Thursday, December 19, 2013

Mehrauli: Qutb Minar Complex

A highly decorated prayer niche. Part of the large mosque next to the Qutb Minar in Mehrauli. This part of the complex dates from the early 13th century, and was constructed by Iltutmish, the second ruler of the Mamluk, or Slave, dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate. This panel displays a variety of different decorative motifs, including two varieties of Arabic calligraphy. The carvings on the row furthest to the right are in an early Arabic script called Kufic, which seems to have developed in the fourth century, well before the advent of Islam. The earliest surviving Korans were written in the Kufic script, and the system of writing was used by a number of groups of central Asian Muslims who were culturally similar to the Mamluks. The carvings on the next row over are fairly stylized representations of leaves and vines, while the third row consists of more Arabic carvings, in this instance in the much later Nashki script. 

My blog posts on Delhi have largely focused on the more obscure, or at least less touristy, places in that vast city. Yet, sometimes, it's good to go back and visit the classic sites. I've already done a blog post on the Mehrauli Archaeological Park, and at some point I'm going to do a post on the interesting things to see in Mehrauli Village, which I visited a few months ago. That being the case, it seemed fitting that I should do a write up on what most people come to see when they travel to Mehrauli, namely, the Qutb Minar and the complex of early Sultanate buildings around it. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Hampi Pt. 2

The 15 foot tall monolithic Kadalekalu Ganesha statue, in a shrine behind Hemakuta Hill. Carved out of a single granite boulder, this is one of the largest representations of Ganesha in the region. The word Kadalekalu means "Gram" in  the local language, which the statue's belly is thought to resemble. In his hand, Ganesha is holding a rice cake, which he's eating with his trunk. I was surprised that this photo turned out as well as it did, given how little light there was in the shrine.    

The great thing about Hampi is that it offers an almost limitless amount of places to explore. While there are a number of "must see" sites like the Lotus Mahal and the Vittala Temple, there are also a huge number of ruins and natural features in the area which see relatively little traffic.  This post is going to focus on the less visited parts of the ancient capital, along with a few of the major sites that I missed on my first day exploring the ruins of Vijayanagara. As you might expect, here's much more to Hampi than what I've posted here. I think you could spend your whole life studying the area and still not see absolutely everything.

Thursday, July 25, 2013


Coracle crossing the Tungabhadra River, late in the afternoon. Coracles have been a means of conveyance in the Hampi area since prehistoric times, and even in the present they seem to have certain advantages over traditional boats. They're cheap, and so lightweight that they can be carried balanced on a person's head like a great big hat. Yet, with such low displacement combined with such a large amount of surface area in contact with the water, they can carry surprisingly heavy loads. The craft in this picture is holding three motorcycles and four people...what must be well over a thousand pounds in a vessel that looked like it weighed less than thirty. Coracles are used quite extensively in the Hampi region, sometimes just for tourist boat rides, but also because, at the moment, there's no bridge that connects Hampi with the settlements just on the other side of the Tungabhadra, such as Anegondi and Virupapur Gaddi. Note the dragonfly flying through the upper righthand corner of the picture.    

The little, sleepy, laid back village of Anegondi (Anegondi meaning something like "elephant enclosure") is situated across the Tungabhadra river from the remains of the city of Vijayanagara. Though the ruins in Anegondi are less spectacular, the village has a longer history than the much more well known and frequented historical site on the opposite side of the river. It is also on the other side of the Tungabhadra that the rocky, central Karnataka boulderlands rise to their most spectacular heights.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Hampi Pt. 1

A beautiful maiden with a creeper, on one of the door jams in Vijayanagara's ruined Krishna Temple. 

Combining an entire city's worth of incredible South Indian architectural marvels with one of the subcontinent's grandest landscapes, Hampi is unequivocally one of India's most magnificent historical sites.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Feroz Shah Kotla

In a chamber under the Feroz Shah Kotla Mosque. 

The ruins of Firozabad, the fifth city of Delhi, stand tucked away next to a giant cricket stadium, just south of the former line of the walls of Old Delhi. It's not on most visitors itineraries, and even people I've know who have been living in Delhi for quite some time haven't gone there. The reason for this is, I think, relatively simple: Firozabad, otherwise known as Firoz Shah Kotla, is not pretty. Rather, it's scary, immensely atmospheric, and is generally considered one of Delhi's primary centers of supernatural activity....It's not for the faint of heart. Visiting the ruins on a Thursday afternoon, when people come from the surrounding area to petition disembodied spirits for favours and forgiveness in dark, dungeon-like chambers in the sad remnants of a once grand, but now almost totally destroyed, 700 year old city, is one of the most intense experiences that Delhi, a city that is nothing if not replete with intense experiences, has to offer. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

A Day Out From Badami

Nataraja, in the Ravana Phadi cave temple in Aihole, flanked by Ganesh. Nataraja is the form of Shiva whose dance of cosmic destruction will obliterate the old universe in preparation for the new. The Ravana Phadi Cave, dating back to the 6th century, is one of the very earliest Chalukyan monuments, predating the cave temples at Badami. Though Chalukyan architecture would develop a great deal between the this period and the 8th century, their skill at sculpting appears to have peaked rather earlier. For my money at least, the very greatest Chalukyan carvings, which certainly include this Nataraja, are in Aihole...Aihole is actually pronounced "Aye-oh-lei," and frankly I wish that whoever decided to render the name into English had gone a more phonetic route...talking about it actually presents exactly the same problem as bringing up the name of the planet Uranus...oh well....

My second day in the Badami area was one of the very best purely travel days I've ever had in India. In the twelve hours I spent on my feet, I wound up visiting roughly three quarters of the core of the ancient Chalukyan Empire (something which I can't say I do every day.) 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


Frieze of Varaha, the boar-headed incarnation of Vishnu, holding his consort Bhudevi in one of the cave temples of Badami. The story behind this carving is that the demon Hiranyaksha, the beheaded corpse of whom Varaha is standing on in this depiction, kidnapped the Earth, as personified in Bhudevi, and took her to the bottom of a cosmic ocean, whereupon Vishnu sent his boar incarnation to slay the demon and take her back.

So, this is back in Karnataka, during the trip I took in October of 2012.

For me, visiting Badami was a trip into Terra Incognita: Whereas most of the historical sites that I visited in Karnataka were from a period that I was at least nominally familiar with, the great cave temples and temple architecture of Badami were mostly from a much earlier time, before the advent of Islam in South India. What's more, though I had been to a number of old Hindu sites before, most were in Assam, a place extremely culturally different from Karnataka. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Mehrauli Archaeological Park

The sixteenth century Rajon ki Baoli, or Well of the Masons. Built in the final years of the Delhi Sultanate, it's  Delhi's most ornate step-well, and one of the main attractions at the Mehrauli Archaeological Park.

The Mehrauli Archaeological Park is perhaps Delhi's best kept secret. Containing ruins which, if one counts the foundation of the Hindu Rajput fort which underlies the whole area, date anywhere from the 8th to the 19th century, and encompass virtually the whole history of Islamic Delhi and then some, the park is among the very most fascinating places in the whole city. What's more, it's practically unknown.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Exploring the Abode in the Clouds

My brother crosses the Nongthymmai Living Root Bridge, the longest of all (known) living root bridges, and arguably the most spectacular, in the monsoon season of 2011. Believe it or not, the whole span is made up of nothing but rubber tree roots that were trained across that stream over the course of a few decades by the local Khasi villagers. It is perhaps the world's most amazing example of biological architecture. During this trip that I'm putting together, we'll be staying in a village guesthouse about half an hour away from here, in a little visited corner of northeast India that is simply abounding in fantastic things to see.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Khirki Masjid

Arches and Pillars in Khirki Masjid, one of the most unusual and atmospheric buildings in Delhi. Constructed during the reign of Firoze Shah Tughlaq, perhaps the Delhi Sultanate's greatest builder, in the 14th century, the building combines design elements from traditional mosques,  Islamic military architecture, and Hindu temples. The result is a mosque like no other.

The Khirki Masjid is bizarre in a number of ways. First off, the vast majority of the world's Mosques are either open air (such the Delhi Jama Masjid), or have huge spacious chambers, so that large congregations can gather. But in the Khirki Masjid, the congregation space is enclosed, with the interior of the building being divided by rows of pillars into a series of narrow arcades, rather after the fashion of many Hindu temples. The Masjid was in fact designed by a recent convert to Islam from Hinduism, which may to certain extent explain it's unorthodox layout. The Masjid is also unusual for its embattled, fortress-like appearance. It certainly does not look like a mosque from the outside, and if I had just stumbled upon it, I would not have guessed that that was the function the building served. Its harsh, rather functional and militaristic style makes the building look more like it was meant to keep people out than to allow them in. 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sultan Ghari

The Sultan Ghari, Delhi's first Islamic tomb, and one of it's most obscure monuments. It was built in 1231 for one of the sons of Iltutmish, the third ruler of the Mumluk, or Slave, dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate. The tomb was constructed before most of the trends that are now associated with Indian Islamic funerary architectural came into their own, the result of which being that the design of the tomb is unique among Delhi's monuments.The domed structure in the foreground is a much restored cenotaph for one of Iltutmish's other sons. There were apparently once two cenotaphs on either side of the monument, though the other one no longer exists. 

So, after quite a long while, here's another blogette:

Monday, March 18, 2013


The evil countenance of Adilabad Qila, as far as I can tell Delhi's least visited fort.

Tughlaqabad, the former stronghold of the third dynasty of the Delhi Sultanate  is a truly vast complex of ruins, most of which are rarely visited. Even the area's primary attraction, the citadel of Tughlaqabad Fort, is far from being at the top of the average tourist itinerary. I think that the main reason for this is simply that most ruins from the Tughluq period are much more functional than they are beautiful. They have a harsh, forbidding, and rather unlovable aspect to them, which is of course what makes them so interesting, but also means that they don't draw people in the same way that the grander Moghul constructions do. That being said, the Tughluqs have nonetheless left behind quite an extensive architectural legacy (along with spinning off a number of  other important Islamic dynasties in India, such as the Bahmanids in the Deccan, who would go on to create a huge array of architectural works of their own.)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Northern Ridge

Flowers in the jungle of the Northern Ridge

Hiya Folks...and now for my next bloglett...

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Agrasen Ki Baoli

Inside Agrasen Ki Baoli, a medieval step-well right in the middle of Delhi. Baoli is the usual word for step-well.

Howdy Folks

So, I'm in Delhi for some time, and I've got my computer with me, so I thought I would do a series of short blogs (A.K.A "Blogletts"), on some of the lesser known things to see in Delhi. The fact is, even after 5 years at this point (I was first in Delhi, and India, all the way back in 2009), there are still plenty of interesting sights that I haven't seen in Delhi. They just tend to be sights that don't get much attention.

Sunday, February 24, 2013


The prayer niche, or Mihrab, of Bijapur's Jama Masjid. Dating from the first half of the sixteenth century, the Jama Masjid was built by one of the earlier rulers of the Adil Shahi dynasty, which, after the precipitous decline of the Bahmanids and the violent destruction of the Vijayanagar Empire, briefly rose to become the primary power in the Deccan. Inscribed in Persian and painted in gold, the Mihrab of the Bijapur Jama Masjid is, thankfully, in nearly perfect condition, and is but one highlight among many in a city that is simply awash in wonders of Islamic art and architecture.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


A window in the tomb of Mahmud Shah Bahmani, in the necropolis of the Bahmani sultans. This is in the village of Ashtur, a few kilometers outside of Bidar.

For a city that is largely unknown to tourists, at least of the foreign backpacking variety, Bidar has an embarrassment of fantastic things to see. From the early 15th century, until the early 16th, under the name Muhammadabad, the city was the capitol of the Bahmani Sultanate, the first Islamic rulers of southern India, who's sway extended over much of the Deccan.The Bahmanis, who were Shiites originally from present day Iran, built a number of truly magnificent monuments in the city, including Bidar's massive fort, and the huge necropolis in Ashtur. After the fall of the Bahmanis, the city was ruled by the Barid Shahi kings of the Bidar Sultanate, who produced a number of smaller, though certainly still beautiful, tombs.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Across the Khasi Hills: Sunday / Getting Back to Assam

A tree, the canyon wall, and jungle, in hazy sunlight. This was taken on my way back up the endless stairs.

The next day I woke up to the sound of falling rain, and seeing as how I had just completed a huge hike the day before, in which I walked for around ten hours straight up and down never-ending ancient staircases, I decided to take it easy. This was my last full day down in the canyon, and it too was an adventure, though of a different sort.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Across the Khasi Hills Day 5: Into the Green Unknown

Nohkalikai Falls, one of Meghalaya's most famous sights, along with six subsidiary falls...I didn't know I would be seeing this that day...

Now I began my fifth and perhaps most adventurous day in the Khasi Hills. My goal was simple: To take the trail beyond the final wire-suspension bridge over the Umkynsan, and see where it led. I had absolutely no expectations, other than a suspicion that the trail would probably peter out in the jungle somewhere way up the side of the canyon wall. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Across the Khasi Hills Day 4: Exploring the canyon floor

Abandoned Root Bridge over the Simtung River. This was one of the highlights of my trip into the Khasi Hills. Despite its derelict appearance, this bridge actually felt safer than the other, functioning, root-bridges elsewhere in the area. There are two living root bridges that span the Simtung. This one leads from the eastern bank of the river onto a rocky, rubber tree covered  island, while another leads from the island to the western bank. Unfortunately, the further bridge has largely fallen apart, and is now little more than a big root across the river. But the first bridge, now useless from a functional perspective since it only leads as far as the island, continues to grow and strengthen, it's roots now stronger and more stable than those of either the Double-Decker bridge or the Nongthymmai bridge.