Map: Qutub Minar

Located in Delhi’s southern precincts, at Mehrauli, is the Qutub Minar complex, a World Heritage listed site dating back to the late 12th century. Built on the foundations of Hindu and Jain temples, the monuments within the complex are fine displays of Indo-Islamic architecture, many incorporating Afghan elements.

After entering the complex, walk past the Mughal Gardens then veer right to the (1) Alai Minar. This was the Muslim ruler Ala-ud-din Khilji’s grand attempt to build an identical tower twice the height of Qutub Minar (see 4). However his death in 1316 left the incomplete tower standing at just 80.3 feet (24.5 meters).

Stroll south to the small (2) Tomb of Imam Zamin, constructed by Imam Zamin (a saint from Turkestan) in 1537. The dome and delicate sandstone latticework screens are of particular architectural interest.

Next door, admire the old gateway to the Qutub Minar complex, the arched (3) Alai Darwaza. A red sandstone masterpiece, it was built by Ala-ud-din Khilji in 1310 and features incredibly intricate lattice sandstone screens and white marble inlay work. Turkish and local artisans were involved in the design.

Nearby is the star attraction, the (4) Qutub Minar, a 237.8-feet-high (72.5-meter- high) tower of victory started in 1193 by the first Muslim ruler of Delhi, Qutub-ud-din Aibak, with additions beyond the first story made by his successors. Gradually narrowing from the base to the top, there are five stories, the first three made of fluted red sandstone and the top two from sandstone and marble. Carvings and verses from the Quran adorn the tower, which today leans around two feet (60 centimeters) off the vertical.

Next to the tower is the first mosque constructed in India following the country’s Islamic conquest, the (5) Quwwat-ul-Islam Masjid. This crumbling mosque was built by Qutub-ud-din Aibak in 1192 but had various additions by his successors. It remained Delhi’s principal mosque right until 1360.

Within the courtyard of the Quwwat-ul-Islam Masjid is the (6) Iron Pillar. Standing at almost 22.9 feet (seven meters) high and weighing over six tons, an extraordinary feature of this pillar (98 percent pure iron) is that it has not corroded for at least 1600 years. Scientists remain baffled as to how iron of such purity could be cast at that time, let alone refuse to rust. Legend states that anyone who can stand with his or her back to the pillar and join their hands around it will be granted a wish (a fence now keeps wish-seekers out).

Move on to the nearby ruins of (7) Ala-ud-din Madrasa, built in 1303 by Ala-ud-din Khilji as a place of religious learning, and, north of it, the (8) Tomb of Iltutmish. The tomb was built by Shams-ud-din Iltutmish (Qutub-ud-din Aibak’s successor) in 1235. Its interior exhibits superlative sandstone carving that includes whimsical lotus flowers and spidery Islamic calligraphy—a perfect poetic ending to the tour.

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