islam

15 Best Articles of 2017

Our top blog posts cover the Paris Catacombs, India’s transsexual hijras, jinns, vintage Halloween, Fès hammans and more.

 

Duke and I tend to be drawn to the bizarre. We’re fans of the strange (chambers lined with skulls and bones, creepy vintage Halloween postcards and photos). We like to meet those who are societal outsiders (like India’s legal third sex, the hijra). We’re obsessed with the supernatural (jinns, gypsy love spells). But we also appreciate a good pampering (at a Fès hamman, say) and architectural beauties (such as the Milan Duomo).

Seems like you do, too. Here are the top 15 blog posts from last year. What was your favorite? –Wally

 

catacombs1.jpg

1. GRUESOME FACTS (AND HELPFUL TIPS) ABOUT THE PARIS CATACOMBS

No bones about it: If you think piles of skulls and hallways formed of bones are pretty effin’ cool (like us), then the Catacombs of Paris are for you.

 

 FHI BANGLADESH

2. SECRETS OF THE HIJRA: INDIA’S LITTLE-KNOWN TRANSSEXUALS

Prostitution, curses and dangerous sex change operations are a way of life for this marginalized community.

 

blackmagic.jpg

3. HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF FROM JINNS AND BLACK MAGIC

Black magic in Islam is a serious concern — and the holy writings offer numerous ways to negate magic jinn.

 

gardenoffivesenses.png

4. THE BEST PLACE TO MAKE OUT IN PUBLIC IN DELHI

Not a typical tourist stop, the Garden of Five Senses is a whimsical sculpture park worth visiting. It’s also popular with local couples escaping societal judgment against PDA.

 

vintagehalloween.jpg

5. 24 VINTAGE HALLOWEEN CARDS THAT ARE NOSTALGIC — BUT A BIT CREEPY, TOO

Halloween greetings from the past featured common Halloween symbols: the witch, black cat, jack-o’-lantern, ghost, devil — and one that has been forgotten.

 

creepyhalloween.jpg

6. 21 VINTAGE HALLOWEEN PHOTOS THAT ARE SO CREEPY THEY'LL GIVE YOU NIGHTMARES

Halloween costumes of the past were scary as hell.

 

bainsamani.jpg

7. WHAT’S THE BEST HAMMAM SPA EXPERIENCE IN FES, MOROCCO?

Reinvigorate yourself at the luxury hammam Les Bains Amani.

 

milanduomo.jpg

8. 7 FUN FACTS ABOUT THE MILAN CATHEDRAL

What to do in Milan, Italy? Visit the gorgeous Duomo di Milano, covered with statues of saints and gargoyles — and don’t miss the amazing view from the rooftop.

 

gypsydance.jpg

9. LOVE SPELLS FROM THE GYPSIES

How to cast a love spell to make someone fall in love with you — or fall out of love with you. Plus, secrets from the Roma that will reveal your future spouse!

 

pishtaco.png

10. THE PISHTACO OF PERU

Why one of the world’s creepiest vampire legends lingers to this day.

 

bluetemple.jpg

11. WAT RONG SUEA TEN, THE BLUE TEMPLE

No day trip to Chiang Rai is complete without a visit to this breathtaking wat, between the White Temple and Black Museum.

 

doha.jpg

12. THE BEST AND WORST PARTS OF LIVING IN QATAR

What’s it like living in a Muslim country that fasts for an entire month and limits the sale of booze? What do Qataris think of Americans? And how the heck do you pronounce Qatar?

 

brahmins.jpg

13. THE INDIAN CASTE SYSTEM EXPLAINED

Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra, untouchable: How did the caste system get started, what is the difference between castes — and how does this shameful practice persist to this day?

 

orthodoxstnick.jpg

14. HOW ST. NICHOLAS BECAME SANTA CLAUS

The surprising origins of jolly old St. Nick include a tie to prostitution, kids chopped into pieces, a devil named Krampus and a racist tradition around his helper Zwarte Pieter, or Black Peter.

 

fespottery.jpg

15. THE BEST SHOP FOR BLUE POTTERY IN THE ENTIRE FEZ MEDINA

If you’re shopping in Fès, just off of Place Seffarine is a small shop with a friendly owner and great deals.

Exploring the Qutb Minar Complex

The Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque in the Qutb Minar complex features columns from pillaged Hindu and Jain temples

The Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque in the Qutb Minar complex features columns from pillaged Hindu and Jain temples

A must-see attraction in Delhi, these towers and mosques feature aspects of Hindu, Jain and Islamic architecture.

 

We had a great time wandering the Qutb Minar complex one afternoon. Here we break down the various parts.

 

Alai Minar

We ate lunch on the low stone wall that faced the Alai Minar, an enormous grooved stump of lime mortar and rubble masonry that reminded me of smaller version of the Devils Tower National Monument.

Anyone who can stand with his or her back to the pillar and link their hands behind it will be blessed with good fortune.

The unfinished monument, looming 80 feet above the landscape, was the Muslim ruler Ala-ud-din Khilj's failed grand attempt to build a tower twice the height of the Qutb Minar. Through an opening in the rubble, you can see the inner core, around which the staircase would have been built.

 

Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque

We passed through a pillared colonnade built from the inventive reuse of pillaged temples that had previously existed on the site and entered the Indo-Islamic Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque. An inscription on the eastern portal states that the structure was built with material from 27 demolished Hindu and Jain temples.

Elaborate pillars stolen from other religions' temples now decorate the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque

Elaborate pillars stolen from other religions' temples now decorate the Quwwat-ul-Islam Mosque

Fragments of friezes depicting humans, animals and deities can be seen incorporated into the structure. Many of these motifs appear out of place, what with the Islamic tendency to find human depictions blasphemous, relying instead on geometric pattern. Perhaps these were used as a political statement of the people they conquered.

Standing within the courtyard of the mosque is a curious, virtually corrosion-free 35-foot iron pillar that dates back to the 4th century CE. It bears an inscription stating that it was erected as a flagstaff in honor of the Hindu god Vishnu.

Popular tradition holds that anyone who can stand with his or her back to the pillar and link their hands behind it will be blessed with good fortune. However, a fence erected in 1997 now keeps fortune-seekers away, likely put in place to prevent damage to the column from sweat — which contains a high amount of salt that acts as a corrosive agent.

 

Qutb-Minar

Next to the mosque is the Qutb-Minar in red and buff sandstone. We thought perhaps that we would not be able to get a decent picture of the tower due to the amount of haze. However, moving to the opposite side, the foggy gloom miraculously disappeared, and we were able to take some beautiful shots.

The Qutb Minar tower

The Qutb Minar tower

Qutb-ud-din Aibak erected the tallest brick minaret in the world in 1193 after the defeat of Delhi's last Hindu kingdom. It was constructed to celebrate the victory of Mughal armies over the Hindu rulers. It has five distinct levels, each decorated differently, with a small balcony separating them.

Having recently read William Dalrymple's City Of Djinns, I could not find a more suitable description than his “like a fully extended telescope placed lens-down on a plateau in the Aravalli hills.”

Wally wanted to know why the tower was closed. I had read that there was some sort of stampede, where a bunch of people got trampled trying to exit en masse.

 

Alai Darwaza

Originally conceived as one of four grand gates to the mosque, the Alai Darwaza was the only structure to be completed. The domed gateway is decorated with red sandstone and contrasting white marble bands carved with calligraphic inscriptions.

The red sandstone and white marble façade of the Alai Darwaza Mosque in the Qutb Minar complex

The red sandstone and white marble façade of the Alai Darwaza Mosque in the Qutb Minar complex

Visitors leave the Alai Darwaza Mosque in the shadow of the Qutb Minar

Visitors leave the Alai Darwaza Mosque in the shadow of the Qutb Minar

We entered the vaulted space, which is punctuated by intricately carved stone jali screens. Dust motes floated in the bright, pervasive sunlight as it passed through, casting star-shaped patterns onto the gate interior. It's an impressive sight.


If we had to choose between the Red Fort and Qutb Minar, we'd take this complex any day. –Duke