Thomas [1794 – 1801] who built George Fort or Georgegarh [now completely destroyed].
All its rulers left behind some structures or the other. Religious, residential, and administrative. Whilst a major chunk of these have been completely wiped out or are in dilapidated ruins, there is an ensemble of kankar limestone tombs and mosques on the outskirts of the city which still stand tall.
Originally 12, only seven still survive, and from the seven, five are intact, replete with delicate frescoes and incised calligraphy, built on raised platforms with flights of stairs leading up to them. They date back to the Mughal era, between 1594 and 1630, and are dazzling examples of Pathan architecture.
Hasan Shahid’s monumental tomb  built by his beloved betrothed is perched on the complex’s highest platform.
As luck would have it, when I reached the complex, a passing shower had flooded the entrance, the gates were locked, and I had no choice but to jump over a high wall to access the site, and jump over it again when leaving. Anything for my travel fix! 😀
Once over the wall, I will never forget my first impression of the majestic tombs spread out in front of me in a field of lush green wild grass under a monsoon-laden sky.
Laid out in quadrangles, the tombs, topped with domes and embellished with red sandstone, were straight out of another world, another time. There were built-up or wall mosques in most. Some had chhatris in the courtyard. One thing they all had in common, however, were clear inscriptions detailing who had built them, who was interred, along with a heart-felt prayer.
The grandest of the lot, enclosed in fortress-like walls with bastions, on the complex’s highest platform was the Tomb of Hasan Shahid. It carried a lovely romantic story across the centuries. Hasan, a woodcutter, died in battle in the year 1625, during Mughal Emperor Jehangir’s rule. His betrothed, Bua, the daughter of Jhajjar’s ruler Kalal Khan was heartbroken and in his memory put up this fantastic masterpiece. If that were not enough, she also built Bua Ka Talab, a water reservoir, next to the complex. Two graves, of Hasan Shahid and his beloved princess, lie in the courtyard.
With regard to the rest of the tombs, please scroll through the images below. I have included their details in the captions for ease of identification based on Mughal Monuments in the Punjab and Haryana by Subhash Parihar.
Abbasid saint Abdus-al-Samad’s tomb with a wall mosque built by Ismail Irah Raib, son of Mian Raib, in 1611. There are still traces of frescoes in the square-inside-an-octagon tomb.
Kalal Khan, Jhajjar’s ruler and Hasan Shahid’s would have been father-in-law’s tomb .
This stunning painted ceiling is in the entrance gateway of Kalal Khan’s Tomb.
Left: Some early-18th Century [?] Persian graffiti etched into the mihrab of Kalal Khan’s Mosque. To know more on what’s written, do have a look at Tarun’s comment in the below comments section. He very kindly has deciphered it. The insights are incredible.
Western walls and strings of cenotaphs on one of the platforms. I wonder what stories these people had lived.
The tomb of Mian Raib, son of Pyara, is the oldest in the complex. According to the inscription on it, it was built during Ramadan in 1594. A Persian inscription on one of the gravestones reads: “Everyone who has come into the world has to depart.” So true.
Looking through time, from the oldest tomb of Mian Raib to the newest one of Hasan Shahid at the Jhajjar Tomb Complex.
Next time you hear the names Farrukhnagar and Jhajjar, I hope that instead of asking where were they, you would be saying when you plan on exploring them. 🙂
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- Entry charges: There is an entry fee for Sheesh Mahal, Farrukhnagar. Entry to all the other sites is free.
- Guides: I explored Farrukhnagar and Jhajjar on a day trip from Delhi with Sair E Hind. They specialize in heritage walks and tours to off-the-beaten-path historical sites in India.
- This post was written with inputs by Syed Yusuf Shahab, Ishtiyaque Ahmad, and
Mohsin Akhtar of Sair E Hind.
- Mughal Monuments in the Punjab and Haryana by Subhash Parihar, Archaeological Survey of India, 1953, p. 33, photos 33, 34, 35.
- Monuments of Jhajjar: A Historical Survey by Harvansh, Research Scholar, Department of History, MDU, Rohtak. The paper was published in IJCRT, Volume 6, Issue 1, January 2018.
- Heritage of Haryana (Jhajjar, Rohtak, Panipat) by Sangeeta, MA, MPhil and NET, Village and P.O., Baliana. The paper was published in IJLESS, Volume 11, Issue 01, June 2014.
- Inscriptions of Haryana by S.R. Phogat, Kurukshetra, 1978.
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