The sudden drop in Bangalore’s temperature took me back to the cold winter of early ’13, and in particular, the frosty weather in Delhi. My family and I had taken a mini-vacation to visit my dad who was working in Delhi at that time – we toured around the heritage sites of Delhi and Agra, stuffing our faces with Delhi’s delightful culinary creations while wearing as many woolens as possible. Although most of the details of the trip are already a hazy cloud of memories, I am so glad that a few pictures from the trip managed to stay preserved in my digital archives (read: SD card).
This quaint shop was among the several I dropped into while I took a shopping trip to Sarojini Nagar. Of course, I picked up tons of INR 200 slippers, wallets, bags and sweaters! However, this little store-cum-atelier caught my fancy – the merchandise was quite unique compared to the rest of the shops in that row. Although I did not pick up anything, I had my heart set on the glasswork lamps and the antique-finish mirrors. Ah well, maybe next time!
Certainly, the world’s tallest brick minaret had to be on my list! Since I am a history buff, I spent hours at the Qutub Minar and the Qutub complex, savouring the details of the stone inscriptions, the effortless calligraphy, the varied hues of the bricks and the transition from red sandstone to white marble. It is indeed a marvel that there is so much history packed in just a small parcel of land – two different dynasties, separated by hundreds of years, have rendered their distinct architectural styles to the complex.
The predominantly used material in the construction of this beautiful minaret is red sandstone – a favourite of the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughals, up until Shah Jahan proclaimed his immense fondness for white marble through its incorporation in almost every piece of architecture he had commissioned.
I took my time perusing the painstakingly etched verses from the holy Quran, well into dusk. Although official records state that the Qutub Minar was intended to be a testament of the Mameluke ruler’s victory over the then-rulers of northern India, there are some interesting controversial theories around the construction of the minaret. Some believe that the tower was constructed several years prior, by a Hindu king (possibly Chandragupta Vikramaditya). When Qutb-ud-din Aibak ascended the throne of the Delhi Sultanate, the theory holds that he commissioned the tower to be ‘re-purposed’ into a work of architecture more appropriate to the style and faith of the current rulers.
Situated in the same complex is a metallurgical marvel known for its rust-resistant composition, standing tall and proud as evidence to the advanced skill of ancient Indian blacksmiths. The Iron Pillar is thought to have been moved from its original location to the Qutub complex as a trophy of victory and conquest by Iltutmish. The Sanskrit inscriptions clearly indicate that the pillar was originally cast in the honour of the Hindu god Vishnu. A portion of the inscription offers praise to one king Candra; while many believe it to be King Chandra Gupta of the Gupta dynasty, there is no conclusive proof as to which king it really refers to.
Besides peeking into history’s pages, we did a bunch of other fun things (read: gorge on parathas and kulfies) in Delhi, which included sneaking through the half-manned barricades at the India Gate right after Republic Day, being awestruck by the Akshardham mandir and the Lotus Temple, and simply pestering over-enthusiastic tour guides.
We also managed to squeeze in a quick two-day trip to Agra, because when in Delhi, one must go to Agra! We drove down to Agra pretty early in the morning, whilst the fog was still thick and it was around eight degrees outside. We stopped on the way for cups of hot masala chai, and I spotted these four cuties huddled around the remnants of previous night’s bonfire.
I cannot recall what monument we visited first, so I’m simply going to say that we stopped by Sikandra to kick-start our second leg of Indian history and architectural high!
Akbar was a pretty great ruler, what with his renowned attempt at the creation of a unified religion that imbibes aspects from the varied faiths of the subjects of his vast empire! So why should he not have a mausoleum equaling the splendour of his reign? Therefore, he commissioned a mausoleum for himself, complete with a vast tomb complex, landscaped gardens in the Charbagh layout, red sandstone exteriors with richly inlaid marble interiors, intricate jali work, beautiful calligraphy and colourful motifs. The tomb complex with all its buildings reflect a harmony of various architectural styles – Persian, Hindu, Islamic and Jain – serving as an embodiment of Akbar’s just and fair rule, and his vision of Dīn-i Ilāhī.
Possibly the most luxuriant and vast of all Mughal works in Agra is the Agra Fort. The extensive palaces, courtyards and baghs, numerous gates, intricate interiors and sheer lushness of the fort are reinforcements to our understanding of the true Golden Age of the Mughal period. Although I do not have quite as many images of the Agra Fort in my possession, I look forward to another visit to this magnificent piece of architecture.
Of course, no trip to Agra can be deemed complete without visiting the pearl-white Luminous Tomb, commissioned by Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal emperor, in memory of his beloved wife, Mughal Empress and the chief consort to the emperor, Mumtaz Mahal. What is truly impressive about the Taj Mahal, more so than the beautiful mausoleum itself, is the symmetry of the entire tomb complex, including the gates, the minarets, the mosque and the gardens. My interest was truly piqued by the delicate and extremely detailed jasper calligraphy on the tomb, the wraith-like marble lattice-work jalis and extensive pietra dura inlay.
I for one am looking forward to going back to Delhi and Agra, and spend a good week to soak in all the historic awesomeness that both cities have to offer.
Agar firdaus bar roo-e zameen ast,
Hameen ast-o hameen ast-o hameen ast
– Amir Khusro