Delhi – The non-leaning tower of Qutub

They say there is history buried in every corner of Delhi. The important message here is not just the history but also the fact that it is buried. Delhi was established in the 8th century but it gained prominence only in 1206 AD when the Qutub dynasty setup the Delhi Sultanate. In the periods since, the city has been destroyed and rebuilt several times by invaders and had been often identified as a glorious capital that was hard to defend because of the lack of natural barriers around it. That might be the reason Mughals preferred Agra as their capital and that became the later centre for a lot of architecture and cultural development. In the middle of all the invasions Delhi lost most of its population, a lot of monuments where damaged or destroyed and there were many who tried to rab the city of its soul. While all the Timurs and Gaznis of the world failed, time has proven to be the most damaging of them all. Some masterpieces still remain and keep reminding Delhi of the history that was and the culture that could have been.

One of the oldest remnants of the legendary architecture of Delhi is also the symbol of the first kingdom to be established here. The Qutub minar and truly stood the test of time and while earthquakes have caused some damage in the past, repairs and just a highly resilient soul have meant that the brave minar still stands. It does stand in the middle of a lot of destruction, though. The mosque that it was supposed to be a part of is in ruins with only the walls and some roofs close to the edges still standing. A failed attempt at a second minar means there is a ruin of a second minar that goes by the name of Alai Minar. While in ruins, the complex is quite amazing with some beautiful sculpture work in the stones around and plays hosts to large pandemonium of parrots.

In the middle of the roofless mosque is an iron pillar which is believed to have been constructed in 400 CE during the reign of Chandragupta II. The claim to fame for this 7 meter high pillar is its corrosion resistance over the 1600 years it has been in existence. It is highly unlikely that this pillar started off here but there are no clear records of when it was moved to its present location and where it was moved from. It is likely that it was moved from somewhere around Mathura in 1200 CE.

There are a number of other tombs and beautifully carved structures in the complex as well and make for a good stroll around. My favorite site in the vicinity though is the Jamali Kamali mosque complex which is technically not in the same area but is just a 10 minute walk away. This complex hosts the relatively plain mosque of Jamali Kamali that is also believed to be haunted. While I have never had any encounters of the other kind, there is a small complex inside the mosque boundaries that is kept locked to protect the beautiful mosaics and tile work inside. A small gift to a guard has helped get some access once in a while. There is also one of the best rose gardens in the city if you happen to go during bloom season (March / August) and the gardener is in a good enough mood to let you in.

The Qutub is open from sunrise to about 11pm and has a fairly nominal entrance fee. The place gets really crowded on weekends around 9/10am and the crowds last through the day in winters. I have found early mornings to be the best time to go. There is a pretty large parking lot across the road from the main entrance and there are a number of high end restaurants just round the corner. There are also some local ‘dhabas’ nearby and one of them serves up some excellent cholle bhature. More recently LED lights brighten up the monument late nights and make an evening visit as rewarding as an early morning one.

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