Last week we visited still another ruined fort, Tughlaqabad Fort. This was built by Ghiya-ud-di, the founder of the Tughlaq dynasty, in 1327. Legend has it that on a walk with his Khilji master, the king, it was suggested that he build a great fort in the location.
Just six years later, Ghazi Malik drove away the Khiljis and became the king himself, beginning the Tughlaq dynasty. He planned the huge fort to keep away the Mughal raiders, and in order to build it, he issued an order that all laborers in Delhi must work on the fort. Unfortunately, a Sufi saint and mystic, Nizamuddin Auliya, resented the fact that there were no laborers to work on his well, and he cursed the fort, saying “May the fort remain unoccupied, infertile, or else the herdsmen may live here.”
While the fort was being built, the king was away at war in Bengal. He was victorious, but as he made his way back to Delhi, his tent fell on him and crushed him to death. His son was blamed for this incident. Now the king is buried in the fort, along with another son, and although the fort was a mighty project, it fell into ruins. Today the king’s magnificent tomb is across a modern road from the main fortifications, and we saw it only from a distance.
However, the main fort is easily accessible — I say easy if many steps are easy — but I climbed them like a mountain goat with the help of my husband, my cane, and a laborer who insisted on accompanying us from the entrance to the fort. He proudly showed us his ID card from the Archaeological Survey of India, naming him and identifying him as “casual labor.” He didn’t claim to be a guide, but his limited English plus what we knew was quite sufficient, and he gave me a helping hand up many of the steps.
Even now, in ruins, this is an impressive structure. It was surrounded by a wide moat, and its walls slant inward. They are made of huge slabs of stone with the space between the inner and outer walls filled with rubble from the stonecutting. There is no decoration anywhere — it is just practical and militaristic. There remain today 13 ruined gates. From the walls, a viewer in the 14th century would have seen barracks after barracks and stabling for horses and elephants, a glittering lake, bazaars, streets, and a magnificent gilded palace. Legend says that the sultan dug a huge tank and filled it with molten gold so that it was one huge block. Today, there are a lot of young people having a “day out,” as well as laborers pecking away at the restoration. The ruins stand on the edge of the city and fulfill another of the Sufi’s curses: “Delhi is still far away.”