Tombs of Jahangir, Asif Khan and Akbari Sarai

Photo by Roman Bruehwiler.

Tombs of Jahangir, Asif Khan and Akbari Sarai, Lahore is part of the Tentative list of Pakistan in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.

The proposal comprises an ensemble of monuments from the Mughal period in Shahdara Bagh, a historic precinct located along the banks of the Ravi River opposite the city of Lahore. The Tomb of Jahangir is famous for its interiors that are extensively embellished with frescoes, inlay work (pietra dura) and marble intarsia of various colours. Adjacent to it is the Tomb of Asif Khan, a octagonal brick construction with a bulbous dome. Between the tombs is the Akbari Sarai, a large caravanserai originally built for travellers and caretakers of Jahangir's tomb and the best preserved example in Pakistan.

Map of Tombs of Jahangir, Asif Khan and Akbari Sarai

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The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.

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Els Slots

The Netherlands - 14-Dec-23 -

Tombs of Jahangir, Asif Khan and Akbari Sarai (T) by Els Slots

Lahore is the only city in Pakistan worth spending multiple days in. It was one of the capitals of the Mughals, and it shows it. You can find wonderful treasures even on its outskirts, such as these Mughal-era buildings. They lie in what nowadays is a poor neighbourhood and we met several begging Afghani children outside the gates.

The first impression of this site is great: the striking red monumental gate decorated with pietra dura to enter the Akbari Sarai compound, the Safavid-inspired ‘throned’ mausoleum to the Mughal emperor Jahangir and his ‘tomb’ (actually a cenotaph, his remains are in a crypt underneath) inside which is a masterpiece of marble and precious stones. When you walk to the outer grounds near the other tombs, the state of conservation of it all severely deteriorates both due to contemporary vandalism and earlier destruction. Only a few remaining glazed tiles of once colourful muqarnas can be seen in the domed structures.

Two stories need to be told here: the link with the Taj Mahal and the destruction by the Sikhs.

  • One of the tombs (upper photo) is of Asif Khan, who was the father of the person we know as Mumtaz Mahal – emperor Shah Jahan’s wife who is buried in the Taj Mahal. Asif Khan was the Grand Vizier (similar to a prime minister) during the reign of Shah Jahan. Asif Khan was also the brother of Nur Jahan, who was the chief consort of emperor Jahangir (both buried at this complex as well). So this is a burial place for some very high-ranked Mughals!
  • At all sites in Lahore, you will hear stories of destruction by the Sikhs. They took over the city in the late 18th century from the Mughals, looting marble and other valuable elements from its monuments and taking the valuables to decorate the Golden Temple in Amritsar. The damage probably is the clearest seen at the formidable tomb of Jahangir (lower photo), where many precious stones that were part of the design are missing or have been replaced by cheaper ones. Few Sikhs remain in Pakistan (we saw some in Peshawar), but border corridors have opened for Indian Sikhs to visit for example their holy temple in Lahore. They arrive on buses escorted by a police convoy (we once had to wait for 25 of them to pass in Lahore’s streets!). 

Read more from Els Slots here.


UK - 19-Dec-13 -

Tombs of Jahangir, Asif Khan and Akbari Sarai (T) by Solivagant

Another day in Pakistan and yet another tomb……! But this one is of someone one has heard of - Jahangir, the 4th Mughal emperor. He was the intellectual, artistic, liberal, fun loving one (opium, alcohol and women!). His tomb is set within a complex of gardens called Dilkushan Bagh (= "Garden of Contentment") at Shikura, a short distance outside the Lahore of those days. These had been built by his (20th!!) wife - Nur Jahan – and were used by her and Jahangir's 3rd son (by his 2nd wife), Khurram (who took the name Shah Jahan on succeeding Jahangir after disposing of other contenders), as the site for building Jahangir's mausoleum across the 10 years after his death in 1627.

One notice board at the site claims that “the tomb is a monument of surpassing beauty and the finest ornament of Historical Lahore and is considered the most magnificent Mughal edifice in the Indo-Pak Sub-Continent after the Taj Mahal at Agra”. High praise indeed, and, even if not true, it does show that this is no “run of the mill” monument. This very illuminating “Assessment Report” from Feb 2011 by the Global Heritage Fund contains a nice set of “Statements of Significance” in a form which could well be adopted by UNESCO, including this one - “an elegant and visually stunning representation of Mughal rule, design and symbolism in the language of architecture and landscape”.

So, what is “on show”? Well, the T List site definition identifies 3 elements. The “Tombs of Jahangir, Asif Khan and Akbari Sarai”. This might sound like the tombs of 3 people but, in fact, the 3rd element refers to the “Sarai of Akbar” (Sarai = "Caravan Inn"). An alternative name is “Court of the Tomb” and it consists of a square enclosure with c180 accommodation “cells” for guardians and visitors, which surrounds a formal “Mughal” garden. The site is entered from the southern side of this courtyard. To the left and right through large gateways are 2 further square gardens each containing one of the tombs – that of Jahangir to the East and that of Asif Khan, the brother of Nur Jahan, to the West. This latter is rather dilapidated and, when we were there during a “holiday”, seemed to be being used by all the budding cricketers of the town to practice their skills! It consists of a domed tomb set in what once were formal gardens – the pathways on either side of the empty “canals” provided an excellent run up for bowlers and wicket for batsmen. Indeed the entire site’s prime purpose seemed to be more as a public park than as a historic monument. Jahangir’s tomb consists of a large square raised platform (c80m per side) with 100ft high corner towers. Inside, accessed by a passageway from each side, is the main chamber containing Jahangir’s cenotaph. Leaving aside the general integrated design of the garden and built landscape, the real value from visiting this site lies in seeing the decoration of this chamber (photo). It is mainly inlay work (but also with frescoes) using techniques, designs and indeed actual stone sources as in the Taj Mahal – flowers but also geometric patterns and calligraphy describing e.g the 99 attributes of Allah. If (as we have!) you have ever bought a souvenir from Agra it may well have been an example of this type of stone inlay work as it has a flourishing “pietra dura” industry to supply the large tourist numbers there. Jahangir’s tomb on the other hand received just 357 foreigners in 2009/10 according to the report referred to above! After you have seen the tomb area the chowkidar will justify his tip by opening a gate to let you up on to the platform and then a gate in one of the towers for a fine view over the entire site from the top! The total visit is likely to take from around 45 minutes depending on how “thorough” you want to be.

There is another element of the original complex, namely the tomb of Nur Jahan herself. This is cut off from the rest by a railway line dating back to the days of railway construction by the British in the 19th C. It has not however been included in the Tentative List definition – probably for both authenticity and management reasons. It is in poor condition and has lost much of what was original – apparently it suffered more from the predations of Ranjit Singh than the other parts (though those too were vandalised and the Akbari Sarai was used as residence). It has recently had a rather low quality replastering/redecoration on 1 of its 4 sides - a better job will be needed on any such work at the main complex if its integrity isn’t to be compromised. If you have a car you might as well visit it unless you are very short of time. On which matter - the site will only take around 20 minutes to reach from the Lahore Fort area. It would be a shame not to get out to it.

So, what are its chances of future inscription? Well the list already has 2 Mughal tomb inscriptions - Humayun’s (1572) and the Taj Mahal (c1653) with both having Mughal gardens, as well as a Mughal garden without a tomb at the nearby Shalamar (and other gardens in the 3 inscribed Mughal forts at Agra, Delhi and Lahore!). Fine as the main funerary chamber is, it seems difficult for a strong case to be made out on a “comparability” basis for yet another Mughal tomb/garden complex? This one straddles the dates of the other 2 and I don’t know enough about Mughal architecture to comment on whether this is significant for a “unique” stylistic argument. I guess it partly depends on the politics at the time of any proposal. In any case the site needs a lot of preservation work done on it.

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Tombs of Jahangir, Asif Khan and Akbari Sarai, Lahore
Structure - Burial
1993 Added to Tentative List

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Tombs of Jahangir, Asif Khan and Akbari Sarai (T)
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