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Paradise comes calling!

The age-old Humayun's Tomb is being given a facelift. FIROZ BAKHT AHMED reports.



The magnificent Humayun's Tomb attracts tourists in New Delhi. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt.

ENCOMPASSING A history of 400 years, scented by perfumed flowers and fruits, paradise has recently been regained at Humayun's Tomb and that too just at the cost of Rs.10 per visitor! Those who will see the Humayun's Tomb after a couple of years, will find it changed - for the better of course.

The paradise gardens of Humayun's Tomb along with the water channels that are flowing after 400 years, remind us of Shahjahan's couplet: Agar Firdaus barru-e zamin ast, Hamin ast, hamin ast, hamin ast (If there's a paradise on earth, It's here, it's here, it's here!) It happens to be one of the 23 World Heritage monuments in India. In fact it was this monument that gave the idea for the Taj at Agra by Shahjahan.

It's wonderful to see this chahar bagh (garden tomb) turn to its pristine glory. The chahar bagh system was even otherwise central to the Moghul concept of life and death. The changes have made all the difference to this monument that has 500 pass bearers and 1,000 daily visitors who walk the red earth pathways and having the orange, lemon and pomegranate trees in the plush grass lawns.

To recreate the landscaping during Humayun's era, references from "Babarnama" and "Akbarnama" have inspired the planting of chameli, raat ki rani and harsinghar flowers.

An immaculate illumination system adds charm to the ambience. To save the monument from the heating of lights, light fixtures have been installed at four peripheral buildings at a distance of about 100 metres from the main tomb. The white light actually enhances the beauty of moonlight. But according to some visitors, the tragedy is that the tomb is closed at five in the evening and they can't enjoy the lighting system. Well, that means there's no use of lights if they can't be seen at night! If it opens at night, more visitors will throng and add to the gate money as well!

Besides, an underpass will soon connect Humayun's Tomb with the Sufi shrine of Khwaja Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia. The three monuments of Neela Gumbad, Nizamuddin Aulia's Dargah and Humayun's Tomb will be part of a heritage complex.

According to conservationist Ratish Nanda, soil, concrete, grass and stones used in renovation were selected only after a thorough research and examination such that the levels of the pathways and the garden are almost equal and there is no wild growth of shrubs.

Incidentally, the restoration at Humayun's Tomb happens to be the first privately funded collaborative effort under the aegis of the National Cultural Fund (NCF) by the ASI. It was a sum of $650,000 from the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and help from the Oberoi Hotels Group.

Nicely laid out and sleek boards at the site reveal information about the monument's history.

It was a mammoth task for manually picking the 12,000 cubic metres of mud only to keep in mind the safety of the foundations of the site. More than 128 ground water recharge pits were dug. The sunk kerbstones too were redone.

Finely dressed quartzite stones weighing more than 800 kg had been laid out in tune with Mughal style.

Not surprisingly at the completion, a happy Charles Correa regaled, "Frankly speaking, despite its messy existence on the other hand, Delhi reminds me of Rome in each brick when I visit a place like the Humayun's Tomb."

Balbir Singh, the archaeological engineer from the ASI (Delhi Circle) who also helped conserve the Bamiyan Buddhas at Kabul, tells us that the most unique aspect here is that of the impeccable indiscernible sloping accomplished in minute measures from 1cm to 50 metres.

There had been frequent flooding in the eastern area of the tomb owing to patchy sloping earlier.

Most of the work was done by hand be it landscaping, excavation, picking or laying of stones.

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