History of Delhi Sultanate: The two cities that rewired history

Sometimes the quest for one particular experience leads to multiple, unexpected lessons and riches. Rediscovering the history of Delhi Sultanate was one such multi-layered pursuit of the bygone era, culture and gastronomy. While researching for the story, I walked through time from the fourteenth century Fort city of Tughlaqabad to savouring the spice trail of the 17th century Shahjahanabad.

Decoding the rise and fall of Tughlaqabad

Tughlaqabad Fort ruins, Delhi, India
Tughlaqabad Fort ruins, Delhi, India

For years, Tughlaqabad Fort had been at the top of my ‘Places to visit in Delhi’ list, but somehow, I kept missing it. However, it finally happened on a soothing winter morning. I decided to give my Gobhi ka parantha (Cauliflower bread) and adrak waali chai (ginger tea) a miss to explore the ruins of the imposing Tughlaqabad Fort. A fortified city, which was a dream of Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq, the first ruler of the Tughlaq dynasty.

A kid resting inside the Tughlaqabad Fort, Delhi, India
A kid resting inside the Tughlaqabad Fort, Delhi, India

At 7:30 am, along with my historian guide, Kanika, I walked into the gigantic stone structure, with sandstone walls stretching up to 10-15 metres high. Despite being reduced to a tumble-jumble of intricate fortress walls and bastions, the massive, formidable structure with sloping walls and archways spoke highly of the architectural skill of that era. It was built in a short period of four years (1321-25) as a stronghold against the marauding Mongol attacks. The 6-km long irregular rectangular Fort has two parts – the citadel and palaces on the southern side and the city on the Northern side.

The fortified walls of the Tughlaqabad Fort retells the history of delhi sultanate
The fortified walls of the Tughlaqabad Fort retells the history of delhi sultanate

Merciless winds of change, weather fury, enemy attacks and unruly encroachment might have killed the city portion but the citadel and the walls of palaces are still intact, silently retelling the stories of the past. I spent a few hours strolling through the ruins frozen in time imagining how life would have been when it was abuzz with life.

Decoding the history of delhi sultanate: Inside the Tughlaqabad Fort, Delhi
Decoding the history of delhi sultanate: Inside the Tughlaqabad Fort, Delhi

My chain of thoughts was broken when Kanika, my historian guide, narrated a legend associated with the Fort.

Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq had made it mandatory for all the workers in Delhi to be employed in the construction of his fort. But at the same time, the Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya was building a baoli (step-well). The baoli work of Nizzamuddin stopped midway as there was no labourer available in the city. An angry Nizamuddin cursed Tughlaqabad: Ya base Gujar, ya rahe ujar (May this be inhabited by herdsmen or remain unoccupied).

Following this curse, it is believed the Empire could not prosper and the fort-city was soon abandoned. Kanika continued,

What we see here is just half part of the Tughalaq jigsaw puzzle. The remaining pieces are hidden in Daulatabad.

Bustling city of Delhi in the background of the Tughlaqabad Fort, Delhi, India
Bustling city of Delhi in the background of the Tughlaqabad Fort, Delhi, India

Until then I didn’t even know a place like Daulatabad existed. I was intrigued to find out more. And, as luck would have it, in February 2018 I got to visit Daulatabad Fort, thanks to ‘India blog Train’ initiative by Incredible India. I was on a seven-day train journey on Deccan Odyssey exploring the offbeat splendour of Maharashtra and Goa. On my third day, I visited Daulatabad where the missing parts of the Tughlaqabad jigsaw puzzle came together.

Onboard the Deccan Odyssey luxury train, India Blog Train
Archana Singh, India Blog Train, Incredible India
Ruins of Daulatabad city, Aurangabad, Maharashtra, India
Ruins of Daulatabad city, Aurangabad, Maharashtra, India

In 1327, Muhammad bin Tughlaq, the son of Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq, decides to shift the capital from Delhi to Devagiri (which he renamed Daulatabad), 1242 kilometres to the south in Aurangabad District. The reason to shift was its central location ideal to rule entire India while being safe from the incessant Mongol attacks.

said Rane, my historian tour guide. He further added,

What seemed like a perfect plan on paper was a non-starter. Daulatabad had water scarcity and the people suffered severely. After eight years, the Sultan realised his mistake and the capital was again moved back to Delhi. But neither the city nor its people could recover from this uprooting. Also, he did not return to the abandoned Tughlakabad as he was convinced it was a cursed city. He built and moved to a new township called Jahanpanah.

Finally, I was able to decode the story of the ‘rise and fall of Tughlaqabad’. However, another important chapter of the history of Delhi Sultanate was still left untouched.

Digging the roots of Chaat culture in Shahjahanabad

Aloo chaat of Old Delhi, India
Aloo chaat of Old Delhi, India

After unravelling
the mystery of the rise and fall of the Tughlakabad, it was the turn of finding
the roots of Chaat culture in the Old Delhi founded as Shahjahanabad in 1638. My countless trips to Delhi 6 in search of good food has
made me a pro in navigating through the labyrinth of haphazard maze of narrow
streets crammed with cars, hawkers, motorcycles, rickshaws and porters. However,
this time I am here on a mission to find the origins of the Chatapata Food
culture that has graced the halls of Mughal Darbar to Lakshmi Mittal’s daughter
wedding.

350 year old abandoned Persian Haveli, Shahjahanabad, Old Delhi, India
350 year old abandoned Persian Haveli, Shahjahanabad, Old Delhi, India

At 10:45 am, I met Shikha of Food Tour in Delhi at the Chawri Bazar Metro Station in old Delhi. She had already warned me a day in advance to come empty stomach as we would be tasting at least 14-17 dishes from 7-9 food joints in 4 Hours of the old Delhi food tour. After walking for a few minutes, we reached Shyam Sweets, a 118 years old Indian snack shop that claims to have served since Mughal Darbar times and where Jawahar Lal Nehru was a regular. Standing at an open-air eatery around a small round table, Shikha ordered Bedmi & Kachori (lentils & peas) with potato curry, Nagori halwa (crispy puri made with semolina and paired with semolina sweet), Samosa and Sweet Lassi for us.

But before we could relish the lip-smacking Indian snacks of old Delhi market, she explained how our ancestors worked their magic around Delhi street food. The recipes were designed keeping in mind how our tongue reacts to three canonical tastes – salty, sour and chilli. She says,

Never judge any dish without taking three bites. In the first bite, only salty senses are activated, in the second tangy senses get active and in the last one the chilly hits you. Our ancestors knew how to harness this knowledge by coming up with combos like Bedmi & Kachori, samosa and chutni to make the flavours work better together.

Spices of Khari Baoli, Shahjahanabad, Old Delhi, India
Spices of Khari Baoli, Shahjahanabad, Old Delhi, India
Khari Baoli, the largest market of dry fruits and spices, Shahjahanabad, Delhi, India
3 types of chilli powder, Spices of Khari Baoli, Shahjahanabad, Old Delhi, India
Khari Baoli, the largest market of dry fruits and spices, Shahjahanabad, Delhi, India

During the rest of the old Delhi food tour through Chawri Bazar, Chandni Chowk, Spice Market, Kucha Pati Ram and Kinari Bazar, I religiously followed the rule of ‘Three Bites’ and enjoy my food a lot more. We listened to the back stories of flavours and food from each hole-in-a-wall outlet we visited. The tales sounded better when we gobbled down delish street food like Fruit Sandwich, Bread Pakora, Kulhe (watermelon) ki Chaat and Alloo Chaat, Rocket Chickpea curry with kachori, Pomegranate & saffron pistachio Kulfi, Cholla (Chickpea curry) with bhatura & kulcha cooked in old and new styles, Rasmalai, Rajma Chawal and flavoured Rose Almond Lassi.

Kulhe (watermelon) ki Chaat, Chawri Bazaar, Old Delhi, India
Kulhe (watermelon) ki Chaat, Chawri Bazaar, Old Delhi, India

In between enjoying the scrumptious Old Delhi chaat, Shikha talked about the debated ‘origin of chaat’,

While there are many theories, it is believed Chaat was created in the royal kitchen of Mughal emperor Shahjahan’s palace. In those days, the Yamuna water was not safe for drinking. The royal Hakim (emperor’s doctor) instructed to kill the effects of unsafe water by consuming food which was very spicy and oily but light on stomach. This marked the advent of Chatpata food culture in Delhi!

After four hours of immersion in the frenzy of Shahajahanabad’s colours, vivacity and irresistible charm my trip has come to an end but not before I gulped down a Patiala glass of Almond Rose Lassi at Amratsari Lassiwale in Chandi Chowk, old Delhi.

Amritsari Lassi of Shahjahanabad, Old Delhi, India
Amritsari Lassi of Shahjahanabad, Old Delhi, India

Hope you enjoyed learning about the history of Delhi Sultanate as much as I did exploring it. If you want to know more about the cities of Delhi, I highly recommend reading ‘City of Djinns’ by William Dalrymple or read Eight Cities of Delhi.

Have you been to the twin cities of Delhi or Dualatabad? If yes, please do share your feedback in the comments section below. What are your favourite things to do in Old Delhi?

Please don’t forget to read my detailed posts on my #IndiaBlogTrain journey with Incredible Indiaand The Deccan Odyssey.

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Disclaimer

I was invited on the #IndiaBlogTrain journey organised by Incredible India in Feb 2018 ON 4 luxury trains – Palace On Wheels, Deccan Odyssey, Golden Chariot and Maharaja’s Express, that took 60 bloggers on a 7N/8D journey across India’s finest historical destinations spread across Delhi, Goa, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. I got a chance to experience the Maharashtra Splendor train route on The Deccan Odyssey It was a voyage that I’d treasure forever. Everything expressed above is based on my personal experiences during my visit. Images used are shot by me. Please do not copy anything without written permission. 

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