Delhi, the historic city and capital of India, has seen the rule of several dynasties, each of which has left its impressions on the city. The Mughals, in particular, have left a plethora of impressive structures like forts, tombs, mosques and several others. Delhi is where the old and new co-exist. The parliamentary buildings, the temples of Akshardham and Lotus, and Delhi’s bazaars all compete for your attention. It is impossible to see all of Delhi in one go. So, we have always ended up seeing Delhi in bits and pieces, in transit while visiting the North of India.
After visiting the Qutub Minar, we head to the Dilli Haat, and it is late afternoon when we set foot on Humayun’s Tomb. The complex houses, not just the Humayun’s Tomb but several other structures too. This was our second visit to Humayun’s Tomb a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the first one being almost a decade earlier.
History of Humayun’s Tomb
The Humayun’s Tomb was built by Emperor Akbar in 1569 in memory of his father, Humayun. When Humayun slipped his library stares and died, his son Akbar was only thirteen when he ascended the throne. Humayun was initially laid to rest in the Purana Qila in Delhi. His wife Haji Begum commissioned the making of Humayun’s Tomb. Persian architect Mirza Muhammed Baig was assigned the task of constructing the tomb, which has thus had several Persian influences in its architecture, like the Char Bagh or ‘Four Gardens’. It took almost nine years to make, after which the remains of Humayun were shifted here. By the end of the 20th Century, it was in a sad state and in urgent need of repairs. Aga Khan Trust for Culture, along with the Archaeological Survey of India undertook the conservation of Humayun’s Tomb during 2007-2013 restoring it to its former glory.
Isa Khan’s Tomb
The first monument we encounter is Isa Khan’s Tomb, an octagonal structure in sandstone made two decades before Humayun’s Tomb. Isa Khan was a nobleman who served Sher Shah Suri of the Suri Dynasty. The glazed blue tiles are still visible on the domes of the tomb, and latticework can be seen on the windows. A verandah surrounds the tomb with a series of pillars, creating beautiful arches.
Bang opposite the tomb is another structure which is Isa Khan’s Mosque. This three-dome structure in sandstone has three arched entrances, which have ornamentation in white and blue glazed tiles. We see Isa Khan’s Tomb from the mosque arch, making for beautiful picture composition.
Bu Halima Gateway
We then see a massive gateway that has a hint of glazed blue tiles on the top. This ground plus one structure is Bu Halima Gateway. The origins of this noblewoman aren’t clear, but her tomb is somewhere inside the complex too.
The Arab Serai has an impressive gateway that the Aga Khan Trust for Culture has restored. Jharokhas or balconies in Rajasthani style can be seen on the gateway edifice. The dome of the serai is missing, and we can see the sky from the circular gap. Haji Begum, Humayun’s widow, had built this caravanserai for the Persian craftsmen who were building the Humayun’s Tomb. Another view is that it was made for the 200 Arabs the widow had brought from Arabia after her Haj.
We see another gateway called the West Gate from the entrance, from which we can spot the Humayun’s Tomb. The gateway is adorned with two six-sided stars, an Islamic symbol frequently found on several Mughal monuments. Chatris or umbrellas adorn the two ends of the roof of the gateway, which is a ground plus one structure.
Outside of Humayun’s Tomb
We now enter the gardens with fountains, from where we get the first glimpse of Humayun’s Tomb on a raised platform. The red sandstone structure is decorated with contrasting white marble. On the lower level are several white arched cells or alcoves in marble. Their ceilings have Mughal geometrical patterns and above each wooden door is a lattice window. Not sure where these doors lead. The dome is made with white marble, which was sourced from Rajasthan on bullock carts. The chatris/umbrellas on the roof are adorned with glazed tiles. The architecture of the Humayun’s Tomb is close to perfect and it served as inspiration for the Taj Mahal which was built several years later.
A steep flight of stairs takes us to the tomb with a terrace on all four sides. We can see the Char Bagh Gardens with water channels and fountains from the deck. The Char Bagh symbolizes the ‘Gardens of Paradise’ as mentioned in the Quran and are a distinct feature of Islamic architecture.
Inside Humayun’s Tomb
It is now time for us to enter the actual chambers, which have the cenotaphs of Humayun and his close family and relatives. The central chamber has Humayun’s cenotaph while his actual grave is in the basement and can’t be visited by the public. A lamp hangs from the ceiling three storeys high, and there are several arch-shaped lattice windows. Light trickles through the lattice window, and this place’s aura is indescribable. It compels you to leave all worldly cares and contemplate on life, its meaning, the Almighty. Adjoining the central chamber are other chambers, although slightly smaller with graves of other family members and important people of the Mughal Emperor.
Close to Humayun’s Tomb are several structures you may want to visit. Baber’s Tomb is not to be confused with Babur, the founder of the Mughal Dynasty in India. This tomb actually belongs to Emperor Akbar’s Barber, who seemed very important as he had a mausoleum erected for him! He must have been a sounding board for the king and privy to many royal secrets and plans!
Neela Gumbad is another structure that gets its name from the blue tiles adorning its dome. The actual origins of this structure are sketchy. Some historians believe that it is even older than Humayun’s Tomb, while others feel it belonged to a nobleman who served Emperor Jahangir (Akbar’s son). There are several other structures in the complex that we only see from a distance and head to the Sunder Nursery, which is across the road to Humayun’s Tomb. (But that is a separate travelogue.)
Delhi never ceases to please. One can’t have enough of it. The good thing is it serves as a good transit point when you want to visit the Northern States of India so there is always the opportunity to explore a different facet of it. Delhi dur nahi!
Nearest Airport: Delhi. Humayun’s Tomb is situated in the Nizamuddin area, opposite Sunder Nursery. Nearest Metro: Lajpat Nagar Metro Station (Pink line and violet line)
Timings: 7am – 7pm.
Tickets: Rs 50/- for Adult Indians, Rs. 25/-for children 5-12 years, and free for kids below 5 years.
Official Website: http://www.humayunstomb.com