Of many delightful historical monuments that adorn the lanes of Delhi, Humayun’s Tomb or Humayun ka Maqbara (Maqbara-i Humayun) intrigues me the most.
The grand imperial sandstone mausoleum is a photographer’s haven for a reason. It’s as pretty as a picture. The tomb gets over two million visitors every year and still is exceptionally well-maintained.
As I mentioned in my Ultimate Delhi Travel Guide, I took my city ‘Dilli’ for granted for a long time before I realized that it’s a privilege to have lived here.
The realization brought me closer to the city I call home. I explored and understood the being of the national capital.
One beautiful morning in January, I drove to Humayun’s Tomb to catch the sight of the beautiful monument waking up with the light of the rising sun. What I saw filled me with a sense of awe.
The geometric structure meticulously crafted in the 16th-century, Humayun’s Tomb was one of the first of the grand mausoleums in India to have an iconic Mughal style char bagh (a Persian quadrilateral garden divided by walkways and water channels) and thus, became the finest example of Mughal architecture in India.
Are you a history lover like us? You sure would love to read about Safdarjung Tomb and Tuglaqabad Fort in Delhi.
Before we walk and talk about the Humayun’s Tomb, there are a number of must-see and must-visit iconic structures on the way to the garden tomb in Delhi.
Located in Nizamuddin West, Hazrat Nizamuddin is the dargah (a tomb or shrine) of the famous Sufi saint, Nizamuddin Auliya.
A narrow street brimming with shops and stalls selling flowers and chadars takes you to the Dargah complex.
The dargah complex also houses the tombs of Jehan Ara Begum (Mughal emperor Shahjahan’s daughter), Amir Khusro (poet), and Inayat Khan.
Some of the other important structures in the Nizamuddin Heritage Area are the tomb of Atgah Khan, Chini ka Burj, Kalan-Masjid, the tomb of Khan-I-Jahan Tilangani, Barapula, Chaunsath Khamba, the tomb of Khan-I-Khanan, and Mazar-e-Ghalib (tomb of Mirza Ghalib).
To experience the best of Dargah, visit on Thursdays when melodious and spiritual sounds of qawwali reverberate off the stone walls. Delhi Urs (death anniversary of Sheikh Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia Chisti) is also a great time to visit when one can see the dargah in its full glow.
A historical structure right in the middle of the traffic square on the intersection of Mathura Road and Lodhi Road caught my attention. Known as Sabz Burj, it’s located just opposite the Humayun Tomb Complex’s entrance.
Ironically, it’s the most candidly located yet the least known heritage monument in Delhi.
Sabz Burj literally translates to Green Dome though the dome isn’t green at all. Its dome originally has green tiles that were changed mistakenly to blue tiles during restoration.
The structure now is named as Neeli Chattri (Blue Umbrella).
The 16th-century octagonal tomb with a beautiful blue dome was used as a police station during British rule. The tomb is said to be the first example of Mughal architecture in Timurid style.
Inside, there’s no grave and its purpose of construction is hazy. Also, there’s no idea about who commissioned it.
It’s not open to the public and can be admired from outside.
Sunder Nursery, previously known as Azim Bagh near the parking lot of Humayun’s Tomb (just 50 meters away) is a beautiful green space in the heart of the city.
Delhi’s first arboretum, it holds many varieties of native trees, flowers, birds, and butterflies.
It not only sells the potted plants but houses many (15 to be precise) Mughal-era historical structures out of which 6 have been given UNESCO World Heritage status – Sunder Burj, Sunderwala Mahal, Mirza Muzzafar Hussain’s tomb, Lakkarwala Burj, Chhota Batashewala, and the Unknown Mughal’s tomb.
Sunder Nursery is open all days from Sunrise to Sunset. The entry ticket costs INR 35 for Indian and SAARC citizens and INR 100 for foreign citizens. Children (5-12 years) and senior citizens (60 years plus) have to pay INR 15 only for entry.
The entry is free for children below 5 years and differently-abled. Wheelchairs are available for disabled visitors.
Nasiruddin Muhammad Humayun (1508 – 1556), better known by his reign name Humayun was the son of Mughal Emperor Babur and the second emperor of the Mughal Empire.
Humayun died as he slipped the staircase while trying to kneel down after hearing the call to prayer (Azaan). Akbar succeeded his father under a guardian, Bairam Khan as he was too young (13 years old) to run the kingdom.
Humayun’s body was buried in the Purana Qila initially, shifted to Sirhind, Punjab later on when Purana Qila was captured by Hemu Vikramaditya, and finally ceremonially buried in his garden tomb.
Commissioned by Bega Begam aka Haji Begum aka Hamida Banu Begum (Humayun’s first and favorite Persian-born wife) and designed by Mirak Mirza Ghiyas (Persian architect) in the mid-16th century, Humayun’s Tomb is a blend of Mughal and Persian architecture.
Mirak Mirza Ghiyas’s son Sayyid Muhammad completed the tomb as his father died before the tomb was constructed.
The tomb structure was ignored completely as Agra became the Mughal capital and the further decline of the Mughals resulted in deterioration of the monument. The situation worsened completely as the Britishers took over who allowed farmers to use the premises for farming.
It served as a refuge for the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar in 1857 before the British arrested and exiled him.
At the time of the Partition of India, the tomb complex was opened for Muslim refugees to set up camps which caused substantial damage to the structure and its vast gardens.
The monument and its gardens were finally restored and preserved as a heritage monument after the Archeological Survey of India (ASI) took over.
The restoration of Humayun’s Tomb has been a constant process ever since it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Humayun Tomb Complex apart from Humayun’s Tomb houses 150 plus other Mughal tombs, mosques, and even a Sarai (lodge) and thus is named as a “Dormitory of the Mughals.”
All the structures and tombs are gathered around Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya Dargah, a kilometer away from the Humayun Tomb complex.
It was thought-out sacred to be buried near the tomb of a saint and that’s why Haji Begum chose to commission Humayun’s Tomb in dargah’s proximity.
A short walk from the car park takes you to the complex. Here’s a map drew by mini-me to make you better understand what the tomb complex holds.
Most of the travelers visit the main tomb and aren’t even aware that there are many other beautiful monuments in the complex that deserve to be seen and known.
Let me take you through the monuments in the same order I visited them.
Just as you move further from the ticket counter, on your right is the walled Isa Khan’s tomb complex that houses the mosque and tomb of Isa Khan built in Sur and Lodhi architectural style.
Isa Khan Niazi, a Pashtun, was a noble with authority in the courts of Sher Shah Suri and Islam Shah Suri who fought the Mughals.
Isa Khan built his resting place during his lifetime. The tomb of Isa Khan Niazi was completed way before (at least 20 years) Humayun’s Tomb.
The octagonal tomb looks impressive with its blue glazed canopies and intricate carvings.
This tomb is said to be one of the first examples of a sunken garden tomb in India. The same style, of course, was later on transcribed at Humayun’s Tomb, Akbar’s Tomb, and the Taj Mahal.
Inside the tomb, the Persian inscription on a red sandstone slab reads “An Asylum of Paradise.”
Isa Khan’s Mosque, on the western side of the complex, looks pretty with its three distinct mihrabs carved with beautiful calligraphy.
As you exit the Isa Khan Tomb complex, the arched Bu Halima’s Gateway leads you to Bu Halima’s Garden with Bu Halima’s tomb. The cenotaph on the dilapidated raised platform in the northern corner of the garden is said to contain Bu Halima’s grave.
Not much is known about Bu Halima except that she was a part of Babur’s escort to India. But obviously, she must have held a prominent position in the Mughal empire to have a gate, and a garden named after her.
South of Bu Halima’s Gateway is Arab ki Sarai. Haji Begum built this Sarai for 300 Arab servants that came with her from Hajj (Pilgrimage).
Though another school of thought says that the lodge is built for the Persian architect and workers who built the Humayun’s Tomb.
The Arab ki Sarai complex has lawns, baoli (stepwell), and a market with arched cells that might have been used as shops or quarters for traders and travelers. The market is thought to be added to the Sarai by Mihr Banu Agha, a chief eunuch at Jahangir’s court.
Its lawns house the Afsarwala Tomb and Mosque.
The Sarai has three gates – one on the north side, another on the east, and another one on the west.
Once you are done exploring Arab Ki Sarai, it’s time to check out the showstopper – Humayun’s Tomb!
The grand Western Gate leads you to Humayun’s tomb. The tomb has another entry gate on the south but it’s closed for now.
The First Impressions!
I had my Aha! moment. I couldn’t stop clicking the red and white beauty in all its glory.
The early morning sun added more oomph.
No wonder, it inspired the architecture of one of the seven wonders of the world – the Taj Mahal. You heard it right.
Humayun’s Tomb, Delhi is the first of the grand dynastic mausoleums that were to become synonyms of Mughal architecture with the architectural style reaching its zenith 80 years later at the later Taj Mahal. – UNESCO
The tomb stands in the center of the char bagh. Mughal Char Bagh, a typical Persian quadrilateral garden divided by walkways and waterways with axial paths that intersect at the center of the garden.
The layout of this garden is based on the four gardens of Paradise cited in the holy Quran.
Humayun’s Tomb stands in the center on a raised platform. As you walk closer to the famed mausoleum, you’ll see archways leading to rooms around the entire structure. The doors to the rooms are closed.
There are flights of stairs on four sides of the mausoleum that take you to the tomb.
The entire structure with its white marble dome with blue-colored pillared chhatris (canopies or kiosks) with cupola roofs on each side looks resplendent.
The elements of Indian architecture, particularly Rajasthani architecture (like chhatris, pendentives) blends perfectly with Persian architecture to form a strikingly attractive mausoleum.
Also, Humayun’s Tomb was the first in India to use Persian double dome with a spire ending in a crescent which otherwise is a common feature in Timurid tombs.
The interior of the tomb has a domed central chamber with 4 main octagonal chambers on 2 floors connected to one another with the passages running diagonally and 4 auxiliary chambers in between. Each octagonal chamber again has eight smaller chambers making a total of 124 chambers.
What I found extremely interesting is the way clerestory windows with lattice screens (jaalis) are fitted into the arched alcoves to light up the entire chamber.
It’s hypnotizing to see the trickle of light filtering through the windows making beautiful silhouettes.
The central marble lattice features mihrab indicating Qibla, an essential and symbolic element in mosques.
The domed central chamber houses the single cenotaph of the second Mughal emperor Humayun arranged on a north-south axis. According to Islam, the body is buried with its head placed to the north with the face turned sideways in the direction of Mecca.
There’s a lamp hanging from the high domed ceiling right above the cenotaph.
The real burial place of the emperor is actually below the cenotaph you see but the entrance to that underground chamber is closed to the public.
The smaller chambers contain over 100 graves of the other members of the Mughal family. Most of them are unidentified except for a few like the ones of Hamida Begum and Dara Shikoh.
Barber’s Tomb lies in the south corner of char bagh and is said to belong to the royal barber in the court of Humayun, however, there’s no evidence to it. Inside, there are two marble graves each inscribed with the Quran verses and one of them is inscribed with the number 999 which happens to be Hijra year (1590-91 AD).
It’s assumed that the graves belong to the barber and his wife.
Interestingly, Nai Ka Gumbad is the only structure lying within the same garden as the Mughal emperor. That indicates the importance of the mysterious persons buried here.
Placed next to the Hazrat Nizamuddin Railway Station is Nila Gumbad or Nila Burj or Blue Dome in a dilapidated state.
The name Blue Dome is because of the striking blue color of its dome. The tomb was built by Abdul Rahim Khan-I-Khana for his servant Miyan Fahim. Fahim grew up as well as died alongside Rahim’s son, Feroze Khan.
Abdul Rahim was raised by the Mughal emperor Akbar after the death of his father, Bairam Khan, a courtier in the royal court.
Rahim was a famous poet and one of the nine important ministers called Navratanas (nine gems) in Akbar’s court. He’s best known for his Hindi dohe or couplets that are taught in the schools as a part of the Hindi curriculum.
The tomb is uniquely octagonal on the outside and square from inside with a beautifully ornamented roof.
Chilla-Khanqah Nizamuddin is where Delhi’s iconic Sufi saint, Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya lived, meditated, and died.
Flanked by the Humayun’s Tomb on one side, and Gurudwara Damdama Sahib on the other, the Chilla lies in the wilderness where one can feel the peace, bliss, and spirituality in the air.
Nizamuddin Auliya would perform chilla-kashi (meditate without food and water for 40 days) at his khanqah, a monastery.
Humayun’s Tomb is located on Mathura Road just opposite to the Nizamuddin Dargah in a chic neighborhood of South Delhi. The area is well-connected to other parts of Delhi.
Nearest Metro Stations: JLN Stadium metro station on the Purple Line (2 km) and the Jorbagh metro station on the Yellow Line (5 km).
Nearest Bus Station: Sarai Kale Khan Bus Station
DTC buses run through the city with various strategic stops. To reach Humayun’s Tomb, you can catch a bus number 447 or 966B that halt at DPS bus stop which is like 5 minutes walk away from the Humayun’s Tomb. Alternatively, you can catch any of the bus numbers 19, ML77, 166, or 181 that make a quick stop at the Nizamuddin Police Station which is just 900 meters walk away from the Humayun’s Tomb.
Nearest Railway Station: Nizamuddin Railway Station ( about 2 km)
Nearest Airport: Indira Gandhi International Airport (almost 25 km)
You can also hire an auto-rickshaw or Uber or Ola to reach the tomb complex from anywhere in the capital city.
Indian, BIMSTAC and SAARC nationals: INR 35 per adult
Other foreign nationals: INR 550 per adult
The entry is free for children under the age of 15.
Videography: INR 25
6 am – 6 pm (Sunrise to Sunset)
The monument is open on all days of the week.
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