And so it was that we headed into the early afternoon traffic of New Delhi with Jonny, our driver for the next four days, en route to meet our Delhi guide at Qutb Minar, a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Mehrauli area of the city.
Picking our way through the traffic, we arrived about an hour later and fought our way through the Tuk-Tuks and smaller cars emblazoned with the word ‘tourist,’ our cases still on the roof, to park outside the ticket office for the site.
Climbing out of the car, we were met by a lady wearing a ‘Ranthambore National Park’ fleece, who was introduced as our guide. This gave me confidence; she was either an experienced guide or had despatched a national park employee in order to steal her fleece and either option showed commitment. She led us to a ticket booth, purchased our tickets and then led us across the road to the entrance to the archaeological site itself.
Qutb Minar was our first experience in India of one of my minor issues with travelling; ‘foreigner prices’. Coming from the UK where we constantly espouse equality (albeit without practising it some of the time) and anybody who suggests otherwise is racist or xenophobic, having to pay more because Im ‘foreign’ urks me. But it was what it was, foreigners were 500 rupees, locals were substantially less at 30 rupees (thirty, you read that correctly) and either I paid it or I looked from a not insubstantial distance. So I paid it and to be fair it did allow us to use the ‘high value ticket holders entrance’ which meant we got to walk on the left side of a rope, instead of the right (or low value) side, towards the same entrance gate. Although as there were no other people in either queue, my ability to use the ‘first class’ side of the pavement felt like a small victory indeed.
But anyway, we were inside.
The grounds at Qutb Minar are beautiful. On a warm afternoon, the sun shining and a light breeze blowing, there really is nowhere else you’d rather be. For sheer space to run, play and explore, it would be hard to beat and for that alone the children loved it. For new visitors to India there is also some pretty interesting wildlife for the kids to keep their eyes peeled for in the form of bright green parrots and groups of chipmunks darting from one tree to the next.
Qutb Minar itself is a 73m tall brick minaret and is the tallest of it’s kind in the world. Construction began in 1200AD and has been continuing through various extensions, repairs and additions ever since. It has been partly destroyed by lightening, made taller by competing dynasties and was almost rivalled only a few hundred meters away by an incomplete ‘double’. Even the British tried to make their own addition by unsuccessfully attempting to add a sundial to the top during the days of the Raj.
It is surrounded by other, similarly competitive, buildings. The original was constructed from the pillars of Hindu temples which had been sacked throughout India. This was followed by extensions upon extensions, some more successful and able to stand the tests of time than others.
All of this makes for a stunning archeological site filled with amazing buildings, pillars, columns and carvings to explore.
My beginners knowledge of this monument is in no small part due to the knowledge and enthusiasm of our guide who delivered the information in chunks big enough to digest but not so big that the children wandered off into the bushes through boredom. This was followed by as much free time as we desired to wander, take photographs and for the children to play amongst the ruins.
We put our eldest in charge of the exploration and followed him around for the best part of 30 minutes. A lot of this time was taken up with photographs with ‘non foreigners’ who wanted a picture with our two youngsters. And I’ll admit, the first two or three smiling faces that politely asked if they could pose with our two junior explorers were endearing; all part of the ‘India experience.’ But I did sympathise with my grumpy prima-donas once exploration was no longer possible owing to the queue of people forming for a photo opportunity.
We called it a day in the end, “no more pictures please”, and headed back to our guide who was sat patiently playing Candy Crush on a bench* (I can’t attest to this 100%. She was on her phone, although I don’t know what the craze in Indian mobile gaming currently is).
Back to the car. Everybody in? Does anybody need water? Has everybody been to the toilet? Then off we go.
This was the start of a repeating pattern that was going to become routine for the next 4 days. Next stop, India Gate.