Seven ancient ruined cities, representing successive periods and dynasties from 2500 B. C. to 1600 A. D., encumber the plains immediately surrounding the city of Delhi, within a radius of eighteen or twenty miles; and you cannot go in any direction without passing through the ruins of stupendous walls, ancient fortifications and crumbling palaces, temples, mosques and tombs. Tradition makes the original Delhi the political and commercial rival of Babylon, Nineveh, Memphis and Thebes, but the modern town dates from 1638, the commencement of the reign of the famous Mogul Shah Jehan, of whom I have written so much in previous chapters. About eleven miles from the city is a group of splendid ruins, some of the most remarkable in the world, and a celebrated tower known as the Kutab-Minar, one of the most important architectural monuments in India. You reach it by the Great Trunk Road of India, the most notable thoroughfare in the empire, which has been the highway from the mountains and northern provinces to the sacred River Ganges from the beginning of time, and, notwithstanding the construction of railroads, is to-day the great thoroughfare of Asia. If followed it will lead you through Turkestan and Persia to Constantinople and Moscow. Over this road came Tamerlane, the Tartar Napoleon, with his victorious army, and Alexander the Great, and it has been trodden by the feet of successive invaders for twenty or thirty centuries. To-day it leads to the Khyber Pass, the only gateway between India and Afghanistan, where the frontier is guarded by a tremendous force, and no human being is allowed to go either way without permits from the authorities of both governments. Long caravans still cross the desert of middle Asia, enter and leave India through this pass and follow the Grand Trunk Road to the cities of the Ganges. It is always thronged with pilgrims and commerce; with trains of bullock carts, caravans of camels and elephants, and thousands of pedestrians pass every milestone daily. Kipling describes them and the road in "Kim" in more graphic language than flows through my typewriter. In the neighborhood of Delhi the Grand Trunk Road is like the Appian Way of Rome, both sides being lined with the mausoleums of kings, warriors and saints in various stages of decay and dilapidation. And scattered among them are the ruins of the palaces of supplanted dynasties which appeared and vanished, arose and fell, one after another, in smoke and blood; with the clash of steel, the cries of victory and shrieks of despair.

In the center of the court of the ancient mosque of Kutbul Islam, which was originally built for a Hindu temple in the tenth century, stands a wrought-iron column, one of the most curious things in India. It rises 23 feet 8 inches above the ground, and its base, which is bulbous, is riveted to two stone slabs two feet below the surface. Its diameter at the base is 16 feet 4 inches and at the capital is 12 inches. It is a malleable forging of pure iron, without alloy, and 7.66 specific gravity. According to the estimates of engineers, it weighs about six tons, and it is remarkable that the Hindus at that age could forge a bar of iron larger and heavier than was ever forged in Europe until a very recent date. Its history is deeply cut upon its surface in Sanskrit letters. The inscription tells us that it is "The Arm of Fame of Raja Dhava," who subdued a nation named the Vahlikas, "and obtained, with his own arm, undivided sovereignty upon the earth for a long period." No date is given, but the historians fix its erection about the year 319 or 320 A. D. This is the oldest and the most unique of all the many memorials in India, and has been allowed to stand about 1,700 years undisturbed. An old prophecy declared that Hindu sovereigns would rule as long as the column stood, and when the empire was invaded in 1200 and Delhi became the capital of a Mohammedan empire, its conqueror, Kutb-ud-Din (the Pole Star of the Faith), originally a Turkish slave, defied it by allowing the pillar to remain, but he converted the beautiful Hindu temple which surrounded it into a Moslem mosque and ordered his muezzins to proclaim the name of God and His prophet from its roof, and to call the faithful to pray within its walls.

This Hindu temple, which was converted into a mosque, is still unrivaled for its gigantic arches and for the graceful beauty of the tracery which decorated its walls. Even in ruins it is a magnificent structure, and Lord Curzon is to be thanked for directing its partial restoration at government expense. The architectural treasures of India are many, but there are none to spare, and it is gratifying to find officials in authority who appreciate the value of preserving those that remain for the benefit of architectural and historical students. It it a pity that the original Hindu carvings upon the columns cannot be restored. There were originally not less than 1,200 columns, and each was richly ornamented with peculiar Hindu decorative designs. Some of them, in shadowy corners, are still almost perfect, but unfortunately those which are most conspicuous were shamefully defaced by the Mohammedan conquerors, and we must rely upon our imaginations to picture them as they were in their original beauty. The walls of the building are of purplish red standstone, of very fine grain, almost as fine as marble, and age and exposure seem to have hardened it.

In one corner of the court of this great mosque rises the Kutab Minar, a monument and tower of victory. It is supposed to have been originally started by the Hindus and completed by their Mohammedan conquerors. Another tower, called the Alai-Minar, about 500 feet distant, remains unfinished, and rises only eighty-seven feet from the ground. Had it been finished as intended, it would have been 500 feet high, or nearly as lofty as the Washington monument. According to the inscription, it was erected by Ala-din Khiji, who reigned from 1296 to 1316, and remains as it stood at his death. For some reason his successor never tried to complete it.

The Kutab Minar, the completed tower, is not only a notable structure and one of the most perfect in the world, second only in height to the Washington monument, but it is particularly notable for its geometrical proportions. Its height, 238 feet, is exactly five times the diameter of its base. It is divided into five stories each tapering in perfect proportions and being divided by projecting balconies or galleries. The first story, 95 feet in height, consists of twenty-four faces in the form of convex flutings, alternately semicircular and rectangular, built of alternate courses of marble and red sandstone. The second story is 51 feet high and the projections are all semicircular; the third story is 41 feet and the projections are all rectangular; the fourth, 26 feet high, is a plain cylinder, and the fifth or top story, 25 feet high, is partly fluted and partly plain. The mean diameter of each story is exactly one-fifth of its height, and the material is alternate courses of marble and red sandstone, the entire exterior surface being incrusted with inscriptions from the Koran, sculptured in sharp relief. It has been compared for beauty of design and perfection of proportions to the Campanile at Florence, but that is conventional in every respect, while the Kutab Minar is unique. The sculptures that cover its surface have been compared to those upon the column of Trajan in Rome and the Column Vendome in Paris, but they are intended to relate the military triumphs of the men in whose honor they were erected, while the inscription upon the Kutab Minar is a continuous recognition of the power and glory of God and the virtues of Mahomet, His prophet.

Whichever way you look, whichever way you drive, in that extraordinary place, you find artistic taste, the religious devotion, the love of conquest and the military genius of the Mohammedans combined and perpetuated in noble forms. The camel driver of Mecca, like the founder of Christianity, was a teacher of peace and an example of humility, but his followers have been famous for their pride, their brilliant achievements, their audacity and their martial violence and success. The fortresses scattered over the plain bear testimony to their fighting qualities, and are an expression of their authority and power; their gilded palaces and jeweled thrones testify to their luxurious taste and artistic sentiment, while the massive mausoleums which arise in every direction testify to their pride and their determination that posterity shall not forget their names. I have told you in a previous chapter about the tomb of Humayun, the son of Baber (the Lion of the Faith), who transmitted to a long line of Moguls the blood of conquerors. But it is only one of several noble examples of architecture and pretensions, and as evidence of the human sympathies of the man who built it, the tomb of his barber is near by.

About a mile across the plain is another group of still more remarkable sepulchers, about seven or eight miles from Delhi. They are surrounded by a grove of mighty trees, whose boughs overhang a crumbling wall intended to protect them. As we passed the portal we found ourselves looking upon a large reservoir, or tank, as they call them here, which long ago was blessed by Nizamu-Din, one of the holiest and most renowned of the Brahmin saints, so that none who swims in it is ever drowned. A group of wan and hungry-looking priests were standing there to receive us; they live on backsheesh and sleep on the cold marble floors of the tombs. No dinner bell ever rings for them. They depend entirely upon charity, and send out their chelas, or disciples, every morning to skirmish for food among the market men and people in the neighborhood. While we stood talking to them a group of six naked young men standing upon the cornice of a temple attracted our attention by their violent gesticulations, and then, one after another, plunged headlong, fifty or sixty feet, into the waters of the pool. As they reappeared upon the surface they swam to the marble steps of the pavilion, shook themselves dry like dogs and extended their hands for backsheesh. It was an entirely new and rather startling form of entertainment, but we learned that it was their way of making a living, and that they are the descendants of the famous men and women who occupy the wonderful tombs, and are permitted to live among them and collect backsheesh from visitors as they did from us. Several women were hanging around, and half a dozen fierce-looking mullahs, or Mohammedan priests, with their beards dyed a deep scarlet because the prophet had red hair.

The most notable of the tombs, the "Hall of Sixty-four Pillars," is an exquisite structure of white marble, where rests Azizah Kokal Tash, foster brother of the great Mogul Akbar. He was buried here in 1623, and around him are the graves of his mother and eight of his brothers and sisters. Another tomb of singular purity and beauty is that of Muhammud Shah, who was Mogul from 1719 to 1748 - the man whom Nadir Shah, the Persian, conquered and despoiled. By his side lie two of his wives and several of his children.

The tomb of Jehanara, daughter of the great Emperor Shah Jehan, is a gem of architecture, a dainty bungalow of pure white marble. The roof is a low dome with broad eaves, and the walls are slabs of thin marble perforated in geometric designs like the finest lace. The inscription calls her "Heavenly Minded," and reminds us that "God is the Resurrection and the Life;" that it was her wish that nothing but grass might cover her dust, because "Such a pall alone was fit for the lowly dead," and closes with a prayer for the soul of her father. Notwithstanding her wishes, so expressed, the tomb cost $300,000, but such sentiments, which appear upon nearly all of the Mogul tombs, are not to be taken literally. The inscription over the entrance to one of the grandest in India, where lies "The Piercer of Battle Ranks," admits that "However great and powerful man may be in the presence of his fellow creatures; however wide his power and influence, and however large his wealth, he is as humble and as worthless as the smallest insect in the sight of God." Human nature was the same among the Moguls as it is to-day, and the men who were able to spend a million or half a million dollars upon their sepulchers could afford to throw in a few expressions of humility.

The most beautiful of the tombs is that of Amir Khusrau, a poet who died at Delhi in 1315, the author of ninety-eight poems, many of which are still in popular use. He was known as "the Parrot of Hindustan," and enjoyed the confidence and patronage of seven successive Moguls. His fame is immortal. Lines he wrote are still recited nightly in the coffee-houses and sung in the harems of India, and women and girls and sentimental young men come daily to lay fresh flowers upon his tomb.

In the center of Delhi and on the highest eminence of the city stands the Jumma Musjid, almost unrivaled among mosques. There is nothing elsewhere outside of Constantinople that can compare with it, either in size or splendor, and we are told that 10,000 workmen were employed upon it daily for six years. It was built by Shah Jehan of red sandstone inlaid with white marble; is crowned with three splendid domes of white marble striped with black, and at each angle of the courtyard stands a gigantic minaret composed of alternate stripes of marble and red sandstone. There are three stately portals approached by flights of forty steps, the lowest of which is 140 feet long. Through stately arches you are led into a courtyard 450 feet square, inclosed by splendid arcaded cloisters. In the center of the court is the usual fountain basin, at which the worshipers perform their ablutions, and at the eastern side, facing toward Mecca, at the summit of a flight of marble steps, is the mosque, 260 feet long and 120 feet wide. The central archway is eighty feet high.

Over in one corner of the cloisters is a reliquary guarded by a squad of fierce-looking priests, which contains some of the most precious relics of the prophet in existence. They have a hair from his mustache, which is red; one of his slippers, the print of his foot in a stone, two copies of portions of the Koran - one of them written by his son-in-law, Imam Husain, very clear and well preserved, and the other by his grandson, Imam Hasan. Both are very beautiful specimens of chirography, and would have a high value for that reason alone, but obtained especial sanctity because of the tradition that both were written at the dictation of the Prophet himself, and are among the oldest copies of the Koran in existence.