The other Taj Mahal
Under the burning sun rows of school kids walk together, their eager beaming faces smiling at the western tourists who are already hot and sweaty by the time they’ve made it from the car park to the first arched entrance. Actually, if you clamber past the long lines for tickets, the rush of teenagers making out and the occasional dead dog, you’ll be well and truly rewarded with one of India’s most sacred and beautiful effigies to her past. Humayun’s Tomb, or the other Taj as it’s sometimes called, is the breathtaking and stately final resting place for the Emperor, commissioned by his son Akbar 76 years before Agra’s Taj Mahal was built. It may not have the Taj’s snowy white marble facade, but what it lacks in reputation it makes up for with an easy and relaxed welcome.
Maybe because of sheer size or simply because Delhi is so old, with so many chapters to her history, that sadly some monuments get left behind. There are few grand approach-ways or stately entrances, most often you see rough stonework walls that stretch for avenues and curve along the road but when you follow them they’ll take you to wonderful relics of the past. They’ll lead you to the landscaped beauty of the Mogul gardens, symmetrical waterways and noble domes that sit against the backdrop of a pale heated sky and echo the sounds of the adhan. Sitting on the upper stone level of Humayun’s Tomb you see the sprawling gardens, the curved domes of the smaller tombs and Persian spires just barely taller than the canopy of ageing trees. It’s like the mystical story books that told of warrior kings and desert queens from childhood.
Emperor Humayun was the second in the line of Mogul rulers and lived a life well assigned to the pages of a novel. In a nutshell, he inherited the throne as a 23 year old man, opium was his drug of choice and history records the early years of his reign with little aplomb. None of his three brothers supported him as Emperor and years of infighting weakened the kingdom until Humayun was defeated and wandered the deserts remaining in exile in Persia for the next 15 years. In the ultimate comeback, Humayun staged an attack on the rulers of Delhi and regained his empirical status. Sadly, within a year of reconquering India a sudden fall down the stairs of his library cut short his life. He had achieved what he was meant to do, inherited, lost and won an empire all in one life. Thankfully in his palatial tomb his memory and legacy remain.
There’s an enchantment about being in a city full of jewels of the past. To know that empires have been built and fallen around the streets that take you across Delhi is quite something. Out from the jagged lines of concrete houses, vegetable carts and kosam trees, the peak of a worn down stone archway surprisingly appears. There are sandstone and brick tombs standing alongside intersections and busy roundabouts as a wonderful reminder of the many faces that the city has bowed to. Humayun’s Tomb is the resting place for many of the Emperor’s family and to think it sits so quietly and unobtrusively in the centre of the city’s urban hustle creates a beautiful synergy between the old and the New Delhi.
* Adhan: call to prayer