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The great sights of the world seldom let you down. Not many who visit Angkor Wat, the Great Pyramid of Giza or the Taj Mahal leave feeling anything other than a sense of wonder, satisfied that man – despite an admittedly chequered past – has done some pretty awe-inspiring, life-affirming things along the way.
Qutub Minar is, unquestionably, such a wonder. One of the first remnants of Muslim India, the towering minaret consists of five segments of grooved, pale-red sandstone and marble – and it’s breathtakingly beautiful.
The minaret soars imperiously up from the middle of the Qutub Complex, which is filled with ruins, courtyards, pillars, pavilions, lawns, hedgerows and wooded areas. It has been designated a UN World Heritage site – proof, if proof were needed, that this is a ‘must see or you’ll kick yourself when you get home’ kinda place.
Qutub Minar is also proof that size doesn’t always matter. It may not be the tallest minaret in India – Punjab’s Fateh Burj is higher, at around 100m – but its jaw- dropping loveliness must make Qutub Minar the most impressive.
And what is utterly bonkers about Qutub Minar is that work to build it began in 1192, when most of the world was living in abject squalor, in buildings made of mud (or worse). Yet there were those with the insight, imagination and sheer determination to contemplate a structure with the architectural complexity and ambition of Qutub Minar. Amazing!
There is much to admire about Qutub Minar. Audacious in its conception and awe-inspiring in its execution, the tower is covered in intricate carvings and deeply inscribed with verses from the Koran. It tapers upwards from ruins to a height of just over 72 metres and, inside, there is a spiral staircase of 379 steps. Sadly, this has now been closed to visitors, so you can no longer find out where it leads. Thanks, over the centuries, to lightning strikes hitting the top of the tower and earthquakes trying to loosen its core, Qutub Minar has been renovated numerous times. And because of damage over hundreds of years, the minaret is no longer perfectly vertically. Not quite the Leaning Tower of Pisa but the incline is still noticeable to the eye.
The first mosque to be built in India sits at the foot of the tower and, in its courtyard, is a 7m-high iron pillar. It is said that if you can encircle this with your hands while standing with your back to it, your wish will be fulfilled. The Qutub Minar is not the only show in town, however – at least not in the Qutub Complex. There are tombs dating back 700 years, plus a grand, landscaped garden –and here’s a sentence you probably never expected to read: there’s a totally fascinating pile of rubble that deserves a visit! It even has a name, Alai Minar.
The rubble is left over from a never-realised project from the 14th century and was intended to form the core of a new tower that would have been twice the height of Qutub Minar. One thing you can say about the inhabitants of Delhi – they were never afraid to think big!
Mehrauli, about 13km south of Connaught Place, in the foundations of Lal Kot, the ‘first city of Delhi’, which was founded in the 11 th century by the Tomar Rajputs. Helpfully, there’s a metro station close by. Even more helpfully, it’s called Qutab Minar.
7am - 5pm every day.
It’s an amazing place to visit at any time of the year.
Flat-soled shoes and comfortable, modest clothing are highly recommended. The mosques are still active daily, so dress accordingly.
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