We’re in the middle of World Heritage Week!

World Heritage Week is observed globally from November 19th through 25th. In India, one major plus point about it is that the Archaeological Survey of India, for the duration of this week, cuts all entry fees to protected monuments. So this is when you can go and see everything from the Taj Mahal to Humayun’s Tomb for free.

Therefore, to commemorate this week (and the fabulous heritage we tend to take so much for granted), I’ll begin a listing of some unusual monuments in Delhi. Unlike the more visible mosques, tombs, or forts that most Delhiites (or visitors to the capital) know about, these are structures that were made to serve functions other than religion or glorification of a ruler—they were not defensive, and not religious. I’ll write about one such monument each week, for the next few weeks.

Ready for this week’s interesting heritage structure? It’s Baadli ki Sarai.

While sarais (travellers’ inns) live on in place names all across Delhi (Sarai Kaale Khan, Sarai Julena, Neb Sarai, Kaalu Sarai, Katwaria Sarai, Toot Sarai, Ber Sarai, etc), one of the few sarais that still exists to some extent is Baadli ki Sarai, near present-day Azadpur Sabzi Mandi.

A view of Baadli ki Sarai, as it is today.

A view of Baadli ki Sarai, as it is today.

This, popularly known today as Sarai Pipalthala, dates back to Shahjahan’s period and was probably built under his aegis in the 1650s. Like a lot of sarais in Delhi, this was originally built outside the city walls. Since the city gates used to be shut after sundown and were opened only late the next morning, travellers arriving late at night in Delhi or departing early (in order to get as much distance covered as possible during daylight) needed accommodation to stay outside the city—a function performed by sarais like the Baadli ki Sarai.

The two main gates of this sarai are still largely intact, though the rest of the sarai—its rooms for travellers, its mosque and well, stables, and so on, are long gone.

One of the two gates at Baadli ki Sarai. The gates are about all that remain.

One of the two gates at Baadli ki Sarai. The gates are about all that remain.

Besides being one of the few extant sarais in Delhi, Baadli ki Sarai has another claim to fame: it was the site of a critical battle, the Battle of Baadli ki Sarai in 1857. The Indians, who held Delhi, defended the city against the Delhi Field Force (consisting of British soldiers who had fled Delhi to Karnal or Ambala and later regrouped). The British won, and Baadli ki Sarai became a sort of pilgrimage for hundreds of English travellers coming to see the site of the victory.

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2 thoughts on “We’re in the middle of World Heritage Week!

    • Baadli ki Sarai may not have any rooms left, but there’s another Mughal-era sarai – though from later years, not Shahjahan’s time – which does. It’s a very small sarai at the Qutb Minar complex, but the rooms and the mosque attached to the sarai are still there.

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