The week that followed the infamous Delhi gang rape of 2012 saw scores of Delhiites take to the streets to protest for a change in the city’s state of security. Not much has improved since, but statistics reveal that foreign tourists are coming back. Notwithstanding recent events, Delhi is a melting pot of everything Indian, famous for its other-worldly street food, historic Mughal architecture and narrow shopping lanes.
New Delhi completed 100 years as India’s capital in 2011, but the larger territory of Delhi has been the capital of several kingdoms for hundreds of years predating the British era. It remains one of the longest serving capitals and oldest inhabited cities of the world.
One of Delhi’s most famous landmarks is India’s national monument: the India Gate. It was designed by Sir Edward Lutyens and serves today as one of the best spots for a morning jog or evening out, away from the usually noisy streets of Delhi. India Gate was built in memory of all Indian soldiers who died during the First World War, and has inscribed on it the names of 13,218 soldiers. Inspired by the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, the monument is located on Rajpath, which is Delhi’s version of Champs-Élysées; a long, wide boulevard with an imposing structure at the halfway mark. This area of New Delhi, also known as Raisina Hills, is home to the Indian parliament and the Rashtrapati Bhavan (Presidential palace).
A trip to Delhi is incomplete without viewing some of the Mughal Empire’s most stunning architectural masterpieces. One of the most iconic symbols of India is the Red Fort, residence of several Mughal emperors for over 200 years. Every Independence Day (15th August), the Prime Minister delivers his speech to the nation from this very place. It also hosts an hour long ‘Sound and Lights show’ every evening, which you should attend if you’re interested in learning about Delhi’s rich history. At a ten minute walk from the Red Fort, stands India’s most famous mosque, the Jama Masjid. The mosque is located in the midst of some of the city’s narrowest lanes and makes for a good visit at any time of the day, except for 12:15-13:45, which is when it closes for prayers.
Less known fact: it took 13 years to build this colossal structure, which can hold about 25,000 people for prayers.
The Taj Mahal might be one of the most recognisable monuments in the world, but it wasn’t without any inspiration. Many tourists notice the Taj Mahal’s impeccable design and symmetry, which was in fact borrowed from the Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi. This very structure was the first of a series of similar ones to be built by the Mughals in India. Wrap up your evening in the area with a visit to one of Islam’s holiest tombs, Dargah Hazrat Nizamuddin, to hear some extraordinary Qawwalis (devotional music).
Far away from the historic Indo-Islamic structures of Delhi lies a Hindu temple of epic scale. Grand in its very idea and located by the banks of the Yamuna, Akshardham attracts the vast majority of Delhi’s tourists. Although the city is known mostly for its traditional architectural beauty, it is home to one of the world’s most defining pieces of 20th century expressionism – the Bahá’í Lotus Temple. This is a house of worship, open to people of all beliefs and religions, making for a quiet and peaceful experience. It is commonly called the Lotus Temple because it literally resembles a lotus. Before you land at the Indira Gandhi airport, try spotting the structure from up above, and you might just see this gigantic white lotus. At night the attractive lighting makes it a perfect spot for photography.
All these amazing sites can be delightful experiences or nightmares, depending on whether you fall for the much talked about ‘Indian Tourist Trap’. Outside each tourist site you’ll notice people who will push hard to guide you around, or sell you souvenirs priced 10 times normal rates. A good guidebook of the city will do you well in terms of directions, historical significance and price reference points. Resist the urge to give into haggling and you’ll do fine!
All said and done, you can’t leave Delhi without a taste of some of its truly epic and deliciously quirky street food. You can combine a trip to the Jama Masjid along with the culinary and shopping experience that is Chandni Chowk. This is popular amongst tourists and locals for a multitude of shops serving papdi chaat (fried wafers loaded with potatoes, chickpeas, yoghurt and chilli) and golgappas (fried hollow dough filled with chickpeas and spicy potatoes). Around the corner from the Jama Masjid is India’s most celebrated kebab institution: Karim’s. The chicken seekh kebabs and biryani there are absolutely worth the struggle you’ll experience navigating it through Delhi’s narrow lanes.
If street food isn’t your thing, try out ‘Bukhara’ at the ITC Maurya hotel, ranked for several years as the world’s best Indian restaurant. A meal there would cost upwards of £20 per person, which is extremely pricey for Indian standards and compared to local food around Chandni Chowk, which will fill you up for under £2.
Unlike most South Asian cities, Delhi has a perfectly functional and decent public transport system. The Delhi Metro is one of the better urban rail systems in the world and covers all sections of New and Old Delhi. The entire city is well connected by red and green coloured buses run by the government. If you want a more touristy experience, you could get yourself a ticket for Delhi Tourism’s ‘Hop On Hop Off (HOHO)’ bus service that safely takes you around 20 of Delhi’s attractions.
Pictures courtesy of Kabi1990 and Edmund Gall via Wikimedia Commons, Jeremy Vandel, GigaPixPhotography and Rohit Rath via Flickr
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