26th January is a fine day. Where earlier every year on this day, I would wear a Khadi kurta and roam around photographing the naked streets of Lutyens Delhi which are otherwise blanketed by traffic; past two years have seen me exploring the ‘older’ Delhi’s. This year though I wanted to go to the ‘Rang De Basanti‘ fort, in the outskirts of Jaipur, I was heavily discouraged by Lazylump for its supposedly filthy reality. Eventually we decided that we would explore the history in our own backyard. The Qutub Minar made for an interesting subject. It was almost a new thing for me since I hadn’t been to this monument since 20 years or more! Talk about “ghar kee murgi daal barabar“. Not only did I not have any recollection of the monument/visit except the fact that I had wrapped my arms around the Iron pillar, I also never bothered about history then. History was just a boring subject which was overcome by trying to remember some pathetic dates (as if formulae/tables in maths weren’t enough mind exercise). I had thought that the visit to Qutub Minar would be overwhelming and exciting what with the associated history and my newly found interest in history after all these years. If nothing it would at least be nostalgic, since it might get back fond memories of the previous visit. And last but not the least, the extensive sunlit photography that I had plans for, would make sure that the visit would be a memorable one. But as we would see, lady luck had other plans.
Lazylump and I met in Gurgaon on 26th. Republic day and we dont check out the heavy discounts? Impossible! Unfortunately the heavy discounts had some heavy rates to precede them, so they didn’t entice us. After some mall dekko, we had a quick bite after which I duly showed him my place. It was so hot that day that we incidentally had to use the AC in the car! The visit home provided a welcome respite. But we forgot that summers were actually not here, but were only giving a trailer. The sun *had* to set at the same time and would – as and when in winters. We rushed out soon, since I had elaborate plans of catching Qutub Minar with the sun’s rays providing a good photo-op. But eventually we reached there when instead of sunlit photography only sunkissed photography could have happened. But who’s complaining! I had never thought that the sunset at Qutub Minar could look so spectacular!
We quickly bought tickets and rushed in (after being halted by the guard interrogating where I was from – a quick hindi sentence sufficed to prove that I wasn’t a foreigner!). We could see the sun setting fast and I was practically running in order to get the last few rays of the sun brightening up my pics. In the meantime, the sunset had accelerated and the sun had gained that momentum which just meant that it would sink faster now.
I really remember nothing of that time except that there was this tower and there was the sun and I had the camera. I rushed around, clicking pictures feverishly, trying to gauge for spots which would be a little higher and might be the recipient of some last dying rays of the sun. I took some quick shots of the 72.5 m high towering minaret – the tallest brick minaret in the world. Though it didnt appear intimidating due to its height (See Eiffel tower to know what’s intimidating), it appeared quite fascinating to see that the laborious endeavours spread over three generations of a dynasty and two decades indeed bore magnificent fruit! I clicked some of its nakkashi and some of its stories on high zoom, which was quite difficult without a tripod due to handshake (inevitable on high zoom). The first three storeys (from bottom) are each laid on a different plan, the lowest with alternate angular and circular flutings, the second with round ones and the third with angular ones only, with the same alignment of flutings, however, being carried through them all.
Unfortunately the sun was in a bigger rush than I was and eventually said a quick ta ta. That was it. I didn’t know that the timings of Qutub Minar are ‘from sunrise till sunset’. The guards came around like ululating bats. One just ducks and tries to make ones way through.
I went further away to view Qutub Minar from a distance – whatever little was possible in that limited area right next to the tower, since all other patches had anyway been evacuated. I clicked some typical shots of Qutub with some natural framing and then rushed over to click some intricate carvings of some of the gateways.
The red sandstone appeared so fresh, certainly not centuries old. I tried the sepia effect on one and it sure looks like a past era now.
The sun already set, twilight was fast approaching, giving everything a strange fascinating hue. In a rush, I didn’t even register where or what I was clicking. Whatever caught my fancy, came into my camera’s focus. The bit about getting overwhelmed with the fascinating history of the place never happened. It was only later that I realised that the captivating pillars that I had clicked and which looked very “hindu architecture” unlike the rest of whatever little I had been able to cognize, were indeed from that era. The columns had been rebuilt using the ruins of a temple built by Prithvi raj chauhan and they were part of a hall which now housed a mosque.
Unfortnately, I did not even glance at the Iron pillar which stands in the courtyard of the Quwwatu’l-Islam mosque, since so many uncountable centuries. It supposedly bears a Sanskrit inscription in Gupta script, palaeographically assignable to the 4th century. The inscription states that the pillar was set up as a standard or dhvaja of Lord Vishnu on the hill known as ‘Vishnupada’, in the memory of a mighty king, named ‘Chandra’ (Chandragupta II (375-413) of the imperial Gupta dynasty). A deep hole on the top of the pillar indicates that an additional member, perhaps an image of ‘Garuda’, was fitted into it to answer to its description as a standard of Vishnu. The pillar has been brought here from somewhere, else, as no other relics of the 4th century are present in the same complex. The pillar manages to attract the amazement of metallurgists all over the world as it’s still going strong after 1600 years with no or little signs of deterioration.
I really wanted to click a picture of the moon with the Qutub. Unfortunately with the guards rushing us about, I barely had the time to think about angles or unique framing so as to make an alluring capture. But eventually I was quite pleased with the results. They were probably just what I wanted. A silhouette of our desi leaning tower along with a bright moon (albeit not full – which I would cover some other day with ample time on hand). I clicked another twilight shot from the “hinduesque” mosque. Lots of smugness followed.
The guards informed us that we really better be getting out now since the “night time” entry was starting soon. Voila! instant change of plans. We would go out, come in again and do some night time photography of the Qutub now, which was something I always wanted to do. The night time entry started right after the sunset and at double the rate. On the way out I managed to click the ceiling of one of the structures leading out and then some pillars in the promenade.
Before that we decided to grab a quick bite somewhere. That’s when I landed across the Bhool bhulaiya which we also discovered ‘bhoole bhatke‘ to be situated right next to Mehrauli terminal. It’s an old dilapidated monument receiving absolutely no attention compared to its neighbour in the proximity. After some time we realised that it was night and the Qutub Minar was still not lit up. Inspection revealed that one of the phases from the power was out. That ended the Qutub photo session right there.
There’s a lot more in the Qutub complex than what met the eye. The Alai minar, the Alai darwaza, a couple of notable tombs and of course the Iron pillar, all have a lot of interesting trivia associated with them and all shall be seen in a subsequent visit with more time and lots of sun on hand.
Eventually I clicked a lot of pictures within the 30 minutes I was there. The plus point of the pics turned out to be the very fact that I thought would pose a difficulty. The particular time at which we landed in Qutub Minar, not only provided a good sunset, some sunny shots, but also some twilight shots and some silhouettes. The fast changing sky gave me a variety within such a quick time span. But as a downside, before I could realise that I had visited Qutub Minar, I found myself outside. No nostalgia, no history to overwhelm me, I couldn’t even see the complete complex. BUT photography smugness followed. Apart from a sunlit Qutub Minar photoshoot, I would try to get an aerial view sometime (till then here it is on google maps with an elongated shadow making it easy to figure out Qutub Minar). And I would surely get here on a moonlit night and click away at Qutub Minar, while imagining how the scene would have been set many many centuries ago.