In 1598, the wife of Abdul Rahim Khan-i-Khanan, died. He was a linguistic scholar, administrator, military commander and poet at the Mughal courts of Akhbar and Jahangir. To honour his wife, he built a mausoleum. It is now known as Khan-i-Khanan, Rahim’s official title. He finally joined his beloved wife, being interred in the tomb 29 years later. This was the first time a Mughal noble had commemorated his wife with a magnificent tomb. Perhaps this was the inspiration for Shah Jahan to construct the Taj Mahal in Agra.
The mausoleum was built close to Humayoun’s tomb and the Dargah of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliah, on the Grand Trunk Road. Being buried close to the tomb of a Sufi saint was considered auspicious. Today, the Khan-i-Khanan is in a sorry state. The rot set in when builders pinched some of the marble to construct the tomb of Safdarjung 150 years later. According to photographic evidence, the mausoleum has deteriorated seriously over the past half century. Now it is being renovated using a mix of modern and traditional methods. Lasers have been employed to uncover the underlying structure, while local craftsmen and builders have reconstructed the fabric of the tomb. Carvers, stone masons, plasterers and painters will put in over a half million shifts to complete the renovation over four years.
The lady working in the booth selling tickets was surprised to see me. “You can see nothing here. It is a ruin. Come back in two years,” she said. I told her I was interested in seeing the men at work so she let me in. I photographed the lads watering the dry, barren earth which may once have been a beautiful garden. Another group of young men were working on the perimeter path. One man was halving bricks lengthways to make a low wall. There were slabs of red sandstone stacked in rows to clad the walls once they have been prepared.
An old bespectacled man was crushing boulders with a sledge hammer, not very successfully. I took up a cold chisel and a hammer to try to dress some stone, but I was useless and all the men gathered around to laugh at my efforts. I walked over to the south entrance, but the way was blocked. Some men were carrying material on their heads in wide baskets. They gleefully posed for me.
In the shade, around the corner, a group of women were taking a tea break. They were working on an inlaid pattern on the floor.
By this time, the security guard had become aware of my presence and ushered me away from the building, probably citing “Health & Safety” regulations. At the ticket booth, a chai wallah was doling out small paper cups of sweet masala tea. I accepted his offer of a cuppa in exchange for my taking his picture.
This is Delhi. Courtesy towards foreigners is the norm even in a busy megalopolis. Historical buildings may be ruined, but you can still take interesting photographs and, in this case, witness workers using traditional building techniques.