Of Seven Capitals and New Delhi: Chapter I – Rai Pithora & Mehrauli

“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
~ Percy Bysshe Shelley

In my quest to unravel the seven capitals of medieval Delhi, I traveled first to Mehrauli area which is the site for both the first and the second capital. If you turn back the pages of history, the first city of Delhi dating to 11th century gets its recognition as Lal Kot of which only ruins remain. Lal Kot, meaning Red Fortress – owing to the extensive use of the red stone – was the first city to be constructed in the Delhi area.


A View of the Qutub Minar from Bhool Bhulaiya (Adham Khan’s Tomb)

The city of Lal Kot (Rai Pithora) was founded by the Tomar Rajput leader Raja Anag Pal in 1060 and studies by ASI and other archaeological evidence suggests that the Tomar ruled the area from 700AD based mainly in the Suraj Kund area. Prithviraj Chauhan of the Chauhan Rajputs seized power in the 12th Century. Prithviraj extended the city and renamed the area Qila Rai Pithora.

Those was the time when ‘Hindustan’ was known as “sone ki chiriya” (Bird of gold) owing to the riches and was a favorite hunting ground of plunderers. Afghans were the most famous and consistent raiders of the time looking for bounties and plunder as far as South. The respite for Hindustan during that time was that these plunderers used to leave with their booty but this changed in the late 12th Century with the arrival of Muhammad Ghori. He was not just a plunderer but an ambitious conqueror.

To realize his ambition of Ghurid Empire, Muhammad Ghori conquest led him to the borders of Rai Pithora, the dominion of Prithviraj Chauhan. In a legendary battle which is still ingrained in romance of the chivalrous Prithviraj, the Rajputs defeated Ghori in the first battle of Tarain in 1191, but their code of honour led to Ghori’s release, a historical blunder.

The next year Ghori regrouped and secured victory in the second battle of Tarain. Ghori did not have the same battle code and Prithviraj Chauhan was taken captive and later executed in Ghazni. With this decisive battle dawned the age of Islamic rule in India as the outcome enabled Ghori to take control of Lal Kot and Qila Prai Pithoria and the foundation of Sultanate was laid in India.

View of the Qutub Minar from the North Eastern part

Ghori left one of his Generals and also his slave, the Turk Qutb-ud-din Aibak as Viceroy of Delhi who started the work on the Qutb Minar and the Quawwat ul Islam Mosque within the city of Lal Kot by destroying Hindu temples and building Islamic structures in their place. One of these was the tower of victory – the 72.5 m tall Qutab Minar, finally completed in 1220 AD, which still stands.

After the death of Mohammed Ghori in 1206, Qutubuddin enthroned himself as the first sultan of Delhi – Delhi thus became the capital of Mamluk or the Slave dynasty, the first dynasty of Muslim sultans to rule over northern India. One of the son-in-laws of Qutub Din Aibak, Shams-ud-din Iltutmish became Sultan in 1211 and continued Aibak’s work at the Qutb complex, finishing the tower and extending the mosque.

A View of Minarm Quwaat-ul-Islam Mosque and Tomb of Imam Zamin from South West

This was the second time when the road led me to Qutub Minar Group of Monuments in Mehrauli. Last time, I was here as a sightseer more interested in “seeing” than “looking”. Now when I do contrast the two visits of mine there is a huge difference in perception. As I entered the Quawwat-ul- Islam complex, I realized how grand it is. Although most of the monuments lay in ruins, you cannot but admire the sheer scale of the architecture.

It is said that the pillaged pillars and stones of the Hindu and Jain temples were used in the construction of the Mamluk Empire in India. There are hints sprinkled across the complex such as lotus and Vishnu motifs and carvings which are typically Hindu in origin. Then there is the iron pillar which has withstood the ravages of time with its Bramhi inscriptions.

When empires clash, the losers inevitably have to give way to the victor. Same happened with the first official capital city of Delhi Qila Rai Pithora which exists now only in ruins or as the raw material of ever crumbling remains of the Qutub Minar Complex.

Pointed Archway through the Western Edge

Qutub Minar of yore was entered through its four monumental gates of which only the Southern one renowned as Alai Darwaza remains standing till date. Along the western periphery of the precinct runs a giant wall with pointed archways, creating a ‘Qibla’ or the decorated prayer wall. There are several buildings in the complex most of which lay in ruins except for the exquisitely carved tomb of Iltutmish which is still in fairly good state. The structure of note inside the complex includes the magnificent Qutub Minar, Ala al-Din Khalji’s madrasa and the Imam Zamin Mosque.

Exquisite Carvings on the archways where lotus and Buddhist motiffs could be descerned

Even amidst ruins of the exquisitely carved niches and archways, what amazes you is the grandness and the colossal scale of what might have once stood. You can’t help but be in awe of the will of human imagination and allure of power which see structures like this adorn the earth for centuries to come. No wonder that Quawwat-ul- Islam (Might of Islam) is a UNESCO recognized World Heritage Site.

Base of the Minaret and the details of carvings

Now when your initial romance with the majestic ruins and tall edifices is over you inevitably look around. Scattered along the well manicured gardens, walkways and courtyard, you’ll found the ubiquitous plastic wrapper of chips and all. It’s a wonder that people are allowed to carry them inside in the first place. Even when they are allowed to do carry it (sorry ladies they are mostly carried inside your bags and purses as gentlemen are not allowed to carry bags inside the complex) they should be sensitive and sensible enough to use the dustbins present inside.

Then there are families, oh! The great Indian families with zero travel IQ. As opposed to the foreign travelers who are sensible enough not even to touch the structures and carvings, what Indians do is have their children climb the wall despite the repeated whistles by the security personnel to click the photos. What they don’t understand is that ‘harkats’ (transgressions) like this will ensure that their children’s grandchildren won’t even have those ruins left to appreciate.

Another shame of this World Heritage site in Delhi is the sorry state of the public conveniences. As opposed to the washroom in Lodi Garden where you may want to finish the book you’re carrying, the state of the toilets at Qutub Minar is atrocious. Every window/door made of glass is broken and you are more likely to faint after looking and smelling the gross ambience. It’s in such a state that you wouldn’t want it to gross your sight and keeping atleast 20 meters distance is what I’ll personally recommend.

Except for these few shortcomings, the monument overall is well maintained. There are personnel deputed to clean the mess created by indifferent tourists – read Indian families with small kids. And there are foreign travelers who exude infectious warmth and smiles and leave a lesson to be learned through their sensitivity towards these relics of past and to the ecology. Not that they don’t involve in littering, I have even seen them pick up plastic thrown here and there and put them where they belong – in the dustbin.

lavishly ornamented interior of Iltutmish Tomb with marble cenotaph features geometrical arabesques and floral motifs

Thus concludes the first chapter of my narrative “Of Seven Cities and Delhi” in which I have endeavored to unravel the historical perspective as well as the contemporary status of the place. There’s not much pictures to be taken of the first capital that was Delhi as there’s not much left of Quila Rai Pithora, the first official capital of Delhi. The second one according to the Government of Delhi and Department of Tourism is Mehrauli which includes Qutub Minar Complex but I think excludes the Mehrauli Archaeological Park which I initially thought belonged to this very installment.

Now I think I will have to use a separate installment to cover that park because of the structures housed within that park which date from Babur’s time to Metcalfe (British Raj). Logically, the next chapter should feature Siri, the 3rd official capital of Delhi but then again I am not very sure of the order. I think going about it chronologically will be a difficult task hence I’ll try to cover them as I’d visit them in weeks to come. As an afterthought, I am also considering short accounts of other capitals which are not officially recognized but which did existed as a city in Delhi in medieval India like Jahan Panah. Let me know what you think through your comments. Till then I will keep traveling and writing.

Here are a few more images from the excursion to Rai Pithora Ruins and Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque:

Details of interiors of Quwwat ul Islam Mosque

Arabic engravings and details of the Qutub Minar

The unfinished Alai Minar which was intended to be double in size of Qutub Minar

Ruins of the archways other structure in the Northern part of the complex

Lotus motiffs and Arabic carvings in the exteriors of Qutub Minar


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  • Mukesh Bhalse says:

    Interesting narration supported with beautiful pictures.


  • Silentsoul says:

    excellent narration of Indian history with equally eye catching photos..

  • Nandan says:

    Great followup of part 1 Nikhil. The history lesson explained in a lucid way. Good show. You are so right about your observations around travel-responsibility part.

    I have a couple of suggestions and thoughts on your queries towards the end of the log
    – It would be useful to include details around how best to reach this place, some info around opening hours, any special attractions like sound n light show or evening illuminations etc. This might make it more utilitarian. You know even things like street food options, parking ( the tip about loos is really very useful), best time of day for getting good shots etc.

    – The order of. Logs, I would personally think that some reiteration of the chronology in subsequent blogs would be useful but the posts doesn’t necessarily have to be in the same order. That is just my personal preference, I would suggest that as long as they keep coming out week-after-week, I am good. I would love to hear more thoughts from other Ghumakkars.

    Thanks again for a lovely post for a bright Saturday morning. Best wishes.

    • Chandra81 says:

      You are bang on target Nandan. I’ll make sure that in next post these “utilitarian” points are included :-) so that its more useful for those actually planning to visit these places.

      As for the chronology, again you are right to say that reiteration will be good so that readers know the direction and the movement of the series on the whole. The next one – most probably Hauz Khas though I wanted it to be Siri – is almost done.

      Thanks again for liking the post and for your suggestions. Feedback are really important for an aspiring writer :-)


  • Tarun Talwar says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed the story of the first city Nikhil. Your narration and pics are excellent. Waiting for more.

  • Julie Jarvis says:

    Nikhil-this is a beautifully written,and a very descriptive and thought provoking journey into the remarkable ancient sites of Delhi.Your photos are superb,and really do bring the history and architecture to life .I look forward to Part 2…

    • Chandra81 says:

      Ah Julie!
      Thank you so much for taking your time out and coming here to read and leave your lovely comment.
      Much appreciated :-) BTW got some brilliant photos at Qutub Minar Complex yesterdat when the sun was bright and sky so blue :-)
      I look forward to your thoughts on the next installment :-)

  • Vibha says:

    This is an interesting beginning Nikhil. I love the pictures and the narration. Qutub Minar complex along with the Humanyun’s Tomb complex is perhaps one of the best-maintained complexes in Delhi. It is unfortunate though that we find it so challenging to provide and maintain clean loos.

    I agree with Nandan’s suggestions. The information that he’s suggested will be good information for your fellow Ghumakkars. Do consider adding those details to your next post.

    We will wait for the next part eagerly. The wait won’t be too long I’m sure. :)

    • Chandra81 says:

      Hey V,
      Good to have your appreciation for the write ups :-)
      I will definitely ensure that Nandan’s points are addressed in my later posts.
      Next one is almost complete.
      I assure you wait won’t be too long :-)

  • D.L.Narayan says:

    Well done, Nikhil. Very informative and excellent photographs including close-ups of the arabesque sculpted on the sides of the Qutub Minar.

    Excuse me for pointing out a minor mistake. Qibla is an Arabic word which means the focal point, which for Muslims is the Ka’aba Sharif in Makkah, Saudi Arabia. The Qibla indicates the direction which Muslims must face while praying. The decorated prayer wall is actually called the Mehrab.

    • Chandra81 says:

      It’s good to know that someone is following my post so minutely :-)

      Thank you for pointing it out. But what I meant was that whereas the qibla is the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca and hence the direction that Muslims should face when praying. The wall in which a mihrab appears is thus the “qibla wall.” Sorry for confusion if any in the way I wrote it. :-)


  • Stone says:

    Will you be covering “Purana Qilla” and “Indraprastha” stories dating back to Pandavas?

    And yes, needless to say brilliant post again Nikhil.

    Keep traveling!!!

    • Chandra81 says:

      I will cover “Purana Qilla” as Shergarh for sure and as for Indraprastha well that will be interesting :-)
      But then it is actually not in the scope of the “Seven Capitals”
      But let’s see if I could or couldn’t or woudn’t or shoudn’t :P
      Thank you for your appreciation :-)

  • vinaymusafir says:

    Well narrated with beautifully clicked pics.

  • Great Nikhil ,

    Thanks for taking us to Kutub Minar and sharing this history…………………

    The first photograph is superb ………………………………….

  • Excellent Post and very good photographs!

    Looking forward to all next posts in the series.
    Seven Cities of Delhi is a very interesting topic and thanks to you Nikhil for picking this and taking us on a tour with you.

    I have heard that the iron pillar in Kutub Minar premise was originally at Udaygiri, near Bhopal.


  • Its good to read so nicely detailed post with equally beautiful pictures.

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