the treasures of farrukhnagar and jhajjar no guidebook tells you about

Farrukhnagar. Jhajjar.

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 glee 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 [1861], 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 [1866] 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 [1625] 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 using 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 [1629].


This stunning painted ceiling is in the entrance gate of Kalal Khan’s Tomb.


Left: Quranic verses etched into the mihrab of Kalal Khan’s Mosque.


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. ❤

– – –

Travel tips:

  • 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 with Sair E Hind who specialize in heritage walks and tours to off-the-beaten-path historical sites in India.

References:

  1. This post was written with inputs by Syed Yusuf Shahab, Ishtiyaque Ahmad, and
    Mohsin Akhtar of Sair E Hind.
  2. Mughal Monuments in the Punjab and Haryana by Subhash Parihar, Archaeological Survey of India, 1953, p. 33, photos 33, 34, 35.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Inscriptions of Haryana by S.R. Phogat, Kurukshetra, 1978.

the glories of mewar: impregnable kumbhalgarh and exquisite ranakpur

There was an invincible grandeur associated with the Kingdom of Mewar in Rajasthan, of which Udaipur was the capital. Traits which reflected in not just the larger-than-life personas of its rulers but its impregnable forts and exquisite places of faith too.

Deep in the wooded Aravalli Hills are two such places: Kumbhalgarh and Ranakpur. Whilst one is a fort of a king remembered to this day for his valour and indomitable spirit, the other is a temple carved out of marble to give shape to a divine dream, with the blessings of the same king.

The route leading to them is treacherous in parts, cutting through the dark, unlit, uninhabited jungle in the form of a rather worn-out pot-holed narrow road. At others, it rises and falls in tune with the hills, passing tiny hamlets and endless herds of livestock. But the rewards for this journey are priceless.

Come, let me show you Maharana Kumbha’s Mewar. ❤ Continue reading

11 reasons udaipur needs to be on every travel bucket list

Udaipur. The very name is evocative of ethereal clear lakes and romantic palaces, encircled by a ring of lush hills.

Known by various monikers such as City of Lakes, White City, and Venice of the East—all equally valid—it is unlike any other city in the State, or even the country. It is also Rajasthan’s most popular tourist destination so be prepared for the crowds.

Udaipur was founded in 1553 by Maharana Udai Singh II, ruler of the Mewar Kingdom, who named it Udayapura. Chittorgarh, the old capital had been laid siege to by the Mughal Emperor Akbar. A new capital was needed. What better place than the hilly banks of a medieval freshwater lake in the midst of a fertile valley, separated from the Thar Desert by the Aravalli Range.

To protect his city, Udai Singh II built a six-kilometre-long wall punctuated with seven gates around it. Within were palaces, temples, havelis and courtyards, which still stand, largely intact. The precinct today is called the Old City.

Mewar has always stood apart from other Rajput States with its insistence to not bow down before the Mughals or for that matter any other kingdom. The few times treaties were signed, it was always on Mewar’s terms. Stories of its heroes’ bravery and sacrifices echo throughout the city. Maharana Kumbha, Maharana Sanga, and Maharana Pratap are household legends. But more of them in later posts.

For now, let me share with you the wonders of Rajasthan’s jewel. Have you been to Udaipur? If not, here are 11 reasons why it should be on every travel bucket list. ❤ Continue reading

an urban monk’s guide to delhi’s spiritual oases

This post is for all those Urban Monks who are not tied to any dogma, are secular, and are more focussed on the spiritual in the chaos of the material. Why do I say this? It’s because that’s what being an Urban Monk is all about. Isn’t it? Finding the sacred, everywhere, in our urban contexts.

This lofty lifestyle goal becomes pretty doable in a city like Delhi. 😊

Tsk tsk. Do I see you shake your head in disbelief? Let me explain.

Delhi’s rich history has been crafted by devout Hindus, Sufi pirs, Sikh saints, secular and rigid Central Asian Muslims, and Christian British colonizers. Add to this mix, ancient creeds like Zoroastrianism, Jainism and Buddhism, and modern religions like the Baha’i faith. They have all contributed to the warp and woof of the city’s fabric, turning it into a melting pot of beliefs.

Surrounded by the chaos of a metropolitan city, some of their places of worship are veritable oases of peace and calm. Silent, deep, and serene. As a bonus, they also ooze of history, heritage, and stories galore.

Next time you need to take a breather, there is no need to go rushing to a retreat or to the hills. I mean, you can, but you don’t have to. There is enough in Delhi to rejuvenate you and connect you with the divine. ❤

Here are my seven personal favourites, in no specific order. What are your favourites? Do share in the comments section. Continue reading

a culture vulture’s guide to delhi’s 7 best heritage parks

Culture vulture.
Noun INFORMAL
a person who is very interested in the arts.

Are you one? I like to think I am. Culture gets me all starry-eyed. Whether it be museums, art, or theatre. And somewhere in this mix, for me, is heritage, which places culture in a continuum of time. I see culture and heritage as part and parcel of the same mix, one incomplete without the other.

Luckily for my present location, Delhi oozes of heritage. Both tangible and intangible. And one of the many ways the city protects its built heritage is through heritage parks—a delightful combination of monuments and gardens, each unique and with a narrative of its own.

Here are its seven finest that I came across in my explorations of the city and which I would like to share with you in their historical order. If you are in Delhi, do make your way to them.

I have also included tips on how to add some present-day culture to the visits, to make them that much more memorable. Remember … continuum. Happy exploring. 😊 Continue reading

national crafts museum, new delhi – 90 minutes at the museum

“A glass pitcher, a wicker basket, a tunic of coarse cloth. Their beauty is inseparable from their function. Handicrafts belong to a world existing before the separation of the useful and the beautiful.”
~ Octavio Paz, Mexican poet

I love this quote by Octavio Paz for it captures the sheer ethos of handicrafts.

Whilst art is pure expression, craft on the other hand is purely utilitarian. Shape, proportion, and colour—all serve a purpose. To be useful.

But just because it is useful, it does not mean it needs to be ugly or even plain. The craftsperson, since time immemorial, has imbued craft with a sense of aesthetics, following a deep-seated human instinct to create beauty. Continue reading

in search of rahim das aka rahim khan, the 16th century warrior-poet

Young Abdur Rahim Khan-I-Khanan being received by Akbar, Akbarnama. V&A Museum, London.

Not all men are made the same. Some are soldiers, and some are poets. And then there are some who wield a sword and pen with equal elan.

This post is the story of one such gentleman in the 16th Century who went by the name Abdur Rahim Khan-I-Khanan. ‘Khan-I-Khanan’ meaning ‘Khan of Khans’, a title given to him by the Mughal Emperors he served: Akbar and Jahangir.

Abdur Rahim Khan-I-Khanan portrait. 1627. Freer Gallery of Art, Washington DC.

Abdur Rahim Khan-I-Khanan was a man of multiple talents: a statesman, courtier, soldier, poet, linguist, humanitarian, and patron. Befittingly, he was also one of Emperor Akbar’s legendary ‘nine jewels’ or navratanas in the Mughal court.

Born to a Muslim father, Bairam Khan, and a Hindu mother in 1556, he was equally proficient in Persian, Arabic and Turki as he was in Sanskrit and Hindavi, his mother tongue. His Portuguese was passable.

His family belonged to the inner circle of the Mughal royal family, serving as companions and tutors to its princes through generations. Though his childhood was marred by the fall of his father’s career and subsequent assassination, he was straightway taken into Emperor Akbar’s court when he was just four years old. A court where pluralism and aristocratic culture thrived under Akbar’s mentorship. It was, thus, no surprise that Abdur Rahim’s manifold innate talents bloomed multi-fold.

History remembers him most for his translation of the Baburnama, Emperor Babur’s biography, and the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, into Persian and some 300 pithy Hindavi dohas or couplets. The latter, written under the pen name of Rahim Das, ooze with a deep insight into the complexities of life and human nature, and form part of India’s school curriculum, even four hundred years after his death. Continue reading

lodi garden: eleven monuments and 7,000 trees

My earliest memories of Lodi Garden are of me sitting cross-legged on the undulated lawns with a drawing board propped against my knees. I was trying to paint a watercolour of the scene in front of me, with let’s say zero success.

No fault of the scenery. Expansive emerald-green manicured gardens with flowering bushes and looming trees were huddled around evocative grey quartzite stone monuments. It was just my watercolouring skills which were questionable.

Each day of these particular week-long assignments, during my undergrad in fine arts, invariably took the same turn. Sometime around mid-day, I would put my drawing board aside and wander through the ruins, oblivious to the world. Something I still tend to do, but that’s a different matter.

Lodi Garden was magical way back then and it still is so. As I found out last week much to my relief. Who wants lovely memories to be killed by ugly changes.

The stark difference between my explorations back then and now, was not the garden, but me.

This time around, older and a bit wiser when it came to Indian history and heritage, I learnt to love and enjoy it more deeply. May I take this opportunity to share my understanding of this place, an integral part of my college days, with you here? If yes, please do read on. 😊

Continue reading

new delhi’s most beautiful church: cathedral church of the redemption

On a quiet tree-lined lane aptly called Church Lane, a stone’s throw from Rashtrapati Bhawan the president’s estate, is New Delhi’s most beautiful church.

Most people in the city, and to the city, are clueless about its existence. Much like I was, and would have been, if it wasn’t for a chance conversation on one of the heritage walks I have been taking since I came to Delhi.

Delhi’s Sultanate and Mughal-era chapters, with their magnificent monuments and dramatic stories, tend to be all-consuming. Yet, the years the British Crown used the city as the capital of their ‘Jewel in the Crown’, from 1931 to 1947, churned out edifices just as spectacular. [Prior to Delhi, Calcutta had been their capital.]

Take for instance Herbert Baker’s North and South Block Secretariat Buildings, Edwin Lutyens’ Viceroy’s House now the Rashtrapati Bhawan, their joint endeavour the Parliament House, and Henry Alexander Medd’s splendid stone church for the Englishman in Delhi—the Cathedral Church of the Redemption. Continue reading

india travel shot: a temple for a rajput biker and his enfield

Image

Last year, during the months of October-November, I travelled across Rajasthan by road with different cabs for each leg of my 35-day journey. I soon started to notice one constant element across the taxis’ dashboards. They had a framed photo of a young turbaned gentleman, either perched on it or hanging from the rear-view mirror. My first thought was: he must be a relative of the driver. But when the photograph kept cropping up in almost every cab, I was confused. All the drivers could not exactly be related to the same man.

So, I asked, though I really did not want to sound nosy or offend anyone.

What emerged was a story which, I mused, could only happen in India! But before I share the story, I was also told there was a special site associated with the turbaned gentleman and it was on the highway connecting Jodhpur with Udaipur. When I asked rather hesitantly if one could stop at it, my then driver laughed. “Whether you like it or not, your driver will stop there.” Continue reading