Zafar Mahal is situated within the Qutub Complex in Mehrauli in South Delhi and a 16 km drive from Connaught Place in Central Delhi. The Airport lies 17 km away and the nearest railhead lies 18 km away and accessible by local taxis and auto rickshaws.
The Zafar Mahal was probably the last summer Palace ever built by the Mughal Emperor Akbar Shah II and Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar II who was the last reigning Mughal Emperor of Northern India before he was captured by the British. The Palace was originally built by Emperor Akbar Shah II in 1842 and later Emperor Zafar II added the entrance gateway during his reign in the 19th Century and hence was named after him as the 'Zafar Palace'.
Emperor Zafar wanted to be buried within the confines of the Zafar Mahal as all his ascendants and Emperors of the Mughal Empire were respectfully buried within the precincts of the Palace graveyard made of marble including Emperors Bahadur Shah I, Shah Alam II, Akbar Shah II and lastly Mirza Faqrruddin, son of Emperor Zafar II. However, Zafar II was prisoned by the British and unfortunately deported to Rangoon in Burma on exile on a bullock cart accompanied by a few British lancers only to die there without any Royal treatment, honour or respect. He was literally buried in great hurry in the middle of the night under the light of lanterns by a few British Soldiers attended by his family members. His grave remained unmarked up till the 20th Century but today a Tablet is seen erected over his grave and attracts many visitors from Burma, India and Pakistan who deemed him as a Saint. It was over Emperor Zafar's grave that the famous martyred National Freedom Fighter leader named Subhash Chandra Bose took an oath to free India from the British Rule.
The Zafar Palace lies exactly 300 feet to the west of Ajmeri Gate and is an imposing structure built at the height of a three storied building measuring 15 feet wide and made of red sandstone and laid with marble stones. The 'Hathi Gate' measuring 4 metres high is seen with a broad beam known as 'Chhajja' built in the perfect Mughal style including an inscription seen on the main arch of this gate revealing that it was constructed by Emperor Zafar II in 1847-1848 AD to honour the 11th year of his rule as the Mughal Emperor of India. The symbol is seen projecting externally with intricately curved small windows under small Bengali Dome roofs forming a distinguished feature of the arched gate. It is also flanked with two ornate lotus shaped medallions on either side. The gateway is designed with three arched openings leading further into 12 opening structures through which cool breeze is automatically sucked through to cool the palatial grounds depicting unique architectural skills of architects in those times without the availability of any modern devices or tools to create such impeccable precisions and this skill is rarely seen today. It was through this entrance point that the Emperor and his Royalties would enter the Palace grounds on well decorated Elephants and hence the name originated. In fact the interiors of 'Hathi Gate' imitate the Chatta Chowk design in Red Fort.
The Top level or floor of the Zafar Palace is seen with typical Indian Style of architecture revealing a row of multiple chambers with arched openings closed on one side and opened on the other side facing a terrace and overlooking the courtyard while the window size openings on the other end faces the entrance gate. The European addition of a fireplace is also seen in most of these chambers or arcade rooms.
Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar would visit his Zafar Mahal every year during his hunting season which fell normally during the monsoon months. He was also honoured at this Palace by flower sellers during the Phulwalon Ki Sair Festival held every spring season in February and March during that era.
Today, the Hathi Gate is still well maintained; however, Zafar Mahal is occupied with numerous shops and residences making it difficult to even believe or imagine that this was once the Royal Summer Palace of the Mughal Emperors. Owing to the current state of the Palace, ASI and INTACH had deemed this area as a protected site in 1920 and are currently renovating the Palace into a Mughal Museum dedicated to the life, achievements and reign of the last Mughal Emperor of India, Bahadur Shah Zafar II.