The South Asian Life & Times - SALT   
 Summer 2015          



 Summer 2015


 Editor's Note

 Maharaja Duleep

 Nizamuddin Revived

 Nizamuddin Basti

 Sunder Nursery

 Humayun's Tomb

 Nizamuddin Dargah

 Gautam Gambhir

 Kangchenjunga - 60
 Years of 1st Ascent

 Darjeeling & Beyond

 Visual Arts
 India Thru the Lens
 Goa Photo Festival


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 Balochistan at

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 Himalayan Cities

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Nizamuddin Basti

Nizamuddin Basti, with its living culture, forty-five listed monuments and a diverse community, is undergoing major transformation. Apart from various restoration woks, the project is also improving the living standards within the Basti.

The dargah (shrine) of the 14th century Sufi saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya is the epicentre of Nizamuddin Basti (settlement) – the densely populated neighbourhood that surrounds the dargah.

While the dargah has existed for seven centuries, the Nizamuddin basti surrounding the dargah has existed in its present form only for about seventy years. In the intervening centuries, the area surrounding the dargah was one large graveyard (primarily because of its closeness to Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya’s dargah), with a small settlement of caretakers of the shrine. It was at the time of Partition in 1947 that the basti began to evolve in its present avatar as a result of refugees settling in the area. 

The basti, in the last seventy years, has grown into a self-contained urban sprawl – a warren of tangled narrow alleys, haphazard and unrestricted construction, congested housing, limited public conveniences -  intermingled with  centuries old shrines, tombs and a baoli (step well).  The restoration work by Aga Khan Foundation only started when one of the baoli’s walls began to collapse.

It was rebuilt with the help of state-of-the-art technology, including Ground Penetrating Radar Survey, High Definition 3D laser scans and geotechnical assessments, but using original construction techniques.  Subsequently, seven centuries of accumulated waste was also removed manually from the baoli.

 Conservation works in the Basti

Nizamuddin Baoli 

The Baoli was built by Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya in the years 1321-22. It is the only step-well in Delhi still fed by underwater springs, albeit heavily polluted by sewerage and garbage. A portion of the baoli wall collapsed in July 2008 endangering human life and necessitating urgent remedial measures. Following a thorough assessment, the baoli was partially drained and the collapsed portions rebuilt as per original construction techniques. This was an opportunity to manually de-silt the baoli of debris accumulated over hundreds of years. Water from the baoli was tested and revealed high levels of E-coli from sewage contamination. Over 100m of sewer lines were laid as part of the conservation initiative, thereby greatly improving the water quality with drastic reduction in E coli levels. Waste water from the wuzu area which earlier drained into the baoli has since been re-routed.

During the restoration work, a blocked passage connecting the baoli to the mosque was discovered. It is believed to have been used by Hazrat Nizamuddin and its discovery was the cause of much celebration.

Chaunsath Khamba (Pavilion of Sixty-four pillars)

Near the dargah is the Chaunsath Khamba pavilion - the tomb of Mirza Aziz Koka, the foster brother of Emperor Akbar (r.1556-1605). Many others are also buried in and around the dargah, including Akbar's chronicler Abu'l-Fazl (1551-1602) Shah Jahan's daughter Jahan Ara (1614-81), and South Asia’s most noted poet – Mirza Ghalib.

Constructed wholly of white marble with 64 pillars inside, it was built by Aziz Koka in his life time in early-17th century and when he died in 1624 at Ahmedabad, he was brought here and buried. The tomb, unique in design and adornment, was enclosed within a rubble masonry wall in the 1960s to protect it from vandalism and encroachment. This wall segregated the monument from its forecourt, an integral element of the original design. The wall has since been removed and the adjoining open spaces unified for cultural uses such as qawwali performances.

Excessive water seepage and inappropriate past repairs, using cement and concrete, had damaged the marble. Layers of concrete were carefully removed from the roof and the original roof levels were restored to ensure quick water drainage. Conservation of the tomb will be combined with improvement in the façade of the surrounding residences.

Landscaping of Mirza Ghalib's Tomb 

The 19th century tomb of Mirza Ghalib, one of the most renowned poets of India during the Mughal period, stands on a busy street of the basti. The iron fencing enclosing the tomb was replaced with hand carved sandstone lattice screens, thus separating the grave from the busy street. The concrete pavement was replaced with sandstone and white marble inlay – forming a tranquil little courtyard. Both Mazar-e-Ghalib and its neighbouring Chaunsath Khamba have come alive as cultural venues since they were restored in 2010.

The major accomplishment of the project has been its endeavour to improve environmental conditions and urban facilities in areas of education, health and sanitation. Public toilets, parks for women and children, a gym for women are recent additions to the basti and also a cricket field on popular demand by the residents. Activities such as theatre, craft workshops and heritage walks are held regularly. Women have been taught traditional crafts to supplement the family income with sale of their products.

The Municipal Corporation of Delhi is planning a major street improvement scheme to further enhance the ambience of Nizamuddin Basti.


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