Delhi Darshan on Cycle: Ep 2
Continuing our weekend morning rides to explore Delhi - a shorter trip on Saturday and a longer one, via India Gate and Khan Market, on Sunday - one fine Saturday morning, we rode to Qutub Minar in the Mehrauli area of South Delhi. This UNESCO World Heritage site is a 5-storeyed cylindrical tower, 73m tall with base of 14.3m which tapers to 2.7m at the top, with spiral staircase inside. There is a small tilt in the minar, 65cm from the vertical, which is under the safety limits. The access to the inside of the minar and the staircase was discontinued after a stampede happened due to chaos caused by the lights failure in the staircase, killing about 50 people and injuring many others.
The foundation stone for the ancient minaret was laid by Qutub-ud-din Aibak, the founder of the Delhi Sultanate, in 1192 .The red sandstone and marble used to build the tower were procured from the demolition of 27 ancient Hindu and Jain temples.
William Dalrymple, a leading expert of history and culture of Delhi, aptly describes the tower as -
a fully extended telescope placed lens-down on the plateau in the Aravalli hills.
The Qutub complex, apart from the minaret, also contains the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque, and the Iron Pillar of Delhi. There are a bunch of other historical monuments in the Mehrauli area which is now adapted by the Archeological Survey of India as the Mehrauli Archeological Park. It is very popular tourist destination, must-see on every Delhi sight-seeing list, and highly recommended for history and architecture buffs. It was a short and smooth ride from my apartment, about 20kms.
Qutub-ud-din Aibak was a slave of Mohammed Ghori, a Persian invader, who ran multiple campaigns on India and conquered big part of what is modern day Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Turkmenistan, and Kazakistan. After the death of Ghori, Aibak became his successor and expanded the rule in India, and established the first Muslim dynasty, called Mamluk (Arabic: slave) dynasty, and became first Sultan of Delhi. How a slave, though a highly efficient General, rose to become the Sultan in the (Arabic) society where hierarchy is so deep-rooted even today, is a topic of great historical study. The construction of Qutub Minar began after Ghori and Aibak had driven the last Hindu rulers from Delhi, it was built as a Victory tower. In fact, the Qutub complex was built on the ruins of Lalkot fort, built by Tomara king Angpal, and Qila Rai Pithora of Emperor Prithviraj Chauhan. The minar was completed by Iltutmish, the successor and son-in-law of Aibak. Many subsequent ruler and Sultans of Delhi, including Firoz Shah Tughlaq, Ala-ud-din Khilji, and the British, added to the Qutub complex.
The Iron Pillar of Delhi is believed to be from the Gupta period of Indian history, though the exact time and location of its origin, and the time it was brought to the Qutub complex, is unknown. The 7 metre pillar, weighing more than 6000 kgs, has gathered a lot of curiosity from the historical, archeological and the metallurgical sciences, the rust-resistance of the material used has perplexed scientists for a very long time. This level of sophistication in building an iron pillar in ancient India is a testimony to the remarkable knowledge of metallurgy possessed by the iron smiths of that era. Studies conducted by R. Balasubarmaniam, a researcher based in IIT Kanpur, showed that
the corrosion-resistance results from an even layer of crystalline iron hydrogen phosphate hydrate forming on the high-phosphorous-content iron, which serves to protect it from the effects of the Delhi climate.
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