Humayun’s Tomb: A Marvel in Red Sandstone

The tomb of Humayun, the second Mughal emperor in India, was commissioned by his wife Hamida Banu Begum in 1562, six years after his death. The tomb, designed by Persian architect Mirak Mirza Ghiyaf, was the first of its kind on the Indian subcontinent — a garden tomb. The structure set the stage for and inspired future Mughal architecture, which reached its highest point with the Taj Mahal in Agra.

It is located in Delhi’s Nizamuddin East. The site was chosen due to its proximity to the Nizamuddin Dargah, the mausoleum of Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya. This architectural wonder is surrounded by smaller monuments, tombs, most of them now in ruins. An effort is being made to restore these buildings which are symbols of India’s rich heritage.

Declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1993, Humayun’s Tomb is the first structure for which red sandstone was used at such a large scale. The tomb is set in the centre of the Char Bagh Garden — a garden with a quadrilateral layout — with pools connected by four-way water channels and causeways.

Several members of the ruling family were buried here — there are close to 150 graves. The tomb complex has two entrances — the West Gate and the South Gate. The South Gate now remains closed.

Bu Halima's Garden

Tourists enter the complex from the west, which opens into Bu Halima's Garden. The rectangular enclosure seen in the background is Bu Halima's Tomb. Little is known about the woman after whom the garden is named.

The Tomb & Mosque of Isa Khan Niyazi

To the south of Bu Halima's Tomb lies the complex where the tomb and mosque of Isa Khan Niyazi are situated. Isa Khan was an Afghan noble in the court of Sher Shah Suri and his son. When I visited last week, the entrance to this complex was closed for restoration work. A couple of tourists tried to jump the poles set as barriers to get inside, but were stopped by a guard.

Arab Sarai Gate

This is the gateway into Arab Sarai, which translates into 'rest house for the Arabs'. Hamida Banu Begum built this complex for the craftsmen who had come for the construction of the mausoleum. The Arab Sarai stands adjacent to the Afsarwala Tomb, the tomb of a noble in Akbar's court.

Gateway to Arab Sarai

The walls of the complex facing the gateway to Arab Sarai. Iron grids, probably brought in for the restoration work, lie neglected and rusting. Notice the dry waterway running along the lush green garden.

The West Gate

The West Gate, the entrance to the main tomb complex.

One of the pools with a fountain connected by the four-way water channel

One of the pools with a fountain connected by the four-way water channel. The water was green and the pool muddy and lined with trash. Pity!

Humayun's Tomb

Humayun's Tomb with the pool and water channels in the foreground. The tomb is an irregular octagon with pillars, arches, decorative brackets and balconies. It stands on a square terrace. The structure is of red sandstone with white and black in-laid marble borders. The magnanimity of the structure and its beauty are breathtaking.

Broken graves

Over the years, the monument has suffered considerable damage. This photograph was taken from one of the broken windows on the ground floor of the main building. The gravestones are broken and bags (of cement, it appears) lie in the chamber.

Nai ka Gumbad

View from the terrace. Workers on Nai ka Gumbad or the dome of Barber's Tomb. The tomb is located at the southeast end of the garden complex. The tomb is where the royal barber or nai was buried. Hidden by one of the trees is the Neela Gumbad or blue dome, a monument located outside the complex.

Humayun's Tomb

The mausoleum seen from this angle looks imposing yet magnificent. It is believed that the dome of the mausoleum is a semi-circle and if completed on the other side, it will make a full circle. It has several arched openings and the doors have stone jaalis.

The South Gate

The South Gate, which is near the Nizamuddin Railway Station, seen from the terrace. One can hear the station announcements, and if lucky, spot a train or two behind the thick cover of trees from here.

Gurudwara Damdama Sahib

Gurudwara Damdama Sahib seen from the terrace.


Inside one of the chambers. Light enters the dark chamber through the stone jaali. The graves on the terrace floor are said to be cenotaphs or empty tombs of members of the royal family. The actual graves are in the basement.

Boys from a nearby madarsa

Boys from a nearby madarsa seemed excited and inquisitive and caught my attention. They bent down to look through the metal doors on the floor of the terrace to see what was in the basement, raced down the steep stairs and ran from arch to arch, inspecting the structure. Some of them even posed for pictures as I happily clicked away. I captured them in greyscale to preserve the innocence and plainness of the picture.

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About Wacky

Wacky is a 30-something OCD-afflicted, super-paranoid-about everything hypochondriac. She spends 25 out of 24 hours dusting tables, chairs and kitchen counters and scrubbing already-clean bathrooms and floors. The cupboards in her house are well stocked with cleaning agents and dusters of all types, shapes and sizes. The rest of the time she works for a living. Whatever free time she has left, she spends watching movies/sitcoms on vampires, ghosts and wildlife. She's passionate about eating just as she is about cooking and wiping the kitchen counter. And oh... she reads, sings, draws, writes and photographs when she doesn't spot dirt. She loves children and chicken... not in the same way, of course!