Baolis in Mehrauli, with Michaela and Tom

January 31, 2013 § Leave a comment

ImageIntrepid travelers Michaela and Tom, stopped by our little nest in Hauz Khas when they breezed through Delhi on their whirlwind tour of Indian baolis. They very kindly let me tag along on their adventure. We were dropped off at Qutb Minar and hiked around the complex until we reached the little hamlet of Mehrauli, a rather unremarkable looking urban village, save for the ruins scattered about. We missed one baoli, found one we were looking for and found another we were not. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to stumble upon a 15th, 16th or even 17th century ruin when you’re in the middle of what looks like just another urban village. The sensation is heightened by the fact that the baolis are anti-monuments of sorts, huge voids in the ground that in many cases were spared only because they are impossible to build upon. In other cases they are still used as a source of water or as a swimming hole, like this one, Gandak ki Baoli.

As I mentioned in my previous posting Mehrauli is tucked behind the Qutb Minar complex. The first thing you encounter is the Bhool Bhulaiyan, or Adam Khan’s tomb. The tomb contains the remains of Adam Khan, the foster brother of Akbar along with his mother, the wet nurse of Akbar, Maham Anga. Adam Khan was thrown from Red Fort by Akbar as he killed Ataga Khan, husband of Ji Ji Anga, Akbar’s other wet nurse. ANYWAY, the Qutb, which as you can imagine is the subject of far too many phallus jokes (not only contemporary ones, but ancient ones that pop up in scads of Urdu poetry, or so I’m told), is the architectural antipode to the baolis. The Qutb is huge and obvious, carefully protected by the Indian government. The baolis on the other hand—if we were going to go all the way with this analogy—are the sort of vulvic anti-monuments almost ignored by the Indian heritage industry. To go even further the baolis played an important part in everyday life, combining spiritual worship with a water source. They are reminders of ancient life (life not yet totally incorporated into heritage) scattered all over India. The Qutb, on the other hand is a singular monument, an assertion of dominion over the place. This makes my hike with Michaela and Tom, all the way around the the very long protective wall of the Qutb seem all the more hilarious. They didn’t even give it a glance.

Just an aside here. Living in Delhi is like the opposite experience of visiting Stonehenge… which is completely underwhelming. Here monuments enjoy so little fanfare. Every time I venture out of the protective enclave of Hauz Khas and into the insanity outside, I feel swept into a monument sprinkled tuk tuk powered dérive.

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