Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Not Just a Minaret. Qutb Minar.

Today is our last day in Delhi as we travel to Agra tomorrow.  When I came and left Delhi in 2007, it was a bittersweet departure as I didn't know if I would ever be back.  Then I returned in 2012 and again was sad to leave thinking it would be my last time here.  Now, I am back and again, I get to return to seeing the sights I saw in 2007 but with the eyes of a seasoned traveler.   And....there will be more return trips in the future.  I love this city too much to stay away for too long.  Not to mention that I have barely scratched the surface of all there is to experience here.

When I originally planned the itinerary for today, I left it pretty much open.  Thankfully, I did that because even after a full day of sightseeing yesterday, we were not able to cover some of the landmarks that I had wanted to take the girls to.  The top of the must-see list was Qutb ("qoo-toob") Minar, one of my favorite places in Delhi.  It's not located far from Old Delhi but with the crazy Delhi traffic, it's not quick to get to so it's never convenient to include on an itinerary with Old Delhi though I did manage to go to both places on the same day on my 2007 visit.

So yesterday I arranged with Pioneer Holidays to have a conducted tour today and they easily accommodated.  The plan is to meet our driver in front of the PVR Rivoli Theatre at 10a.  No need for an early start so I let the girls sleep in a bit.  I think Ayşe is adjusting to the jet lag and Chantale is getting some more sleep despite continued worries about her father.

Today, only the driver met us at the theatre.   Chantale took the front passenger seat and Ayşe and I got in the back.  We headed through the city for the drive to Qutb Minar.

Our driver stopped our car just at the entrance to the Qutb Minar complex.  We followed him to the park area just near the ticket counter; we had to wait for our guide to arrive and he did so barely a few minutes later.  I suspect he was waiting nearby for the driver to call him.

Our guide got our entry tickets and we then followed him through the gate.

I only had a very vague memory of my time here in 2007.  So for me, it was just as good to treat today as my first visit ever to Qutb Minar.

Qutab Minar is a minaret that is part of the Qutab complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The minaret stands 73 meter (239 feet) tall and is composed of five storeys with a base diameter of  14.3 meters (47 feet) tapering to 2.7 meters (9 feet) at the top.  Inside there is a spiral staircase of 379 steps.

Qutab Minar was established along with Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque around 1192 by Qutab-ud-din Aibak, first ruler of the Delhi Sultanate, immediately after the defeat of Delhi's last Hindu kingdom. 

Different beliefs surround the origin of the minaret. While some sources believe it was constructed as a tower of victory marking the beginning of Muslim dominion in India, some others say it served the muezzins who called the faithful to prayer from the minaret. Uncertainty hovers around naming of the tower with some suggesting it was named after the Sufi saint, Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kaki while others believe it was named after Aibak himself.

The tower has five distinct storeys, each marked by a projecting balcony.

The lowest three storeys of Qutb Minar comprise fluted cylindrical shafts or columns of pale red sandstone, separated by flanges and by storeyed balconies sitting atop what are known as Muqarnas corbels. The flanges are a darker red sandstone throughout, and are engraved with Quranic texts and decorative elements. 

The fourth storey of the minaret is constructed of marble and is relatively plain. The fifth is of marble and sandstone.   If not for my limited mobility, I would have walked around to try and get a better angle to take a photo of the upper two storeys.

At the foot of the tower is the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, the first mosque to be built in India.

On the grounds of the complex is an odd looking structure - looks like a rubble of sandstone.  These are the remains of Alai Minar, an unfinished tower.  The construction of the tower was started by Alauddin Khilji who wanted to build a tower which would be twice the height of the Qutb Minar. Construction of the Alai Minar came to a halt in 1316 following the death of Alauddin Khilji.

We stood nearby Alai Minar as our guide gave us a brief introduction to Qutb Minar.  Having been here before, I knew pretty much what the place was all about so I just listened with half an ear.

Here are photos I took on my walk through the complex....before my unfortunate accident.  You'll have to read on to find out what happened.

In the meantime, just admire the beauty of this place.  I don't know what kind of stones were used to make the bricks but I love the variations in color.  You can see the Arabic inscriptions above the archways.  On my 2007 visit here, I remember see green parrots but there were no birds flying around today.  I was hoping they would still be here.

The Qutb Complex was originally a site with 27 Hindu and Jain Temples. These temples were destroyed by the Islamic invaders to obtain stone and raw material for their mosques and other buildings.  There is a section of the complex that is filled with intricately carved pillars.  If I remember correctly, these are remnants of a Hindu temple. 

I think each of the pillars is of a unique design.  To me, they are incredibly beautiful and as vague as my memory has been about what I had seen here on my 2007 visit, I never forgot these pillars.

Several of the pillars had human forms carved on them but since Islam does not permit the use of the human form in religious art, these were scratched out.  In the photo below, you can see there is a human form, sans head, in the upper part of the carving.

I was happily taking photos of everything around me.  I wasn't paying attention and tumbled down a short flight of steps.  The searing pain in my left foot told me exactly what had happened.  I sprained my ankle.....AGAIN!!!  ARGH!!! This is becoming too regular an event - I sprained my left ankle in Bangkok in February 2016, reinjured it in Baku, Azerbaijan two months later.  That incident landed me in a clinic in Baku where I got a plaster cast put on.  I took a tumble in Valparaiso, Chile in January 2017 - didn't sprain my ankle but broke my camera filter and hood.  I then fell again a few weeks later in Tigre, Argentina in January 2017 and did sprain my right ankle.  Now....Qutb Minar in June 2017.  Why am I such a klutz??   Sadly, I know myself so well now that I even travel with my ankle brace so I knew that as soon as I got back to the apartment, I could brace up my ankle to help it heal.

Several people who were nearby and either saw or heard me fall came over to see if I was okay or not.  NO!!  Not okay!!  Wincing in a lot of pain, I sat down on a step and tried to recover my breath.  The guide, Chantale and Ayşe rushed over to see what had happened.  They helped me limp over to any area where I could sit down.  Chantale gave me her blue towel and orange Sikh headscarf to wrap around my ankle.  Oh my God.....I was so mad at myself!!  I really have to pay better attention to where I walk!!  Thankfully, my camera survived the fall intact.   So, while the other two went around to see more of the site, I sat put. 

I took a few photos from my sitting position.  It was a great spot to take in a view of the intricately carved gates.  Simply gorgeous!

But after a while, I couldn't bear to sit any more.  My ankle was still throbbing in pain but it wasn't so bad that I couldn't hobble along.  I saw Chantale across the courtyard and she spotted me as well.  We walked towards each other and as we got within earshot of each other, she told me that she had also taken a tumble down some steps and had injured her left ankle too!!  What the ???  I couldn't believe my ears!!  She said it wasn't a bad sprain but she was limping a bit so her ankle was definitely injured.  Sigh.....I just hope Ayşe doesn't take after her two klutzy travel partners!  I offered to give Chantale her scarf back but she didn't want it.  Sure?  Yes.  Okay.  Chantale and I hobbled our way along.

I just love the colors of the stones used to make the bricks.  It's not something you see at any other of the historic landmarks in Delhi.

One of the highlights in the Qutab complex is a 7 meter (23 feet) tall iron pillar that stands in the couryard of the mosque.  Known as the Iron Pillar of Delhi, the pillar is a kirti stambha (column of fame or victory column), originally erected and dedicated to the Hindu deity lord Vishnu in the 3rd century CE by King Chandra.  It is notable for the rust-resistant composition of the metals used in its construction.  Apparently, it has never rusted over the centuries despite having existed in the hot and humid weather of Delhi all these centuries.

I noticed people coming and going from an arched entrance.  It looked like a garden on the other side.  If not for my throbbing left ankle, I would walked over to check it out.  This whole sprained ankle thing is NOT going to limit me for the rest of this trip. I have to recover quickly!

Of course, I look over at one point to see Chantale chatting it up with a group of locals.

Next thing you know, she's got them lined up and is taking a photo of the entire group.  She is so friendly and incredibly sociable! 

We slowly made our way to the exit and then out of the complex.

My last views of Qutb Minar.  May I be so lucky as to be able to come and visit again.  I missed out on a few things thanks to that !@$%$^&* left ankle of mine!

And then....again.  Chantale.  Local people.  More chatting.  Another photo.  These two were a lovely married couple.

We walked past this man, sitting on the other side of the fence that prevents people from entering the complex without paying.  He was selling slices of coconut for 10 rupees.  I bought a slice.  Hard way to make a living and every 10 rupees help.

Before heading back to the city, we stopped at yet another souvenir shop selling all sorts of things to tourists.  Again, I just sat and waited for the girls to do their thing.  They both walked out with purchases.

By the time we arrived back into New Delhi, it was raining.  We still had to go to India Gate and the Houses of Parliament.  In 2007, I did a drive by of both places.  Today,  I had hoped we could park the car and do a walk around India Gate but with the rain, that was not to be.  As we neared India Gate, we found ourselves driving behind a group of seemingly rambunctious young men.  They were having fun walking in the rain.  At least one had decided to remove his shoes.

Don't ask me why but Chantale wanted to chat with them so we had the driver pull over and stop the car.  I handed her my rain jacket which she quickly threw on before scrambling out of the car and hobbling after them.   I shouted out for her to be careful as she does have an injured ankle.  I didn't want her to slip and fall and exacerbate her injury.  That would have been really bad.

Based on what they were wearing - same blue shirt and dark colored pants, I guessed they were students.

They were soaking wet and she was getting wet.  But no matter.  From their faces, I could tell they were enjoying their brief moment with her.  I don't think she took a photo.   Next thing you know though, she was making her way back to the car and one of the young men was wearing Chantale's NYC cap.  She had given it to him and he was very happy at receiving the gift!  Namaste!

We never made it to India Gate.  After the encounter with the young men, we did a quick drive by of the government buildings.  On my 2007, I did not have any time to walk around the area and it looks like I won't have a chance to do so on this trip thanks to the dreary weather.  I guess I will have to come back Delhi and try again. 😁

We had one last view of India Gate on our way back to the apartment.

Today, we instructed our driver to take us to the front gate of our apartment building.  I most certainly was not about to hobble my way back to the apartment from the PVR Rivoli Theatre and I most certainly would not have wanted Chantale to do so either.   We got deposited right out front and we gave the guide his tip.  Turns out that the driver, whose name is Dinesh, will be taking us to Agra tomorrow.  So, now he knows exactly where to come to pick us up.

Back inside the apartment, the first thing I did was find my ankle brace.  I then got a towel, wet it and put it in the freezer as I needed something to ice down my foot with.  Ayşe and I just hung around the apartment - my sprained foot and the rain really put a damper on things.  Ayşe was just ready for a short nap.  Of course, Chantale cannot sit still.  Ever since she read that their is a dobi ghat (aka outdoor laundry) in Delhi, she has wanted to visit it.  I had marked it on my Google Map so I told her how to get there - it's actually just a few blocks away.  Though I was concerned about her ankle, she said she was fine.  So, she got all her camera gear together, donned her rain jacket and headed out the door.  Since there were ATM machines enroute to the dobi ghat, we gave her the task of getting more rupees for each of us. 

She came with a collection of NYC hats with the intention of wearing them when she needed to and then giving them away to people she felt were deserving of a hat.  So, one down today, another one came out of her suitcase.

Chantale did make it to dobi ghat and to the stepwell that is located nearby.  She showed me photos of the dobi ghat and I told her it does not come close to comparing to the one in Mumbai.  She will have to go there one day.

We had completely skipped out on lunch and by dinner time, were more than hungry to eat.  With two injured travel partners, Ayşe offered to get dinner for us.  Of course, she had no idea where to go.  Right across the street from the PVR Rivoli Theatre is a place called Bikkgane Biryani that serves up Hydrabadi biryani.  Hydrabad is the home of biryani so I suggested we give it a try.  Chantale wasn't hungry so Ayşe and I went by ourselves.  It was less than a 5 minute hobble to the restaurant.  When we got inside, it dawned on me to ask if they did takeaway aka carryout and they did.  So we ordered one chicken biryani and one veg biryani to go.  Wait time was less than 15 minutes.  The waiter had told us that each order would feed two people but based on the size of the bag of food that was handed over to us, I think one order would have been enough.  People eat BIG portions of rice here!

When we got back to the apartment and laid out the food, I understood why it only took 15 minutes for the food to be delivered to us.  Basically, each meal is pre-packaged so all the restaurant does is remove the food from the package, put it on a plate and reheat in the microwave. not the best biryani in town but we paid less than $4 USD for each of the servings and there was so much leftover that Ayşe took it down to Keshap so he could have the rest.  No need to waste food.

After dinner, it was showers and packing.  We are leaving for Agra tomorrow and I know the girls are really excited because it means that we are that much closer to the day that we visit the Taj Mahal!!  I cannot believe I get to see this magnificent monument for a second time in my life!

I close this blog with a blurry photo of two sprained ankles in a pod.  I am on the right; my ankle in the brace.  Chantale is on the left with a Salonpas patch covering her ankle.

Hoping there are no more injuries for the rest of this trip!

Goodnight from Delhi!