Modern Delhi is as flat as a pancake. The Aravelli Mountain range comes to an end in the southern suburbs, with a modest, but rugged, outcrop a hundred feet above the plain. So when the “Warrior of Islam”, Ghazi Malik, saw this location 700 years ago, he said it would make a great place to build a fortress, if he ever became King. And in 1321, he did, so he built it. For the next century, the Tughluq Dynasty would rule over most of the Indian Subcontinent.
I visited the fort in January on a historical walking tour, consisting mostly of Indians, but there was a handful of Aussies and a couple of Japanese in the group, too. Although it has had some dodgy renovations over the past few years, it still looks formidable. The slope of the hill was used to support the outer wall, backed with rubble. The faced stone is well-dressed, if that is the term – it fits accurately together. There are the usual crenellations on the battlements, and a curtain wall below the main bastions. When the fort was built, there was an artificial lake protecting the south west wall. Now there is a bridge over the dried up lake connecting the Sultan’s mausoleum to the main gate of the fort. The dried up lake is the site of a sad-looking children’s playground (most playgrounds look like this in India). The guide told us that there were originally 52 gates, but only 13 remain today.
The story of Ghazi Malik is fascinating (even if it is largely based on oral history and myth). When he became the Sultan of Delhi, he changed his name to Ghiyathu’d-din Tughluq. Well, he was the Sultan, so he could call himself what he wanted. He needed the fortress as an impregnable base for protection against the Mongol hordes, but actually he defeated them in open battle.
He was so passionate about raising the castle that he decreed that every stonemason and labourer was dragooned into his service. A religious mystic Sufi saint, Nizamuddin Auliya, had been building a stone step well at the time and he was angry that work on this project had to stop during the construction of the fort. The saint cursed the fort, saying that if it wasn’t inhabited, the local thieves and robbers would take it over (which they did a few years after the Sultan’s death).
The Sultan was smiting the Bengalis at the time and threatened to deal with the Sufi saint on his return to Delhi, to which the saint replied, “Delhi is a long way off.” On the way back to the fort, the Sultan was killed in a freak accident. A tented structure collapsed on him, possibly caused by stampeding elephants or perhaps arranged by the scheming heir to the throne. Could this act have been legitimised by the Sufi saint’s prophecy?
The area enclosed by the city walls is huge. It contains a palace, a citadel, a baoli or step well, grain storage caverns, underground tunnels, stables, barracks and a whole city. Most of the interior is thorn bush scrubland now, scattered with ruined buildings. We wandered about over the rough ground, being careful not to fall into an underground storage cave. I was intrigued to see some Indian lads playing cricket with a burning ball. No, I don’t understand that at all, neither did the guide.
To the south of the fort is another mountain – of garbage. This is one of the four main repositories of rubbish serving the capital. The suburb of Tughlakabad is just outside the walls, encroaching when the authorities aren’t looking.
To the west is a mausoleum which houses the tombs of Ghiyathu’d , his wife and his evil, patricidal son, Muhammad bin Tughluq. I am not sure why you would want to protect a tomb with such solid fortifications. After all, when you’re dead, you’re dead.