Let me take you to a monument breathing its last, one we are likely to forget any moment, because of which it is all the more important that you, dear reader, know more about it and see its current plight.
For one it is near impossible to reach this monument. If you want to get there, you will have to put in the work as the access to it is limited and it is only open to the public on Thursdays. The Tomb of Ali Mardan Khan has stood for centuries as an exquisite burial structure, and once like many other tombs, it was also surrounded by lush gardens. But guess what, now it is surrounded by industrial rail yards and is only accessible through a kilometer long narrow alley. This Tomb was built in the 1650s in honour of Ali Mardan. Who was Ali Mardan you ask? That I will tell you later, because first let us take a tour of this tomb and its architecture.
If you wish to go to this place travel on Grand Trunk Road towards Mughalpura. As you approach the railway tracks, you need to keep an eye out for a small sign ‘MET-1’ on your right, that’s where the passage will lead to this tomb. As the tomb is within the territory of the Pakistan Railways, the authorities have built a kilometer long passageway from the street to the tomb in an effort to prevent visitors from trespassing on the rail yard grounds, but on the other hand it has also created a hindrance for the visitors.
Through this narrow walkway you will get to see this tomb which is still a mark of beauty even in its current state of shambles. The tomb is a massive brick construction, octagonal in plan with a high dome and kiosks on angular points and standing on an eight sided podium, each side measuring 58 feet. This is a mind blowing structure of the Mughal era. When we say Mughal era, you can imagine the beauty and dignity of the structure and its embellishments. Historic accounts say that it was originally an outstanding structure with the dome finished with white marble inlaid with floral design in black marble. Its sides had lofty timurid aiwans, surmounted by a massive dome raised on a drum. At present most of the domed kiosks at the corners of the octagon are lost along with the beauty of the tomb. The structure reflects the decorative features of 16th and 17th century Mughal tombs.
As you see it today it still holds back some of the decorative features like the fresco work. The architects and historians believe that the exterior walls must once have had tile mosaic (kashi kari), as it can be seen in the extant gateway at some distance to the north of the tomb. Historians also say that the chambers had peitra dura work in the massive marble columns and fresco paintings in walls and ceilings. The graves were on a three-foot high red sandstone platform beneath a larger than usual dome which was profusely decorated with inlaid precious and semi-precious stones and fresco floral patterns. Historic references say that the tomb once stood at the centre of a grand garden, a favorite theme as of the Mughals, but as the gardens of Lahore vanished so did this garden. It is said that the extent of Ali Mardan garden can be measured by the double-storey gateway in the north and similar gateways would have marked the centers of the south, west and east edges of the garden square like it was done in the Mughal building styles, keeping the concept of symmetry in mind.
At present the tomb is in shambles and needs immediate repairs. There has been no attention given to the tomb and I think if it is not conserved, we would soon lose this piece of history.
Let us come to who this man was who is buried in this tomb. Ali Mardan was an important official in the Mughal Empire under Emperor Shah Jahan. Ali Mardan was born in a Kurdish family and served as governor of Kandahar under Persia’s Safavid dynasty. After Shah’s death in 1629, he became fearful for his life because the successor Shah Safi was sacking the courtiers who were loyal to the earlier king. It is said that somewhere in 1637, Ali Mardan offered to surrender Kandahar to the Mughal Empire in exchange for his safety and Shah Jahan agreed to the offer. That was the time when Ali Mardan entered into the Mughal dynasty. Soon he became an essential member of the Mughal nobility and was appointed Governor of Kashmir, Lahore and Kabul. Later in 1639, Ali Mardan Khan was given the title of Amir al-Umara (Lord of Lords), made a Haft Hazari (commander of 7,000 troops) and appointed viceroy of the Punjab which then stretched from Kabul to Delhi. So now can you imagine the importance of this man? And look what has been done to his tomb!
History remembers Ali Mardan Khan as an eminent engineer also. He is the one who supervised the construction of several royal buildings in Kashmir and digging of the Delhi canal, which runs between the Red Fort and the old city. The water supply system of Shalimar Gardens in Kashmir (Gulmarg) was also planned by him and his lasting contribution to actualize Shah Jahan’s beautiful and paradise like vision for Lahore was the construction of a canal from the river Ravi for the supply of water to the Shalimar Gardens, as well as for the irrigation and cultivation of surrounding areas. He is known to have built many edifices and gardens at Nimla, Kabul, Peshawar and Lahore.
It was one of the sad moments for the Emperor when his favorite Ali Mardan died in 1657, while on his way to Kashmir. Ali Mardan Khan’s body was carried back to be buried in the magnificent tomb that he had built for his mother in Lahore and there he was buried along the graves of his mother and her maid servant.
So this was the tomb of Ali Mardan and in my opinion keeping in view the image of Ali Mardan the tomb should have stood in dignity till now. I hope it is conserved soon. It should also be opened for the public throughout the week like all other monuments. I want our younger generation to look and feel the glory of the past architecture and the people who built it. This tomb must be seen by the students of relevant fields and researchers. In this world of social media, I think photographers should be taken there to photograph it and share it on social media for making the monument and tomb go viral. We need to preserve our heritage by all means for the generations ahead, as heritage is our asset.