Delhi, the capital of India, has so much to see and do that one needs to spend a good week exploring all of it. The city steeped in history has several Mughal masterpieces, exquisite temples and Rajpath with stately government buildings. Not to forget the vibrant markets at Chandani Chowk, Khan Market, Dilli Haat if you love shopping. If you’re looking for some lip-smacking food that will tickle your taste buds, then the street food here is a must-eat. Delhi has always been our first landing destination every time we wanted to explore the North of India. So, we have always explored it in bits and pieces. This time around, when we went to Agra, Fatehpur Sikri and Bharatpur, we spent a day exploring the Qutub Minar, Mehrauli Archaeological Park and Humayun’s Tomb as well as Dilli Haat.
This travelogue will focus on Qutub Minar and Mehrauli Archaeological Park. We rise early and, after a heavy breakfast, my son and I set off to explore Delhi. UNESCO World Heritage Sites are always on our must-do list. So, the plan is to visit Red Fort, Qutub Minar and Humayun’s Tomb. But being a Monday, the Red Fort is closed. We set our sights on the other two, with our first stop being Qutub Minar.
Our driver arrives at the hotel to pick my son and me. We reach the Qutub Minar complex and purchase entry tickets. Soon we find a guide and set off exploring the complex, which has numerous impressive structures.
In 1193 Qutab-ud-din Aibak, the first Sultan of Delhi, built Qutub Minar a towering minerat 72.5 metres tall. Our guide points to the Qutub Minar and clarifies that out of the five storeys of the tower, Aibak only completed the basement. Iltutmush, his successor, added three more storeys while Firoz Shah Tughlaq constructed the last storey. If you observe the minaret closely, the first three storeys are made of sandstone, the fourth with marble and the fifth with sandstone. Here is an interesting fact the Taj Mahal is taller than the Qutub Minar.
If one were to have an aerial view of the Qutub Minar, it is in the shape of a lotus. There are Arabic inscriptions in bands around the minerat and projecting balconies from each storey. Earlier, one could take the spiral staircase inside the tower and go right up to the top. But ever since the incident when a stampede caused the death of school children, it has been out of bounds for tourists. As a child, I remember watching the song ‘Dil ka bhawar kare pukar’ on the Chaya Geet TV program from the movie ‘Tere Ghar Ke Samne’. It is picturized inside the Qutub Minar. You will find evergreen star Dev Anand wooing the pretty Nutan as they walk down the Minar.
Close to the Qutub Minar is the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, also called the Qutub Mosque. It has an inner and outer courtyard. The ruins of Jain and Hindu temples were repurposed to construct the mosque. So, one can see idols of Jain deities, Hindu gods and goddesses. One of the arches in the outer courtyard of the mosque has intricate carvings with Arabic calligraphy.
The Qutub Minar complex has a lot of structures that were constructed by Allaudin Khilji, who belonged to the Khilji Dynasty. He began building the Alai Minar in 1131. Since he had also doubled the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, he wanted the minerat to be twice as tall as the Qutub Minar. The Alai Minar could never be completed, and we only see its stump in the outer courtyard of the mosque.
Tomb of Iltutmush
We then walk to the Tomb of Iltutmish. His body is laid to rest in a chamber beneath the tomb. The sandstone structure enclosing the tomb is intricately carved with Arabic inscriptions and geometrical patterns. The tomb and a mihrab are made with marble. Originally the structure had a dome, but it is no more. One can get a beautiful view of the sky from the opening created by the missing dome. Many people are clicking selfies and pics here as the structure provides a beautiful background for the pics.
Madrasa and Tomb
We walk further, and our guide points to an L shaped structure with a series of cells and two domed chambers. It is the Madrasa and is also where Allaudin Khilji is buried.
Our guide leads us to the central courtyard of the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, which houses the Iron Pillar. This 7-metre-tall iron pillar dates back to the 4th century. This pillar is a marvel as it doesn’t rust. Folklore exists that if a person stands in front of the pillar with arms around it and if the palms meet, the person’s wish is fulfilled. ASI has barricaded the pillar to prevent over-enthusiastic crowds from damaging it.
The pillar has inscriptions that King Chandra erected it in Vishnupadagiri and later moved it here. Some historians believe it was made in Udaygiri in Madhya Pradesh. Iltutmush after he conquered Vidisha brought it here. The iron pillar reminds me of the Heliodorous Pillar or Khamba Baba, as the locals describe, which we had seen in Vidisha near Udaygiri.
The Alai Darwaza is the southern gateway of the mosque, made of contrasting red sandstone with white marble. The latticework in the windows is beautiful as light filters through it.
Tomb of Imam Zamin
Close to the Alai Darwaza is the Tomb of Imam Zamin. The small dome structure has latticework in its windows. The mausoleum has the remains of Muhammad Ali, an Islamic cleric.
In Search of Stepwells
Our guide leaves us to admire all these structures inside the complex. He casually mentions some interesting monuments around the complex, including shrines of Sufi saints and stepwells that we may want to explore on our own. Stepwells fascinate me, having seen the Rani ki Vav and Adalaj ki Vav in Gujarat and Toorji ka Jhara in Jhodpur and another in Vidisha Madhya Pradesh. My son and I immediately decided we would explore the surroundings.
Rajjo ki Baoli
We call our driver, who drops us off near a bus stop. With the help of google maps, we search for Rajjo ki Baoli and Gandhak ki Baoli. We enter a basti where there are kaccha homes and overgrowth. With no signages, we are almost tempted to give up. The locals are wondering why a mother and son duo are asking for directions. After getting confusing directions and asking several locals, we walk through the foliage and spot a stepwell. We ask the watchman which stepwell this is. They rumble off, saying it’s Rajjo ki Baoli. The stepwell is beautiful, but green moss covers the water inside. The gates to it are closed, so we satisfy ourselves seeing it from the outside.
Tomb inside Mehrauli Archaelogical Park
Opposite the Rajjo ki Baoli we see a monument with a cenotaph. Finally, we spot a signage that tells us it is a tomb inside Mehrauli Archaeological Park. It clicked, and we discovered that we were inside an archaeological park. We walk further and see peacocks sauntering around. We hear numerous bird calls, and soon we come across another monument.
Jamali Kamali Mosque
As we walk further, we see some beautifully landscaped gardens. A signage thankfully tells us we are near the Jamali Kamali Mosque. Jamali was a Sufi saint, and Kamali was his disciple. The duo is buried here. Some youngsters in the mosque tell us there are bees and we must be careful. The five bayed mosque has a beautiful mihrab and is in relatively good condition.
We still haven’t spotted Gandhak ki Baoli but do spot so many other structures which are in ruins. It is disheartening that Mehrauli Archeological Park, which has some beautiful significant monuments, is hardly talked about or known. While many tourists, both Indian and international, visit the Qutub Minar, the Mehrauli Archeological Park, which is a stone’s throw away, is unsung. It deserves more tourist footfalls and clearly defined pathways and tours to explore and value the treasures inside it. The Qutub Minar and Mehrauli Archaeological Park can be easily explored in a single trip. So the next time you are in Delhi do include both Qutub Minar and Mehrauli Archaeological Park in your itinerary.