Tughlaq City-Fort

  • Abhishek Behl / FG
  • India
  • Nov 30, 2012

The Aravallis have acted as the cradle of civilisation in this part of the world, inspiring many a fort city in their bosom – particularly in the ridge area. One such city was the ill-fated Tughlaqabad – which is the third among the seven cities of Delhi. As per popular folklore, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, unhappy with King Ghiyasudin Tughlaq, had cursed the fort to either be inhabited by nomads or remain deserted. ‘Ya rahe Ussar, ya basse Gujjar’ are his prophetic words; he also had poignantly said, “Hunuz Delhi Door Ast”, indicating that the end was near for the Sultan who founded the Tughlaq dynasty.

It is said that Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq was killed by his mercurial son, Mohd Bin Tughlaq immediately afterwards, during a celebration at Kara. His son had just completed a successful military mission. Ghiyasuddin, who was initially known as Ghazi Malik, was a commander of the Khilji Sultans. Once, during his visit to Delhi, he suggested to the king that a fort could be built at the site of Tughlaqabad, as it offered natural safety from the marauding hoards. Mubarik Khilji  is said to have replied in jest that Malik could himself build the fort when he becomes the Sultan.

Malik was a man of action, and within a couple of years he managed to oust the Khilji dynasty and established himself as the ruler – with the title Ghiyasuddin. In 1321 he ordered the construction of a fort cum city complex at the present day Tughlaqabad. The ruins of the Fort, which today are spread around an area of 6 to 7 kilometres, tell us the story of a time when cities were built to serve both as imposing capitals and as strategic forts.

The ruins tell a great deal about urban planning and architecture prevalent in the 14th century. Dr Ramji Narayan, a history aficionado, who is considered an authority on the subject, says that this Fort was built in a period when gun-powder was not used in wars in India. “The Fort was built to protect Delhi from the Mongol attacks; and as such the architecture, despite being secular, has strong military overtones,” says Narayan. Narayan says that the 10 to 15 metre high walls are sloping and rubble filled, which was typical of the Tughlaq buildings; and these are topped by parapets and strengthened by circular bastions. Interestingly, Tughlaq seemed to be a great fan of rainwater storage, and built seven tanks to store water. The Fort is divided into three parts – the city area, with houses between its gates; the citadel, with a tower at its highest point, known as Bijai Mandal; and the palace area, that contained royal residences. All the parts of the palace are said to be connected by an underground passage.


The major portion of the Fort was built within 3 years—from 1321 to 1324—but it is said that the curse of the Aulia did not allow the Sultan to live peacefully. The Fort was abandoned by his son, Mohd Bin Tughlaq, a couple of years later, thus turning Tughlaqabad into a silent spectator of history. It saw empires changing hands, but it could never become part of this history. It has always remained a silent testimony to the fact that the spirituality of a saint can prove to be more powerful than the power of a king!


Ghiyasudin Tughlaq's Tomb                                   Suraj Kund



As per records, the Fort citadel had 52 gates, but only 13 are left today. Narayan says that the maintenance of this Fort has not been up to the mark. “I will give credit to the ASI for saving this Fort, but it has not been well preserved by them,” he says. His sentiments are echoed by Prabhat Gupta, a visitor who has come to the complex with his family. His wife, however, also wants the security to be upgraded for the visitors, as there are a large number of vagabonds roaming in the area. Her daughter, who is very interested in history, is impressed with the Fort and the palace structure.

The Fort was built in an irregular shape, keeping in mind security issues – unlike Hindu cities that had geometric formations. The Fort was connected to the adjacent tomb of Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq through a causeway, which exists even today – though it has been pierced, to create the Mehrauli-Badarpur Road

Presently, apart from the ruins, the visitors can have a look at the Burj Mandal, that was used as a watch tower and an imposing tomb of Tughlaq – that is preserved well, unlike
the Fort.

The city was spread inside a fortified area, of around 300 acres. It had a storage area for grains, and a well laid grid plan for roads – which connect the gates. The houses were built on both sides of the road, and also connected to the nearby Adilabad Fort – established by Mohd Bin Tuglaq.

The various walls of the Fort are 10 to 15 metres high, interspersed with strong bastions. The walls have a three tier structure, with the lowest tier forming an external gallery, the next one giving it solidity, and the third providing a walkway at the top of the wall. An ASI document says that the Fort is built in a 12.5 into 4.8 km area, on a rocky outcrop. The construction is mainly random rubble and quartzite stone set in lime mortar. This era also marks the start of the cross beam support system in Indian buildings, as seen in the tomb of Ghiyasuddin, just opposite the Fort. It also marks the onset of the use of red sandstone and marble, that has become synonymous with the Mughals.

Narayan reveals that the tomb comprises of three graves – believed to be of Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq, his wife, and son Mohd Bin Tughlaq. The tomb of Zafar Khan was also incorporated in the mausoleum, as it had existed earlier. The mausoleum comprises of an elegant dome resting on an octagonal structure covered with white marble. 

The Adilabad Fort is almost an extension of the Tughlaqabad Fort complex. It was built to showcase the might and power of Mohd Bin Tughlaq. Interestingly, the area around Tughlaqabad still has a military character, with a large base of the Indian Air Force, Border Security Force and ITBP in the vicinity. 

This area also houses the Tughlaqabad Institutional Area, that has a large number of educational institutions – like Jamia Hamdard University.

From the Burj Mandal inside the Fort you can get a fine view of the Dr. Karni Singh Shooting Range, on the Surajkund Road connecting Delhi with Faridabad. For those in Gurgaon, who love to shoot from the hip, the Range offers state-of-the-art facilities for indoor and outdoor shooting, and can be reached via the Gurgaon-Mehrauli-Badarpur Road. Before visiting the Range permission should be sought from officials at the Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium in Delhi, otherwise entry may be a bit difficult.

Just some distance away from the Range, on the Surajkund Road, lies the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary, which is quite popular with schools as well as families. Ishtiaq Ahmed, Education Officer at the Conservation Education Centre, which is a major attraction at the Sanctuary, tells Friday Gurgaon that this area is a secondary primary forest, that was conserved after the government put a ban on mining here. At one time this forest ridge extended throughout Delhi, he adds.

At this Sanctuary visitors are taken on a nature trail, butterfly trail, bird watching, and are also made aware of the rich flora and fauna found in this area, says Ahmed. Ahmed says that Asola has about 200 species of birds, more than 80 species of butterflies, hundreds of other insects, mammals like Nilgais, Blackbucks, Black-naped Hares, Porcupines, Civets, Jackals, and Jungle Cats. There are also a large number of medicinal plants. Prior booking is preferable for visitors, and they can customise their tours as well.

The last stop on the road is also a most popular destination, not only with Indians but also foreigners – the Surajkund Mela site. An official at the site says that from this year onwards the Surajkund Mela has been rechristened as Surajkund International Mela, and the theme state would be Karnataka next time – February 2013. The work to refurbish the Mela site is in full swing, with about a hundred new huts being built to accommodate the visitors, says the official.

This Mela is built around the historical Surajkund, an amphitheatre like water body, believed to have been constructed by Anangpal Tomar in the 10th century. Unfortunately the structure has no water, as the ground water level has gone down deep, and the natural rain harvesting systems in the Aravallis have been blocked due to numerous constructions, says Amit Sharma, a visitor to the Kund. In his opinion, while it would be difficult to revive the water body, he wants it to be filled partially at least during the Mela period.

It is quite clear that the government needs to market this circuit properly; and like the Mehrauli Archaological Park, this Fort and City complex needs a massive renovation and conservation effort. Prof. Narayan believes that this complex could become a major tourist and historical attraction. Another question that lingers in the mind is about the legacy that  generation is leaving.  We inherited lush green forests, and and are leaving behind concrete jungles...


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