Recently, I came across this article on India Then and Now which had a comparison between what some famous landmarks looked like in the past to what they now appear in the present. Among the many that I saw, I particularly was taken in by the picture of the famous UNESCO Site in Delhi – Humayun’s tomb. I suppose this must have struck me particularly owing to my recent visit to this monument. And even more so for the fact that this was my first visit to it.
My first major visit to Delhi was as a teenager with my parents. While I did cover quite a few of those historical monuments, I had not visited the Humayun’s tomb. Simple reason – it was closed for it for restoration. It had been declared as a UNESCO heritage site around then and the place was in dire need for expert repairs. With what I saw this time, I could not have believed that it was in a disarray for the craftsmen under the UNESCO guidelines has done a fabulous job of making the monument timeless. However, with the article on famous landmarks, I also realized how the landscape around the monument had changed. I shall be sharing all that and more as I walk you through the Garden of Tombs at the Humayun’s tomb in Delhi.
History of Humayun’s Tomb
Built in the 1569 – 70 AD, Humayun’s tomb has a long and illustrious history. In fact, some of it even goes beyond this period. Note – I have called this place the Garden of tombs. There are two reasons for it – one being a part of its structure and the other being the fact that there isn’t just one tomb here. In fact, there are many tombs – some related to the famous Humayun and some dated even before him to the time of Sher Shah Suri. For now, I will leave the predated tombs of this complex and will jump straight to the tomb of the 2nd Mughal Emperor of India – Humayun.
Humayun died quite young as he slipped a staircase of his palace, leaving behind a vast empire for his thirteen-year-old son Akbar – the Great. He was initially buried in the Purana Qila. His first wife Bega Begum had just come back from Haj and as a memorial for him commissioned this grand tomb structure. It took around 9 years to complete after which Humayun’s body was shifted here.
What was interesting to note here is that after the grand garden tomb was done, it was neglected for quite some time for the capital of Mughals had shifted to Agra. Its vast ground was used for farming by people during the British rule. Later, during partition, the same grounds were used as a camp for the Muslim refugees for around 5-6 years, A lot of plundering and defacing took place with all this and naturally, it was quite in a derelict state until the ASI took over. Later, with the status of a UNESCO site, it was transformed back to its glory state and this is what I saw when I visited it.
Bu Halima’s Gateway to Humayun’s Tomb
My visit to the Humayun’s Tomb happened on the eve of my departure for the Epic Indo- Nepal Trip. I happen to have an entire evening to myself and given that luxury of time, I hopped into a cab to reach this UNESCO site. The first thing that I encountered after I had been let in through those gates was this old, archaic gateway called the Bu Halima’s gateway.
The gateway leads to a garden with an unfinished tomb of a mysterious woman Bu Halima. You can well climb the stone structure in a quest to know more about this lady but except for her grave, you will not find anything. Some say that she was a noblewoman important to Humayun while some say she was her wet-nurse. Either way, this remains a story lost in time.
Arab Sarai Gate at Humayun’s Tomb
I could have explored more of Bu Halima’s garden but I honestly, was quite keen to get to the main tomb before I could explore this one. So, on I went through to the next gateway that was way grander than the Noblewoman’s arch. Called the Arab Sarai Gate, this one was made as the residence of the craftsmen who built the actual Humayun’s tomb. The gate had apparently collapsed over time and after some effort, it was restored to its current form. You can see the pictures of the collapsed state on the signboard near the gate and while you are busy reading it, don’t miss the 6-sided star on the gates. A frequent occurrence from now to the end of the tour for this was the Islamic cosmic symbol.
Through the West Gate Entrance
From the Arab Sari Gate, you can see another grand gate, the main entrance to the famed Humayun’s tomb. This was not really the main entrance back then at the time of the Mughals. At that point, it used to be the South Entrance but for now, it is closed. The interesting thing here is that the gate actually has rooms on its upper floors. I am not sure what they were used for but an educated guess would be possible for the guards of this enclave.
It is from here that you get the first glimpse of that red-colored beauty – the grand Humayun’s tomb. Sitting high up there on a platform was the very monument that I wanted to see. Less than a tomb and more like a palace, this structure had me completely enraptured and for the next few minutes, my silence was only punctuated by the sound of my camera clicking.
Char Bagh – The garden of Humayun’s Tomb
The scene in front of me seemed familiar. It felt as if I had seen this somewhere until the source of familiarity struck me. It was the way the garden was laid out – the manicured lawn is similar to what you will see at the famed Taj Mahal. In fact, as history goes, it served as a model for the wonder of the world. This was one of the Persian influences that descended into India and you will find many other Mughal monuments adopting it.
Char Bagh – literally translates to “Four gardens” and its quadrilateral shape is what gives it this name. This particular garden had 4 different pathways at the center of which was the landmark tomb of Humayun. 2 perpendicular channels of water crisscrossed the entire quadrilateral into what seemed like 4 actual waterways. Each pathway led to one of the gates of the tomb enclave.
This garden was one of the reasons why this entire landmark was termed as the Garden of tombs. The typical design of this garden was said to represent the imaginary Garden of Eden and truly, seeing it then did make me feel like I was in heaven!
The exteriors of Humayun’s Tomb
As you walk closer and closer to the looming mausoleum, I bet you will start falling in love the red sandstone marvel. It is interesting how they have used white alcoves to contrast the red. At the base, you will see closed doors and if you are attempting to count them all, well, it is going to be a long walk! Around the entire base are 72 of those white arched cells, that possibly lead you to the graves of the other Mughal nobles here.
A high flight of staircase takes you through the main arch of the base right to the top where you slowly see the white dome of Humayun’s tomb getting larger and larger. This is one of those monuments that you need to behold from its boundary for the true beauty of it can be best seen from it. When you are along those latticed walls, look up beside the white central dome. You will see miniature blue umbrella-shaped balconies called Chhatris.
The Chhatris is an adaptation from the Rajasthani style of architecture and you will find them in all the major palaces and forts of Rajasthan including the beautiful Mehrangarh Fort of Jodhpur. Interestingly, it is this fusion of Persian and Rajasthani architecture that created another distinct style of art called the Mughal style.
Adding to the allure of the Humayun’s Tomb are the delicate lattice work windows that allow you a glimpse of the actual tombs within the chambers. I was particularly mesmerized by the play of light and shadows that made the entire room beautiful.
I was particularly in awe of the symmetry of the Tomb for from every angle, it looked as beautiful as the other. Even the silhouette it made against the evening sun, was just perfect.
The interiors of Humayun’s Tomb
The interiors of Humayun’s Tomb was another story. For one, the high ceiling chamber was a huge relief from the sweltering heat outside. There is a central chamber that is visible from the entrance which has another 8 cells or rooms connected to it. The beauty of this entire structure lies in the fact that if you are standing at the entrance of one room, you can get a glimpse of the latticed windows of the room across the main chamber.
Check out the high ceiling of the central tomb which has this ancient lamp hanging from it. The ceiling here is actually the massive white dome that we had seen from outside. The fascinating thing is the way the architects have designed the lattice windows to light up the room. It was almost sundown and yet, this chamber had enough light.
The grave of Humayun had inscriptions around it and symbolically lay in the North-South direction. They say that the body of Humayun too, is laid down this way as per Islamic norms and his head is turned to face Mecca. The body actually lies in the grave below this structure but no one is allowed to access the same.
The connecting chambers have several other graves, none of which I could identify at that point. The lack of signage also, made it difficult. They say though that these are bodies of the royal Mughals including the wives of Humayun, his first grandson – Dara Shukoh and many more. In total, there are more than 100 such graves in the complex and this is what earns Humayun’s tomb the name – “The Dormitory of the Mughals”.
Other tombs in the Garden of Tombs
As I mentioned earlier, it is not just the Mughals who are buried here. The Garden of Tombs has some interesting structures, some which pre-date Humayun’s tomb. There is one called the Barber’s tom. They say that it belongs to a barber. And another one called the Blue dome or the Nila Gumbad. That one was made by an officer for his servant who sacrificed himself for his Lord. Time was not enough for me to have seen these but the two other tombs that I did see include –
Afsarwala Tomb & Mosque
This was added later for an officer of Akbar’s court. The tombstone here indicates that it was built around 1567 AD, just before the Humayun’s tomb was commissioned. The interesting thing about this is that there is a mosque next to it. The structure has red sandstone and also, some black marble. At one point, when I stood to take a picture of the whole structure, it was amazing to see how well the three-arched gateways of the mosque and the tomb were aligned.
Isa Khan’s Tomb
This stunning structure had caught my eye just as I had entered the Humayun’s tomb complex. I chose to return to it on my way out and I can only thank the guard for giving me those few extra minutes to capture this beauty. An octagonal blue structure, this had a tomb and a mosque. The entire structure was built at least 20 years before Humayun’s tomb.
The most remarkable thing about this tomb was its blue glazed chhatris that stood out from any angle. This structure was typical of Sher Shah Suri and the Lodhi dynasties that ruled Delhi before Humayun. It was made for a courtier Isa Khan who was a part of Sher Shah Suri’s court and had fought against the Mughals. His entire family was buried here.
I would have loved to see this from inside but I could not impose on the generosity that the guard here had shown me. It was indeed a few minutes past the closing time and with one last picture of Isa Khan’s resting place.
The changing landscape of Humayun’s Tomb
It is interesting to note that the Yamuna river flowed right behind the walls of Humayun’s tomb. However, today you do not see any trace of it. I got a glimpse of it in the article that I was reading about India Then and Now. The river changed course with time and now all you see is a concrete jungle. Interestingly, in the same picture, you see the evidence of how the paradise gardens – Char Bagh were neglected . In some ways, things are better now and yet in the others, we seem to have lost a few. However, there is no denying how mesmerizing the Humayun’s tomb looks in its present state. So, if you are headed to Delhi, make some time and go see this timeless Garden of Tombs.
- Getting into the capital of India is easy given its easy connectivity by flight, rail and road to not just the major cities in India but also, the world.
- Once in Delhi, you can opt for a Metro ride to Jorbagh or Race Course stations. From here, you can take a bus or taxi to reach Humayun’s tomb. There are plenty of tourist buses too, that take you to this place.
- You can even take a train to Nizammudin station and walk to the place from there.
- Click here to load the exact location of Humayun’s tomb.
- This is the official website of Humayun’s tomb. The place is open from Sunrise to Sunset every day.
- The ticket prices are not updated on the website. You need to pay INR 30 as an Indian or INR 500 if you are a foreign resident. There are no camera charges but if you have a video camera, you will be charged INR 25.
- There are very few restrooms within the premises.
- A few food stalls are available at the entrance.
- Comfortable cotton clothes if summer or warm woolens for winter is advised
- Carry plenty of water as there is a lot of walking to be done. Comfortable flat shoes are the best for this place.
- Keep aside at least 2- 3 hours for this monument.
- Beware of pickpockets and monkeys.