Although it’s fairly small and little known, the Chor Minar (literally, the 'Thieves’ Tower’) is worth a quick visit – simply because it’s got a history that’s so fascinatingly gruesome. If you’ve got a vivid imagination, this place, disarmingly pretty, can give you a hefty dose of gooseflesh.
The Chor Minar sits in the heart of one of South Delhi’s poshest neighbourhoods, Hauz Khas (named for an interesting and very large medieval hauz, or watertank, with the tomb of a Sultan – Ferozeshah Tughlaq – and a madarsa, a school of higher education, beside it). Although Hauz Khas itself is fairly well known, few people know of Chor Minar.
We arrived on a warm summer morning, turning off the Outer Ring Road right after the Laxman Public School, at the Panchsheel Crossing. The road curved left, flanked on its right by a wooded park, and by a quiet neighbourhood on the left. Less than two minutes after we drove past the school, we saw a lane leading left, and a glimpse of a rough brown stone tower at the end of it.
The Chor Minar sits in the middle of a small, pretty garden. A lawn spreads all around, with young trees at the fringes, near the fence. Pomegranate shrubs, clad in glorious orange-red blossoms; and a dark green hedge of jasmine, star-studded with fragrant white blooms – provided a fitting (though possibly incongruous) showcase for the Chor Minar. A tapering tower with rounded sides, made of rubble masonry, sits in the middle of the space. Each of its four sides has three recessed arches, and the barrel-like drum of the tower is pierced at equidistant intervals by circular holes,
Which brings us to what this grisly piece of masonry is all about. The Thieves’ Tower was probably built by Alauddin Khalji (reign: 1290-1321) as a deterrent for criminals. The holes in the drum of the tower supposedly acted as a display case for the severed heads of executed thieves. Not nice at all. I was a bit puzzled when I saw the holes, since they looked only about as big as somewhat large oranges; there was no way heads could have fitted into them. My husband’s guess was that pikes or something similar were pushed horizontally into the holes, and the heads stuck on the end. There’s no historical proof for this theory, but I suppose it’s plausible enough.
The Chor Minar has a single entrance, a narrow doorway from which another door leads up a spiral staircase. The stairs are dark, strewn with rubble and bat shit – and closed off with a barred, bolted gate. They didn’t look inviting, anyway, so we gave them a miss and contented ourselves with imagining horrible heads suspended all around the outside.
Entrance is free to the Chor Minar. You can visit just about anytime during the day; there isn’t even a caretaker in evidence. Set aside at the most ten minutes for this sight; it’s too small for more.