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At rest in the dead centre of Delhi
Humayun's Tomb (New Delhi, India)
Member Name: koshkha
Humayun's Tomb (New Delhi, India)
Advantages: Beautifully maintained building and gardens
Disadvantages: Can be a bit disappointing if you are expecting the Taj Mahal
Far fewer people have heard of another mausoleum which is believed to have been the inspiration for Shahjahan in his choice of design for the Taj - that monument is the Tomb of Humayun in Delhi.
The tomb has been on UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites since 1993 and was included for its significance as the first 'garden-tomb' on the Indian sub-continent. Whilst the name might suggest that this is just one building and one dead old wealthy chap, it's actually a complex of many different tombs and mausoleums and it's well worth a visit. To anyone who has seen the Taj Mahal, Humayan's Tomb can seem like a poor substitute but if you put aside the temptation to compare the two, the tomb complex in Delhi is a world class tourist attraction in its own right.
When did we visit?
We were in Delhi in June 2006 and were offered a half-day city tour by our tour company. I've previously written about the Red Fort, which we also visited that day, and now it's the turn of Humayun's tomb.
It was an exceptionally hot and humid day - the monsoon was overdue and predicted to break at any moment and the skies were overcast and threatening. The temperatures were touching forty degrees and the air was saturated. After visiting the Red Fort and the mosque we had sweated our way across the city in a badly ventilated minibus. The final stop on our tour was feeling like altogether too much effort.
As we drew up outside the tomb complex at about four o'clock in the afternoon, the group was getting tired and irritable. It was going to take something special to put a spring back in our steps.
The fee to visit is 250 Rupees (just over £3) for non-Indian visitors and you can also pay in dollars. This is the only site I've visited in India that takes dollars and I quickly worked out that $5 was cheaper than 250 Rp so, never one to miss a bargain, we paid in dollars. There are relatively few tourist sites in Delhi which are as expensive as Humayun's Tomb and the prices have increased in the past couple of years - but so has the qualirty of the attraction. A major injection of cash was put into improving the gardens by the Aga Khan foundation and the gardens now live up to the mausoleum instead of dragging it down.
The site is open from sunrise to sunset.
Who was Humayan?
Humayan was the son of Babur and he became the second emperor of the Mughal Empire in 1530. Unfortunately like so many leaders throughout history he liked the high life and spent too much time living it up in Agra, leaving others back home to plot against him. He was overthrown by Sher Shah in 1540 and was sent into exile in Persia. In 1555 Humayun put together an army and headed back to Delhi to take back his land and power but had little time to celebrate and died just six months later from a fall in his library - and they say reading isn't dangerous! His Persian widow Haji Begum is believed to have designed his tomb and building work was completed nine years after his death.
The Design of the Tomb
The layout of the tomb is said to have been inspired by descriptions of Islamic paradise gardens known as 'charbagh' and is based on a grid system with the gardens divided into 36 squares separated by paths and water channels. On entering the site visitors pass through the West Gate and immediately are confronted by the impressive and enormous double storey mausoleum of pink sandstone inlaid with black and white marble. As you climb the steps up to the entrance to the tomb, it's hard to imagine what's inside.
Entering the tomb you find it's not just Humayun who's resting peacefully inside. There are many different members of the royal family from his time and from later generations interred both inside the tomb and outside on the terraces. Moving from room to room you can glimpse into the next chambers through carved white marble screens. The remarkable thing about the design is that air seems to be drawn through the building as a form of ancient air conditioning. Despite the intense temperatures outside, the tomb was cool and breezy. The sarcophagus containing Humayun's body is aligned on the North-South axis with the face turned to look towards Mecca.
What else is in the Complex?
In the main walled square of the tomb complex you can find other smaller tombs and gate buildings. We were under pressure for time and didn't get the opportunity to examine all of these although we saw the Tomb of Afsarwala and had a closer look at the tomb of Isa Khan, a nobleman from the court of Shr Shah. This smaller garden tomb predates the much larger and more impressive tomb of Humuyan and is located in its own smaller walled garden with its own mosque to one side. There is also a Gurudwara (Sikh temple) just to the northeast of the main tomb.
The funny thing about northern Indian
Has anyone else ever wondered why so many of the great monuments of Northern India are tombs when it's a country with majority Hindu population for whom cremation is the norm? Of course in the days of the Moghul empire, this region was very much under Moslem rule.
But what about the gardens?
Look, we're British so any major heritage site ought to have a good garden and Humuyan's tomb scores 9 out of 10 on that. Unlike most of the Indian monuments which can sometimes be a bit raggedly looking with burned out grass, a few sad marigolds and a bit too much litter, the gardens of Humuyan's tomb have received a major injection of cash and effort with the recent work done on them. This is now the sort of place that you'd just love to bring a picnic and a good book and laze around on the grass talking to the squirrels. I'd suggest that's a great idea for a calm afternoon in a busy city. When we visited there were no more than a dozen other people in the complex - maybe a factor of the high entrance price, but I think we just struck lucky on a day that nobody expected to stay dry on the edge of the monsoon.
Do I recommend it?
Of course I do. With or without a picnic. But if you have the chance, give it a couple of hours at least just to soak up the atmosphere.
Summary: If you don't have time to go to Agra and see the Taj, drop by and say hello to Humayun and friends
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