Rajdhani Express – III – Qutub Complex – The towering heritage of Delhi

From Old Delhi, we boarded a bus to take us to the Oldest Delhi, the Mehrauli area where the Qutub Minar is located. Boarding a local bus is always a great way to explore a city, feel like a local and be a part of the culture. Also, converse in your native language and watch the bewildered expressions of your co-passengers wondering what language you were speaking (Exception – if you are a Telugu/Tamil speaker visiting Bangalore, don’t try this !)

Here lies the not so fortunate Emperor

Half way through our ride, we spotted the Humayun’s Tomb and on the fly decided to visit it. Initially, the plan was to go to Humayun’s Tomb before boarding our train back to Hyderabad because we were going to take the train from Hazrath Nizamuddin station and Humayun’s tomb is close by. However, not wanting to push the visit till the last day, we got down the bus at the last minute just as the bus was leaving the bus stop, much to the annoyance of the driver !

We walked to Humayun’s tomb complex which apart from Humayun’s tomb also houses the tombs of other Mughal royals including Humayun’s wife, Shah Jahan’s eldest son Dara Shikhoh.

Since we were short of time, we limited our visit only to Humayun’s tomb. At the entrance stands this gateway behind which the tomb is located.

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This is the first view of the tomb from the gateway arch.

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The Humayun’s tomb structure is similar to the Taj Mahal, may be Shah Jahan took inspiration from this.

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Built by Humayun’s wife, the tomb’s architecture is typical of Mughal era buildings, elegance is the word to describe Mughal buildings.

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From the archway at the centre of the base platform there are steep steps leading to the chamber where Humayun rests. From above the platform one get a nice view of the Humayun tomb complex and the Nizamuddin area. We were in a bit of a rush so our visit to Humayun’s tomb was super quick, we wished we could spend some more time checking out the other monuments in the complex.

One of the meanings of the name Humayun is fortunate but the life of Emperor Humayun wasn’t as fortunate as the name. Faced with wars and defeat in the hands of Sher Shah Suri, Humayun had to flee India and take refuge in Persia for about 10 years. He managed to return and claim back his throne only to die in a freak accident by falling from his library steps a few months later. Even his legacy is overshadowed by other great Mughals Babur, Akbar, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb.

From Humayun’s tomb, we took a cycle rickshaw to Hazrat Nizamuddin station hoping to find a bus to Mehrauli but since we were running slightly behind schedule, we hired an auto rickshaw to Qutub Minar.

India’s favourite tower !

After 45 minute drive from Hazrat Nizamuddin, which included snacking on home made Poha right in the auto rickshaw because it was way past lunch time and we did not want to stop anywhere else and waste time, we arrived at the Qutub Complex.

When the Delhi trip was being planned, this writer had only 2 conditions subject to which the writer was willing to risk a flight journey – 1. The Iron Pillar of Delhi 2. National Museum. The excitement was high as we bought the entry tickets, a short walk to the complex and lo before us stood the one of India’s most celebrated monuments, the Qutub Minar !

Our meagre photography skills were insufficient to capture this beautiful structure. Either the glare was too much or the angle not right or we were unable to fit in this huge tower within our frame.

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If the tower doesn’t look straight, it is because, actually the Qutub Minar too has been leaning like the other famous tower in Pisa, our hideous photography just gave it a little more inclination !

Here is a slightly better click.

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The Qutub Minar is witness to a new chapter in the history of India of India’s architecture as one of the earliest structures under the Indo-Islamic architecture.

Proceeding further into the Qutub complex, we first saw the remnants of the Rajput and Jain temples that were destroyed to make way for the Qutub Minar and other structures. The pillared corridors stand graceful in defeat and tell tales from the times of yore.

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We had only read about the Qutub Minar being built in the place of temples but didn’t really think we could spot the images, we were surprised to find this figure on one of the pillars.

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The entire Qutub complex is a mix of Rajput and Muslim architecture, there are arched gateways standing beside these pillared halls, domes and sculpted roofs and towering over all the structures is the Qutub Minar.

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Within the complex, the Qutub Minar is omnipresent – wherever you turn, you cannot miss it, here and there it even plays peek-a-boo !

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Check the internet for pictures of Qutub Minar and you are sure to find several such photos !

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You can see planes flying over the Qutub Minar every few minutes, must be an amazing sight to see the Qutub Minar from a plane.

The Iron Man !

And then, out in the open courtyard, standing and owning the place, is the Iron Pillar !

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1500 years and strong as ever, defying laws of Chemistry and still rust free ! What do we call this metallurgical wizardry of the Guptas?

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There are different theories about the original location of the Iron Pillar, some say it was brought back as a trophy by the Delhi Sultans, some think it stood in Delhi even during the times of the Rajputs.

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There is a Sanskrit inscription on the Pillar written in Gupta Era Brahmi script praising the king who bears the name Chandra, probably referring to Chandra Gupta II. One can find a tablet with the English translation on one of the walls of the pillared corridors. For a lover of history, it is very exciting to see the inscription on the Pillar.

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It feels like someone from 1500 years ago is talking to you ! How could the people of that time come up with an idea like this, a corrosion free Iron Pillar ! Who was the brain behind the idea? Who worked out the perfect metallurgical composition? Who were the ones who actually worked on it? Can we have a time machine, please !

We stood staring at the Iron Pillar and the Qutub Minar for a long time, only a super human effort can result in such art, architecture and technology. Here they are, caught in the same frame.

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We then made our way to the other ruins around the complex. At the far end, one can still see the incomplete dream of Sultan Ala-ud-din Khilji, the Alai Minar.

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Ala-ud-din Khilji wanted to build a tower twice the size of Qutub Minar, however, he died before it even completed the first storey and it has remained unfinished every since.

After some more time walking around the Qutub complex and discussing history (we call it a discussion but it is usually this writer lecturing whether the others are interested or not !) we made our way outside. Half the purpose of our Delhi trip was accomplished !

Then, we realised that we still had enough time for a “stop and go” visit to the Lotus Temple and boarded a bus to take us to the Kalkaji area.

Towards universal brotherhood

We got off the bus somewhere near Kalkaji and walked to the Lotus Temple. It is a place of worship of the Baha’i faith, the faith believes in the universal brotherhood of all people. Every religion actually talks about universal brotherhood, somewhere down the line, all religions of today seem to have forgotten that.

Beautiful gardens welcome you to the Lotus Temple, the place is very peaceful and well maintained.

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Built in 1986, the House of Worship is shaped like a lotus, giving it the name Lotus Temple and is considered as one of the most visited buildings in the world.

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Inside the Lotus Temple is a dome shaped prayer hall, there is total silence and every sound that you make reverberates around the entire hall. We were in time for a 10 minute prayer session where texts from the major world religions were read out.

Dusk was falling by the time we left Lotus Temple, we turned to catch a glimpse of it again and found this lovely view of the sun setting between the “petals” !

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When you see moments like these, you feel there is no greater God or divine system than the universe around us. The more we realise this, the better this world will turn out to be.

We snacked at a near by food stall and winding up our tour for the day, took a cab to Vasant Vihar from where our cousin was supposed to pick us up. While waiting for the cousin to arrive, we tried looking everywhere for a cup of chai but couldn’t find one. We realised we didn’t find too many tea bunks by the road side unlike the ones you find in Hyderabad. Being Hyderabadis, we take our chai very seriously, you just have to think about chai, a “chai dukaan” seems to appear magically, this is something we missed ! Eventually, after a long walk, we spotted a tea shop and enjoyed our fresh cup of tea in the cold evening before heading home.

It was outright fun roaming around Delhi, we had boarded all kinds of public transport available – Metro, Bus, Auto rickshaw, pedal rickshaw and we were mighty pleased that we managed to pack so many places of interest in one day. We slept blissfully with this joyous feeling.

Info tidbits

  • Humayun’s Tomb is open from about 8 AM to 6 PM and is closed on Mondays. Qutub Minar – 10 AM to 5 PM, Lotus Temple – 9 AM to 7 PM and closed on Mondays.
  • All these places are popular tourist locations, finding transport is not an issue. If you plan to take the local transport, ask for information. We found most people including the bus conductors and autowallas helpful but we suppose the experience will be different for everybody, any city will have people waiting to fleece you !
  • We could visit a lot of places in one day because we started early and didn’t specifically stop for lunch or too many breaks, it works for us. Otherwise, you may need 2 days to cover all these places in detail. We might have skipped the Lotus Temple if we had visited the Red Fort in the morning but since it was closed, it gave us the extra time to fit in the Lotus Temple.
  • If you are new to city, try and get back before too late in the night. We had a cab driver tell us some personal scary stories of knife wielding gangs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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