The noise from honking horns, market sellers and mosques and temples is relentless. The smells from flowers, incense, food and open sewers are overwhelming. The colour from saris, spices and sparkling jewellery is intense. Welcome to Delhi, India’s grand capital.
New Delhi is a city of enormous contrasts where poverty sits beside wealth, beauty intermingles with filth, and structure and chaos compete for supremacy. It will dazzle all your senses and cause you heart-ache at the same time.
It can be challenging and charming, overwhelming and stunningly beautiful. The eager friendliness of the people is endearing, and the food is unforgettable but there is likely to be unexpected glitches no matter how much you plan.
New Delhi has some wonderful sights with the following just a sample.
The Red Fort
This was the centre of Mughal India, functioning as both a military fort and palace, at a time when the emperors would ride out into the streets of Old Delhi on elephants in a magnificent display of pomp and power.
Red Fort is protected by a massive 18m-high wall and inside there is some outstanding architecture, shaded pathways, and beautiful gardens. A visit here will last several hours if you want to see all areas.
The Jama Masjid
The largest mosque in India has a courtyard capable of holding 25,000 devotees. It was begun in 1644 and ended up being the final architectural extravagance of Shah Jahan, the Mughal emperor who built the Tāj Mahal and the Red Fort.
This is a highly decorative mosque with three gates, four towers and two 40m-high minarets with distinctive strips of red sandstone and white marble. Three black and white marble domes surmount the prayer hall.
One of the main attractions is to climb one of its minarets to the highest level and get a great 360 degrees aerial view of the mosque and the city. The view is worth the climb.
The government-run Crafts Museum holds an amazing collection of rare and distinctive craft pieces covering painting, embroidery, textiles, and various crafts of clay, stone and wood.
The museum also houses a village complex spread over two hectares, with 15 structures representing village dwellings, courtyards and shrines from different states of India, with items of day-to-day life displayed.
The entire village complex is a remnant of a temporary exhibition on the theme of rural India, held in 1972. Several traditional craftsmen can be seen working here and they also sell the crafts they create. There is a shop and a very popular cafe.
Further to the south is the tomb of the Mughal Emperor Humayun built in 1569-70. The tomb is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has undergone extensive restoration in recent years and was spotlessly clean on my last visit. It is a delightful spot. The pathway from the western entrance passes several smaller structures including Isa Khan’s tomb that even pre-dates the main tomb itself.
The tomb was commissioned by Humayun’s first wife Bega Begum and was designed by a Persian architect. It was the first structure to use red sandstone on such a large scale. The tomb’s architecture and the attached garden are the best examples in Delhi of the early Mughal style of tomb and it set a precedent for subsequent monumental Mughal buildings.
Still further south, the Qutb complex, is even older and it contains many ancient monuments and buildings. It is the said to be the second most visited place in India. This is located in Lalkot, later called Qila Rai Pithora, the first of the seven cities of Delhi, established by a Tomar Rajput ruler.
The original complex contained many ancient Hindu and Jain temples but most were destroyed for material during the construction of the Qubbat-ul-Islam Mosque. This was the first mosque built in Delhi after the Islamic conquest of India and it is now known as the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque. The mosque consists of a courtyard, cloisters, and a prayer hall.
The best-known structure in the complex is the Qutb Minar, built over many years from 1202. The tapered Qutb Minar is 72.5 metres high and has five distinct storeys. There are 379 steps to the top but there is no access to the public. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Bahá’í Lotus temple was completed in 1986. It is set among lush green landscaped gardens and has won numerous architectural awards. Its unusual lotus shape has made it a major attraction. It was named “The most visited religious building in the world” by Guinness World Records in 2001 and is said to receive more visitors than the Taj Mahal.
The temple has 27 free-standing marble clad “petals” arranged in clusters of three to form nine sides. The nine doors of the Lotus Temple open onto a central hall that is capable of holding up to 2,500 people. Light and water are used in place of the thousands of statues and carvings to be found in other temples. At sunset it is a dramatic sight as the white marble is stunning.
You can preview Len’s latest book Experience India’s Gold Triangle
He has worked with Pelican Publishing, Viking Penguin, Berlitz, the Rough Guide, and the Nile Guide amongst others.
Along the way, he has started a newspaper, a travel magazine, a Visitor and TV Guide, and completed a PhD in tourism. His travels have taken him to more than 100 countries and his writings have collected a PATA award, an ASEAN award, an IgoUgo Hall of Fame award, and other recognition.
He is the author of the Experience Guidebook series which currently includes Experience Thailand, Experience Norway, Experience Northern Italy, Experience Myanmar, Experience Istanbul, Experience Singapore, Experience Melbourne, and Experience Ireland. They are available as ebooks or paperbacks from amazon.com
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