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An India Journal — Captured at the Qutab Minar

INDIA 2012

DAY 2 – Thursday, October 19, 2012 

The Qutab Minar

We’d had our Baptism by Bicycle Rickshaw in Old Delhi, and I was feelin’ a little cocky that I could handle anything. Squeezing between cargo vans and wagons of bricks on the Chandni Chowk? Done. Men peeing in the street? Beh. Bring on the humanity. I’ve got my camera.

Our second day in Delhi began early, at the site of the first of its “Eight Cities” — the Qutab Minar Complex. 

At over 237 feet, the Qutab Minar is the tallest minaret in India and the “Victory Tower” of Delhi’s first Sultan, Qutbuddin Aybak. A Turkish slave who rose to the rank of General under the Afghan Sultan Ghor’s rule, Aybak was awarded the rule of his conquered territories in Northern India, and he began construction on the Qutab Minar around 1192 A.D.

The Qutab Minar is one of the earliest and finest examples of Indo-Islamic architecture. Aybak had conceived an outrageously tall and symbolic minaret, but didn’t have the manpower to construct it. He relied on the local Hindu artisans to carry out the  craftsmanship, and the result is a complex of gorgeously wrought red sandstone carvings, weaving Afghan design, Islamic verse, and Hindu symbolism.

Islamic script intertwined with Indian lotus flowers


In addition to the Minar, the Qutab Complex includes a vast collection of tombs, monuments and other buildings. Efrain had gently directed us to start looking for themes in our photography, and surrounded by the rich historical ruins, architectural detail shots were pretty top on my list.

So far, my photographic style could be labeled timid. I wasn’t yet brave enough to gracefully ask any locals if I could take their picture — I didn’t want to treat people like they were in a zoo. An 800 year-old column doesn’t care if you stick a camera in its face. I was comfortable taking pictures of stone.

I found myself captivated by the Alai Darwaza Gateway – an impressive, domed building with intricate scrollwork carvings and sandstone latticework. It was early, and there were few tourists at the site. The quiet felt ancient and the stillness captured me for the good part of an hour.

Alai Darwaza Gateway


I tried some experiments with depth-of-field, but my background was more interesting than my subject.


I took some pictures of wild animals, because we don’t have chipmunks or parakeets here in America.

Lucky Grinnie.

Can you find the parakeet?


And I even got some (possibly) stock-worthy detail shots.


It was nearly time to leave; tour groups and families were starting to stream in and fill the nice spare backgrounds. I was wandering alone through the ruins of Alauddin Madrasa, trying to get a few last shots, when I heard what I can only label as a cacophony of youthful yelling. At first I thought it was a gang of young men fighting with each other, so of course I tried to get closer (see earlier post re: No Regard for Personal Safety).

I looked around – the rest of my group was on the other side of the complex. Perfect — I was going to capture something that no one else would have for their photo review (perhaps my own death in a religious demonstration?). I amended my shooting style to COMPETITIVE. I crept over the hill to look down towards the source of the sounds — the Alai Darwaza Gateway — where the noise grew, and became — laughter.

It was a group of schoolboys ranging from about ages 10-14, handsome in cardinal madras and khaki uniforms. Not thugs, just happy, rambunctious children, running for the pleasure of it, yelling to hear their voices echo through the dome. I was entranced to see a group of young men not fighting, not swearing, just having fun. I switched my camera to continuous-shoot mode and started snapping.

But wait, they were running up the hill, towards me. No, not towards me — just up the hill.

And THEN towards me.

“Hello!  Hello!  Where are you from?”

I told them I was from America.

“America!  What is your name?”

I answered, laughing, continuing to snap. Their numbers multiplied and they swirled around me in a not-unalarming fashion.

“Linda!  Linda from America!”

There were about 50 of them. All I could think of was the warnings people give you about how Gypsy children swarm you and then steal your money and your watch and your shoes before you know it. I’m stupid. My friends are hundreds of yards away, and I’m going to end up barefoot with no passport and no camera. I’m about to become a statistic.

But no, they just wanted to take their pictures with me. I was the animal in the zoo — the tall blond with the hat and the camera laughing like a monkey. I said okay, yeah, of course you can take your pictures with me. This is met with glee, more shouting, much jockeying for position beside the pale, blushing oddity with the idiotic grin.


Years ago when I was snorkeling off Lanai, I accidentally broke my bag of fish food and the pellets came pouring out all at once. I was suddenly surrounded by 300 Butterfly fish poking and pecking for food — it was like being tickled to death. These boys were tickling me to death as they jostled around me, excitedly snapping, taking turns posing with me, unabashed, unashamed, laughing at me and with me and me with them.


They snapped me, I snapped them. They continued to shout questions. They were genuinely excited to talk to me. They seemed to keep coming, swirling around me as I tried to capture them as well.

And then I just couldn’t handle it any more — I was smiling so hard it hurt and I was overwhelmed with giddiness. These are not feelings I’ve had in a long time, but I’d reached my capacity for glee. I didn’t want to leave, but if I didn’t, I’d start laughing hysterically and then the teachers would come and hurry the boys away and the moment would be gone.

I told them I had to meet my friends and said goodbye, continuing to snap as I walked backwards down the hill, the boys waving at me, their teachers and random tourists amused. “Goodbye Linda from America! Goodbye!” Yeah, I felt a little like Dorothy leaving Oz.

I’d love to have heard the conversations with parents when these boys returned home and showed the pictures of themselves with the dorky American woman wearing a lunatic grin. I’m curious what their stories were. I’m certain they weren’t as good as mine.


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