The “Delhie” Book and a Picnic atop the Qutb

I am excited as I’ve stumbled upon the “Delhie Book” of Thomas Metcalfe.

Does not ring a bell? Well, Metcalfe was an officer of the British East India Company, and the Governor-General’s  Resident at the Imperial court of Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar in early 19th century Delhi. He ran the ‘Delhi territory’ from 1835 to 1853.

Metcalfe was a unique character. He built himself the palatial “Metcalfe House” near present day ISBT, which is unfortunately out of access to the public after being converted into a Government office. After passing into the hands of the Government, it served as the Central Legislative Assembly in the 1920s, eventually paving the way for the Rajya Sabha, until the inauguration of the Parliament House in New Delhi. The colonial house was originally built to challenge the Red fort itself. It had a huge library with over 20,000 books, rare artifacts and Napolean memorabilia, but much of this treasure was destroyed during the Uprising of 1857.

Front View of Metcalfe's House, today an inaccessible Govt building in North Delhi
Front View of Metcalfe’s House, today an inaccessible Govt building in North Delhi

Back view of Metcalfe's House (called Matka House by locals who couldn't pronounce the British Resident's name in those days)
Back view of Metcalfe’s House (called Matka House by locals who couldn’t pronounce the British Resident’s name in those days)

Metcalfe's House after being battered in the 1857 Uprising
Metcalfe’s House after being battered in the 1857 Uprising
Metcalfe also built the quaint “Dilkhusha” (Heart’s Delight)  as a retreat for himself…an old Mughal period tomb near the Qutb Minar converted into a house for relaxing in the rainy season! He altered the landscape, created water-courses around the tomb, and even built a boathouse and a lighthouse! That’s not all- the cenotaph of the Mughal lying there (Muhammad Quli Khan, a relative of Akbar) was removed to make way for Metcalfe’s dining table. Today the remains of this retreat can be seen inside the sea of fascinating ruins at Mehrauli Archaeological Park. The interior can still dazzle visitors with its profusion of intricate work in blue paint. From the balcony, the view of the Qutb is enchanting.

Muhammad Quli Khan's tomb in Mehrauli, converted into his retreat "Dilkhusha" by British Resident Thomas Metcalfe
Muhammad Quli Khan’s tomb in Mehrauli, converted into his retreat “Dilkhusha” by British Resident Thomas Metcalfe
Inside Metcalfe's Dilkhusha
Inside Metcalfe’s Dilkhusha
Intricate work on the inside of the tomb
Intricate work on the inside of the tomb
View of Qutb Minar from Quli Khan's tomb or Dilkhusha
Who wouldn’t want a retreat here?
From Metcalfe's collection- The retreat in the 1800s, with beautiful landscaping and a view of the Qutb
From Metcalfe’s collection- The retreat in the 1800s, with beautiful landscaping and a view of the Qutb
Another view of Dilkhusha, with Adam Khan's tomb in the background (today near the Mehrauli bus stand)
Another view of Dilkhusha, with Adam Khan’s tomb in the background (today near the Mehrauli bus stand)

Metcalfe also built quaint pavilions and ziggurat-like structures near the Qutb, to mimic old ruins and add to the charm of his estate. These odd buildings are collectively referred to as “Metcalfe’s folly”  today 🙂 All of these created an idyllic ambience for relaxing in the monsoons. Metcalfe is even said to have leased out his retreat to honeymooning couples!

Metcalfe's Folly, aptly named, with a view of Jamali Kamali and Qutb Minar. Such a picnic spot!
Metcalfe’s Folly, aptly named, with a view of Jamali Kamali and Qutb Minar. Such a picnic spot!
Another one of Metcalfe's Follies
Another one of Metcalfe’s Follies
One of the two ziggurats added as a folly to enhance the look of Metcalfe's estate. It is also called Garhgaj.
One of the two ziggurats added as a folly to enhance the look of Metcalfe’s estate. It is also called Garhgaj.
Another ziggurat by the Qutb. Can be seen to the left of the main entrance of the Qutb Complex
Another ziggurat by the Qutb. Can be seen to the left of the main entrance of the Qutb Complex
Children having a good time climbing the steps of Metcalfe's folly
Children having a good time climbing the steps of Metcalfe’s folly

Despite his peculiarities, Metcalfe’s one love was the heritage of “Delhie”. He ordered a series of paintings and sketches of the monuments & ruins of this city, to be created by local Delhi artists. The paintings were compiled into an album called Reminiscences of Imperial Delhi (or Dehlie Book) in 1844. It was then sent to his daughter Emily as she started from England, where she had been studying, to join him in Delhi. The original album is now part of the British Library.

So what’s so exciting about this Delhie book? It has over a hundred paintings of both Mughal and Sultanate period monuments that make Delhi so special, and also includes scenes from the daily life of “natives” in those days. Metcalfe added descriptions and stories to these pictures, often in emotional language and in beautiful calligraphy. The album also has historical value, for many of the structures were destroyed or damaged in the Uprising that followed only a few years later. What that means for my blog, dear reader, is a series of “then and now” pictures that I won’t be able to resist! Don’t tell me I didn’t warn you 😉

Emily Metcalfe on her part wrote a diary of her times in Delhi, a nostalgic account of days spent at the Mehrauli retreat, and of picnics on top of the Qutb Minar itself!  Can you even begin to imagine that? Step by step up the spiral stairwell, basket of fruit in hand, until you reach the top of the tallest minaret in the country? What a sweeping view of the city that would give! You can read her accounts in the book “The Golden Calm: An English Lady’s Life in Moghul Delhi: Reminiscences by Emily, Lady Clive Bayley, and by her father Sir Thomas Metcalfe“.  A whole different world that was!

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13 Comments Add yours

  1. Hi Wanderfool! Fascinating post! I have a friend I am sending the link to. She is passionate about architecture and Delhi in particular and know she will be interested in the “Delhie book” 🙂

  2. wanderfool says:

    Thank you so much! Would love to have your friend’s views on my blog 🙂

  3. What a world indeed! Fascinating story. Is this book available online?

      1. I will check it out – thank you!

      2. It looks great – alas, I need it on kindle to get it safely to Bangladesh!

  4. twobitwo says:

    amamzed to see the before-after views of the buildings…

    1. wanderfool says:

      I know…pretty sad isn’t it? But the Metcalfe House you see here has been renovated since. (Unfortunately can’t share a pic because it’s a Gov office out of bounds for visits and photography)

      1. twobitwo says:

        Happy to know that the old building was renovated and is now in use…many countries carry out similar restoration work. It is a great way to not let the past slip away; modernising the interiors makes the structure usable in the present context. of course, it is not a viable option in case of most of the older Delhi structures…

        1. wanderfool says:

          True that, twobitwo. The best way to keep “alive” an old monument is to give it a fresh use without changing the fabric of that place. If only they’d let it open for us visitors!

  5. Sunil Deepak says:

    I am looking forward to images from the Metcalf book. As I child in 1960s I remember holidays at my aunt’s house on Metcalf road and his house. ISBT was far away, and there was no ring road. Crossing the small lane for going to Yamuna river and playing in the sand was so different from the city of today.

    I also remember going to the top of Qutub Minar though we never had picnics there!

    1. wanderfool says:

      Sunil- I am enchanted! What wouldn’t i give to see that Delhi…. You should perhaps write a few posts on those childhood experiences. Would love to read.
      Will start posting the pics from Metcalfe’s book soon. Here’s one I had posted earlier of the Red Fort from his house: https://adatewithdelhi.wordpress.com/2013/01/20/an-old-painting-of-the-red-fort-and-the-river-yamuna/

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