Life in Gurgaon

A Mughal-era sarai, contested history and murmurs of a curse

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As the Delhi-Gurgaon Expressway cuts through Naurangpur, some 20 kilometers from the heart of Gurugram, one lands at a maze of under-construction buildings that are fast sprouting across the skyline of South Haryana. Products of rampant construction, these buildings punctuate the roads on both sides — some frozen with partially completed structures, some waiting to be sold, and others with their absentee flat owners.

Cranes dangle in the air even as dust bellows from the mounds of construction material dumped on the ground floors of these buildings. Skirting the northern foothills of the Aravalli mountain range, these buildings make way for the sun-kissed mustard fields as one head toward Taurus in Nuh (erstwhile Mewat).

The landscape changes and animal herders can be seen leading their cattle into the fields that flank both sides of the road from Naurangpur to Tauru road. The trail is largely innocuous and is unlikely to attract any spectacular attention. However, it’s from here that a small detour off the main road leads one to a nondescript village called Sarai — which is imbued in history but whose past has largely been forgotten.

The village Sarai derives its name from a Mughal-era Sarai Mirza that has existed here for the past 323 years. The village, in fact, seems to have grown around the Sarai.

Centuries ago, sarais used to serve as temporary halting stations for civilians as well as the troops. “A sari is a historic wayside inn or halting station where travelers would rest at the end of a day’s journey. They can be found all across the country, along with major movement corridors. Sara is were used both by common people as well as transiting army troops. Emperors and rich landlords got them constructed,” said Swapna Liddle, author-historian and convener of Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), Delhi.

Sarai Mirza

A vortex of streets — interspersed with hookah-smoking men at every few meters — leads to the Sarai Mirza, the presence of which is signaled by a towering arched gateway, which casts its shadow over the houses in the vicinity. The antiquity of the Sarai Mirza can be traced back through a valuable inscription — surprisingly in a fairly good condition — that has managed to survive all these years. The inscription is placed on the grand entrance gateway of the Sarai Mirza whose alcoves are now a busy hideout for pigeons. The survival of the inscription for over three centuries is enough to indicate the prowess of the constructor and the structure.

The inscription — penned in classical Persian on a marble slate — mentions its year of construction as 1696 CE, according to experts. Siddique Ahmed Meo, community historian and author of books on Mewat’s history, visited Sarai Mirza a few years ago, took a picture of the inscription and got it translated with the help of a renowned Persian expert.