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Exploring ruins to conserve heritage and legends

ISP Delhi Bureau

He is a direct descendent of a Sufi saint belonging to the Chishti order. He introduces himself as a storyteller and not a historian. He heads a fast growing travel company which is mentoring a community around heritage visits and documenting the lesser-known legends of medieval North India.

Syed Yusuf Shahab, a tourism post graduate from Jamia Millia Islamia, and his team is a weekend regular routine for quite a lot of history enthusiasts of Delhi today. “I consider these walks a journey in search of the past. It is a blend of heritage study, storytelling and history lessons. We must know our past to nurture the present and to prepare ourselves for the future better,” says Yusuf to ISP correspondent. 

Syed Yusuf became more popular with the walk enthusiasts after he penned down the book ‘The Lost Sufis of Delhi’ which documents chronologically the different Sufi traditions of Delhi region. It has a separate section on saints buried in Delhi with their work and influence. Delhi, the abode of Sufism had residence of many unknown saints and their followers which greatly influenced the spiritual traditions of the Indian mainland. 

“From my childhood I have had an interest in history and architecture. As a child I used up all my free time in reading and exploring various sources of lesser known history of Delhi and the places that were hardly visited by people. It was in 2017 that my formal journey of explorations began, with special emphasis on the discarded and ignored monuments of Delhi and the surrounding areas. I was amazed at what beautiful and significant gems have been neglected and pushed into oblivion,” says Syed Yusuf.

Yusuf started a heritage tour group named Sair-E-Dilli in 2018 and later evolved it by expanding it beyond Delhi and called it Sair-E-Hind. His  outreach to the neighbouring cities of Panipat, Sirhind, Badaun and Jalandhar was an instant hit with enthusiasts as there were hardly any organised attempts to explore these places.

“In January 2020, I conducted my first tour of Panipat, Haryana and in 2021-22 three tours of Sirhind, Punjab. I did not expect the kind of response we had. There were families that wanted to study places beyond Delhi and to listen to stories which shaped the politics and history of the country,” says Yusuf. His second book ‘Sirhind: A monumental example of oblivion’ was published as part of his writings efforts during the pandemic. Currently, Yusuf is also engaged with Sufinama of the Rekhta Foundation.

Walks to Qudsia Bagh near Kashmiri Gate, the lesser known tombs of Nizamuddin, the stories of Nicholson cemetery, Chilla and Patti Sahab’s Dargah, Chausath Kambha, Ghalib’s tomb and Sunder Nursery are the new tourism spots of Delhi now. Thanks to the efforts of walk