27. The Qutb Minar: Delhi's First WOWchitectureWhen I first set eyes on Delhi's Qutb Minar about three years ago, it was like peering back into a millenium of Indian history.
Construction of the tower's first and largest storey began in 1193 - a time when it didn't take hours to wend your way through Delhi's traffic-choked streets to reach the site. By the time it topped out in 1368, the Minar stood as the tallest all-brick tower in the world. If that doesn't amaze you, consider this: it still is!
The Qutb Minar was built as a giant political and architectural exclamation point. It symbolized the conquest of the last Hindu kingdom in Delhi by Qutbu'd-din Aibak, soon to become the first Sultan of India. And it proclaimed the beginning of Muslim rule on the subcontinent.
The five-section sandstone and marble Minar - which is in considerably better shape for its age than I am for mine - is a masterpiece of Moghul construction. Here's the "tale of the tape", as they say in the world of pugilism. It rises to a height of 72.5-metres or 238 ft. It has a diameter of more than 14-metres at the bottom and tapers to just 2.75-metres at the top.
Climbing the Minar requires going up 379 steps. But don't worry about your knees - the powers that be haven't let anyone climb it since 1981 when an electric outage blacked out the stairwell and the subsequent stampede killed 45 people.
The Minar's beautiful red and buff sandstone is ornamented with quotes from the Koran in elegantly flowing Arab calligraphy.
The Qutb Minar is part of a complex of buildings that includes a number of ancient monuments, many in partial or near-total ruin. The Alai Arwaza is the main entry gate and is decorated with red sandstone, inlaid white marble, Arabic script, and latticed stone screens, all designed by the finest Turkish artisans.
The gate leads to the Qubbat-ul-Islam - the first mosque in India, with construction starting in 1192. To clear land for the mosque, the Muslim invaders enacted an ISIS-like scorched-earth policy, plundering the 27 Hindu and Jain temples that stood on the site. They also used some of the remaining materials to build the mosque. Ironically, this effort to destroy Hinduism resulted in a mosque with Hindu ornamentation.
Other buildings on the site show off more of the brilliantly carved and densely arrayed sandstone.
Not only is the Qutb Minar complex a treasure trove for history and architecture buffs, it's a veritable goldmine for photographers. Here's what I brought back from the motherload by saving some shooting until just before sunset.
The Minar silhouetted against a modern airliner:
The setting sun "captured" by one of the mosque's archway ruins:
And the contrasting colours and forms of the ruins and the glowing sunset: