On a rainy evening of July 23, heritage activist Vikramjit Singh Rooprai packed his audience into a Time Machine and took them on a memorable ride into the glorious past of the city—which is much more than Humayun’s Tomb, or Qutub Minar, or even the historic Red Fort and the Jama Masjid.
Delhi consists of three world heritage sites, 174 national protected monuments and over hundreds of state-protected monuments and several unprotected and lesser-known monuments. The city is peppered with several ancient mosques, baolis, havelis, walls, gateways, forts, gardens, and roads. And we walk past most of these—oblivious to all the hidden beauty.
“There are so many places that one has not even heard of,” says Rooprai, at CMYK Bookstore in Greater Kailash-2. “For example, ask anyone who ruled Delhi for the longest time. The most common answer would be the Mughals. But it was the Tomars. Mughals ruled for some 300-plus years, Tomars ruled for over 440 years,” says the 33-year-old.Delhi has been constantly evolving. While government agencies talk about seven cities of Delhi, some historians are able to count 11 and a few have included small villages around these cities as well to make it 15.
Needless to say, a lot of heritage has been lost. Vikramjit stresses awareness. “Often false information is promoted at so-called Heritage Walks. Walk leaders fabricate stories, which are diluting our history.”
This lack of awareness prompted him to start working on heritage promotion in 2009.
With its almost 3,000 years of history, Delhi was pipped by Ahmedabad to the coveted UNESCO World Heritage City status. Spread over 5.43 sq km, the walled city of Ahmedabad was preferred over Delhi during the nominations last year.
Why did we falter? “Two reasons: Political will and people of the city. Most people don’t belong to Delhi. We are all migrants and somehow that feeling of belonging with the heritage does not exist,” says Vikramjit, who founded the Youth for Heritage Foundation—a non-profit organisation for people who love and care for their heritage, in 2014.
He also blames land mafia and lack of funds. “The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is a mere custodian and it lacks power to control encroachment. Many a time, religious or political groups lay claim to a monument and the ASI can do little about it. Due to a pittance allocated to the ASI, they cannot do much about conserving heritage,” he says.