When I told people I was going to start my trip in Delhi they looked at me like I’d just told them I was going to be the first person to populate Mars with 20 lesbians and a turkey baster full of David Cameron’s spunk. I get why, it’s not the most pleasant of places to while away the hours but there’s a fuck tonne of things to see and do if you can get across the roads and still be the same shape you were when you started crossing, none withstanding a few extra grey hairs and a shattered nerve or two, natch. So I’m back here for three nights to stare at more things before continuing my adventure. So catching the Metro during rush hour isn’t the most fun way to start the day, I clearly didn’t think that one through did I but Paharganj was awake so I was awake so it was time to go in search of stuff to gawp at like the tourist I am. First stop…
It’s a place of worship for the Bahá’í faith. “Say whaaaaat?!” I hear you mutter. Is that even a religion? Yes, my pretties. Yes it is. Because back in 1844 a bloke in Iran who called himself the Báb (which means “the gate”) heralded the coming of a promised one as expected by all previous religions. He was, of course, locked up and executed by 750 gunmen six years later, but not before word got around. So once he was shot to pieces, one of his followers stepped in claiming to be the messenger that god had promised. He took the name Bahá’u’lláh which means “glory of god” because he was a modest, humble sort of chap and he founded the actual Bahá’í faith. His followers were persecuted in Iran and still are to this day. He was locked up too and after his death his son took over aaaand at what point does a cult become an actual, recognised religion?!
They believe that everyone is the same regardless of race, colour or gender and all major religions are totally valid in their beliefs because basically it’s all the same shit, different messenger. They reckon that throughout the millenia the One God has sent messengers to earth to suit the people at the time. Muhammad, Jesus, Buddha. You name the prophet, Bahá’ís will be all like, yeah, same god. When you get to the essential core of every religion, they’re all saying pretty much the same thing. Bahá’ís are completely tolerant of all religions, they don’t care where you come from. They’re all about the unity, the “oneness of mankind”. Unless you’re a raving homo then they pretty much hope you drown in your fabulous, glitter-laced champagne. Ok, no, that’s not fair. They don’t hope you die, you’re just not allowed to have sex and you should probably get treatment for that little bit of an affliction you have there.
But anyway, it’s a motherfucker of a temple and a half which anyone from any religion, any denomination is allowed to pray in because they’re all valid, remember? It’s certainly a feat of architectural awesomeness. You’re not allowed to take photos inside so I contented myself with photographing it from all nine sides and I’m not surprised it’s won awards including one from the American Concrete Institute for “excellence in a concrete structure.” Because apparently, that’s actually a thing. It’s a stunning building though, it’s amazing what you can do with a fuck tonne of concrete and marble. It may also be worth noting that this could be the only place in the whole of Delhi that could be considered quiet. If they rented out rooms for the night they’d make a fucking killing.
An utterly indispensable app I can’t recommend enough for navigating Delhi is City Maps 2Go. You need some manner of internet signal to download the maps but once that’s done it’s fully functional offline. You can search for places in its database, mark them on the map and your GPS will pinpoint you so you know how far you are away from where you need to be which was a massive help when I jumped off the Metro at Qutab Minar and ran the gauntlet of auto-rickshaw drivers.
“It is a long way,” one of them told me. “2.7 kilometres.” I glanced down at the map on my phone. His eyes flicked to my phone and he continued, “Your GPS will tell you 1.5, but it is longer.” Actually, my GPS said more like 1.3km. I thanked him, told him I quite liked a walk anyway and strode off. Ok, in my head I strode. It was probably more of an awkward shuffle as I picked my way around jostling auto drivers and mopeds.
Right! This is another of Delhi’s ₹250 UNESCO efforts along with the Red Fort which I’ve seen and Humayun’s Tomb which I have not. It’s the ruin of an Islamic monument and Qutab Minar itself is actually the massive tower which you can’t fucking miss. It’s huge. 237ft high, 47ft in diameter at the base, tapering to 9ft at the top. Yeah, I got the audio guide again. It was started by Qutb-ud-din Aibak in 1192, he only completed the base layer. Then it was continued over the decades, stories were added, damage was done when it was struck by lightning, it was restored and added to numerous times. Even the British had a go, putting a red sandstone piece on the top making it taller than it had ever been, but it was then taken down as it was deemed to not be in keeping with the rest of the structure. It’s still in the garden as a folly because the British do a love a good folly.
The Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque on the complex is thought to be the first known mosque built in India and it’s interesting in that the detail on the pillars is still visible today. They built it in a hurry using materials they had to hand which happened to be the pillars from an existing temple which they destroyed. Islam doesn’t believe in idol worship but you can see Hindu symbolism all over the pillars.
They also used local craftsmen who had fuck all idea how to build a dome so the domes ended up more like cones, and they didn’t know how to build a proper arch either. Despite this they did a pretty good job on the arches on the Qibla Wall which I think, from memory, is the wall that faces Mecca.
Other shit to check out includes a couple of tombs, the ruins of the base of Alai Minar which was going to dwarf Qutab Minar except the bloke that wanted to build it snuffed it whilst it was still in its early stages, and an iron post which has had to be fenced off because people believe if you stand with you back to it and circle your arms around it so you can join your hands, if you make a wish it’ll come true.
So it’s not as big as Red Fort, the audio guide reckons it’ll take about about 90 minutes including walking around, snapping photos, having your picture taken with Indian tourists for the 17th time that day and trying to find that one, elusive bit of shade that you can collapse in for a few minutes whilst you sip your water which has heated up to the correct temperature for a nice cup of tea.
Talking of tea, in other news, chai is staring to grow on me. To be fair I wasn’t a massive fan of coffee before I went to South America and eight months later I left slightly twitchier than I when entered after pledging my undying devotion to the Arabica bean. I think it’s the sugar. Let’s face it, refined sugar is basically legal crack. There’s so much sugar in chai it makes Coca Cola taste savoury by comparison. Now I’ve stopped thinking of it as actual tea on account of the stupid amounts of milk I could definitely get used to punctuating my day with little shots of sugary tit leakage.
Stayed at: Hotel Namaskar, Paharganj