Last weekend, we decided to take advantage of the fact that we live in Delhi and play tourists. There’s so much to see and do in the area that it was difficult to decide where to go. There have been 8 distinct settlements in the area through the centuries and in many occasions things were built on top of things from the previous settlement, often using construction materials from the previous settlement, so there are numerous forts, temples, monuments, ruins and a whole bunch more sites worth seeing. We knew that we couldn’t wander for hours because the kids would lose interest quickly, so we settled on Qutub Minar, which is relatively close to where we live.
It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and you can read more about it here but it is basically a victory tower built out of red sandstone and marble at the beginning of Islamic rule in India. At 72.5 m (237.5 ft), it is the tallest minaret in India and the tallest brick minaret in the world. Its construction started in 1193 by Qutub-ud-din Aibak, the first ruler of the Delhi Sultanate, after his defeat of the last Hindu kingdom in Delhi. It’s an example of early Afghan architecture and has five stories, each marked by a projecting balcony. Qutub-ud-din ruled for just four years (1206 and 1210) and was only able to build the first story before he died (playing polo in Lahore), so it was completed by his successors.
The tower has a tilt (kinda like the leaning tower of Pisa) but otherwise has weathered the centuries remarkably well. Tourists used to be able to climb all the way to the top for a gorgeous view but according to our cab driver, there was an accident in the 1980s where a bunch of kids died or were injured in a stampede to get out of the stairwell in an electricity outage, so now you can’t go up.
There are several other buildings/ruins nearby and it’s actually a complex not just a stand alone minaret but the minaret is the focal point. At the foot of the minaret is the Might of Islam Mosque, the first mosque built in India. It used the foundations of a Hindu temple and many of the elements in the mosque’s construction indicate their Hindu or Jain origins. According to the Persian inscriptions, 27 Hindu and Jain temples were destroyed and materials from them were reused to build the mosque and minaret.
The decorative inscriptions on the tower were unbelievably intricate and beautiful:
Within the complex is also a 7-m-tall pillar made of iron of exceptional purity. On it there is a Sanskrit inscription indicating that it was initially erected outside a Hindu Vishnu temple in memory of Chandragupta II, who ruled from AD 375 to 413. Though not exceptionally tall, the pillar is considered a world metallurgical curiosity because it has not rusted for almost 2000 years and scientists have yet to figure out how the iron was cast using the technology available at the time. The tower is surrounded by colonnades on three sides and by arches on the fourth.
There were more ruins but one that I found intriguing is the beginning of another minaret called Alai Minar. It was started by Ala-ud-din Khilji who ruled between 1296 and 1316 AD. He wanted to build a second victory tower just like Qutub Minar, this one in memory of his successful campaign in the Deccan, except twice as tall. Unfortunately, he too died before he could finish it. His successors must not have been as ambitious because the second tower sits unfinished to this day at 25 m (80 ft):
More of amazing decorative inscriptions:
And finally, gratuitous pictures of us with random strangers who insisted on taking our picture or being in the pictures we were taking. Because who doesn’t want to take a picture with pale strangers, especially chubby little ones? Chutney was a super star! Many people would ask if they could take his picture, which we were OK with. Others would do it without asking but then there were the ones that insisted on touching him. On the face, no less. Not only that but one lady, who seemed nice at first, tried to, without asking, take Chutney out of his stroller and pick him up or something. I gave her a stern “Excuse me!!!” in Hindi and my meanest “What the what???” stare, which made her run off. I guess it’s one of those cultural difference things but I would never even dream of touching a stranger’s child without permission. I draw the line there and have been politely but firmly trying discourage the practice.
Anyway, other than the baby-touching strangers, we had a great time and everyone else was very nice.