November 03, 2012

Smith's Folly, New Delhi

It lies in one corner of the complex, away from all the tourists, away from all the glitz & the spotlight, its flamboyant color peeling off but yet standing out amidst all the greenery & lush manicured lawns. Referred to as Smith’s folly (a folly is any modern structure that is made to look old in terms of its construction & architecture) after Major Robert Smith of the British Army Engineers who designed it, the cupola was once the crowning glory of the lofty Qutb Minar, but it was an eyesore to then Viceroy Lord Hardinge who had it brought down & shifted to the secluded corner.

Smith's Cupola

Before the interventions of Major Smith, who took an active interest in the conservation & restoration of the Qutb complex, especially the Alai Darwaza, Qutb Minar was crowned with another cupola which was destroyed in an earthquake in early 19th century. Smith while also restoring the entire minaret in 1829 topped it with his Bengali-style cupola (I still don’t know what are the Bengali architectural styles despite living in Calcutta for almost 3 years now!!). This one, with its vibrant red colour, floral motifs, arches & pillars that had floral designs around them but projected to form odd arrow/harpoon like structures towards the roof, would have perhaps looked like a monstrosity atop Qutbuddin’s magnum opus. The cupola stayed there until another intervention by Lord Hardinge in 1848. 

Smith's Cupola, & in the background are its more famous counterparts - Qutb Minar, Alai Darwaza (the large, domed chamber) & Imam Zamin's Tomb (the small, domed chamber)

Now that it is on the ground, I could easily step into this cupola, prance around it, take photographs, feel its peeling paint – all this would not have been possible if it stayed on top of the minaret (since climbing the minaret is now not allowed & its upper floors remain out-of-bounds for tourists). 

Feel the texture!!

The cupola has a hole in its roof, not that it wasn't always there – Smith designed it like that, it is delightful standing under it & gazing at the light & shadow patterns formed by the ornamentation left by Major Smith (visibly different from the patterns on the exterior). Dejected & forsaken (not by me though!!) amidst all the splendid structures within the magnificent Qutb Complex stands this little red cupola.

Light at the end of the, umm, dome!!

Location : Qutb Complex, Mehrauli, New Delhi
Open : Sunrise to Sunset
Entrance fee : Indians - Rs 10, Foreigners - Rs 250
Photography charges : Nil
Video charges : Rs 25
Nearest Metro Station : Saket Metro Station & Qutb Minar Station are equidistant.
How to reach : Taxis, buses & autos can be availed from different parts of the city. The structures are quite a walk from the metro stations & one will have to take bus/auto from there on.
Time required for sightseeing : 30 min
Facilities available : Wheelchair access, Audio guides.
Relevant Links -

  1. Pixelated Memories - Alai Darwaza
  2. Pixelated Memories - Imam Zamin's Tomb
  3. Pixelated Memories - Qutb Complex
  4. Pixelated Memories - Qutb Minar


  1. Liked how you treated the Smith's folly like a person. Excellent photographs!!

  2. Hope to see the place next time I visit Delhi. Thanks for writing about it

  3. nice post! its short and crisp. the photographs are amazing! I have been to the cupola but didn't find it special (just my opinion)

  4. nice description.....loved it...

  5. Very nice article. Just one small correction. It is not Imam Zamin, it is Imam Zamim.
    Keep up the good work.

  6. A favourite haunt from a lifetime