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Delhi - Qutb Minar - Akshardham Temple

The leaning tower of Delhi and Taj Mahal's rival

sunny 36 °C
View Mountains, monasteries and much more - Lakakh and Kashmir 2013 on Grete Howard's travel map.

More red tape at Delhi Airport, with a landing card to complete as well as a customs declaration. That was the only resemblance to the old Delhi Airport we knew and did not love. What a change! The airport is now voted the 2nd best in the world (after Changi), and I can see why! Superb – modern, spacious, clean, well organised.....

Delhi was nowhere near as hot as we had feared, with a temperature of a mere 36 °C. No idea what the 'real feel' was though. As we exited the terminal, we expected either Sabu our his driver to wait there to pick us up, but they were nowhere to be seen. We walked up and down the long line of expectant drivers with their placards bearing the names of arriving passengers and stopped to phone Sabu, when I spotted him outside the glass doors, waving frantically. It was great to see him again after four years! After lots of hugs and greetings, a traditionally clad older gentleman smiled broadly at me and grasped my hand, and a glimmer of recognition went through my mind, but it took a few seconds for me to realise it was Sabu's dad! What a wonderful surprise: Sabu had brought his mum and dad up from Dagri in Rajasthan to join us for the day in Delhi. I felt so honoured, especially as it was his mum's first time in the capital and the first time she'd travelled on an airconditioned train. Such a humbling experience to see these sights through their eyes. We met Sabu's parent four years ago when we were invited to stay with Sabu in his family home in a small village in Rajasthan.


With basically just half a day in Delhi, we tried to fit in a bit of sightseeing we'd missed on our previous two visits to the Indian capital. I had three places I wanted to try and fit in: Qutb Minar, Humayun's Tomb and Akshardham Temple. As Qutb Minar was closest to the airport, it seemed natural to start there.

Qutb Minar
Qutb Minar is a huge pillar made of fluted red sandstone and marble and is believed to be a minaret, watchtower or victory tower - construction was begun by Prithviraj who won Delhi from the Rajputs in 1192. The 72.5 metre tall tower is covered with intricate carvings and verses from the Qur'an and comprises several cylindrical shafts, separated by balconies carried on muqarnas (those little stalactite-like corbels so often featured in Islamic architecture). The structure tapers from a 15m diameter at the base to just 2.5m at the top.



The minar has been damaged by lightning and earthquakes on several occasions but each time it was reinstated and renovated by the rulers at the time, although it now leans just over 60 cm to one side.


379 steep steps lead to the top, and the view from the summit is said to be awesome. However, after a stampede during a school trip in 1979 resulted in a number of deaths, the inside of the tower has been closed to visitors.

The tower is surrounded by several other ancient and medieval structures and ruins, collectively known as Qutb complex, including the Might of Islam Mosque, the first mosque built in India. According the an inscription over the mosque's eastern gate, the complex was built with material obtained from demolishing 27 idolatrous temples - thought to refer to Brahman Hindu temples.




A 7m high iron pillar stands in the courtyard of the mosque and it is believed that if you encircle it with your arms while standing with your back to it, your wish will be fulfilled. Unfortunately, because of the corrosive qualities of sweat, the pillar is now surrounded by a fence. Considering its age though, the lack of corrosion is remarkable and is thought to be a combination of several factors, including the type of iron used (high corrosion-resistance wrought iron), the local climatic conditions, and frequent anointment with ghee.


The whole complex is now a UNESCO Heritage site.


As we've found with many other tourist sites in India, tourists are as much of attraction as the site itself. This time it wasn't just us: Sabu's mum and dad caused as much of a stir with their colourful and traditional Rajasthani clothing as we did, and they were frequently photographed too.


After checking in to the rather luxurious five star Metropolitan Hotel (Sabu's mum's first time for that too, and even the elevator was a new experience for her (other than on a trolley in the hospital), we went for a lovely (and very late) lunch at Connaught Place.



Got to love the mustache!

My plan for the afternoon was to visit Hamayun's Tomb, but I figured by this stage we wouldn't have time to visit both that and Akshardham Temple, so I suggested we'd skip the tomb and go for the temple as I knew Sabu was very keen on that. Boy, am I glad we did!

Akshardham Temple

I'd seen pictures of the complex and thought it looked quite spectacular, and I was right. Pictures, however, cannot to the place justice. The temple is a little bit out of the way, and you approach it on a flyover, from which you can see the scale of the complex, which is billed as “displaying millennia of traditional Hindu and Indian culture, spirituality, and architecture”. I would add riches and opulence to that too. In my opinion, it rivals The Taj Mahal!


The large central temple is crafted entirely of stone (with no support from steel or concrete) and features a blend of architectural styles from across India with 234 ornately carved pillars, nine domes, 148 scale sized elephants and 20,000 other statues. To enter the temple is free, but you are not allowed to carry ANYTHING in there with you – no mobile phones, no cameras, no bags, no food or drinks. You are thoroughly security checked on your way in, including a pat down.

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I suffered terribly without my camera, it was like my right arm had been cut off, but once the shaking, sweating, twitching and hyperventilation had stopped, I went completely cold turkey and found it remarkably liberating. I confess that I see things in a different way when I don't carry a camera, and you have more time to really appreciate your surroundings and soak up the atmosphere. The intricate carving details, the gold friezes, the sheer opulence of the place, the other people... Despite being extremely popular with domestic tourists, we saw no other non-Indians at all there. At the heart of the complex, you can remove your shoes and enter the temple – walking on the painted white lines to avoid burning your feet on the scorching stones – to admire the jewel in the crown. The amount of gold, marble and carvings was mind-blowing.

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Despite having trouble walking, Sabu's mum did very well, and we had a couple of professional photos taken of all of us as a reminder of the occasion. I also bought a few post cards to show everyone what it looked like as I will have no photos of my own. The pictures here are those cards scanned in when I got home.


After a quick shower we all enjoyed dinner in the hotel to celebrate David's birthday. It also happened to be our lovely waiter's birthday on the same day, so double celebrations! Then to bed for a very short night. Shame, as the beds were extremely comfortable by Indian standards.

The two birthday boys

Posted by Grete Howard 09:22 Archived in India

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What a way to get back to India and hope you have a great time out there in Ladakh now!!!

by Aadil Desai

The camera up here *points at head* is not so bad, is it?

by Helen

Qutb Minar was the first thing I saw in Delhi. The guide we had was amazing. Hamayun was the second and I'm so glad I got a chance to explore it thoroughly, as after breaking my leg all other Hindu sites were impossible for me. I hope your leg is bearing up after all the steps you have seen.
I'm off to read the rest of your trip- all places new to me.

by Shane

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