To find Ali Mardan Khan's tomb, traveling east on G.T. Road, you should turn right (south) on Mughalpura Road (formerly Wheatman Road or Vetman Road as it is locally called). As you approach the railway tracks, you need to keep a lookout for a small sign saying 'MET-1' on your right. Immediately after the sign is a small gate (presently painted green) for pedestrian entry. The gate is normally locked and is open only on Thursdays. Although it is said that it is open on other weekdays between 10:00 and 12:00 noon as well, if you wish to visit this remarkable structure, it is advisable to contact the Department of Archaeology so that the relevant guard is instructed to open it. This elaborate arrangement is due to the surrounding area being under the jurisdiction of Pakistan Railways, who have allowed the Department of Archaeology an enclosed walkway for access to the tomb.
Be prepared for a 300 meter walk on a bare earth floor (there is no paving) through this narrow walkway, relieved by an interesting pattern of light and shade filtering on the enclosing bare brick walls through a steel lattice roof. Surprisingly, this complicated arrangement is not for the security of the magnificent tomb, but to ensure inaccessibility to the expensive railway stores of the Railway Carriage Workshop on adjacent land.
Approximately 3/4 of the way through, a passage veers on the left, and leads to a large enclosure with a shrine and historical mosque. The shrine belongs to Ghous-al Azam Dastgir, Hamid Shah Qari, who is much revered by the local community, who congregate here every Thursday. On the left of the mosque are a well and a small wash chamber, said to be of the same vintage as the mosque. The mazar is really a grave in an enclosure but carries no roof. To reach the historic Mughal sepulcher, you will need to continue on the original walkway, which leads you directly to a gate beyond which, in a large, isolated enclosure stands the imposing tomb of Ali Mardan Khan.
Ali Mardan, originally a noble at the court of the Safavid king Shah Tahmasp, after surrendering Iranian Qandahar to Emperor Shah Jahan in 1638, rose rapidly to great heights at the Mughal court. He became an indispensable member of the Mughal nobility and was appointed Governor of Kashmir, Lahore and Kabul. In 1639, Ali Mardan Khan was given the title of Amir al-Umara (Lord of Lords), made a Haft Hazari (commander of 7,000 troops) and appointed viceroy of the Punjab which then stretched from Kabul to Delhi.
Ali Mardan Khan was also an eminent engineer. He is credited with supervising construction of several royal buildings in Kashmir and digging of the Delhi canal, which runs between the Red Fort and the old city. The water supply system of Shalimar Gardens in Kashmir (Gulmarg) was also planned by him. His lasting contribution to actualize Shah Jahan's paradisiacal vision for Lahore was the construction of a canal from the river Ravi for the supply of water to the Shalimar Gardens, as well as for the irrigation and cultivation of surrounding areas. Although the Shalimar canal was later completed by others, Ali Mardan also became known for the canal he built at Shajahanabad (Delhi). There is little doubt that "he excited universal admiration at the court by the skill and judgment of his public works." He is known to have built many edifices and gardens—at Nimla (near Kabul), Kabul, Peshawar and Lahore. Much to the sorrow of the emperor, his favorite noble died in 1657, while on his way to Kashmir. Ali Mardan Khan's body was carried back to be buried in the magnificent tomb that he had built for his mother. He was buried along the graves of his mother and her maid servant.
The tomb itself is a massive brick construction work, octagonal in plan with a high dome and kiosks on angular points and standing on an eight sided podium, each side measuring 58 ft. It was originally a magnificent structure with the dome finished with white marble inlaid with floral design in black marble. Its sides punctured by lofty Timurid aiwans, surmounted by a massive 42' diameter dome raised on a drum. Although most of the chattris (domed kiosks) at the corners of the octagon are lost, it is a decorative feature often utilized in 16th and 17th century Mughal tombs.
Today, shorn of surface decoration, except the remains of frescoes in some of the alcoves, the exterior walls must once have carried scintillating tile mosaic (kashi kari), as can be seen in the extant gateway at some distance to the north of the sepulcher. The chambers had peitra dura work in the massive marble columns and fresco paintings in walls and ceilings. The graves were on a three-foot high red sand stone platform beneath a larger than usual dome which was profusely decorated with inlaid precious and semi-precious stones and fresco floral patterns.
The tomb once stood at the centre of a paradisiacal garden, a favorite theme as evidenced in the sepulcher of Jahangir. The extent of Ali Mardan garden can be gauged by the double-storey gateway in the north mentioned above. Similar gateways would have marked the centers of the south, west and east edges of the garden square.
Although Ali Mardan Khan was a Mughal noble and not a saint, the spiritually-inclined locals call the tomb Mardan Khan's durbar or shrine. The grave which is in the subterranean chamber, and accessed through a descending flight of steps, is decorated in the manner of a saint's shrine.
The ravaged condition of the tomb is attributed to the Sikh rule, when the tomb structure was used as a military magazine by Gulab Singh, one of Ranjit Singh's generals, and the gateway as residence by Gurdit Singh, colonel of the Sikh battalion Misranwali.