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Do Stones Talk? A Day at the Qutb

Red shimmering sandstone, well-cut lawns, hand-carved mega stone structures covering a vast expanse of land and a clear blue sky. This was what welcomed me when I first stepped into one of Delhi’s, or rather the country’s most famous heritage, the Qutb Minarcomplex. The complex, with lawns around three sides and a protective wall on the other is bigger than what it appears.

Located in the south of the city, at 74 meters, it is the second tallest heritage structure after the Fateh Burj, Mohali.Besides the main Minar, the site boasts of several other well-known monuments including the Iron Pillar of Delhi, Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, Alai Darwaza, the Tomb of Iltutmish, Alai Minar, Ala-ud-din’s Madrasa and Tomb and the Tomb of Imam Zamin. Rightfully then, the ‘Qutb Minar has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Interestingly, while the original structure was built by Qutb-ud-Din Aibak in 1193,four storeys were added by his successors. The top two storeys, made of marble and sandstone, were added by the famous Mughal ruler Firoz Shah Tughlaq, to compensate for the loss of one storey due to destruction by lightning. All said, the Qutb complex is a great tourist attraction; as per the Delhi Tourism Board, on the average, about 200,000 tourists visitQutb daily.

I visited Qutb several years ago as a tourist. Now, I was visiting as a photographer and the perspective was totally different. This pure combination of perfect planning, design, aesthetics and flora faunawas a delight. I thought it best to capture the different ‘moods’ of Qutb during the morning rising sun and the evening setting sun.

I focused first on the tallMinar, with the warm sun falling on its surface and the reflecting stone. Though built straight vertically, the pillar looks bent or slanting when looked at from the base, reminding me of the law of parallel lines appearing to meet at a distance. But to get this translated into a good photograph proved difficult, though I did get it finally.It is so magnificent that visitors can continue staring at the Minar for quite a long time!

The other heritage structures too, built of the similar stone, offered a variety of shapes, dimensions and textures, all bathed in the warm rays of the slowly intensifying sun. The shadows formed on the ground were sharp and defined which, along with the structures,added to the quality of the frames.

Many of the sub-parts of the Qutbheritage are originally a part of the whole, but as individuals are also great story-tellers. Just outside the complex is another unfinished Minar, facing the existing one. Strangely, it was to be a copy but was left incomplete. The Alai Minar was started to replicate the Qutb Minar, but could not be completed, perhaps testifying that there cannot be another Qutb!

Being located near the airport, airplanes are a frequent sight at Qutb. I tried to get shots of ‘the old with the new’- the plane and the Minar in one shot. It took some time but I could finally manage to do so. 

The visit at dusk to Qutb was a totally different scene. In short, peace was replaced with chaos caused by the constant stream of visitors, children running around with mothers chasing them, and enthusiastic ‘photographers’. From their mannerisms, I could tell that most of them were regular visitors, being drawn by the magic of Qutb.

What made a difference on camera were the softer tones, merging shadows, crisper colors and another tone of blue in the sky at this time of the day. The intricately carved pillars, reflecting polished stone and arches served as some artistic frames. Though it was my second visit in the same day, everything felt new. Not only was the light different, the same spots clicked in the morning appeared new. Through the leaves of tress, the shadows on the ground to the ones reflected by the stone, I realized I was in for a bunch of really good if not exquisite images, which would be a notch or two higher than the morning set.

Soon, the light started fading and people left for their homes, as if allowing Qutb to recuperate from the assault! While sitting on a warm bench and feeling the cool dry Delhi evening breeze  flow through my hair, I realized the monument is just not pure stone, it is a living being, something that talks and reveals itself only to those who connect with it. Though a star who gets clicked by many every day, for years together, it is still an equalizer that accepts anyone and everyone. People relax there as they would in the comfort of their own homes, lovers steal time from the world for each other and children find a new friend in the cute furry squirrels and people like me who find peace, clarity and great photographs that will relive the place whenever looked at.

It was on the way back home in the auto-rickshaw (or was it a camel?) that I realized what I had left behind was not just a stone based structure, but  history that keeps folding into the contemporary, leaving every generation awe-struck and full of respect for our ancestors who were masters of perfection. Sometimes, stones do actually talk.

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