Delhi

Few of the world's major cities possess as many historic monuments as Delhi. Although a few museums do exist in Delhi but Delhi is not a 'museum city'. Primarily the visitor to Delhi is offered grandiose architecture, some of the most splendid in the world, and most of which is a combination, and later a fusion, of Islamic and Hindu styles.

Those who are on escorted Delhi tours are generally restricted to a few days in which to explore this enormous, rambling city, whereas at least 2 weeks are needed to do it justice. The order in which the itineraries are described has been planned so that the most important sights are seen in the first 02 days; but those particularly interested in the historical development of the 08 separate Delhis may prefer to vary this order for the sake of chronology to South Delhi, East Delhi, Old Delhi , North Delhi, New Delhi.

The epic Hindu book, the Mahabharata, refers to Indraprastha, a city founded on the banks of the River Yamuna around 1450BC and some have identified part of its location as the site of the Purana Qila (Old Fort) in East Delhi. However, although fragments of pottery from the first millennium BC have been discovered, no archaeological traces of an important settlement from that period appear to exist.

The first five Delhis known for certain to have been built lie west to east, almost following a straight line, in what is now South Delhi: Lal Kot, Qila Rai Prithora, Siri Fort, Tughlaqabad and Jahanpanah. Sections of the walls of each of them have survived in various states of preservation, by far the most impressive being at Tughlaqabad. The great Qutub Minar complex, incorporating Delhi's oldest Muslim buildings, occupies part of the Lal Kot and Qila Rai Prithora sites.

Little more than the citadels of the sixth and seventh Delhis,Firozabad and Dinapanah /Shergarh, have survived, and these, known as Kota Firoz Shah and the Purana Qila, stand adjacent to each other in East Delhi. South Delhi's most famous sight, however, is the Tomb of Humayun, the first important Mogul structure to be built in Delhi, and the prime inspiration for Agra's Taj Mahal. The picturesque Nizamuddin, an 'oasis' village, with its revered shrine to a Muslim saint, is nearby.

Old Delhi (Shahjahanbad) not only includes the Lal Qila (Red Fort) and the immense Jama Masjid (Friday Mosque), but also the city's most fascinating bazaars, running south from Chandni Chowk, Shahjahanabad's 'High Street'. Stretches of the city wall and many of its original gateways have survived.

North Delhi begins immediately north of the Lal Qila. With its historic Indian Mutiny associations, this sector is of greatest interest to British visitors.

New Delhi, planned by Lutyens from 1911, is the largest of Delhi's sectors. It was laid out spaciously, from scratch, with tree- lined avenues, parks and housing for the wealthy, primarily British administrators. Its commercial centre, Connaught Place (re-christened as Rajiv Chowk), is Delhi's great meeting point, sited, as it is, where the old and new cities meet.

Most leading shops, tourist offices and restaurants (apart from luxury hotel restaurants) are to be found in Connaught Place area, but even so, Delhi's 'Picadilly Circus' is practically deserted by 10 pm.

Further south, Lutyens constructed his great imperial way, Raj Path, with, at the west and east ends respectively, Viceroy's House (now Rashtrapati Bhavan) and the India Gate memorial. Architecturally, this is by far the most important heritage left to a former colony by the British. Almost all of Delhi's museums are located in New Delhi, including the National Museum, which should not be missed, and the houses in the gardens of which Mahatma Gandhi and Mrs Indira Gandhi were assassinated.

Most of Delhi's deluxe and luxury grade hotels are situated in New Delhi, but the majority of them, although splendid, are located on its southern periphery, thereby entailing tedious journeys to and from the city centre. Conveniently- sited exceptions include the Imperial, Le Meridien, Janpath, Holiday Inn and Park hotels. In Connaught Place itself, there are several lower grade but comfortable hotels, such as Royal Plaza, the Connaught etc. Budget establishments of varying standard are located around New Delhi station in the area known as Paharganj.

Although Delhi is now primarily occupied by Hindus, Muslims had provided the majority of the population for hundreds of years before the partition of India, in 1947 and virtually all buildings of historic and architectural interest that survive in the city, apart from those of Lutyens, were built by its Muslim rulers. Undoubtedly, ancient Hindu (and Jain) temples once stood in Delhi, but repeated sacking and rebuilding of the city, combined with the intolerance of other religions by Aurangzeb in the seventeenth century, meant that all were destroyed. Of primary importance in Delhi are the three forts, the palaces within the Red Fort and the innumerable mosques and tombs. It is particularly fascinating to observe the evolution of the Mughal style of architecture, which reached its highest point in Shah Jahan's period, and the stages of development in tomb design, leading eventually to the sublime Taj Mahal, which many visitors will see immediately after leaving Delhi.

Unlike most Indian cities, Delhi is not particularly noted for its animal life, apart from the venerated cow, which appears to be as contented meandering amongst heavy traffic on the highways as it would be in a field. For the more exotic specimens of India's fauna, it is necessary to visit the Parks and grounds of the historic buildings, where striped-back squirrels, peacocks and, on occasions, monkeys, can be spotted. Elephants are supposed to be barred from the Delhi area, but occasionally one can be seen, laden with timber, his 'mahout' sublimely ignoring the regulations.

All cities seem to have their own particular aroma; Delhi's is immediately apparent outside Indira Gandhi International Airport and it will remain with the visitor until the city has been left. The aroma is not, thankfully, of motor vehicle exhaust or cow dung, nor is it of heady spices; it is surprisingly, of new mown hay.

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