Our Grand Tour of Delhi begins in Mehrauli, ancien address of one of the seven mediaeval cities of Delhi, and home also to spectacular Qutb Minar Complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Mehrauli was one of the capital cities of the Delhi Sultanate – a pre-Mughal, Muslim Sultanate that ruled over much of the Indian Subcontinent from the 1200s to the 1500s. The Delhi Sultanate wasn’t a single entity, but consisted of five dynasties in succession: the Mamluks (1206 – 1290), the Khaljis (1290 – 1320), the Tughlaqs (1320 – 1414), the Sayyids (1414 – 1451) and the Lodis (1451 – 1526). The tombs of their kings are scattered all around Delhi today.
Qutb Minar Complex
Work on the Qutb Minar began in 1192 under the auspices of Sultan Qutb al-Din Aibak, the first Sultan of the Mamluk Dynasty, and therefore the Delhi Sultanate as a whole. In the course of successive dynasties – and even during the British period – Delhi’s rulers would add to the height of the Qutb Minar, such that today, the structure has the distinct honour of being the world’s tallest free-standing brick structure.
For it to stand quite so tall, its base has to be immense – and the photos earlier able below attest to this girth. Inscriptions in Persian script around the Minar tell the storey of its construction.
The Qutb Minar was built beside the Quwwat al-Islam Mosque, the first mosque built in Delhi, also undersigned by Qutb al-Din Aibak and established in 1192. Part of the mosque was built using sections from earlier Hindu and Jain temples that had been destroyed by Qutb al-Din Aibak’s iconoclastic troops. They can still be seen today.
Within the mosque complex stands the Iron Pillar, dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu, originally dating to the Gupta Dynasty (300s – 500s AD), and ultimately brought here by Qutb al-Din Aibak as well. Around the mosque are other structures, including the tomb of Iltutmish, the third of the Mamluk Sultans, and Alai Minar – the stump of a planned tower, commenced during the Khalji Dynasty, that was never completed.
Mehrauli Archaeological Park
Near the Qutb Minar Complex, and almost completely ignored by tourists, sits Mehrauli Archaeological Park, a sprawling park that contains within it many other important historic sites, including the ruins of Lal Kot, dating to the 1000s, and therefore pre-Delhi Sultanate.
I took a leisurely and entirely delightful stroll through the Park while I was here, far away from the madding crowd, stopping occasionally to visit a large and beautiful ancient baoli, or stepwell, and to pay homage to the many tomb complexes here.
At the end of my walk, I tucked into lunch at an Armenian restaurant, dreaming of the Qutb Minar…