If you ever visit Delhi, you’ll probably want to see some tombs. But which tombs are the best? I’ve been to most of them now, so I can give you the lowdown.
Where: About 10km south of central Delhi. The yellow metro line goes to Green Park or Hauz Khas stations but both are 10 minutes’ walk to the complex itself. Have fun asking people for directions, as the whole area is called Hauz Khas as well so you’ll just confuse them.
Who: Firuz Shah Tughlaq (1309-1388), Sultan of Delhi.
Tomb features: The tomb is part of a larger archaeological site, the remains of a complex built by Sultan Alauddin Khilji (reigned 1296-1316) and renovated by Firuz Shah Tughlaq. So there’s a whole bunch of old ruins to look at. And a stagnant reservoir. Next to it there’s a modern complex of upmarket boutique shops, bars and restaurants, which I think is the main reason my friend who took me there likes it so much. And beyond that, there’s a deer park. The tomb itself isn’t much to look at from the outside. The ceiling’s ok, with some painted calligraphy, but it’s a poor state of repair.
Summary: If you like to combine your tomb viewing with a bit of clothes shopping and a latte, this is the tomb for you. Otherwise you can give it a miss.
ISA KHAN NIAZI’S TOMB
Where: Next to Humayun’s Tomb, Nizamuddin, south Delhi, 4-5km from the city centre.
Who: Isa Khan Niazi (1453-1548), some bloke who worked for one of the late Delhi Sultans.
Tomb features: It’s quite attractive, I suppose. At least, in the standard, would-be-nicer-if-they-tidied-it-up-a-bit Indian sort of way. The gardens around it are well kept, and apparently they used to contain a slum, so that’s progress. It’s typical of the small pre-Mughal tombs so if you see it after the similar ones in the Lodi Gardens you’ll be a bit jaded. It’s at the same site as Humayun’s Tomb: you basically have to walk past it anyway.
Summary: It doesn’t cost any extra to pop in on the way to Humayun’s Tomb, so you might as well.
Where: Nizamuddin, south Delhi, 4-5km from the city centre.
Who: Humayun (1508-1556), the second Mughal Emperor. Actually a pretty important guy.
Tomb features: It’s massive. It’s also very beautiful, and extensively restored and maintained so that you can actually appreciate it. It was apparently commissioned by Humayun’s widow, so she must have loved him a lot. My alternative theory is, the Mughal court after Humayun decided it would be a good idea to build something huge to awe the natives, and the grieving widow just put her signature to it. Either way, it’s really impressive.
Summary: The best tomb in Delhi. A must see.
Where: Also in south Delhi, about 4-5km from the city centre, but at the opposite end of Lodhi Road from Humayun’s Tomb. The yellow metro line will get you there (Race Course station) or get ripped off by an autorickshaw to combine it with a trip to Humayun’s Tomb.
Who: Safdar Jung (1708-1754), Nawab of Oudh and chief minister of the late Mughal Empire. Basically some politician.
Tomb features: It was the last Mughal garden tomb to be built, so it’s described as being symbolic of the decadence and decline of the empire. It’s certainly a bit excessive for someone who was just a Prime Minister for five years. But I’m not complaining because it’s rather nice. It’s also a less popular monument, so compared to Humayun’s Tomb it’s a) cheaper, b) quieter and c) a lower priority on the ASI‘s renovation list. So you’ll have a nice time there, looking around without being annoyed by crowds, but watch where you’re stepping as it’s falling apart. The missing sections of wall around the storey-high dais level are a health and safety nightmare, for example. There are also some peacocks in the gardens.
Summary: It’s quite nice looking. But it’s in a bad way.
MOHAMMED SHAH’S TOMB
Where: Lodi Gardens, Lodhi Road, south Delhi. A couple of minutes’ walk from Safdarjung’s Tomb.
Who: Mohammed Shah (reigned 1434-1445), Delhi Sultan of the Sayyid Dynasty. A brief and incompetent ruler so unimportant he doesn’t even have his own Wikipedia page.
Tomb features: It’s just another anonymous old blob on the Delhi landscape, pretty but dirty, although even that seems to be more than this guy deserved. It’s in the Lodi Gardens, a very pleasant park containing a number of such tombs, which is a nice, relaxing place to unwind after a hard day’s tomb touring. It’s also where young Delhi couples hang out to canoodle in the evenings.
Summary: A barely notable tomb for a totally unnotable ruler. But it’s in a nice location.
SIKANDAR LODI’S TOMB
Where: Also in the Lodi Gardens, a short walk from the last tomb.
Who: Sikandar Lodi (reigned 1489-1517), a late Delhi Sultan, who was quite good at running an administration which was doomed to fall to the Mughals shortly after his death. Also he wrote poetry.
Tomb features: It’s a bit like Mohammed Shah’s Tomb, except it’s contained within a big walled enclosure. It was almost sunset when we arrived and the guard was locking it up. He said we could pop in quickly for a photo, so we didn’t get to look around.
Summary: It looks a bit duller and dirtier than the last one. Maybe it’s nice to walk around the enclosed garden. But we wouldn’t know.
Where: Lodi Gardens again.
Tomb features: It’s a building which seems to have been built as a tomb, like all the others, but contains no actual tomb. We didn’t bother taking a photo of it.
Summary: They forgot to put a corpse in it. Tomb fail.
Where: South Delhi, about 12km from the city centre. Take the yellow metro line, but don’t get off at Qutab Minar station. Saket is much closer. If you forget this, there’s a whole fleet of autorickshaw drivers waiting at Qutab Minar to laugh at you and charge you Rs100 to take you to the complex.
Tomb features: They’re in the Qutb Complex, which contains several more interesting and impressive monuments, like the Qutb Minar itself, the mysteriously rust-proof Iron Pillar, and the oldest mosque in Delhi, the Quwwat-ul-Islam. Here’s a photo of all three (the mosque is the courtyard itself):
These are all worth seeing, so you might as well have a quick look at the tombs as well while you’re there. Everything’s in a state of dignified ruin. Iltutmish’s has a couple of walls covered in Arabic calligraphy carved into the sandstone, which you can see above my forehead here:
Alauddin’s is a bit of a rubbly afterthought, hidden round the back. There are also a couple of bonus tombs in the middle of the Quwwat-ul-Islam’s courtyard:
Summary: An interesting hotch potch of tomby goodness, included as part of a larger package.
GHIYAS-UD-DIN TUGHLAQ’S TOMB
Where: Opposite Tughlaqabad Fort, in south Delhi, a long way out of town. Get an autorickshaw from Govindpuri on the violet metro line, or a bus from the Qutb Complex if you’re already down that way. Try not to get raped.
Who: Ghiyas-ud-din Tughlaq (reigned 1320-1325), a man so enraged with everybody’s inability to spell his family name, he decided to found a hated dynasty of tyrants just to spite them. And to build his fort and tomb in an annoyingly inconvenient location.
Tomb features: It’s opposite the extensive, rambling ruins of Tughlaqabad Fort, and included in the ticket price. It’s quite nice and probably worth the trip to see both. It’s not extravagantly decorated like some of the others; it’s more a somber, matter-of-fact statement: this chap was reasonably important, and now he’s dead. It has a certain stately, minimalist dignity because of it, which is only partly spoiled when you realise the two domes look a little bit like boobs. Also, hidden in one corner is the tomb of Ghiyas-ud-din’s dog:
Summary: It’s a pretty good one. But did I mention it’s difficult to get to it?
Where: In Nicholson Cemetery, just outside Old Delhi, a short walk north from Kashmiri Gate.
Tomb features: It’s a plain stone slab in a forgotten municipal cemetery. There seems to be a family living in one corner of the site, hanging their washing out to dry on the headstones, and having siestas on the plinths. The whole site is neglected and overgrown; other tombs are crumbling and falling apart. It has no architectural or aesthetic significance whatsoever. But it’s Nicholson’s Tomb. He’s one of the great heroes of British military history. Maybe you’re not interested in that. But if you’re going to see a tombs of a feeble, forgettable sultan, an undistinguished politician, or a dog, why wouldn’t you go and see the tomb of a man who led the Storming of Delhi, which, however you view the morality of its context, was one of the most dramatic incidents in British Indian history?
Summary: For military history buffs only.