The Washington Times
June 21, 2003
By Anjali Kwatra
The magnificent red-sandstone tomb is said to have provided the inspiration for the Taj Mahal, but is rarely included in the "must-see" list for visitors, who prefer to go to the more famous Red Fort, India Gate monument or Rashrapati Bhavan, the president's palace.
But that could soon change with the completion of a two-year, $650,000 project to restore the "paradise gardens" of Humayun's Tomb, where water flows from fountains into hand-crafted channels for the first time in 400 years.
The tomb was built over a decade from 1565 by the widow of Emperor Humayun, the son of Babur who founded of the Mughal empire.
The 30-acre site contains more than 100 graves and was the first Mughal tomb with a "chahar-bagh" or four-part paradise garden on the Indian subcontinent. But when the capital was moved from Delhi to Agra, site of the Taj Mahal, the tomb was neglected and the water dried up.
It now gets about 1,000 visitors a day and officials said they are hoping to double or triple that figure now that the gardens have been spruced up.
By contrast, the Red Fort gets around 15,000 visitors, although many complain that site is in disrepair. The Archeological Survey of India is the government body looking after India's heritage, but is hampered by a lack of resources.
The Humayun Tomb garden restoration was the first privately funded revitalization of a World Heritage Site in India and was a joint project of the ASI and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC). The Aga Khan, spiritual leader of the world's Ismaili Muslim community, was in New Delhi to officially open the gardens in April.
"We are gathered, near the twilight hour, surrounded by the signs of paradise," he told the great and the good of Delhi who attended the sunset ceremony. "Endeavors such as this are vital for countries like India, well-endowed with historical and cultural treasures, but also burdened by the responsibility of preserving them for future generations," he said. "As we witnessed most poignantly across Afghanistan and now in Iraq, the very survival of so much of this heritage is today at risk."
Ratish Nanda of the AKTC, who oversaw the project, said the work was painstakingly done by hand. "The whole idea was to encourage traditional craftsmanship, so the job was very labor-intensive." The task was vast, involving 60 stonecutters who prepared 6,600 feet of red-sandstone slabs, and the planting of 2,500 mango, lemon, hibiscus and jasmine trees — traditional favorites of the Mughals. Water channels were relaid to such exacting standards that their beds rise only 0.4 inch every 130 feet, "which is a magnificent feat of engineering," he explained. Some 3,000 truckloads of earth were removed from the gardens to uncover their original features, but no heavy machinery was allowed into the gardens.
Instead auto-rickshaws were used to transport the debris off the site. A rainwater-harvesting scheme was part of the project — a necessity in Delhi, which suffers from water shortages in the scorching summer.
"There are about [53,000 gallons] of water flowing around the gardens at any one time, and all water is reused. The only amount that is lost is through evaporation, which is about [4,000 gallons] each day," said Mr. Nanda.
He said maintenance would cost around $4,000 per month — about one or two day's worth of admission-ticket sales.