Basant Panchami

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Apr 042011
 

Basant Panchami, Delhi

Basant Panchami heralds the beginning of spring. Cool lingering breeze replaces the cold harsh winter and there is a touch of rejuvenation and joy in the air. The buds of leaves and flowers come into full bloom. Girls in different shades of yellow dresses enhance the beauty of nature on the day of Basant Panchami. Kite flying, a popular sport in India, is associated with the Basant Panchami day.  It is a day for the students – no studies, only merry making.

Basant means spring and Panchami is the fifth day of the fortnight of waxing moon (Shukla Paksha) in the month of January-February of English calendar (Magh). This year (2001), the Basant Panchami falls on the 29th of January.

The day of Basant Panchami is dedicated to Goddess Sarasvati. It is not a national holiday in India but the schools are closed and the students participate in decoration and arrangement of the worship place.  A few weeks before the celebration, schools become active in organizing various annual competitions of music, debate, sports and other activities. Prizes are distributed on the day of Basant Panchami.  Many schools organize cultural activities in the evening of the Saraswati Puja day when parents and other community members attend the functions to encourage the children.

Sarasvati is the goddess of learning. Sarasvati bestows the greatest wealth to humanity, the wealth of knowledge. In the Vedas the prayer for Sarasvati depicts her as a white lady in white dress bedecked with white flowers and white pearls, sitting on a white lotus, which is blooming in a wide stretch of water. She holds Veena, a string-instrument, like Sitar, for playing music. The prayer finally concludes, “Oh Mother Sarasvati remove the darkness (ignorance) of my mind and bless me with the eternal knowledge.”

The Vedas describe Sarasvati as a water deity, goddess of a river of the same name.  According to popular belief Sarasvati, originating from the Himalayas, flowed southeast, ultimately meeting the Ganges at Prayag, near the confluence of Yamuna. Hence the place is called Triveni. In due time this course of water petered away.

The mythological history of Sarasvati associates her with the holy rituals performed on the banks of the river Sarasvati.  She is worshipped as a goddess of speech, attributed to the formation of Vach (words), invention of Sanskrit language and composition of hymns.

In the United States, the Bengali community observes Basant Panchami in the form of community worship of goddess Sarasvati. It is usually organized on the following weekend. Conservative Indians, however, prefer to celebrate it on the day of Panchami. The commue cultural activities and the participation of kids is encouraged.

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 Posted by at 1:38 pm

Chandni Chowk

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Mar 252011
 

Chandni chowk in Delhi

History of Chandni Chowk

Chandni ChowkThe favourite daughter of Shahjahan, Jahanara laid the foundation of today Chandni Chowk which is the largest trading centre of North India. Also known as the moonlit square, it is located in the the main street of Old Delhi. Situated opposite the Red Fort, the bazaar has several galis (lanes). Each of these galis represent a speciality of this market, for example the parathawali gali famous for it’s parathas. Similarly there is the jewellery lane, textile lane and so on. The market place has historical land marks like- The Sunheri Masjid which stands next to the Kotwali (old police station). The Fatehpur Mosque, is located at the west end of Chandni Chowk and the famous Jumma Masjid is also situated nearby.

Chandni Chowk as a Business Center

During Shahjahan’s time itself, an arcade of shops had been built in a half-moon shape. Round this nucleus, in no time, grew a fabulous and prosperous trading center which spread along the wide road and branched into a number of by lanes in all directions. Originally only this stretch was known as Chandni Chowk. But as the trading center grew in magnificence and prosperity, the whole area from the Fort to Fatehpur grew famous as Chandni Chowk. .

Places of worship at Chandni Chowk

Chandni Chowk has the distinction of being perhaps the only trade market that also houses an equally amazing number of places of worship of all the prominent Indian religions. Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Christianity and Jainism exist side by sides in the 2 km. stretch between Fatehpur Masjid to Red Fort alone. Here one can find more than seven Hindu and Jain temples, two Churches, three Mosques and two Gurudwaras. This is excluding the numerous smaller shrines that exist in the remoter parts of Chandni Chowk.
* Sri Digambar Jain lal Mandir
* Jama Masjid
* Gurudwara Shish Ganj
* Gauri Shankar Temple
* Sunehri Masjid.

Eating joints at Chandni Chowk

The eating joints in Chandni Chowk are famous not only in Delhi, but all over India. Most of these date from the last century, some even earlier than that. Mute witnesses to time-induced changes in Chandni Chowk, they have managed to retain their essence and yet move ahead with the times. Here, with every bite one samples not only a delicacy but also a piece of history!

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 Posted by at 4:34 pm

Lotus Temple

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Nov 062009
 

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Lotus Temple, Delhi

lotus_templeLocated in Kalkaji in the south of Delhi, it is lotus shaped and has rightly been given the name. It is made of marble, cement, dolomite and sand. It is open to all faiths and is an ideal place for meditation and obtaining peace and tranquility.
It is a very recent architectural marvel of the Bahai faith. The Bahá’í Faith is the youngest of the world’s independent religions. Its founder, Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), is regarded by Bahá’ís as the most recent in the line of Messengers of God that stretches back beyond recorded time and that includes Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Zoroaster, Christ and Muhammad. The central theme of Bahá’u’lláh’s message is that humanity is one single race and that the day has come for its unification in one global society. God, Bahá’u’lláh said, has set in motion historical forces that are breaking down traditional barriers of race, class, creed, and nation and that will, in time, give birth to a universal civilization. The principal challenge facing the peoples of the earth is to accept the fact of their oneness and to assist the processes of unification.

THE GRAND STRUCTURE

Fariborz Sahba, Canadian architect of Iranian origin, spent 10 years in designing and project management, and with the help of a team of about 800 engineers, technicians, artisans and workers brought to realization one of the most complicated constructions in the world. The structure of the House is composed of three ranks of nine petals; each springing from a podium elevating the building above the surrounding plain. The first two ranks curve inward, embracing the inner dome; the third layer curves outward to form canopies over the nine entrances. The petals, constructed of reinforced white concrete cast in place, are clad in white marble panels, performed to surface profiles and patterns related to the geometry. Nine arches that provide the main support for the superstructure ring the central hall. Nine reflecting pools surround the building on the outside, their form suggesting the green leaves of the lotus flower. Translating the geometry of the design, in which there are virtually no straight lines, into the actual structure presented particular challenges in designing and erecting the framework. Not only was it difficult to align, so as to produce accurately the complex double-curved surfaces and their intersections, but also the closeness of the petals severely restricted workspace. Nevertheless the task was carried out entirely by the local laborers. Thanks to each one who contributed in its construction. To avoid construction joints, petals were concreted in a continuous operation for approximately 48 hours. Concrete was carried up the staging by women bearing 50-pound loads in baskets balanced on their heads. All the steel reinforcing for the shells of the lotus petals was galvanized to avoid rust stains on the white concrete in the prevailing humid conditions, guaranteeing the life of the delicate shell structure of 6 to 18 cm thick shells of the petals. India is well endowed with human resources.

Bahai’ Temple in New Delhi SIGNIFICANCE OF THE DESIGN

The lotus represents the Manifestation of God, and is also a symbol of purity and tenderness. Its significance is deeply rooted in the minds and hearts of the Indians. In the epic poem Mahabharata, the Creator Brahma is described as having sprung from the lotus that grew out of Lord Vishnu’s navel when that deity lay absorbed in meditation, There is a deep and universal reverence for the lotus, which is regarded as a sacred flower associated with worship throughout many centuries. In Buddhist folklore the Boddhisatva Avalokiteswara is represented as born from a lotus, and is usually depicted as standing or sitting on a lotus pedestal and holding a lotus bloom in his hand. Buddhists glorify him in their prayers, “Om Mani Padme Hum”, “Yea, 0 Jewel in the Lotus!” Lord Buddha says you have to be like a lotus which, although living in dirty water, still remains beautiful and undefiled by its surroundings. So, we realise that the lotus is associated with worship, and has been a part of the life and thoughts of Indians through the ages. It will seem to them as though they have been worshipping in this Temple in their dreams for years. Now their vision has become a reality and. God willing, some day they will all enter and worship in it. History of the Bahá’í Faith in India: The history of the Bahá’í Faith in India started with the inception of the Faith in Iran when the Báb (literally, the Gate) inaugurated a new era in the history of the human race. The Báb Himself had appointed one of the Indian believers as the ‘Letter of Living’ in 1844-45, the first year of His Ministry. Since then, India is spiritually connected with the Bahá’i Faith.

As foretold by the Báb, the Promised One of all ages and peoples, Bahá’u’lláh (literally the Glory of God) revealed Himself in 1863. He, Himself, dispatched one of the distinguished Bahá’í teachers, Jamal Effendi, to teach the Cause of God in the years 1874-75. Jamal Effendi (left) traveled to many States and was successful in attracting many learned people and few Navaabs (ruler of the states) including the Navaab of Rampur State (now in U.P.) to the Faith. One young man who accepted was Syed Mustafa Roumi who later became distinguished in his manifold services and was appointed as a Hand of the Cause of God. Some of them accepted Bahá’u’lláh as the Universal Manifestation of God whose advent has been prophesied in all the Holy Scriptures. The other teachers who came to India during Bahá’u’lláh’s Ministry included Mishkin Qalam, the distinguished Bahá’í Calligrapher. A series of teachers from the East and the West continued visiting India and traveling throughout the country during the time of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (literally, the Servant of Bahá), the much-loved Master of the Bahá’í Faith. Prominent among them were Mirza Mahram and Mirza Mahmud Zarqani.

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Jantar Mantar New Delhi

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Nov 062009
 

Jantar Mantar , New Delhi

jantar-mantarJantar Mantar is very popular among tourists and the people of Delhi. The structure is another great masterpiece of Indian architecture which shows the scientific acumen of ancient India. Jantar Manter is situated at Parliament Street, very close to Connaught Place. Jantar Mantar is also called Delhi Observatory. It is maintained by the Jaipur government because it was built by Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II of Jaipur in 1710 A.D.

It is a remarkable structure which consists of fourteen geometric devices used for measuring time, forecasting weather changes, predicting behaviour of planets and finding extraterrestrial altitude. All these devices are fixed structures and point to a specific direction. The largest device or instrument is the Samrat Jantar which is 90 feet high and its shadow is plotted in such a manner so that is shows the exact time of the day. Any weather change or the onset of monsoons can be ascertained by the Hindu Chhatri,which is a small domed structure.

The whole structure is made of stone and marble with each of then having an engraved astronomical scale. Jantar Mantar finally got the status of a national monument in 1948. It has always attracted architects, historians and scientists from all over the world.

Maharaja Jai Singh was a fanatical astronomer himself who studied various works from Hindu, Muslim and European astronomy. He had the perception that the tables used by the pundits were deceptive and the actual planetary changes and predictions of eclipses would not have been possible through these measuring parameters. So he thought that he would find an improved and efficient means through which exact prediction could be made. It was his own inspiration and foresightedness that gave shape to such an instrument. He built other observatories at Jaipur, Ujjain, Benares and Mathura to have an exact calculation. It took almost seven years before the whole structure was fully operational because he wanted to be fully satisfied with the accuracy of the instruments at Jantar Mantar.

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Jama Masjid

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Nov 062009
 

Jama Masjid , Delhi

jama-masjidJama Masjid is one of the largest mosques in India, also known by the name of “Masjid-i-Jahan Numa” (visible to the world). Situated near the Red Fort in Delhi, it is one of the last monuments built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. Designed as Shah Jahan’s primary mosque, Jamma Masjid of Delhi is built in red sandstone, with an extensive use of white marble. The interiors of the mosque are inlaid with stripes of black. It took six years to complete this simple yet elegant monument. Delhi Jama Masjid was built on a high platform so as to make it visible from all the neighboring areas.

Ostad Khalil, a great sculptor of his time, designed this mosque. Built as the replica of Moti Masjid in Agra, it has three gateways, four towers and two minarets. However, the most impressive feature of the mosque is its pulpit, carved out of a single block of marble. Gracing the portico of Jama Masjid, the slender minarets, one on each side, are approximately 130 ft high. As you enter inside the mosque, you step into a stadium like courtyard. Wide staircases and arched gateways are the trademark of the Jama Masjid of Delhi. The relic of the Prophet as well as the Holy Koran is shrine in a small shrine inside the mosque

One of the most valued treasures of the Delhi Jama Masjid are a hair of the beard of Hazrat Mahmmad, his used chappal (footwear), the canopy of his tombstone, the foot print of Muhammad on the stone and a chapter of Koran taken from its original holy book. All of these are kept in the northeast corner of the mosque. The main imams of this Jama Masjid have always been the direct descendants of the first Imam appointed by Emperor Shahjahan. Till today, this tradition of appointing his descendants as the main Imam has been carried out without any break. People of other religions are allowed inside the mosque throughout the day, except for between 12:30 pm to 2:00 pm.

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Humayun’s Tomb

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Nov 062009
 

Humayun’s Tomb, Delhi

humayuns-tombHumayun died in 1556, and his widow Hamida Banu Begam, also known as Haji Begam, commenced the construction of his tomb in 1569, fourteen years after his death. It is the first distinct example of proper Mughal style, which was inspired by Persian architecture. It is well known that Humayun picked up the principles of Persian architecture during his exile, and he himself is likely to have planned the tomb, although there is no record to that effect. The tomb was constructed at a cost of 15 lakh rupees (1.5 million).

Mirak Mirza Ghiyath, a Persian, was the architect employed by Haji Begam for this tomb.

The tomb proper stands in the centre of a square garden, divided into four main parterres by causeways (charbagh), in the centre of which ran shallow water-channels. The high rubble built enclosure is entered through two lofty double-storeyed gateways on the west and south. A baradari (pavilion) occupies the centre of the eastern wall and a hammam (bath chamber) in the centre of northern wall.

The square red sandstone double-storeyed structure of the mausoleum with chamfered corners rises from a 7-m. high square terrace, raised over a series of cells, which are accessible through, arches on each side. The grave proper in the centre of this cell-complex is reached by a passage on the south. The octagonal central chamber contains the cenotaph, and the diagonal sides lead to corner-chambers which house the graves of other members of the royal family. Externally each side of the tomb, its elevations decorated by marble borders and panels, is dominated by three arched alcoves, the central one being the highest. Over the roof pillared kiosks are disposed around the high emphatic double dome in the centre. The central octagonal chamber contains the cenotaph, encompassed by octagonal chambers at the diagonals and arched lobbies on the sides. Their openings are closed with perforated screens. Each side is dominated by three arches, the central one being the highest. This plan is repeated on the second storey too. The roof surmounted by a double dome (42.5m) of marble has pillared kiosks (chhatris) placed around it.

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India Gate

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Nov 062009
 

India Gate, Delhi

india gateSituated at the banks of Yamuna river, Delhi, the capital of India, is a vibrant modern city with an ancient and eventful history. The city with its multi-faceted culture can aptly said to be a microcosm of the whole nation. Visit to the city offers a unique two-in-one experience as New Delhi with its wide roads and high rise buildings gives a feel of being in a contemporary city whereas a stroll down the streets of Old Delhi can easily take one to a bygone era with its narrow lanes and old ‘havelis’. Delhi has thousands of historical monuments and places of religious importance.

India Gate, an important monument of the city, is a memorial built in commemoration of more than 80,000 Indian soldiers who were killed during World War I. The monument is an imposing 42 meters high arch and was designed by the famous architect Edwin Lutyens. India gate was earlier named All India War Memorial. The design of India gate is almost similar to its French counterpart war memorial, the Arc-de-Triomphe.

The building is made of red stone that rises in stages into a huge moulding . On top of the arch, INDIA is written on both sides. Names of over 70,000 Indian soldiers are inscribed on the walls of the monument in whose memory it is built. There is a shallow domed bowl at the top, which was intended to be filled with burning oil at special occasions.

At the base of the India gate there is another memorial, the Amar Jawan Jyoti that was added after independence. This eternal flame was lighted in commemoration of the unknown soldiers who laid their lives to serve this nation.

The lush green lawns, Children Park and the famous boat club around the place make it a perfect picnic spot. Cool evening breeze near the fountains of India gate attract hundreds of visitors daily. In the evenings, India gate is illuminated with number of lights around it that gives it a magnificent appeal. Standing near the base of the monument one can have a good view of the Rashtrapati Bhawan. The beautifully lit up monument provides a memorable background against the darkening sky. Even in daylight, the stretch between India Gate and the Rashtrapati Bhavan offers a splendid view.

Every year on 26th January India gate stands witness to the Republic Day parade where latest advancements of defence technology is displayed. The parade is also a good platform to have a glimpse at the colourful and diverse cultural heritage of India as artists from all over the country perform on the occasion.

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Rashtrapati Bhavan

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Nov 062009
 

Rashtrapati Bhavan in Delhi

rashtrapati-bhavanRashtrapati Bhavan, the official residence of the President of India, is an imposing edifice located at the west end of the Rajpath in New Delhi with the India gate at the opposite end. Designed by Edwin Landseer Lutyens, this palatial building was the erstwhile residence of the British Viceroy. Few official residential premises of the State Heads in the world will match the Rashtrapati Bhavan in terms of its size, vastness and its magnificence.

The decision to build a residence in New Delhi for the British Viceroy was taken after it was decided that the capital of India would be shifted from Calcutta (Kolkata) to Delhi. It was constructed to affirm the permanence of British rule in India and the building and its surroundings were supposed to be ‘an empire in stone’. That ’empire in stone’ and the perpetual Durbar was transformed to be the permanent institution of democracy on 26th January 1950 when Dr. Rajendra Prasad became the first President of India and occupied this building to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of India. It was from that day that this building was renamed as Rashtrapati Bhavan – the President’s House.

The building completed in 1929, was scheduled to be constructed in four years but it took 17 years to complete it. This vast mansion has got four floors and 340 rooms. With a floor area of 200,000 square feet, it is built by using 700 million bricks and three million cubic feet of stone. Hardly any steel has gone into the construction of the building. The building is built in two shades of sandstone and reflects a blend of Mughal and classical European style of architecture. The most prominent and distinguishing aspect of Rashtrapati Bhavan is its huge dome that is structured in the pattern of the great Stupa at Sanchi. The dome is visible from a distance and surmounts a long colonnade, which adds to the magnificence of the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

The Durbar Hall, Ashoka Hall, Marble Hall, North Drawing Room, Nalanda Suite are so decorated that any onlooker can easily fall in awe of their beauty and grandeur. Inside the Presidential Estate there is the elegant Mughal Gardens, which covers an area of 13 acres and is a blend of the formal Mughal style with the design of a British Garden. The Main Garden is the largest portion of the Mughal Gardens, the “piece de resistance”. It measures 200 meters by 175 meters. On the north and south it is flanked by terrace gardens and to its west are the tennis courts and the long garden.

Two channels running north to south and two running east to west divide this garden into a grid of squares. There are six lotus shaped fountains at the crossings of these channels. Whereas the energetic fountains rising upto a height of 12 feet create soothing murmur that enthralls the visitor, the channels are so tranquil in their movement that they seem frozen. There are wooden trays placed on stands in the centre of the channels where grain is put for the birds to feed upon. The garden, which grows a variety of indigenous and exotic flowers, is a visual treat especially during the blooming season. Apart from all this the Presidential Estate also has tennis courts, polo ground, golf course and a cricket field.

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Parliament House

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Nov 062009
 

Parliament House in Delhi

Parliament HouseIf it were not for the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms of 1919, the Parliament House may not have been built. It’s corny how the building most indispensable to modern Indian democracy came up as an afterthought. Earlier called the Circular House, it was added to the layout at a later stage following the reforms which created a large Legislative Assembly.

This edifice is the brainchild of Herbert Baker and was much criticized in comparison with Lutyens creations. An article by Robert Byron in Architectural Review, January 1931describes it thus: “The Council Chamber has been Sir Herbert’s unhappiest venture. Its effect from a distance has been described. It resembles a Spanish bull-ring, lying like a mill-wheel dropped accidentally on its side.”

Parliament House accommodates the two Houses of Parliament, Lok Sabha (House of the People) and Rajya Sabha (Council of States). Sir Edwin Lutyens and Sir Herbert Baker, the architects of New Delhi, designed this building. His Royal Highness, the Duke of Connaught, laid the foundation stone of Parliament House in the year 1921. It took six years to complete the Delhi Parliament House and its was inaugurated in the year 1927 by the then Governor-General of India, Lord Irwin. A circular building, it also houses ministerial offices, a number of committee rooms and a brilliant library.

The Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha meetings are held in the domed circular central hall and the three semi-circular buildings. Sansad Bhavan of New is adorned with an open verandah with 144 columns and a 28 m central dome. Made up of blocks of sandstone, it has a diameter of approximately 174 m. Enclosing the Parliament House Estate is an attractive red sandstone wall or iron grill with iron gates. It is necessary to take prior permission before visiting the Parliament House of Delhi. Indians need to get permission by applying at the Parliament Secretariat and foreigners through their Embassies or High Commissions.

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Qutub Minar

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Nov 062009
 

Qutub Minar in Delhi

qutab-minarThe famous Qutab Minar of Delhi is a tower that claims the distinction of being the highest stone tower in the country. Said to be a tower of victory, it soars to a height of 73 m. Qutab-ud-din Aibak, after defeating Delhi’s last Hindu kingdom, started the construction of this tower in the year 1193. Although Qutab-ud-din Aibak started the construction of the tower, he could not complete the monument during his lifetime. Later on, additions were made by his successors. Three stories were constructed by Iltutmush, while the fifth and the last two was the work of Firoz Shah Tughlak.

Delhi Qutub Minar is made up of five stories, with the first three being made of red sandstone and the fourth and fifth ones being made up of both marble as well as sandstone. Each of the stories has a projecting balcony with their diameter ranging from 15 m at the base to 2.5 m at the top. There is a little disagreement over the origins of Qutab Minar of Delhi. One legend has it that it was built as a tower of victory to commemorate the beginning of the Muslim rule in India. Another legend goes that it was built to serve as a minaret to the muezzins to call the faithful to prayer.

Delhi Qutub Minar is adorned with bands of inscriptions, along with four projecting balconies supported by elaborately decorated brackets. There is also the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque, the first mosque of India, which stands at the base of the Qutab Minar. Inside the courtyard of the mosque stands a 7 m high iron pillar. It is believed that if you are able to encircle it with your hands while standing with your back to it, your wish will be granted. Over the eastern gate, it is inscribed that the material to build it was acquired from demolishing twenty-seven Hindu temples.

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